The grace in thinking twice

I never thought it would happen to me. I was sitting in the drive-thru line at Starbucks, eagerly anticipating my pumpkin spice latte. I pulled up to the window, offered my smart phone screen for the barista to scan the code of my Starbucks Card Account. And the barista leans out and says: “The car in front of you paid for your coffee.”

We all heard about the rash of “pay it forward” acts of kindness that seem to strike people in the drive-thru lanes of coffee and fast food establishments. I’ve even done it before, paid for the order of the person behind me. And it’s an amazing feeling!

But this isn’t a post about being grateful. This isn’t even a post about being generous. This is a post about how you shouldn’t feel.

Because when this happened to me, my initial reaction wasn’t gratitude. It was irritation.

Why? Because all I needed was one more purchase on my card to earn a free drink. And because some overly nice person in front of me bought my coffee for me, I’d have to come back again to earn my free coffee.

Yes, I’m that bad of a person.

Yes. Please laugh at me. Because it will make me feel better about being such a horrible, ungrateful person. Goodness.

This is what the Bible means about taking captive every thought, folks (2 Corinthians 10:5). Maybe your initial reaction to something isn’t what it should be, but that’s not the reaction you have to act on.

Tough stuff can happen in life. Things go on that make us question what we believe or lose our faith in others. And then sometimes good things happen too. Sometimes we expect the good things that happen, and other times we don’t. Regardless, whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing, we’re still supposed to be thankful for it (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

I would love to get to the point in my life that my first reaction to anything is spiritual, whether it’s good, bad, or indifferent. I would love to be the person who can look at any situation and see the beauty of what God is doing immediately. But I’m not there yet. Maybe someday I will be, but until then, I have the grace of second thoughts.

Gratitude isn’t my default. Faith isn’t my default either. My initial reaction any situation is to try to fix it myself or to evaluate it based on my own capability. But, frankly, it isn’t my initial reaction that matters.

My initial reaction to a situation only matters if that’s what I choose to act on. If somebody paid for my overpriced latte and I continued to feel irritated about it because I didn’t get my way, that’s a problem. The question comes down to what’s in your heart? What is your true attitude?

Proverbs 27:19 says, “As a face is reflected in water, so the heart reflects the real person.”

Initial reactions normally reflect our sin nature. People have bad days. We have difficult seasons that color the way we see our lives and other people. And if you catch us off guard at one of those moments, with a good thing or a bad thing, the way we react at first might not match up to what we say we believe. But that’s not hypocrisy. That’s a startled reaction from a flawed human being.

What matters is how we choose to act from that point on. Second thoughts are usually the point where I get a hold of myself and calm down. My second reaction is usually calmer than the first, reasoned and thought-out, once I’ve had a moment to think about how I feel, what I feel, and why I feel that way. And I’d be willing to bet I’m not the only one out there who would say this.

So what can we all take away from this?

Don’t base your understanding of someone on their initial reaction to a situation. It takes a lot longer than a snap decision to get to know another person. Sure, a snap decision can tell you a lot about someone, but not the deep stuff.

And for those of us on the snap decision side? Maybe a spiritual reaction isn’t our default, and maybe it never will be, but that shouldn’t stop us from striving for it. No, we’ll never be perfect, but the more often we choose the right reaction to a situation (good or bad), the sooner that choice will become habit.

So, thank you, whoever you are, for paying for my pumpkin spice latte. It was delicious! And thank you too for helping me understand the grace in thinking twice and the habit of gratitude.

For Reals

What does it mean to be truly genuine? I checked just for curiosity’s sake, and this is what it had to say:

1. possessing the claimed or attributed character, quality, or origin; not counterfeit; authentic; real: genuine sympathy; a genuine antique.
2. properly so called: a genuine case of smallpox.
3. free from pretense, affectation, or hypocrisy; sincere: a genuine person.
4. descended from the original stock; pure in breed: a genuine Celtic people.

 Definition number three suits my thinking this morning. It’s a tall order.

To be free from pretense, affectation, or hypocrisy–to be sincere–makes one a genuine person, at least by definition in the dictionary.

So what does it mean to be a genuine Christian? Obviously, you need to have faith because if you don’t have faith in Christ, you’re not a Christian. And if you don’t believe the Bible, you’re just spinning your wheels if you claim to be a Christian. But there is more to Christianity than just believing in something–or as in the case of most Christians, believing against something. Our faith requires action, so if you combine the dictionary’s definition to what it means to be a Christian, your actions need to be free from pretense, affectation or hypocrisy to be a genuine Christian.

 Great! . . . So how do we do that?

Well, the answer is pretty simple. Granted, it’s easier said than done, but then most things in life are. You can find the answer in 1 John 4:20-21:

If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see? 21 And he has given us this command: Those who love God must also love their Christian brothers and sisters.

If you want to be a genuine Christian, you need to love people. And not only do you need to love people who don’t know Christ, you need to love people do who. Now, I know that sounds backwards, that it should be harder to love people who don’t share your faith. But to tell you the truth, for me, Christians are the hardest people group to love. Not all of them, of course. Because my closest, dearest friends are Christians who I love more than life. But then–I know some other Christians who aren’t so easy to love. Some of them are hypocritical. Many of them are judgmental. All of them are stubborn. (I could very easily be looking in a mirror right now because I display all these qualities too.) But to be a genuine Christian, I need to love my fellow Believers in spite of their flaws, in spite of our differences of opinion in preference. If they believe in Christ, they are my brothers and sisters; and I don’t have a choice whether I love them or not. I am commanded to love them.

I honestly struggle with this at times because I have experienced so much hurt and hate at the hands of the church and religion. And I have seen other people I love being torn to pieces by cruel words and selfish actions–things you would expect of the world but not of the church! But, yet, the people who have hurt me the most in my life have been other Christians. That’s not the way it’s supposed to be.

We are a family. And, certainly, it’s normal for families to squabble, but generally speaking families don’t try to destroy each other. (Like I said, generally speaking. I think I’ve heard stories of an axe murderer on my Dad’s side of the family but that could have been a joke.)

Want to be genuine? Christians, love each other. You don’t really have a choice. And if you choose to hate another Christian anyway, you’re a liar. Those aren’t my words. They’re God’s. And some day soon, He’ll call you on it.