Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Do You React Or Respond?

Do you react or respond? What’s the difference, you may ask.  A reaction is an involuntary, uncontrolled action resulting from external stimuli of some sort.  A response is a controlled and intentional action that is carefully thought through.

 Jesus responded.

Jesus knew exactly how to respond to people and situations, and therefore His words and actions were the right ones at the right times.  For example:
  • Sometimes He walked away.
Remember when His hometown crowd was angry at Him they wanted to kill Him.  In Luke 4 we read that Jesus "walked right through the crowd and went on His way." There was no reasoning with this angry mob and Jesus knew it was time to walk away.
  • Sometimes He confronted.
In John 8:43-47 Jesus confronts the hypocritical Pharisees and religious leaders very directly.  He said to them, “Why is my language not clear to you?  Because you are unable to hear what I say.  You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father's desire. . . The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God."

He responded to their accusations and evil motives with a strong confrontation, carefully worded so that they could not miss His point.
  • Sometimes He shamed people.
Think of how Jesus handled the crowd of men who wanted Him to stone the woman caught in adultery.  Quietly, without a word, He shamed them so that they all walked away and left Him alone with her.
  • Sometimes He ignored people.
When the crowd told Jesus not to bother coming to Jairus' house because his daughter was already dead, Jesus ignored them and told Jairus to do the same. 

Mark 5:36 tells us:  "Ignoring what they said, Jesus told the synagogue ruler, 'Don't be afraid; just believe.'"   

Jesus was never in react mode. He knew exactly what He wanted to say, said it with emphasis, and did it to teach and help others.  He always spoke the truth, sometimes in strong words, sometimes in gentle words, but always from the right motive – because He loved the people. 

Get beyond the reaction to the response.

An inappropriate reaction often happens involuntarily before we can stop it.  But we can learn to get past the reaction, and not allow the reaction to control our behavior.

A reaction of anger or self-pity or revenge is not unusual. The problem begins when we allow those reactions to control our behavior because we don’t wait until the reaction has passed, and then decide how best to respond.

Prepare to respond

Responding rather than reacting has to be learned – it won’t just happen.  We must be intentional about it, pray about it, and depend upon God’s Spirit within us to both motivate us to want to respond rather than react, and give us the power to do it.

Plan in advance what an appropriate response might be for certain people or situations. For example, an alternate strategy for that person who is negative is to say something positive in response.  An alternate strategy for the person who is very critical is to thank him or her and acknowledge that you will  consider the suggestion.

Then when you feel your reaction level starting to rise, when you sense your emotions are starting to take over, when you know that you're not exactly in control of your reactions, send up a quick prayer.  "Lord, please help me here.  This is a tough one for me.  I want to respond rather than react, but I need your help." 

These verses remind us of the need to respond rather than react:

Proverbs  18:13:  He who answers before listening - that is his folly and his shame.   

Proverbs 12:16:  A fool shows his annoyance at once, but a prudent man overlooks an insult.

I Thessalonians 5:15: Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always be kind to each other and to everyone else.

The power of responding

Can you imagine the impact we would have in our working worlds if we Christians were responding more than reacting?  We would surely be lights in dark worlds, because most of the people around us are in react mode most of the time.  To be truly conformed to the image of Jesus Christ, which is our mission as believers, we need to become responders rather than reactors. 

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