Curb Your Enthusiasm
Thinking it through
by Brian Radcliffe
Suitable for Whole School (Sec)
To encourage us to avoid knee-jerk responses to both opportunities and opposition.
Preparation and materials
- You will need a leader and two readers.
Leader: For most of us, life is littered with stories of broken promises. These may have been promises that were made to us or promises that we’ve made to our parents/carers. Promises like these . . .
Reader 1: If you elect me as your representative, I promise I’ll reduce crime, increase wages and make the world a safer place in which to live.
Reader 2: OK, mate, I’ll be round tomorrow and I’ll get your leak fixed right away.
Reader 1: If you lend me that money, I’ll give it back to you this time next week.
Reader 2: Trust me. I promise that I know the way we need to go.
Leader: It may be that the politician, the plumber and the two friends fully intended to do what they promised. The politician may well believe in her party’s policies and want to achieve all that she promised. The plumber did have a short gap in his schedule where he thought that he could squeeze in another appointment. The first friend probably had every intention of repaying the loan and the second one may well have trusted their own navigational skills. The problem is that, in the meantime, something unpredicted happened that changed the situation and the promises couldn’t be kept.
Today’s assembly considers two stories that Jesus told that contain a lot of common sense for those of us who enthusiastically make promises. Let’s listen to them.
Reader 1 (reading from Luke 14.28-30): ‘Is there anyone here who, planning to build a new house, doesn’t first sit down and figure the cost so you’ll know if you can complete it? If you only get the foundation laid and then run out of money, you’re going to look pretty foolish. Everyone passing by will poke fun at you: “He started something he couldn’t finish.”’
Reader 2 (reading from Luke 14.31-33): ‘Or can you imagine a king going into battle against another king without first deciding whether it is possible with his 10,000 troops to face the 20,000 troops of the other? And if he decides he can’t, won’t he send an emissary and work out a truce? Simply put, if you’re not willing to take what is dearest to you, whether plans or people, and kiss it good-bye, you can’t be my disciple.’
Leader: Sounds like sensible advice, don’t you think? However enthusiastic the builder might be about the project in front of him, his first task is to cost it, allocate the workforce and work out a timescale. If he doesn’t, he might go bankrupt or fail to meet deadlines and lose the contract. Either way, he ends up embarrassed and his firm is unlikely to be trusted in the future.
Similarly, before declaring war, the king should consider the strength of his army. If he’s heavily outnumbered, the wiser action would probably be to negotiate a peace deal. You fight only the battles where you know that you stand a good chance of winning.
What are we like with knee-jerk reactions?
Pause to allow time for thought.
Do we get enormously enthusiastic and throw ourselves into all sorts of projects and relationships?
What about any challenge, insult or opposition to ourselves? Do we react instantly?
Pause to allow time for thought.
What is the result? Sometimes, we’ll achieve success, but at other times, we’ll end up with the embarrassment of unfulfilled promises. Both might have been avoided with a measured pause to consider the options or to count slowly to ten.
Time for reflection
Leader: Let’s unpack those two situations a little more. First, it’s good to be enthusiastic and self-confident, to get up and go. We need activists, leaders, those who are decisive in addressing the situations that we face. However, it’s also wise to stop for a moment to think the process through: who else will be involved? How long will it take? What effect will it have on other commitments? What will be the cost? It may cause us to modify our plans, thus making our involvement more helpful.
Second, when we feel affronted or unjustly blamed, hurt or ignored, however strongly we feel about the issue, it is often wise to consider whether this is the best time to respond. Have we got our facts right? Have we misread the situation? Is the other person just as worked up as we are, so is unlikely to listen? Is a physical response or saying some harsh words simply going to make the situation worse? Taking those few seconds to think may mean that a satisfactory resolution is more likely.
It’s worth considering the context in which Jesus told these stories. He was talking about his audience’s reactions to his invitation to follow him. To the enthusiast, he says, ‘Think through carefully the consequences of following me. There will be a cost.’ To those who are offended by his claims, he says, ‘Don’t be so easily roused. You may regret it later.’
It can be like that with any of us when we’re challenged to follow a certain lifestyle. It may be the challenge to follow a faith choice, a political philosophy or a set of environmental principles. It’s easy to be enthusiastic initially and then to cool down as we realize the cost. On the other hand, we can be tempted to reject faith or a lifestyle without really considering what it might offer us. In both instances, it’s worth considering Jesus’ advice. The best decisions are made that way.
Thank you for the varied opportunities and challenges that life offers us.
Remind us of the need to pause and carefully consider our options when either situation is in front of us.