Why it’s so hard to do the next right thing

The best advice often is easy to believe but difficult to live.

This truth hit home recently when a close friend made what he would confirm was a stupid decision, and I offered up one of my favorite pearls of wisdom: “Trust God and do the next right thing,” which is a slight variation of a famous Oswald Chambers quote.

I love the simplicity of it. In my quest to grow like Jesus, I often find myself falling back on this uncomplicated approach. Our growth depends on our response to the perpetual series of choices we face. How do we make those choices? We start by trusting God. Then we do the next right thing. Rinse and repeat. Maintaining that process doesn’t keep us from failing, but it allows us to react well to both success and failure and to experience growth along the way.

It’s not easy to do. I know, because I’ve lived through many, many of my own failings wherein I was slow to embrace the advice I’m so quick to give.

My friend had broken a trust and damaged an important relationship. Thankfully, he was repentant. He felt shame, guilt, pain and remorse. Some might say those are bad things, but I would suggest they are necessary to move us toward the grace of God. He also was depressed. Self-focused. Overwhelmed. He struggled to get past his mistake and move toward restoration. So, I suggested, among other things, that he stop doing what wasn’t working, then trust God and do the next right thing.

His response: “Not sure I know what that is.”

I realized he wanted to make everything right – to magically transform his world back to the way it was before he erred. That wasn’t possible and he knew it. Still, he had allowed himself to be imprisoned by his mistake. Nothing he could do would fix it, so he didn’t know what to do and, therefore, he did nothing.

The next right thing just seemed way too big to even contemplate.

It’s not. In fact, that’s the beauty of the advice. We can apply it first and foremost with the smallest of things and, over time, it helps us with everything else.

Here’s what I’ve found: The “next right thing” never involves a million complicated actions; just one. …  Breathe. Pray. Ask for forgiveness. Perform an act of service like washing the dishes or mowing the lawn. Turn off the television. Read a book. Go to church. Have lunch with a pastor. Go for a run. … But don’t worry about the outcome. That’s why the advice begins with “trust God.” It not only opens us up to discover the next right thing, no matter how seemingly small that thing might be, but it takes the results off our plate and gives them to the One who is eminently more qualified to own them. It allows us to stop asking why so we can start acting in obedience on one small choice after another.

The time to adopt this pattern is now. When we’re overwhelmed by our mistakes – or the pain caused by someone else or by a huge decision or by anything in life – it’s hard to break free unless we’ve already built some muscle from this spiritual discipline. But no matter where we find ourselves, God is waiting to help us move toward something better. We just need to stop doing what isn’t working, trust Him and do the next right thing.

What the Secular World Misses from David and Goliath

David’s victory over Goliath is one of the world’s favorite and most revisited Biblical stories, perhaps because it’s so easy to draw secular lessons while ignoring the story’s main point.

Most folks know the story of the young shepherd rising to the challenge of the 6-foot-9ish champion from the Philistine army and slaying him with a stone from his sling. And there are all sorts of lessons to be learned from it.

For instance, Jay Coen Gilbert, co-founder of B Lab, sees David as an agent for bold change. He used the story recently as a battle cry for leaders to create a new Renaissance by building more socially responsible businesses. “David made a choice,” Gilbert writes. “A choice to embrace risk and act, despite the long odds.” And he paraphrases the great Martin Luther King, Jr., saying, “The future does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability; the future is created – it is created first in thought, next in commitment and last, and most importantly, in action.” Then he ends by calling his readers – the Davids (and Donnas) of our world – to action. “What is the future you want to create?” he writes. “Now, act to make it so.”

It’s all good stuff. I find myself nodding in agreement. But I also see the gaping hole – the critical missing piece from Gilbert’s otherwise fine essay.

Or, consider the TedTalk by the ever-popular Malcom Gladwell. He flips the script in a fascinating way, making the case that David, in fact, was not the underdog in the story, and that we often give giants too much credit and ourselves too little.

Cue applause. Great stuff.

Gladwell’s theory about why Goliath was really the underdog is open to debate, but much of it certainly is plausible. And his overriding lesson is valid, even if you can poke a few holes in the premise behind it. Yet, he, too, leaves out the key point and thus the most enduring lesson for us all.

In reading the story, it’s worth remembering that practice pays off, that we must embrace risk and take bold actions to achieve significant success, that looks can be deceiving, that even giants have weaknesses, and that underdogs (perceived or real) can win the day if they have the necessary skills, courage and self-confidence. But don’t stop there. Remember why David felt compelled to fight. Why he had courage. And why he won.

He fought because he was appalled that the Philistine had insulted God. “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” he asks in 1 Samuel 17: 26.

He had courage because he knew he had the skills to win and, more importantly, because he knew God was with him. “The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine,” he says in 1 Samuel 17:37.

And he won because he put his faith in God and gave Him the glory. “All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves,” he says in 1 Samuel 17:47, “for the battle is the Lord’s, and He will give all of you into our hands.”

So, you can leave God out of the story and still learn some valuable life lessons. But you’ll miss the point.

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Simplifying Discipleship

Go and make disciples.

