July 20, 2015

Living Coherently

Devotion for the Week...

You've probably heard the saying, "You can please all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you can't please all of the people all of the time." How true! Even with something as mundane as meal planning, I have to consider the likes and dislikes of 5 people in order to keep everyone relatively happy. Aiden is like me and would happily eat pasta at most meals, while Zachary doesn't mind pasta, per se, but he eats the smallest portion of anyone. Zachary's favourite food is Caesar salad. Aiden won't eat lettuce. Spicy foods aren't overly popular with the boys, while Paul often checks out hot sauces at the store, looking for new and hotter versions to try. I don't like peppers at all, but Nathan absolutely loves them, and sometimes reminds me I haven't bought any lately. And then, of course, there are those times I try a new recipe and someone doesn't like it. That's when they get themselves either toast or cereal for supper!

Trying to keep everyone in my family happy with my meal choices is a good thing since I'm responsible for keeping them all fed and healthy. Trying to keep everyone in my life happy with all of my choices is an entirely different matter. Trying to make everyone in my life live according to my choices would be even worse.

I enjoy The Message because it is a paraphrase of the Bible, written in today's language, that often makes me think differently about a particular passage. Sometimes I'm reading it on my phone and something captures my interest, so I take a screenshot of it so I can look at it again later. Last week I went through some of those old screenshots and found this passage:

"Cultivate your own relationship with God, but don’t impose it on others. You’re fortunate if your behavior and your belief are coherent. But if you’re not sure, if you notice that you are acting in ways inconsistent with what you believe—some days trying to impose your opinions on others, other days just trying to please them—then you know that you’re out of line. If the way you live isn’t consistent with what you believe, then it’s wrong" (Romans 14:22,23 MSG).

I was struck by the contrast between being consistent in living out what you believe and trying to please others. Sometimes living according to what we believe will please others. Employers like honest, hardworking employees, after all, and people like those who are humble and willing to help as needed. Sometimes, though, living according to what we believe will not please people. In fact, it might make them uncomfortable, or even angry, because it goes against what they believe is right, or necessary.

As I said at the top of the post, the problem with trying to please everyone all the time is that it's impossible. No matter what we do, there will be someone who doesn't like it. Trying to keep everyone happy with all of our choices and decisions would be a lesson in frustration. We'd be constantly chasing after approval, always feeling like what we're doing is wrong and trying to change ourselves to make others happy.

Regardless of what others think, we are supposed to live out what we believe. That's not easy, though, is it? We want to please other people, to have them like us. We certainly don't want to have them make fun of us, or to stand out as being different. But we have to be careful not to seek after that approval, to make it our idol. "If the way you live isn’t consistent with what you believe, then it’s wrong" (v 23). This NIV translation of that verse says, "everything that does not come from faith is sin." Simply put, altering our behavior to please people rather than living according to what we believe God wants us do to is sinful.
The flip side of this? We can't force other people to live their lives our way. The people around us will make lots of choices we don't like. Many of them won't be right or wrong, biblically speaking, but will fall into that grey area where we each have to make our own choices. I find it interesting, too, that this passage wasn't written about believers imposing their beliefs on non-believers, but about believers who were arguing among themselves about what was right in a particular grey area common to their time. "Cultivate your own relationship with God, but don’t impose it on others" (v 22), they were told. That can be tough, can't it? When we believe something strongly, it's hard not to try to force others to live according to what we believe. And yet that's what we're told to do. Work out those grey areas for ourselves, then leave others to work them out in their own way.

So, how do you measure up against these verses? Are your behavior and beliefs coherent? Are you able to live according to what you believe without imposing your beliefs on others? Or are you like me, finding room for improvement? Thankfully our God assures us that we "can do all this through him who gives [us] strength" (Philippians 4:13).

**My parents will be visiting this week, so there will be no devotion next Monday, though I will probably post a short passage to give us all something to think about. Regular weekly devotions will resume on August 3rd.**

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