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.

When Others Don’t Do What I Want …

Whenever we desire something from another person in life, one of two things eventually happens: We get what we desire or we don’t.
Profound, I know.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about how I respond to that second reality – not getting exactly what I desire from another person. I’m not talking about correct change from the cashier, although that could be involved. What I’m really talking about is not getting something almost all of us desire every time we interact with others: Understanding.
This, I believe, is one of our most primal needs and one of my biggest sources of frustration. As I’ve grown older, I’ve hidden that frustration better. I don’t throw as many temper tantrums. But I also know I still don’t always handle it well.
Here’s how it usually goes down: I tell someone something and expect a certain reaction or response. They don’t understand (for whatever reason), so they don’t give the reaction or response I desire. Physically, I tense up. My forehead resembles a prune. My effort to thoughtfully engage through better eye contact is piercing rather than soothing. And in an attempt to be clearer, I speak slowly and come across as condescending. This usually prompts frustration on the part of the other person, who rightly sees me as defensive and difficult.
The practical result is this: I may or may not eventually get what I desire from the other person, but I almost always cause damage to the relationship.
To “grow in favor” with people (Luke 2:52), I need to model Jesus more accurately and represent Him more honorably. Here are a few things I’m trying to remember that help me and might help you, as well:

Smile

A Jewish friend reminded me recently of the power of a smile, not just on others but on me. We’re taught this idea early in life, but we tend to forget. It seems too simple and elementary, so we dismiss it to our peril.
pixabay.com
pixabay.com
When we smile, its impacts us physically and emotionally. It causes us to pause in a moment of gratitude, counteracting our selfishness. It changes our perception of ourselves and impacts the perceptions others have us. As the old song says, “Smile and the world smiles with you.”
Proverbs reminds us that a cheerful look brings joy to the heart (Proverbs 15:30), that a joyful heart is good medicine, but depression “dries up the bones” (Proverbs 17:22) and that a glad heart makes a happy face while a broken heart “crushes the spirit” (Proverbs 15:13). James tells us to count our trials as joy (James 1:2-4) and Paul tells us to rejoice when we face problems (Romans 5:3-4, 12:12).

Empathize

It’s hard to remember, especially in those moments when we’re not getting what we want, that the world doesn’t revolve around us. Shocking, but true. Other people have lives that actually have nothing to do with us. They have sick children, lousy jobs, poor educations, bills they can’t pay, emotional baggage we can’t see … They have all sorts of reasons for not being perfect in the way they relate to us. When I remember this, it’s easier for me to offer grace and understanding. I can patiently work toward getting what I desire and more easily live with it if I don’t.
Paul tells us to bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2), to be kind, tenderhearted and forgiving “as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32), and to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15). Jesus was “deeply moved in spirit and troubled” when he saw Mary and her friends weeping over the death of her brother (John 11:33-35). And He commands us to “love one another” (John 15:12 and 13:33-35).

Release

Whatever we desire in life rests in the strong but gentle hands of the Lord of the universe. If we need something, He will provide it. When my faith is weak, I try to force my will, my opinion, and my desires on those around me. When my faith is strong, I let go of the results and trust God to do what’s best for me.
The writer of Proverbs promises that if we trust in the Lord with all our heart and not on our own understanding and if we submit to God, He will make our paths straight (Proverbs 3:5-6). And Jesus tells us plainly and clearly not to worry about life – what we will eat or drink; about our bodies or what we will wear; or about what will happen tomorrow (Matthew 6:25, 34). Instead, we’re to “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33) Jesus put those words into action when He died for us, saying “not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42) and “into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46).

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