It’s a famous scene in the movie “City Slickers.” Curley, the cowboy character played by Jack Palance, says to Billy Midlife-Crisis-Angst Crystal:
“You city folk, you worry about a lot of [stuff]… You all come up here about the same age, same problems. Spend about 50 weeks a year getting’ knots in your rope and then you think two weeks up here will untie ‘em for ya’. And none of you get it. Do you know what the secret of life is?”
“No, what?” says Crystal.
“This,” Curley says, holding up one finger.
“One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and everything else don’t mean [nothing].”
“That’s great, but… what’s the one thing?”
“That’s what you gotta figure out.”
Tough times have a way of bringing out complicated questions. Ever since Cain killed Abel, or Job’s friends made a “sympathy” visit, people have responded to adversity by haggling and hand-wringing over the deep, often-unanswerable questions in life. Questions like, “Why is this happening to me?” or “Who’s responsible for that?”
During times like that, we all need somebody who can again bring us back to consciousness. We need somebody to hold up the one finger. One of my most memorable came when Bea Benton said those profound words to me, “Nobody ever solved a problem by getting to the bottom of it!”
Before Curley, There Was Peter
The Bible has its own version of Curley. Peter, a fisherman, had no use for long arguments or whiny debates. When he tried walking on water and began to sink, he didn’t holler, “Lord, why is this happening to me?” He cried out, “Help, I’m sinking!” He left it to the preachers and theologians to sort out why it happened.
Fast forward to the letter that bears his name. Peter is writing to believers in Jesus whose lives had been devastated by financial ruin, forced relocation, rejection and prejudice, unjust imprisonment, and even death. And while he was writing to encourage them, he refused to cheapen the standard for what was expected from those who bore the name of Jesus. Joy, faith, holiness and integrity had no loopholes for hardship.
So when Peter begins in love to address the issue of Christ followers who were suffering for doing good, he avoids the complicated questions and simply holds up the one finger.
But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled. but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence” (1 Peter 3:14-16).
“Consider yourself blessed if you suffer for doing good.” Seriously?
“Don’t fear their intimidation, and don’t be troubled.” Huh?
He’s not kidding.
When adversity comes, it doesn’t matter who or what caused it. Only one thing matters, and that’s who’s on first.
When your soul is seared with pain, grief, or sadness, it doesn’t matter why all this is happening. Only one thing matters, and that’s who’s on first.
When you feel robbed of the things or relationships you value most, it doesn’t matter if God did it, or the devil, or somebody. Only one thing matters, and that’s who’s on first.
When the world is cruel and you’re sitting on the unfair end of a raw deal, it doesn’t matter who’s to blame or shame. Only one thing matters, and that’s who’s on first.
Even in a hostile environment, we are called – and privileged – to reflect that most important relationship in our lives, and that’s Christ.
We reflect Him as a matter of priorities – setting Him apart from all other competing values.
We reflect Him as a matter of readiness – always alert for opportunities to talk about, focus on, account for Him.
We reflect Him as a matter of hope – that He is the foundation upon which we build our future.
We reflect Him as a matter of character – that no matter how hostile the world is around us, we respond with gentleness and reverence.
Identifying YOUR “One Thing”
One thing is certain. Whether you are conscious of it or not, someone or something is functioning as your driving force – what Peter referred to as “Lord.” We toss that word – Lord – around as if it’s just another code name for God. But it has a meaning that people in free societies aren’t used to – undisputed, unquestioned, unlimited authority and power.
And despite your claims to be in control and free, you have a Lord. It may be THE Lord, or it may be yourself, or someone or something else. The challenge is to be able to cut through the self-deception and honestly identify what it is.
In the language of Peter’s challenge to the harassed believers in his day, you will find some hints to help you identify who’s on first in your life. Take a look at each of these thoughtfully. Deliberately. Honestly.
1. Priority: What are the things you are willing to say “no”to other things for? Priorities are reflected in choices we make, dollars we spend, and time we give. They are also reflected in compromises we make, resources we hold onto, and matters or people we ignore. Life continually presents us with competing priorities. Who or what are you sacrificing for?
2. Readiness: What are you willing to be interrupted for? Confession: I hate interruptions. But I often dearly love the people making them. And the people who are most important in my life go to the front of the interruption line. That’s true for you as well. Quick question: Is it OK for God to interrupt your agenda or plans? Are you ready to change course in a moment’s notice if He calls for it? You are willing for something or someone. The question is, who?
3. Accountability – Where do you turn to make sense of your world? The word Peter uses for “defense” literally means “from logic.” He was encouraging believers, even in the face of turmoil, to have a logical answer for their hope. Often we relegate the realms of spirit or values to feelings or “blind faith.” But we also have a sense-making side as well, and when push comes to shove, we will turn somewhere to bring order to our thinking.
4. Hope – what are you building your future on? Hope is a confident expectation of what will happen in the future. The very nature of an uncertain future forces us to turn somewhere for confidence to face it. Some people turn inward and look to themselves. Others turn to people, the government, or some institution. Others have made the discovery that they can trust their future to the Lord, His providence and His care because He is their driving force.
5. Character – what are the principles around which you base your behavior? Something drives your lifestyle choices. Hedonism says, “If it feels good, do it.” Materialism says, “If it looks good, get it.” Egoism says, “If it makes you look good, go for it.” And you know somebody whose lives are driven by each of these, and more. Peter encouraged the believers, on the other hand, despite their pain, to continue to display character driven by gentleness and reverence.
We all face situations and people that are outside our control. But we can control who or what’s on first. It starts with an honest look at what our “one thing” currently is. And from there, He calls us, not just to make Christ our hope for dying, but our source – our one source – for living.