In Eat this Book, Eugene Peterson teaches us to chew on a passage of scripture, digest it and then put it to use in practical ways. Romans 12 tells us to take our “everyday, ordinary life – your sleeping, eating going to work, walking around life – and place it before God as an offering.” The verses below focus on having a vigilant and persistent attitude during hard times.
Romans 12: 11 – 13 (The Message)
“Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant, don’t quit in hard times; pray all the harder.
In his introduction to the book of Romans in The Message, Eugene Peterson says that “whenever this letter arrived in Rome, hardly anyone read it, certainly no one of influence.” He goes on to say, “Yet in no time, this letter left all other writings in the dust. The quick rise of this letter to a peak of influence is extraordinary written as it was an obscure Roman citizen without connections. This letter to the Romans is a piece of exuberant and passionate thinking.”
One of the most celebrated chapters of this celebrated book is Chapter 12. It lays out a road map to living as an apprentice of Jesus. First we are told, “Don’t be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you can figure out what God’s will is—what is good and pleasing and mature” (Romans 12: 2, CEB). And then we find a long list of very practical ways to live a transformed life. I was struck recently by verses 11-13 where we are given advice on how to stay focused on who we are and not on what has been done to us. This advice applies to weighty life issues, but it can also help us develop transformative habits that will bring us peace of mind and encourage living peaceably with others.
It’s been one of those weeks. My husband Fred ran out of coffee and we had to try three places all with parking lots full of Christmas shoppers before we found the kind he wanted. The pharmacy didn’t have Fred’s pain medicine because the doctor sent it to the wrong pharmacy. Two utility companies have said we’re past due because I did not renew an Automated Payment plan when we moved in October. The dashboard light to “check tires” went on; we filled the low tire; the light is still on. I came home empty handed from Sam’s Club one morning because I’m not a Sam’s Plus member and therefore can’t shop until 10:00 AM (who knew?). To top it all off, a shelf fell down in a kitchen cabinet.
We all have these frustrating and aggravating little inconveniences – certainly “first world “problems.” But they can often throw us off our intention to live by Jesus and into a whirlpool of anger and discouragement. How do we deal with the petty things without losing our cool and our patience – and perhaps our witness?
Here’s how Paul’s letter helped me manage some of these situations:
- My mother-in-law had an interesting saying: “If you are upset because you have no shoes, think about the man with no feet.” When I’m feeling sorry for myself, I usually focus on the much-publicized photo of the three-year-old boy in blue shorts and a red shirt, lying on the shore after drowning when a boat load of immigrants capsized. This child lost his life looking for freedom! How do I dare feel put out because we had to negotiate traffic to find coffee! “Pray all the harder.”
- Paul says, “Don’t quit in hard times.” When I came home from Sam’s, I swore never go back there again. The clerk could have let me stay line with my two items just this once But she made me leave the store because I was unwittingly too early. My righteous indignation felt great! But not going back would be foolish – we have a year-long membership, and I need the items. I made a choice (the foundational element of all spiritual formation) and went back the next day after 10 o’clock.
- “Don’t burn out,” warns Paul. Dealing with my husband’s continual need for pain medication is a constant exercise in staying centered. So many things go wrong. This week I almost lost my cool with the pharmacy tech when she found no record of a prescription I knew had been requested. I was stopped by her wail, “Please don’t yell at me. I just got off the phone with another angry woman.” I stopped short and made a choice: say calm and take action. Even though several days ago, we had watched the doctor send the prescription to the pharmacy, we decided to call the office. We learned he had sent it to a pharmacy we haven’t used for more than five years. Another choice: blow up and yell at the nurse on the line or ask for a rush order to our right pharmacy. About four hours later, I picked up the prescription and told the tech that nobody at the pharmacy was to blame, least of all her.
- The shelf that fell down was the second such event in two weeks. The first time I managed to catch the shelf with my shoulder and saved myself from cleaning up a lot of broken dishes. This time the shelf evidently fell in the middle of the night. In the morning Fred opened the cabinet (to get his coffee!) and we discovered all the spices and some baking utensils hanging on for their lives. I groused a bit and then chose to be “cheerfully expectant” – well at least “expectant.” I called the maintenance man for the apartment complex – someone I have come to dearly appreciate. Two hours later he had replaced a dozen “shelf holders” in the two cabinets, and all the shelves were sturdy again. He also replaced a light bulb we couldn’t reach and fixed a closet door. Serendipity!
I’m learning that choosing to react like Jesus when faced with little issues builds my resolve and stamina to handle bigger problems.
More Food for Thought: Romans 12: 14 -21 (The Message)
“Bless your enemies; no cursing under your breath. Laugh with your happy friends when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down. Get along with each other; don’t be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody.
Don’t hit back; discover beauty in everyone.If you’ve got it in you, get along with everybody. Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do. “I’ll do the judging,” says God. “I’ll take care of it.”
Our Scriptures tell us that if you see your enemy hungry, go buy that person lunch, or if he’s thirsty, get him a drink. Your generosity will surprise him with goodness. Don’t let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good.”