Pastoral Message: July 2017
Life is full of unintended consequences, both good and bad. We’ve all had times of serendipity and grace, in which a chance meeting bears rich fruit in the future. Think of those moments when you bump into someone at a store or on the sidewalk, and from that conversation a special blessing later comes your way—a new job opportunity, reconnecting with an old friend, a word of advice that in hindsight makes all the difference in the world. We consider those moments as “lucky breaks” or “chance encounters,” yet it is always appropriate to look for God’s fingerprints in the seemingly mundane events of daily life.
In the same way, we sometimes make decisions today that end up unleashing a host of negative, unintended consequences tomorrow. We give in to an impulse purchase that unknowingly leads to a serious string of bank overdrafts and financial problems. We jump to a conclusion based on incomplete information and set in motion unfortunate events like broken friendships or lost jobs. I recently read how in 1958 Chairman Mao was concerned about the infestation of rats in Chinese granaries. So he encouraged people nationwide over a two-day period to kill every fly, rat and sparrow they could find. The campaign celebrated the death of almost 1 million rats and 1.4 million sparrows. Unfortunately, the sparrows didn’t just eat grain; they also ate a wide range of pests. With their predators removed, these pests ended up destroying the next year’s grain harvest, which led to the death by starvation of millions of people.
We will always act on incomplete information and our actions will always have unintended consequences, both good and bad. We never have absolute certainty before making any decision, nor can we foresee the “ripple effect” that will flow out from the individual choices we make this day. An important daily discipline is to remind yourself that God is near at all times. That awareness can help you keep your “spiritual senses” sharp, so that you can perceive both the times God is moving you in a faithful direction or when God is sending you warnings about a dangerous path you’re on. God’s grace is manifest both in unexpected joys and in hints and “spirit whispers” that redirect you from bad inclinations. But to be aware of both the positive nudges and the warning intimations, you need to follow the advice of Psalm 46:10—“Be still and know that I am God!”
Each of us is a special child of God, beloved by our Lord and Savior. Learning to listen to the still, small voice of God is an important spiritual discipline. Take time to look around each day, giving thanks to the God who is ever near. Hopefully, prayerfully, all the unintended consequences in your life will be positive ones—fruits of a spirit open to the providential leading of our loving God.