It seems like such a straightforward statement, and Jesus was clear in Matthew 28:19 that it’s not an optional activity. Yet the Church seems to struggle with the concept. When we take a fresh look at it, however, we can see that “making disciples” doesn’t have to be that hard.

I didn’t realize there was an issue until I began paying closer attention following a couple of conversations with friends. Six or eight months ago, I began praying about an idea I’ve had for a discipleship website that would provide a one-stop shop for resources, content and discussions on the topic. To vet and develop the idea, I started talking to people who are smarter than me. During one conversation, the guy across the table said something like, “Not many men are as involved in discipleship as you are.” He wasn’t feeding me ego biscuits; he was painting the bleak reality of how little is done when it comes to discipleship. And the more I’ve looked into it, the more I agree.

A month or so later, I mentioned my website idea to another friend. He liked the idea but said he probably wouldn’t use the site because he isn’t involved in discipleship. About a week later, however, he mentioned that he was coming back from an early morning Bible study where he (at age 59) had been the only guy not in his 20s. It had never dawned on him that spending time studying the Bible with those young guys was discipleship.

That’s when it hit me: Not enough men are involved in discipleship, and some are involved without even knowing it. In both cases, part of the problem is that too many people are intimidated by what they think discipleship involves. Most of them have over-complicated the definition.

So, here’s a simple definition of discipleship: Helping people grow like Jesus.

With that definition, discipleship can include evangelism, or what I call spiritually mentoring someone toward a relationship with Christ. For followers of Jesus, discipleship becomes all about sanctification – the refining process God puts us through until we join Him in heaven, or growing like Jesus. And we “make disciples” when we help ourselves or someone else experience that growth.

To become obedient to Matthew 28:19:

  1. Ask God to provide an opportunity to spend time with someone or a group of someones with the purpose of helping each other grow like Jesus.
  2. Act in obedience when (not if) that opportunity comes.

That’s it. It can be one-on-one meetings over coffee. It can be a small-group Bible study. It can be a discussion at halftime of a football game or while helping a buddy with a chore. It can look however you want, so long as it’s intentional and there’s an effort to teach obedience to the commands of Christ. (Matthew 28:20)

It’s really not complicated or scary. You aren’t responsible for the results – God is. And you don’t have to do it alone (because Jesus has promised to be with you). Can you ask for a better helper than God? So, go and make disciples. Let that step of obedience become the next step in your growth.

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Singing to the Lord

When I became a follower of Christ in the early 1990s, I noticed something about the music of my youth: I still enjoyed it, but I listened to it differently. I heard messages, both positive and negative, that I’d never noticed in my secular state of mind.

My youth was mostly in the 1970s, which everyone knows was the greatest decade. Sure, there was disco, but there was also (to name a few) Pink Floyd, Ted Nugent, Led Zeppelin, The Guess Who, Rod Stewart, the Temptations, James Taylor, the Rolling Stones, Al Green, Elton John, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Willie Nelson, the Commodores, the Eagles, Waylon Jennings, and some guy named Elvis (until Aug. 16, 1977).

Most of those artists, with the exception of Elvis, have this in common: You don’t hear their hits in church. But many of the world’s most popular songs would work rather well in church if we simply looked at, listened to and sang them differently. That’s because many are love songs or songs about struggle, hope, forgiveness and pain – the topics, for instance, that we see scattered throughout the Psalms.

There also are many songs that, on the surface, seem like they would work great in church but have a message devoid of any really good news. “Take Me To Church” by Andrew Hozier-Byrne is an ode to some weird obsession with a woman. You don’t want that church. “Imagine,” the classic hit by John Lennon, paints a vision of hopelessness. No heaven? No, thank you. “I Did It My Way” by Frank Sinatra (or, if you prefer, by Elvis)? Well, I don’t want to do it the world’s way, but my way is pretty flawed, too. How about God’s way?

There are a great many popular songs, however, that we could retrofit for church. Some are faith-based songs by secular artists. Some work if you sing them to or for the Lord (and perhaps with a minor tweak or two in the lyrics). I brainstormed a few dozen one day when I should have been working, and here, in no particular order, are 12 of them:

  1. “When Love Comes to Town” by U2 and BB King. Or almost any other U2 song – “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking for” or “Yahweh.”
  2. “Jesus is Just Alright” by the Doobie Brothers
  3. “You Are So Beautiful” by Joe Cocker
  4. “Bless the Broken Road” by Rascal Flatts
  5. “Forever and Ever, Amen” by Randy Travis
  6. “You Are the Sunshine of My Life” by Stevie Wonder
  7. “Always and Forever” by Luther Vandross (or Lionel Richie)
  8. “Power of Love” by Huey Lewis and the News
  9. “Spirit in the Sky” by Norman Greenbaum
  10. “I Want to Know What Love Is” by Foreigner
  11. “Because You Loved Me” by Celine Dion
  12. “Can’t Help Falling in Love” by Elvis

Don’t get me wrong – I love the old hymns, and I’m a fan of praise and worship music, too. I’m pretty eclectic in my musical tastes. I’m not suggesting we sing any of these songs in church; I’m just saying we could. What matters isn’t the musical style, it’s the state of our hearts. Worship isn’t music. It’s a state of life.

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