The Next Right Thing

multidirectional signsWhat am I supposed to do with my life?

Which path should I take, left or right?

Is this the right time to make a move, or should I wait a little bit longer?

Should I follow this counsel or that opinion?

And most importantly, how long is it all going to take?

Sometimes questions like these can make us crazy. We can be so concerned with knowing exactly what the next steps are for our lives that we become obsessed. We fret and stress and live under a canopy of frustration, fear, and anxiety. We fail to enjoy the present moment because we’re so desperate to get into a future moment, and ultimately, we miss what we are supposed to learn and receive today. What we don’t even realize is that today’s obsession with tomorrow can actually disqualify us for tomorrow.

There is a better way.  Sometimes rather than obsessing over the ultimate answer or our final path, we need to simply do the next right thing.

Quite often, if you and I will simply do the next right thing, our larger path will become clear. If we do the next right thing, we will be ready for the next right thing after that. Then if we do the next right thing after that one, we will be ready for the next one that appears. If we were to consistently do this for a lifetime, several things would happen. We would live really good lives, some really great things would happen, and we would always be prepared when our new seasons arrived.

This is not a diminishing of vision. Nor is it an appeal to stop dreaming. Not at all! We need a vision. It is imperative that we dream. However, it is the maximization of today’s opportunities that qualifies us for the vision that is coming tomorrow.

What does it mean to be ‘wise as serpents’?

snakeBe wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” What do these words from Jesus mean? What does it mean to be as wise as a serpent? Are serpents cunning? Are they crafty? In what ways are serpents wise?

And while we’re at it, were there specific kinds of serpents that Jesus was referencing? Was He talking about snakes in general, or did He have a particular serpent in mind? Was He pointing back to the craftiness of the serpent in the Garden when it beguiled Adam and Eve?

I doubt it. The archenemy of humanity hardly seems like a potent role model for Christ’s followers.

Dallas Willard suggested something different. He proposed that the wisdom of the serpent lies in its timing. Although snakes can strike and bite from any position, the true accuracy and potency of their attack diminishes if they are uncoiled. It is when a snake is coiled and poised for assault that its accuracy and striking potential is fiercest.

Perhaps that’s some of what Jesus had in mind. Perhaps He was warning us about the damage that can be done when we get our sense of timing out of sync. I’ve been both premature and late in my timing too many times to count, and that faulty timing has repeatedly hurt me. It’s caused me to either mess up or miss potential opportunities, and it’s created messes and regrets that I would not have had to deal with if I had simply been more careful with my timing.

Timing is everything. A timely action or a word in season can make all the difference in our lives and relationships. Perhaps a good prayer for us today would be to ask God for a greater dose of true serpentine wisdom.

Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16)

What in the world is going on?

what-in-the-world-is-going-onOn the morning of September 11, 2001 I was en route to a monthly pastors’ prayer gathering at the World Prayer Center in Colorado Springs when the first tower was hit. Those events of 9/11 plunged our country into unimaginable pain and disbelief, and immediately took their place alongside other unforgettable historical tragedies such as the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the assassination of JFK, and others.

This week, in the wake of yet another tragic shooting and its resultant escalation of fear, hatred, and racism, those familiar feelings from 9/11 are resurfacing.

Bombings…shootings…racism…fury…terror…maddening presidential campaigns…the deaths of police officers…the deaths of young black men…what in the world is going on? AND what in the world can we do?

1 Chronicles 12:32 identifies a subset of King David’s mighty men, men from the tribe of Issachar, who “understood the signs of the times and knew the best course for Israel to take.” How can we be those kinds of men and women? How should we process the signs of our times, and what are the courses of action that we should be taking?

Is our country falling apart? Is there only gloom on our horizon? Should we hunker down under fear? Should we assume that our glory days are over before they ever even really began, and that things will only be grim from here on out? What should we be doing as a general cloak of fear, anger, and despair settles more fully over our country’s soul?

