First United Methodist Church

315 Kerens Ave, Elkins WV  26241  (304) 636-0660

              6/26/22

Galatians 5:22-23

 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Susan and I recently watched “Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story on Netflix.  One segment shows Ben explaining a very delicate and risky surgery to the parents of conjoined twins.  Dr. Carson said, “We have rehearsed it and rehearsed it."  That's another way of saying that the surgical team has prepared over and over again, anticipating difficulties and coming up with solutions.  The team was being proactive.  Ben also said that he was going to pray.  I loved hearing that!  Some of you have shared with me a time or two when your surgeon prayed with you before surgery and what a difference it made! 

Today we are going to explore how to live a proactive life.  American Heritage Dictionary states that “A proactive person acts in advance to deal with an expected difficulty.”

Another way to put it is this way: doing our best to influence a situation by causing something to happen rather than waiting to respond to it after it happens. 

 

Sometimes it is easier to understand what something means by stating its opposite.  The opposite of proactive is: half-baked, half-cocked, shortsighted. 

From the world of business, Robert J. Kriegel offers this observation: "Research shows that the overwhelming majority of Americans (85 percent) are reactive and static, not action or instinct-oriented. They wait and meet, meet and wait.” (H.B. London, Jr. and Neil B. Wiseman, Pastors at Risk, Victor Books, 1993, p. 217.)

Although the word proactive doesn't appear in the Bible, Christians are commanded to be prepared, which requires proactive behavior.  Paul tells us to be ready for every good deed (Tit. 3:1).  And Peter tells us to be ready to give an answer to everyone who asks about our hope (1 Pet. 3:15).  One of the most powerful scriptures on being proactive is this one: "You too, be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour that you do not expect" (Lk. 13:40). 

A passage that goes hand in hand with this one is our first passage that I read today about the fruit of the spirit.  The fruit of the spirit is exactly how we should live so that we can be ready for Christ-whether he comes at our death or at his 2nd coming. 

There is a common misconception to mention here.  Many people say “fruits” of the spirit, as in plural.  But it is really “fruit” of the spirit, as in singular.  The picture here is one kind of fruit, but several of that fruit, like a cluster of grapes – one type of fruit, but many of the fruit to choose from.  This goes well with Jesus’ teaching about the fruit and the vine.  He said, “I am the vine, and you are the fruit.  Remain in me, and I will remain in you…apart from me, you can’t produce fruit” (John 15).

The fruit of the spirit is the qualities of a life that has been transformed by Jesus Christ and led by his spirit.  Against such there is no need for law, for law restrains evil.  Spiritual fruit don’t need to be restrained.  These are proactive qualities.  A spirit led life will actively choose to practice these qualities.  As Paul further outlined in II Timothy, the spirit does not make one timid – reacting out of fear – but the spirit gives power, love and self-discipline.  These are proactive qualities.

Let me share a couple of personal examples.  I failed to be proactive when I reacted to a beautiful car that I bought.  It was a bit more luxurious than I was used to – had a great ride, great look, all kinds of space – all-wheel drive – great stereo system.  I was in love – until I got it home!  The gas mileage was far less than I expected, the gas gauge kept swinging up and down – later the heater would go on and off – other sensors gave false reports – and I learned that the rear-window was so small that backing into things became a common occurrence.  A year later I curiously looked up the vehicle in consumer reports.  It gave a stellar review.  Then I saw it – in the fine print: “Great car – but beware of model year 2004 – too many problems to write about.  Guess what year my vehicle was made?  Yep, 2004!  I was not proactive.  I didn’t do my research.  I saw it and wanted it – I was reactive and paid dearly. 

Now for a happier story - a proactive story.  My schedule is often too full, so I have begun to whittle out some things.  Last year I asked Rick, our DS, to replace me as Parish Coordinator.  Effective July 1, I will no longer have that responsibility which also includes stepping of the board of one of our mission projects.  Four months ago, I asked the Board of Ordained Ministry if I could have an assistant as I direct the Residency Program for the conference.  All-provisional elders and deacons have to spend three years in residency in preparation for ordination.  The Board said yes, and effective, July 1, I will have someone to share the workload with.  Other areas of my schedule will be addressed.  I have begun to fell like a new person. Someone once told me, “Manage your schedule or someone else will manage it for you.”  There is a lot of truth to that.

