I watch my five-year-old weather the storm of her emotions in the wake of her choices, choices that bring unwanted consequences. Her tears mix readily with her anger and confusion and all of it wrenches my heart. I want to step in and take away the circumstances that are causing her so much upset.
I won’t. But I want to.
Instead, I draw near and offer comfort for her tears and empathy for her anger and whispers of assurance for her disappointment. I make sure she doesn’t confuse what she did with who she is. I want her to understand that choices will always have consequences, be they good or not-so-good.
It takes a several minutes, but eventually she calms enough to reconnect with me and I welcome her into my arms. I know this won’t be the only time we’ll go through this today and that’s okay.
And as I sit with her in my arms I wonder, is this how God feels about me? Is this what He does every time I mess up? I won’t open my closet of skeletons, but trust me, it’s packed pretty full. God and I have gone through our share of my tantrums and my railing against Him and against the natural consequences of my choices.
Screwing up comes too easily sometimes: the lure of the easy out or the temptation of the right now, the immediate gratification, the world’s rewards. Even though I know the heartache I’ve endured as a result of my bad choices and even though I know what I ought to do, I am prone to repeat my history if I do not guard against it.
Because life is comprised of the choices we make, I must learn – and often relearn – to make good ones. Fortunately, God offers me more than enough wisdom to help me in this process. In two simple, straight-forward verses, He provides a step-by-step plan for how to approach each day, each moment, each decision.
Be on guard. Stand firm in the faith. Be courageous. Be strong. And do everything with love.
(1 Corinthians 16:13-14 NLT)
1. Be on guard: From the moment you wake up, you need to be ready to face the day with wisdom. Take time to meet with God before you head into your day. He created you, He planned the good works you’re meant to do and He knows what’s coming. Trust Him with your plans and your calendar and seek His priorities for your day.
2. Stand firm in the faith: When you face difficult decisions or take on ventures that don’t make sense to the world or create a ministry to meet the needs of the least of these or seek to give away more of your income than you keep, if you aren’t firmly rooted in wisdom and truth, you may lose your way or become too easily distracted by things that are not a part of your vision. Stay on guard and seek Him often.
3. Be courageous: Big dreams, big visions, big plans stir up big fears and a lot of doubts as well as plenty of nay-sayers. You may find yourself standing in the midst of doubters who assure you loudly that what you’re doing – that ministry, that book, that school for kids with special needs, that speaking engagement you’re seeking – isn’t possible. Except that it is. Because God assures us that nothing is impossible when He is part of it. Stay alert and stay connected to Him.
4. Be strong: There will be times when you feel like you just can’t do it. You’ll want to quit, just give up, let someone else do the thing you’re meant to do: visit prisoners, become a foster parent for wayward teens, speak truth in local or state or national politics, make that documentary. But don’t give up. Press on and push through. Pray. You know the bumps are coming and so does God. Trust Him and lean into Him and take Him up on His promises.
5. And do everything with love: This is perhaps the toughest part of God’s advice. When you face off with haters or defy doubters or take on obstacles. When you run into red tape or problems or difficult people as you file paperwork for your non-profit or the zoning board for modifications to the property for your ministry. When you respond to anonymous Internet bullies who tear apart your words, your art, your music video, you. When you make it. When you win the small victory or the bigger battle. Couch your response, your pain, your celebration, your success in love. Fight back when necessary, but do so in love and with Truth. Enjoy your successes, but do so in love and with humility. Be on guard. Trust Him. Be bold. Believe in your vision. And do all of it with love.