Perhaps we should cling to and manifest some things that are promised to remain. The Apostle Paul told us that when everything else is passing away there are three things that will endure: faith, hope, and love.

The Christian worldview gives us FAITH that the God of history is still deeply at work in the universe. It gives us confidence that there is HOPE for both today as well as tomorrow. And ultimately it give us a mission: to LOVE our God, our loved ones, our neighbors, and our world.

I don’t presume to have great wisdom or prophetic insight about this…I just wonder what might change in our world if we were people of courageous and prayer-filled faith, generous and compassionate hope, and reconciling, hate-abolishing love?

Note to Self

note to selfDear Self, I’m not sure what you are thinking or how you are feeling right now, but in case you’re not doing too well, I wanted to remind you of some things. Emotions come and go; truth remains. Unfortunately, emotions often feel more powerful than truth, and sometimes we can judge the entire external universe based on minor, internal mood swings. I’d like to save you from that, and remind you of some truth.

As I write to you (to me) I am in a good place. My thinking is clear and I can sense God’s life and presence around me and in me. I would qualify for Pastor Wayne Cordeiro’s description, “clear-headed and close to God” (remember, he always urges people to only make their biggest decisions when they are clear-headed and close to God). So I think I’m in a good spot to pep talk you and prop you up. Granted, someone could accuse me of doing the very thing I am warning you against, namely attributing a positive mood to ultimate reality. However, that’s not the case.

It is true that shallow emotional upswings do not necessarily correspond to God’s truth anymore than negative, gloomy ones do. We humans are so easily swayed by circumstantial highs and lows, but God’s life is very different from that. Some of King David’s mightiest psalms—where he boasts of an ability to “run through a troop” or “leap over a wall”—were written at the bottom of some very nasty life seasons.

There is a hope and peace and presence that can transcend whatever we are experiencing, and when we touch that presence everything changes even if nothing changes. Please remember that last phrase. Things don’t need to change for YOU to change. Circumstances don’t need to improve for you to step more fully into the life and strength of God’s Spirit.

So, dear self, man up. Don’t quit. Don’t pout. Hold steady. Lean into God. Like David said, you too will live to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living!

I want a rule; God wants obedience

breaking rulesHow many drinks can I have? One? Two? More? Or none at all?

Can I watch certain kinds of R-rated movies? Like the ones that are only rated R for violence? Or maybe just language? Or other stuff too as long as it isn’t too bad?

What are my rules for what is and is not acceptable?

Some people don’t care about these kinds of questions—they aren’t “rule people” and they are happy to make these decisions on the fly. Others, however, feel more comfortable with clearly defined boundaries, and they appreciate the comfort and security of always knowing exactly what they should and shouldn’t do.

Personally, I am a rule person and I prefer to know exactly what my boundaries are. I like the security of knowing precisely when I am and am not on the right path, and sometimes the Bible caters to personalities like mine. Sometimes the Scriptures clearly highlight the paths that God wants us to walk, and there’s nothing left for us to do but start walking. There are other times though when the Bible isn’t quite as clear. It doesn’t give us rules to follow; it gives us principles to apply.

Sometimes I want a law to govern me, but God wants something very different. He wants my mature obedience. Sometimes simple rule keeping can be a lesser path than actually following the Holy Spirit’s leading.

Remember, being led by the Spirit is a key mark of mature sonship and daughterhood (Romans 8:14), and often that leading occurs in settings where the rules aren’t perfectly clear. Paul devoted entire chapters of his writings to matters of conscience, coaching us for those times when singular rules can’t fully dictate correct behavior.

We live in a time in history when we must know God’s laws, understand the principles that drive them, and be sensitized to the Holy Spirit’s leading. When Scripture is clear we follow it clearly. When it is unclear–or open to multiple interpretations–we follow its principles. And when multiple paths are legitimate options, we trust the Spirit’s leading in our conscience.