Maybe I should ask a critical question.  The answer will determine what you truly think about being proactive.  Is God in control or are you in control? If God is in control, why does God talk about self-control? If the Bible promotes a kind of spirituality that is to be spirit-led then why does the Bible talk about self-discipline?

God grants to us responsibility for our life. He is still in control as far as His plan goes. He is still leading things, He is still opening and closing doors and windows of opportunity, but we are responsible. True spirituality, which includes self-control, accepts this truth - that God grants to me responsibility for my life and, to a large extent, the things that happen in my life. I am responsible for me.

 

The first key to being proactive and taking charge of the direction our lives are taking is to stop the blame game.  Stop being a victim.  Any problem that you've got in your life, with your job, with your marriage, with your physical shape, your intellectual capacity, or your spiritual condition, is not the fault of the weather, the government, the church, your relatives, God or anyone else.  You are responsible. Period.  Someone once said that being a man or a woman is a matter of birth.  Being a man or a woman who makes a difference is a matter of choice.

Second, be a part of the solution, not the problem.  Pray about how God would use you.  Do some research.  This is the information age.  There is no excuse for not checking things out more thoroughly.  This should be the case whether we are buying a new product, or searching for a new job, or thinking about renting – do the leg-work necessary.    Then get involved.

 

I think that research and leg-work should apply to service.  A huge problem in the church today is this: Too many Christians are not serving. When you ask them to do something they say yes until they get a better offer or they say, "Well, uh, sorry, but…” 

 

Excuses won’t stack up very well the day we stand before the Lord.  Be proactive.  Get involved.  Don’t wait for someone to ask – do some research.  Discover your passion.  Be responsible and get involved.  No one is ever honored by what they received, right?  One is honored by what they gave.

 

Gordon MacDonald has provided a very clear set of descriptors in understanding what it means to fully follow the Lord.   The first descriptor is spectator. MacDonald notes that there were many spectators around Jesus because they were curious about what He had to say and offer. They were part of the crowds that Jesus encountered. Some were vocal in their expressed interest but most of them probably were not.



The second descriptor is seeker. It is noted by MacDonald that seekers appear in places like John 6 where Jesus, as he puts it, ‘tightened the screws of commitment and the spectators bailed.’ Seekers remained and were very interested in everything about Jesus.



The third descriptor is follower. This is where a line is crossed. This is where, as MacDonald says, ‘the acquisition of saving faith’ takes place.   People bought into the vision that Jesus cast. 

 

The fourth descriptor that McDonald states is kingdom builder. These are people who are more than just followers of Jesus; they become proactive.  They make things, good things, happen (Jim Kane).  These folks understand that a mark of maturity is serving rather than being served.  When you buy in and give your heart and soul to God’s vision by being actively involved, the church catches fire.  And as Wesley said, “When you catch fire, people will come from miles around to watch you burn.”

 

The third and last key to being proactive and taking charge of the direction of our lives is to treat people well.  A young son and his father were walking in the mountains. The father said, “Why don’t you yell and see if anyone is out there?”  So the little boy yelled, “Helllooooooo…”   To his surprise, he hears a voice answering, “Helllooooooo…”

 

Curious, he yells back, "Who are you?"

He receives the answer: "Who are you?"

 

Angered at the response, he screams: "You’re an idiot!"

He hears the reply: "You’re an idiot!"

 

He looks to his father and asks, "What's going on?"

The father explained that he’s hearing an echo, and whatever he says will be repeated back to him. Then the dad yelled into the valley, “I think you’re great!”  The voice answers, “I think you’re great!”

 

The father turned to his son and explained: "The way you talk to others is a lot like this echo.  If you’re angry and yell at them, they will yell back.  But if you will say nice things to them, they will usually respond in the same way to you.”  (Author Unknown) 

 

This is just another illustration of the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  What you give out will be given back to you.  The bible says that we were blessed to be a blessing.  When we bless others, the blessing goes full circle.  If you want to live a proactive life, treat others well – whether they deserve it or not.  Remember, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy."