A generation ago, Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) enthralled audiences around the world with epic poems, short stories and novels. His experiences growing up in British-controlled India provided a rich source of colorful folklore and inspiration for children’s stories, such as the Jungle Book. Kipling received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1907.
Of all of his many poems, my favorite is the inspirational poem If, which he wrote in 1895. It poses questions or conditions on how one develops the qualities of good character and balance embodied in a successful life.
The first of its four verses points out the need to avoid panic in difficult situations, to have self-confidence but not conceit, to be patient and above anger and hatred—all while maintaining humility. This is a tall order, but very important.
The second verse encourages readers to follow their dreams, yet to have a realistic approach to life—recognizing that what appears to be a triumph or a disaster may be illusion until all the facts and circumstances are known. He also emphasizes the importance of persistence.
The third stanza describes the willingness to put everything we have on the line for something that we believe in—and the drive to start again and carry on if we lose.
The fourth and final verse is my favorite:
“If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
and—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!”
Kipling clearly seems to have understand that to be “a man”—a mature, well-rounded person—requires a person to take action. Some catch the vision and are willing to make the effort, but many others are simply unwilling to take the necessary steps the poem describes. The tragic results of such unwillingness are all about us. Whether from apathy, ignorance, or lack of motivation, those who are unable to cope with the challenges life brings will languish, suffering the consequences.
Anciently, the God of the Bible gave clear instructions and wonderful promises to the people whom He had chosen as an example for the rest of the world. These incredible promises were conditional. Like Kipling’s poem, they contained an “if.” God said, “Now it shall come to pass, if you diligently obey the voice of the Lord your God, to observe carefully all His commandments which I command you today, that the Lord your God will set you high above all nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, because you obey the voice of the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 28:1-2).
God reaffirmed these conditional promises when He said, “For the Lord will again rejoice over you for good as He rejoiced over your fathers, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God, to keep His commandments and His statutes which are written in this Book of the Law, and if you turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul (Deuteronomy 30:9-10).
Jesus Christ often explained His teachings using the conditional “if.” For example, after teaching His disciples how to observe the Passover, he instructed, “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them (John 13:17).
In matters physical and spiritual, it is the same today. Proper behavior is required if we are to lead lives of accomplishment and if we are to receive the blessings promised by God in the Old and New Testaments.
If you want to learn more about these promises and what is required to receive them in this life and in the life to come, sign up for the Tomorrow’s World Bible Study Course. Its 24 lessons are absolutely free of charge, and you can complete the course online or in print. Sign up today!