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Article 23 of 32 from the Miscellaneous series

February 2002

Monday: The Bulldog and the Skunk

A few years ago a friend told me that not all hills are worth dying on. Sometimes we fight over things that don’t really matter and end up wasting lots of time and emotional energy with very little to show for it. One of the secrets to a successful life is learning over time which hills matter and which ones don’t. Every great general knows that you have to pick your battles carefully. You can’t fight over every hill or you’ll end up winning the battle but losing the war.

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I suppose there is no way to learn this lesson easily. When we are young, everything seems important, vital, crucial, and non-negotiable. As we get older, we learn that many things that once occupied our time don’t seem to matter much in the long run. Perhaps it is a blessing that comes with the aging process. At a certain point in life, you simply don’t have the time or strength or energy to get involved in every little squabble. So you decide what matters and what doesn’t, and if you are like most people, you end up with a relatively short list of things that matter and a much longer list of things that don’t.

This week a friend passed along a saying that seems very much on point. “A bulldog can beat a skunk, but is it worth the fight?” If we’re laying down bets, I’ll put my money on the bulldog every time. But he’ll end up smelling like a skunk even if he wins.

My mind is drawn to the words of David in Psalm 37:7, “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when men succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes.” “Fret” is an old English word that speaks of an unsettled heart. The fretful believer is tossed and turned by circumstances he cannot control. God’s solution is simple: 1) Be still before the Lord. That means what it says. Don’t take matters into your own hands. 2) Wait patiently for him. Give God time to work. Chuck Swindoll says that waiting is the hardest discipline of the Christian life. I agree wholeheartedly. We live in a “can-do” society where the people who get ahead are those who “make it happen” no matter what it takes.

Here’s a simple application. When you are churning on the inside about things you can’t control, don’t give in to the temptation to take matters in your own hands. Get alone with God and do nothing. That’s right. Just do nothing. Wait on him.

Or you can be like a bulldog and jump into the fray. But even if you win the battle, you may end up smelling like a skunk.

This is Ray Pritchard of Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park for Mornings on 90.1 FM, WMBI.

Tuesday: Plan B Living

Here’s a piece of wisdom overheard on a family vacation: “The key to success in life is how well you adapt to Plan B.” There is a world of truth in that simple sentence. So many of us go through life frustrated because we’re still working on Plan A. That’s the one where everything works out, where your marriage lasts forever, where your children grow up without any problems, where you climb to the top of the career ladder, where everyone loves you and no one hates you, where all your dreams come true and you live happily ever after. Plan A is life the way we all thought it would be. It’s life with a happy ending.

Unfortunately, Plan A rarely pans out. Life isn’t that simple, or that easy. When the children of Israel left Egypt, God did not lead them by the shorter coastal route to the Promised Land. Instead, he led them south into the wilderness. No doubt there was some grumbling and murmuring. Why go the long way? Why not take the road that goes along the seashore? Answer: The Philistines lived along the coast and God wanted to spare the Jews from having to fight them and be tempted to return to Egypt. What seemed like a detour turned out to be for their benefit. In this case, Plan B was better.

Meanwhile the people who are frustrated by the failure of Plan A are overtaken by the folks who have decided to make Plan B work instead. What’s Plan B? It’s the reality that your divorce is final and your marriage is over. It’s the reality that your first career choice was a mistake and now it’s time to start over. It’s the reality that you don’t have the money to buy the bigger house you want. It’s the truth that you have cancer and your future is uncertain. It’s the understanding that some people who seemed to be close friends aren’t going to be there for you when you really need them. It’s the reality that you lost the election even through you were clearly the better candidate.

Born in poverty and educated at home, he failed in his first business venture, ran for office the next year and was defeated, failed in yet another business, had a nervous breakdown, and was defeated in five more elections. But he never gave up, and in 1860 Abraham Lincoln was elected president.

Plan A not working out for you? Don’t despair. Plan A rarely works out. Your success in life is largely determined by how well you adapt to Plan B. Just ask Honest Abe, the greatest Plan B president in American history.

This is Ray Pritchard of Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park for Mornings on 90.1 FM, WMBI

Wednesday: What We Saw in Chuck Colson’s Office

During a recent trip to Washington, DC, a team from our church spent the night at Prison Fellowship headquarters in Reston, Virginia. The next morning we were given a tour of the facilities, including a brief visit to Chuck Colson’s office. Since he was out of town, we were invited to go in and look around. One of us spotted a sign on the wall right above his desk. It was placed at eye-level so Mr. Colson would be sure to see it when he was sitting down. The sign contained just three words: “Faithfulness Not Success.”

From somewhere in the back of my mind, I recalled a bit of the story. Early in his Christian life, a friend had given him that sign as a reminder about a Christian’s ultimate priorities. Before his conversion, Mr. Colson gained his fame by serving as Richard Nixon’s “hatchet man.” At one point, he was supposed to have declared that he would run over his own grandmother if it would help re-elect Mr. Nixon. I am sure his grandmother was relieved when Mr. Nixon won by a landslide. The anecdote illustrates something about the competitive nature of modern politics and of modern life in general. Most of us are trained to believe that Al Davis (owner of the Oakland Raiders) was right when he said, “Just win, Baby!”

