Has Your “Ought-To-Mobile” Run Out of Gas?

It seems especially inappropriate as well as socially unacceptable to bring up pet peeves in the week of Thanksgiving, but here’s one of mine:

I grimace when others tell me how I ought to feel about something.

  • “Hallmark has 41 new Christmas movies this year! I’m so excited. Aren’t you?”
  • “OMG, the new XYZ smartwatch has a built-in fitness tracker, monitors your heart rate, blood oxygen, and sleep quality, and connects to most social media platforms! I’m already on a waitlist for it. You really ought to get one.”
  • Hey, don’t feel so bad about it. When God closes a door, He opens a window. Look on the bright side.”
  • And the perennial reminder this Thanksgiving week, whether spoken by others or just reverberating between our own ears, “You ought to be thankful.”

But what if our “ought-to-mobile” has broken down? Maybe, try as we might, we’re stuck in the gear of melancholy or meh or mixed reviews on the state of the world, the state of our situation, and the state of our soul.

Last Sunday morning the preacher said, as an aside that was not the primary focus of the sermon, that simply exchanging two prepositions changes my perception of almost everything.

And that lets us leave our “ought-to-mobile” behind. Really.

We Think Faster Than Preachers Talk

We think faster than anybody talks, whether preachers, or politicians, or pundits, or people in our own family. Whenever we are in corporate worship, though, and the preacher begins the sermon, we find that while we are “listening” to the words, our minds are often thinking about other things, too. Most of us speak at a rate of about 150-225 words per minute. But we think, depending on who measures and how it might be measured, at a rate of 500-800 words per minute. So, no wonder we are all thinking of other things while we are listening to someone speaking. Our minds are as busy as a beehive all the time!

So last Sunday when the preacher made a simple comment on the way to his main point, I followed the path down the aside-way trail. It took me to the recognition that exchanging two prepositions re-orients most everything for me. For those of us who have a liturgical calendar running in the background (and after 41 years serving as a pastor in a United Methodist Church I do indeed have that calendar running in the background of my mental landscape), it is a wonderful synchronicity that Christ the King Sunday casts its shadow over our national holiday of Thanksgiving Thursday. And the First Sunday of Advent, the season of expectant waiting, falls just three days later.

At Thanksgiving we might be irritable, grumpy, peevish, crotchety, and generally “out of sorts”

I don’t need to go into details about politics, the economy, national strife and international threat, intergenerational uproar in our culture or our own homes, or the frustratingly unfulfilled hopes for racial reconciliation, justice, and peace in our country and world. And just when you think you could count on your local church to bring hope and assurance, to point out a pathway for peace and serenity, well, United Methodism has been described by some recently as a denominational dumpster-fire.

The old hymn, often and unfortunately relegated to use exclusively as an “altar call special”, describes all of us some of the time and some of us all of the time:

Just as I am, though tossed about
With many a conflict, many a doubt
Fighting and fears within without
Oh, Lamb of God, I come, I come

Ah, there it is: the invitation to exchange prepositions!

The preacher’s aside last Sunday morning was simple and straightforward:

We are not thankful FOR things or circumstances, but thankful TO the Lord who is good and whose mercy never fails.

The old Sunday School song of “counting our blessings” was/is, I guess, an effort to see that as we total them all up, our balance sheet tilts in favor of “blessings” over “curses”. So, as the psychological/spiritual trajectory of counting blessings is supposed to go, we “ought to be thankful.” My experience and observation are that the balance sheet always and everywhere is, actually, much more mixed than that. Our lives are filled with many a conflict, many a doubt, fighting and fears within us and around us. So, if I am going to conjure up feelings of thankfulness FOR, I may well have to keep at least one eye closed to reality.

But if I give thanks TO the Lord, well, that really does change everything in the midst of the internal and external conflicts and doubts, the fighting and fears.

This morning, in another wondrous synchronicity, my devotional reading of Scripture brought me to Psalm 136. There is a lot that could be written here about where this Psalm shows up in the collection of the entire Psalter, but for the moment just observe that the first verse is:

Give thanks TO the Lord, for he is good!
His faithful love endures forever.

The last verse (verse 26) is:

Give thanks TO the God of heaven.
His faithful love endures forever.

And every verse in between recalls examples of God’s unfailing mercy and concludes with the repeated chorus:

His faithful love endures forever.

Instead of focusing on whether the circumstances I’m in are better or worse, I am invited to give thanks TO the One whose mercies are new every morning and whose faithful love continues uninterrupted.

Celebrating Christ the King Overshadows Our National Holiday and Our Personal Circumstances

I won’t attempt to tell you to “feel thankful” for your circumstances. But I want to remind you of the One to whom we give thanks.

If you’d like a little fuel for faith in your tank today, give a listen to the inimitable Dr. SM Lockridge, the Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, a prominent African-American congregation in San Diego, California, from 1953 to 1993.

So, ditch the “ought-to-mobile”.

Give thanks to the Lord, for God is good!
His faithful love endures forever…everyday and always.

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REV. DR. SCOTT N. FIELD

REV. DR. SCOTT N. FIELD

Interim President
Wesleyan Covenant Association
1 Corinthians 15:58

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