Consider this a call to realism. To see the events, challenges, joys, and sorrows of our lives realistically. In my experience, I see three paths that folks tend to walk. One path is externalism, where all sorrows come from external forces. It is always someone else’s fault, but never their own. Another path is internally driven, where all sorrow is their fault. The third path seeks truth, accepting that some sorrows, challenges, and joys are external, and others are internal.
Peter wrote, “The end of all things is near; therefore, be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer.” (1 Peter 4:7, NASB95) One way or the other, the end is always relatively near. Christ could return today, or we could meet our deaths. This verse is the first of a list of brief encouragements as Peter closes out his letter. And the very first thing is the encouragement to have sound judgment and a sober spirit in our prayers.
We’ll explore the application of Peter’s encouragement in a moment. Let’s first delve into the three paths mentioned above.
Blaming others, be they people, demons, or forces outside of our control, is as old as the Garden of Eden. Sometimes that is the case. External forces do impact our lives. The sins of others wound us, challenge us, and create terrible circumstances as a result. But, how we respond and react to those outside forces is up to us. Do we blame them or forgive them? Can we see our own sin in the circumstance and the wrong choices we also made?
Neither is blaming ourselves for the circumstances of our lives a fruitful path. In some respects, it seems humble, but more often than not, it is also a blame game called “pity me.” No one is the sole creator or curator of their circumstances. Hindsight is 20-20 as they say. We can easily look back and see better choices, better outcomes, if only we had made a different choice. God will forgive us in Christ, can we forgive ourselves?
Having “sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer” requires a realistic Spirit-led perspective. A view that recognizes both the external forces and the internal failures of each circumstance, challenge, joy, and sorrow. In that center is tremendous humility and capacity for powerful faith and expansive love. Striving for truth illuminated realism avoids the blame games we play. It pushes us towards seeing to the speck in our eye before addressing the log in someone else’s. And taking on this perspective removes us from being the center.
What do I mean by that? Why shouldn’t we be the center of our lives? Both blame games place us at the center – everything is either happening to us or because of us. But our lives are not the center of the universe. We are not the cause of everything we struggle with, nor is everything poised to destroy us. Instead, we should take on a decentralized center. By regarding others, we decentralize ourselves. Seeing each other as more important than ourselves. In another aspect, we center our lives on Jesus Christ instead of on ourselves. He is the sun we orbit. A view as earthshattering as when Copernicus discovered that the earth revolves around the sun.
Finally, this may mean resetting our expectations for life. Each life is unique with its own set of challenges and potential joys. Yes, there are often external forces outside of our control. Yes, often we cause our own sorrows. We cannot measure our sin or our situation by that of others. Our expectations need to have the realistic bent of sound judgment and sober thought.
Some may think that this dashes all faith and leans towards fatalism. But trusting God is the ultimate reality. Having faith-driven realistic expectations requires honesty. And I can’t honestly tell you which of the three paths you are on. Only you, with the help of the Holy Spirit, can discover that for yourself. The path of realism is not easy. It is a slower, more deliberate path of life, but it is also the path of a fruitful and meaningful life.