But in God’s economy the values of the world are turned upside down. If you want to save your life, you have to lose it. If you want to become great, first be a servant. If you want true success, first learn to be faithful where you are. Years ago someone gave me a little sign that read, “Bloom where you are planted.” That’s good advice, isn’t it? It’s always easy to daydream about how wonderful life would be if only you lived in another state, or had another husband, or didn’t have so many children, or had another job, or more money, or better health, or a house with a bigger yard, or no yard at all. Living in the “if onlys” eventually breeds unhappiness and can lead to a “root of bitterness” against God and the people closest to you.

When we stand before the Lord, we may be surprised to know that our bottom line and his aren’t quite the same. He won’t ask how much money we made or lost or how many cars we owned or whether or not we climbed to the top of our profession. His question on that day will be much simpler: “Were you faithful in doing the task I gave you to do?” If we can answer yes, our time on earth will have been well-spent. Chuck Colson got it exactly right: It’s faithfulness not success that matters most to God.

This is Ray Pritchard of Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park for Mornings on 90.1 FM, WMBI

Thursday—The Changing Seasons of Life

A few months ago I received a letter from a friend who detailed some of the challenges facing her family right now. The specifics are personal and private but it can be said that the trials are real and not likely to go away any time soon. She added this PS to her letter:

“I was listening to Moody radio and Tony Evans’ wife was talking about things and situations that God allows us to go through. She suggested that we just rest in God and let him take us through ’our Season.’ This is Fall Season, my favorite time of the year … ironic, with all that I am going through … but I know I’ll be fine, because God is taking me through the ’Season’ that he has prepared for me. Praise him.”

The seasons of the year are first mentioned in Genesis 1:14 as part of the Creation Week. Psalm 104:19 reminds us that the sun and the moon help us mark the passage of time: “The moon marks off the seasons, and the sun knows when to go down.” Birds of the air have a God-given ability to change with the times: “Even the stork in the sky knows her appointed seasons, and the dove, the swift and the thrush observe the time of their migration” (Jeremiah 8:7). Daniel confidently proclaimed God’s sovereignty over time and circumstance when he declared, “Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are his. He changes times and seasons; he sets up kings and deposes them” (Daniel 2:20-21). And Acts 14:17 reminds us that the changing seasons are a gift from above: “He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons.”

Lois Evans was right. Just as there are seasons of the year, there are also God-ordained seasons of life. We know the obvious ones–birth, childhood, youth, young adulthood, the middle years, the later years, and the final years. And there is grade school, high school, college and beyond, singleness, marriage, children, the empty nest, grandchildren, and for some there is singleness a second time. There are jobs and careers, new homes and moves to distant places. Often there is success, sometimes there is failure. Friendships formed, nurtured, treasured, and sometimes broken, sometimes restored. There are seasons of health and seasons of sickness, seasons of certainty and seasons of doubt. There are happy days and long, lonely nights.

If you live long enough, you will experience most of these and much more. Solomon reminded us of this truth in his famous passage about “a time to be born and a time to die” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8). Happy are they who find joy in every season of life. God knows where you are today and he knows where you will be tomorrow.

This is Ray Pritchard of Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park for Mornings on 90.1 FM, WMBI

Friday—The Jesus Prayer

Recently I read Elisabeth Elliott’s fine book, Keep a Quiet Heart. One of her chapters describes the “Jesus Prayer.” It is a prayer that arose in the Orthodox tradition over 1,000 years ago. Though the prayer appears in various wordings, its most basic form goes like this: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.” Ten short words, all of them simple and easy to understand. Sometimes the phrase “a sinner” is added to emphasize the petitioner’s deep personal need. When praying together, the word “us” is substituted for “me.” Orthodox Christians have used this little prayer as a central part of their devotional life for centuries.

It is easy to see why this prayer has endured. In a sense, it covers everything that we might pray for. It is a prayer addressed to the right Person—"Lord Jesus Christ,” in the right Position–"Son of God.” And its one request summarizes all that we might ask from the Lord–"Have mercy on me.” Since we are truly sinners before the Lord, anything he does for us must be an act of mercy. We have no claim on anything the Lord has, and if we approach God thinking that he owes us something, our prayers will bounce off the ceiling and hit us on the head. Do we need health or wisdom or guidance or strength or hope or do we petition the Lord on behalf of our children, our friends, or our neighbors? Whatever it is we need, no matter what words we use, it is mercy, the pure, shining mercy of God that we seek.

But did not Jesus warn us against vain repetition? Yes he did, and it is “vain” repetition that he condemns. Any prayer can be “vain” if uttered carelessly or from a heart of unbelief. That includes the “Jesus Prayer” and “the Lord’s Prayer,” and our prayers around the dinner table. And any prayer–though said a thousand times–can be a true prayer to God if it comes from a heart that seeks him. Elisabeth Elliott notes that when her husband Addison Leitch was dying of cancer, they often prayed the “Jesus Prayer” together when they seemed to have “used up” all the other prayers. She concludes by saying, “I recommend it to you.”

And I do, too. During a recent sickness, I found myself in bed fighting a sharp pain that would not go away. As I tried to pray, the words of the “Jesus Prayer” came to mind. I can tell you that although the pain did not depart instantly, I discovered that those simple, ancient words brought peace to my soul. When you need the Lord, the “Jesus Prayer” is a good place to begin.

This is Ray Pritchard of Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park for Mornings on 90.1 FM, WMBI.

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