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From his column A Minute with Don

minute-with-don-07-14-1We live in a world of ever-increasing change. If you miss driving through a neighborhood for six months, on your next trip you’ll likely notice new and unfamiliar sights. And if you did a “Rip Van Winkle” and walked into a church today after snoozing for 20 years, you’re in for a shock.

In times of fast-paced change, it’s often difficult to determine which ones are significant, and which ones aren’t. Those that affect our daily routines usually appear very important, and those that don’t have an immediate effect on us seem less so. However, experience tells us this isn’t necessarily so. Often, it is the more distant matters that most affect our lives, yet we generally react most strongly to the least significant changes.

I was reading a news story about the changing landscape of college athletics. It told of the ability of sports programs in power conferences to generate significant revenues, the desire to provide more lucrative benefits for college athletes, and the recent vote by the members of one college team to unionize. With a seemingly new day of money, power, and autonomy, the old structures of control are being challenged. The story quoted Mike Slive, the commissioner of the Southeastern Conference (SEC) of the NCAA: “We hope everyone realizes we’re moving into a new era and this is the way to retain the collegiate model. This is an historic moment. If we don’t seize the moment, we’ll make a mistake.”

First, the fact that there is awareness by leaders of college athletics that this is a time of significant and historic change is important. Often, we don’t know we’re in the middle of historic moments until well after they have passed. But more important is the recognition that failure to seize the moment will be a problem. It’s not enough to recognize an historic moment. There must be a willingness to take advantage of the opportunity it provides, and make decisions for the future.

Foresight, unlike hindsight, is rarely 20/20. But waiting until we can make a decision with absolute certainty is almost always too late to make the most of it. We have to settle for “seeing through a glass darkly.” We walk by faith, not by sight. And if we try to walk by hindsight, we will stumble into the future battered and bruised.

As we face the myriad changes that comprise our daily routines, do we take time to differentiate between what is significant and what is mere annoyance? Scripture is full of God’s assurances that He will help us to navigate life peacefully. His words to the disciples are a great reminder: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” He wants His children to be “peace-full.”

Is it possible that most things over which we ponder have a lot less importance than those to which we give only a passing tip of the hat? Failure to recognize historic moments in time could be the biggest mistake made by modern Christians. Like Martha, we fume in the kitchen fretting over the mashed potatoes, annoyed with Mary, who has chosen to sit at the feet of the One who created potatoes.

This is not to say small decisions don’t matter. Ironically, major, historic moments are often the product of small changes in a few critical, related areas. And usually these are the consequences of seemingly insignficant decisions made earlier. As the streams of the consequences of these “small” decisions come together, a wave of change sweeps over us.

Failure to be true to our values in even “minor” decisions may one day result in circumstances that threaten our existence. And if we can’t discern the significant from the trivial in both the major and minor phases of life, most likely we won’t be able to seize the big moments that come our way.

Left to our own devices, this matter of navigating life’s changes so as to make the most of all opportunities can be paralyzing. Thankfully, we were never intended to do this on our own. When Jesus promised to send us a Comforter, He wasn’t talking about a spiritual quilt to shield us from life’s bad moments. He wasn’t talking about providing a presence to lift our spirits only after bad stuff happens. What He was saying is that His Holy Spirit would be here to walk beside us in the process of contemporaneous decision-making. He is our Great Consultant—an advisor whose directions can be trusted, and, when followed, will provide us His peace. “Not as the world gives” most certainly includes comfort with foresight based on our reliance in His directions.

And, since we’re human, we don’t always get it right. Sometimes, we miss the turn and end up off course. Thanks be to God, that doesn’t affect His willingness to help us “recalculate.” The problem is only made worse if we fail to admit our error and continue to pursue the wrong direction (especially when we seem to making such good progress). Unfortunately, there seldom is a shortcut back to the point of departure from the course, but grace makes a way, meets us where we are, and continues to guide us if we’re willing to follow.

The never-ending flow of change approaches warp speed. We want to move ahead, embrace new opportunities, and not be encumbered by old or outdated systems. I’m reminded of the words of my former pastor, “Not all change is improvement.” Likely, there is a baby somewhere in that old bathwater. Due diligence must be taken before abandoning what may seem to be outdated. Of course, due diligence is hard work, but at a time when it may seem to be most inconvenient, it also becomes most important. And taking time to listen to and follow the direction of the Master is critical to the process.

Don Walter is director of Pensions and Benefits USA for the Church of the Nazarene.

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