Do the Right Thing

  • Randy Karlberg
Two doors next to each other one bright red and the other bright yellow

Most of our choices and decisions in this life are straightforward.  There are basic, agreed-upon ways of treating other people that are consistent across different cultures.  Helping someone in genuine need would be one of those things that most people would agree is a positive action.  Every religion that I know of takes a positive view of helping others in need.  So why do people often resist or even turn away from opportunities to help others in need?  Well, I think the self-centeredness of a person’s heart would be one reason.  We can also throw in busyness—taking care of our own needs first—or even holding a negative attitude toward a person as a reason to avoid helping out a person in need. Whatever the reason, there is a binary nature to much of life. There is a clear right and wrong sense to things and God created us to see that.

But what about the idea of seeing and then doing the right thing when the path to achieving the right thing, or even the goal of doing right is not at all clear?  How are we, as Christians, to arrive at what is the right thing within the complexities and ambiguities of so many concerns of our time?

Let me tell you a poignant story from my parenting years that I think will illustrate this contemplative conundrum.  In the late 1990s our family was coming home from church on a Sunday morning and stopped at a local store to buy a Sunday newspaper from the machine out front.  I sent one of my sons out to put the money in the paper machine and grab the paper, which he did.  In true elementary boy fashion, he then proceeded to push the coin return button on the machine.  What happened next caused a mixture of shock and elation.  Quarters began streaming out like he had conquered a “one arm bandit” in Las Vegas! He quickly began picking up the quarters that had fallen to the ground.  When finished counting he had thirty quarters altogether.  That equals $7.50, for those of you who are using your phone to read this and you can’t get to your calculator.  My son looked at me wide-eyed with the “what do I do now” shrug. 

Thinking back I was a bit surprised and slightly perplexed as to what to say to him. I told him to gather the change and get in the car.  Now we all were faced with one of those life-learning situations.  What was I to tell him to do?  I very much wanted this to be a moment where he did the right thing.  But I knew that the decision needed to come from him.  So here is what I arrived at after consultation with my wife.  Son, you have three options as I see it.  One, you could keep the money.  You didn’t break in or take it in a dishonest way.  You could just keep it and walk away.  Then I said, but neither did you earn the money.  It belongs to the newspaper company.  So you could give it to the store and tell them what happened.  Then they could give it to the newspaper company.  Or third, you could call the newspaper company yourself and tell them what happened.  I want you to decide what you think you should do.

Well in this particular instance, I can say that I was very proud of what my son chose.  He went to school on Monday and asked his teacher if the class could pray for him to make the right decision.  And the Lord answered in such a way that only the Lord could have envisioned.  My son informed me on the way home from school that he had asked the class to pray for him to do the right thing.  He then told me he knew what he was going to do with the money.  He said he wanted to call the newspaper company and tell them of the error.  So I helped him with the number, and he called them up on the phone.  When he was linked up with the proper department, he explained what had happened and how he had their money.  The employee on the phone thanked him and asked him for his address so he could pick up the loot!  He gave them our address, but just before they hung up, the newspaperman asked him a peculiar question.  He asked my son if he liked movies?  To which my son replied, sure I like movies.  His response was met with a providential statement.  He replied, “I am proud of you calling and turning in the money.  That was the right thing to do.  Many people would have just kept the money.  So I am wondering if it is okay for me to bring you three movie passes so you can treat a couple of friends to a movie?”  How amazing!  He did not have to do that, but it drove home a powerful lesson for my son and his entire class that now knew the conclusion of the story.  He had peace in his heart because he knew he did the right thing!  Then there is the reward for doing the right thing.  The monetary gain of movie tickets my son realized surpassed the initial machine malfunction.  He turned in $7.50 in quarters to receive $27.00 worth of movie passes.  And he was thrilled at the opportunity to take a couple of buds to the movies on him! 

I see this example as more than just a feel-good story because it so clearly illustrates to us how God works in our lives.  Proverbs 3:5-8 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your paths.  Be not wise in your own eyes: fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.  It will be healing to your flesh, and refreshment to your bones.”  God commands us to honor God first in our lives!  Do what He wants you to do.  Consider your needs and or wants, far after you consider God’s ways and others’ needs.  When you rely on the Lord for wisdom and direction we are told we will receive healing and refreshment from the Lord.  What an incredible promise.  And later in Proverbs 3:13-14, we read, “Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who gets understanding, for the gain from her (wisdom) is better than gain from silver and her profit better than gold.”  Think about this promise for a while.  That is an incredible claim!  Do you believe it?  I mean REALLY believe it?  What would you tell someone in your life as to how you have seen God at work in a way that shows His reward for Godly thinking? 

Godly wisdom is often seen by the world as ridiculous, or even foolish. 

I Corinthians 3:19 reads, “For the wisdom of this world is folly with God.  For it is written, ‘He catches the wise in their craftiness.’”  When we are wise in our own eyes it actually moves us toward evil thoughts and desires.  There is healing in honoring the Lord with your life.  So when you are faced with a situation in life that seems to lead you toward pursuing earthly understanding, consider that honoring the Lord in your decision making will help you to rest more easily, as well as, to receive a reward that may come in an unexpected way but is promised to be realized fully in eternity.  So go ahead and Do the Right Thing!