Avoiding the Nightmare

One of my favorite TV personalities is Gordon Ramsay. It’s at least partly because I would like to get away with as much as he does, but it is also because I am constantly impressed with how he does his business – he works with passion, commitment, and an uncompromising focus on excellence. One of his shows, Kitchen Nightmares, features him going into failing restaurants and doing his best to turn them into success stories for the owners. It gets a bit formulaic at times, but one of the regular moments in most episodes is, I think, very telling. At a point early in the show, Ramsay sits down with the owner to talk about the history of the restaurant. Most of the time, whether the owner started the business or bought it, it was successful to some degree. However, a point came when it turned and went, as Ramsay would say, pear-shaped. The business declined, began losing both customers and cash. Then Ramsay asks the owner what he/she did at that point to try to fix things, and the answer is almost always the same.

“I didn’t change anything.”

The owner is afraid to lose his/her “loyal customers.” They think that things will get even worse if they change, or they don’t know what will happen and it scares them. So they press on with a failing business model, going deeper and deeper in the hole. To the owners, the results they see are random, unexplainable, or a reaction to some minor issue that is out of that person’s control.

What the owners don’t recognize is that their business and success (or lack thereof) is a direct result of decisions that they have made. They have chosen, either directly and with intentionality or indirectly without thinking, the path that has led the business to where it is. They do not recognize that, if that path has led to $1,000,000 debt, that they should maybe think about changing how they do things.

From the outside, we see this as a bit ridiculous – if we were faced with a million dollars in debt we would freak out! However, we often do the same thing with our own lives. We are unhappy with different aspects of our lives; we feel stressed out, unfulfilled, and overly busy. We have regrets about our time and our relationships, we are not happy about our finances, and we simply wish our lives were something other than what they are. We are not willing to accept that our lives are exactly the way they are because of the decisions we have made. Whether intentionally or indirectly, our lives are a series of cause-and-effect relationships and our decisions have created our present reality. It is true that there are things that are out of our control, when we are at the mercy of chance or other peoples decisions, but we are far more often in control of our lives than we often admit.

So if we bring ourselves to that point where we break through and decide to change something, where do we begin? Often times others will tell us to picture what we want out of life and work towards that goal, but I would suggest something different.

What this really boils down to is priorities. What is truly important, what is the priority for your life? For those who have chosen to follow Christ, the priority for everything we do should be to bring glory and honor and praise to God. The Westminster Shorter Catechism says it better than I could:

Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever.

We exist, we were created, for a purpose – to bring glory and praise to God, in this life and forever. There is nothing more. That is the reason we were created. We can fight that and do our own selfish thing, or we can embrace it and seek to fulfill our purpose to the best of the ability God has given us. We can make ourselves and our twisted, blind view on what we think we want to determine our priorities, or we can seek to turn our hearts and minds to what God wants and let Him determine our priorities. When we do that, we will feel a sense of fulfillment because we will be living as we were made to live. When we don’t, we will have a sense of emptiness because we are not fulfilling our purpose for existence.

Are you unhappy or unsatisfied with life? Do you have a sense of emptiness, a frustration with the results of your daily routine and the various activities in your life? Take a look at your priorities, think about the choices you have made that has led you to where you are, and pray that your priorities would be God’s. The reality is, even when we think we are in control, anything we do ourselves is possible because God allows it. He is in control. He may allow us to stray from Him and to pursue our own selfish goals for a time, but that does not mean that anything, anything, is outside of His power. He will guide us and He will help us when we seek to trust Him.

If you decide for God, living a life of God-worship, it follows that you don’t fuss about what’s on the table at mealtimes or whether the clothes in your closet are in fashion. There is far more to your life than the food you put in your stomach, more to your outer appearance than the clothes you hang on your body. Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, careless in the care of God. And you count far more to him than birds.

Has anyone by fussing in front of the mirror ever gotten taller by so much as an inch? All this time and money wasted on fashion—do you think it makes that much difference? Instead of looking at the fashions, walk out into the fields and look at the wildflowers. They never primp or shop, but have you ever seen color and design quite like it? The ten best-dressed men and women in the country look shabby alongside them.

If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.

Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.

-Jesus (Matthew 6:25-34, The Message, Eugene Peterson)

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