The cart before the horse

Raised in the Southern Baptist church, I can sing the lyrics to “Trust and Obey” by John H. Sammis by heart with the best of ’em. I have hummed the hymn for years, summing up the meaning in a juvenile way–I just need to listen to God and do what He says because it’s the right thing to do.

Well, yes. But…

I lived all of my adult life under the premise of “I believe in God, but I don’t quite trust Him to handle everything.” I served as my own God. I was the manager of my life. I was driving the bus, and God was relegated to the seat WAAAAY in the back. I prayed, but my prayers were simply orders. “Dear God, you say to ‘ask and ye shall receive,’ so I’m asking that you would do X, Y, and Z.” My requests weren’t founded in faith. They were based on my near-sighted needs and wants and my sheer brilliance in knowing what was right for everybody else, too. Surely God appreciated my assistance.
cart horseTurns out, as I discovered while going through a real soul-searching process, I didn’t really believe God. If I did, I would have been able to trust Him all along. I wouldn’t have placed orders with Him. I would have focused more on our relationship than on my own worries, expectations, fears, and failures.
Thankfully, I have learned (the hard way, I guess) that “trusting and obeying,” as the hymn goes, does not work for me. In this case, putting the cart before the horse is the only way I get it done.
What works is to take action in spite of my feelings—to obey even when I don’t feel sure that I can trust God at all. If I obey Him, in spite of my own worries, fears, and doubts, He comes through for me. I feel more grounded in my faith when I obey Him. I gain confidence in Who He Is because He does what He says He will do.
This builds my trust.
Then I’m more likely to obey the next time I’m faced with a sticky situation.
And then I build more trust in Him.
For those of us who are stubborn-hearted and Doubting Thomases, obedience always precedes trust.
And that’s not such a bad thing.
Whatever it takes to get me on the right path is what I’m willing to do. For me, that means taking action even if I don’t feel like it. It means doing the next right thing when I’d really rather sit and feel sorry for myself or stress about things, my mind like a gerbil on crack, spinning its wheels relentlessly. It means obeying God. And then He comes through for me, showing up like Gandalf at sunrise, defeating gandalfeverything dark. He shines through, and I trust Him.
Now I can sing that beautiful song the way it’s written and really mean it.

The Sound of Music meets Paul

This is slightly embarrassing to admit, but I sometimes make up songs.

Okay, quite frequently, I make up songs. Especially while driving or singing to my pets. What can I say? Part of me is still 10 years-old.

I’m not sure when, but I’m sure that several years ago on some drizzly, depressing day as I was stuck in commuter traffic for an hour, I decided to combine “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music with one of my favorite verses, Philippians 4:8.

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.”

Isn’t what Paul suggests in that verse essentially the same thing as singing a song about your favorite things in order to chase away biting dogs and stinging bees?

I never understood how the Von Trapp kids could be so afraid of the storm when they were having so much fun and singing about German food (yum), kittens, and ribbons. Listen to your own song!–I’d think to myself while watching the movie as a child.

Isn’t that how I used to be, though? Just like the Von Trapp kids, I was surrounded by blessings and could have constructed an impressive gratitude list. But most days, I didn’t. I focused on the storm, the dogs, and the bees.

Sometimes I catch myself dwelling on whatever is dark, whatever is depressing, whatever is in the past, whatever is scary, whatever is dirty, and whatever is painful. When I do, I’m grateful that I’m more easily able to recognize my own tendency to focus on the drone of the bees rather than the quiet hum of What Really Matters in my heart. And then I swap out those “whatevers” for those listed in Paul’s letter to the Philippians.

And then I don’t feel soooo baaaaad . . .