“Do the right thing. It will gratify some people and astonish the rest.” ~Mark Twain
Right and Wrong?
Samuel Clemens remains one of my favorite writers. He mentors generations from faded, inky pages and pithy truths echoing over decades. This man crafted wonderful, home-spun stories; thoroughly examined life, ideas, and people; spoke his mind boldly; and captured giant thoughts and themes skillfully and efficiently. I love to read his stuff!
Clemens makes an obvious point: by encouraging “the right thing,” he indicates the reality of the wrong thing. Both exist as choices. Wanting to do right is noble and requires discerning between the options accurately. And that is the moment my heart rate quickens, and I begin to sweat just a little bit. Right and wrong. Extremes on a continuum?
Black-white thinking is one of the clunkier, ineffective decision-influencing “skills” in my repertoire. (This is not a recommended mind set.) Some things are clear, near self-evident choices spelled out in laws or biblical wisdom. Theft and murder are included in The Big Ten¹ and our nation’s laws. Most things just aren’t categorically that simple, I’ve noticed. Defining slander and negligence, for example, has become more difficult in our culture. Many things aren’t critical to life choices, probably. I’ve yet to see my shirt selection as critical, but I suppose it could be important on some level. Sometimes I wonder just how important some decisions are.
“Do the next right thing,” he said. Simple and profound. I have no idea who said that first, but it’s well-worn and just about cliche. (If you said it first, please let me know. *grin*) I don’t mind that kind of well-traveled wisdom, personally. It speaks.
So, here I am. I stare at the crossroads, knowing I can’t stay put. A move will be made, but which direction will I go? Honestly, we all stand at a crossroads, if not now, sometime soon. All I know about this place is that direction makes a difference. Always. There is a good, better, and best, don’t you think? I’m sure of it! Proceeding with caution just might be the wisest thing possible. But, what does that look like?
Good, Better, and Best
If the next right thing is tied directly to God’s good, better, and best, then I want my steps to be just the right ones. If I could land in one of those three scenarios (or something clearly outside all three), I honestly want the very best for my life. I’m reminded that God is all-knowing, all-loving, and all-wise. Since he loves me and wants the best for me, I want exactly that! When all the voices, street smarts, and my intuition say similar or conflicting things, I want to keep it all in check and find out what he has to say.
Don’t become like the people of this world. Instead, change the way you think. Then you will always be able to determine what God really wants—what is good, pleasing, and perfect. Romans 12:2 GW
Placing the verse in context, Paul encourages the Romans to offer their whole lives as a “living sacrifice” in response to God’s compassion (12:1). Truth is—intelligence, deliberation, and good counsel will get me somewhere very often. It’s possible to have a very comfortable, enjoyable life that way. Home, vehicle, school, and job choices could be made individually or collectively in a sensible way. It may even end well. That’s good when it happens, isn’t it? And there is beautiful grace in that alone. Yet, biblical wisdom hints at something more. What do we do with that?
Is it wrong to make our own choices? I don’t think that’s necessarily the case. Experience shows that good judgment nets some good results. “A sensible man considers his ways” (Proverbs 14:8), but Romans 12:2 says we can know what “God really wants…[his] good, pleasing, and perfect will” ([his] and emphasis added). I want that! The other options beyond just good lie outside the best human noodling, words, actions, or strength.
Stop, Look, and Listen
So, what is this superior reasoning and behavior that leads to the next right thing?
I think that’s a lot of it. Better and best are here.
God says, “Be quiet and know that I am God. I will be supreme over all the nations; I will be supreme in the earth.” Psalm 46:10 NCV
A few Bible versions translate 10a as “Be still and know.” The NAS says “Cease striving.” One says “Stop fighting” (GNT). As far as I understand, it is a clear command, an imperative. Do this! And it can be translated in the following ways:
to let drop, abandon, relax, refrain, forsake
to let go
to refrain, let alone
to be quiet ²
God’s better and best live in the quiet, reverent pause before him. It’s all about stopping and waiting to know the way to go at his explicit direction. We get quiet, relax, and abandon our own “smart” forward movement. David wrote: When you said, “Seek my face,” My heart said to you, “I will seek your face, LORD.” (Psalm 27:8). He looked to the Lord, and we should, too! Remembering who we are and who he is, we look to him for everything. I love the image in Psalm 123:2—
As a servant looks to the hand of his master, or a slave-girl to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes turn to ADONAI our God CJB
When I make a decision, let me first look to the one who knows all things and loves me enough to want the very best for me. Each pause before the next step increases my sensitivity to his leading into something beyond just good. So, I’ll follow his command: Be still…
If God’s commands are one key to navigating the crossroads, then maybe that’s something to examine more closely.
A Pharisee asked, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” (Matthew 22:36). I know to lean in and listen close when Jesus is going to answer this question because it’s the “greatest” we’re talking about here.
He said to him, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important commandment. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:37-40 CSB
Choosing to love at the crossroads may seem like some kind of Christian jargon describing a response. It might feel unnatural or even legalistic (especially when I want to have my feelings, whatever they are, about the situation and the decision I have to make). I have to be intentional about loving God and people in lots of my decisions. Emotions, processes, tasks, and outcomes can easily overshadow the softer, most important thing: love. I have to choose to love God and people. You, too?
This may be the most difficult part of the whole process. Certain pressures have a way of transforming character. Oh, I wish that weren’t so! Whatever is contained in my heart finds a way of moving out from there. In my experience, my emotions tend to find a path from my heart to my mind and right out my mouth (sometimes without a filter). When it’s all on the happier side of the spectrum, it’s wonderful. On the other side, it can be problematic. In Matthew 15:18 Jesus warns, “But what goes out of the mouth comes from the heart. And that’s what contaminates a person in God’s sight.”
I know I’m not the only one who struggles with emotions, thoughts, and words. Sometimes I’m fearful of the verbal weapons I’m tempted to use under duress. When I’m forced to make choices as a result of others’ moves on the chess board, that’s a very real temptation. But I don’t wish to wield ugly words.
There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. Proverbs 12:18 ESV
I don’t want to be the one who trashes relationships, leaving a trail of wounded people and used-to-be friends behind me. Hurting others like this has nothing to do with God. Bringing healing is evidence of the difference my faith makes as I live it out. I want to choose that! But I know me very well. I’ll need help in the self-control area, so I’ll pray—
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer. Psalm 19:14 NIV
Words have probably exploded all over the page again, but my journey into a deeper understanding of grace and God’s best for my life decisions led me down this path. If you’ve made it this far, thanks for walking it with me. If this speaks to you, please share. The community building here at Fragrant Grace is a blessing to me, and I love to hear what you have to share!
¹ The Ten Commandments: Exodus 20:1-17
² Strong’s Concordance, H7503 – raphah
Scripture sourced from http://www.biblestudytools.com.
Photo Credit could not be given. It is not mine, but I hope to credit the source, if it’s found.