Act, Don't React!

by Pastor Jack Hyles

(Chapter 13 from Dr. Hyle's excellent book, How to Treat Different Types of Church members)

In an athletic contest the offense always has the advantage because the offense knows the play. They determine the action. The defense reacts to the action of the offense, which places them at a severe handicap. For example, in football a wide receiver runs down the field to catch a pass. He knows whether he is going to stop abruptly, cut to the right, cut to the left or run full speed ahead. He knows where the ball is to be thrown and where he is to be when the ball is thrown. The defensive man has no idea. He simply has to react to the actions of the offensive player.

The Christian should stay on the offense! Reaction means that someone else is determining your behavior. Only you can destroy yourself No one else can destroy you unless you allow him to do so. The only thing that can destroy a person is self destruction, and self destruction is caused by improper reaction. Consequently, one can be destroyed by another only when the actions of the enemy cause an improper reaction.

One of the interesting and sad things about improper reaction is that we react to our reaction. In other words, if someone provokes another to improper reaction, he then reacts to his own reaction and digs a deeper hole. Reaction takes a person away from the control of his own destiny. There are several things that should be considered concerning action and reaction.

1. Do not spend casual time with people who entice you to react wrongly. There are people whose behavior causes an unwise reaction. They may "rub you the wrong way." Find out who these people are and don't let them rub you. There are some people whose actions may cause one to react with quick temper. There are people whose actions would cause one to react with slothfulness. There are people whose actions would cause one to react with yielding to temptation. There are people whose actions would cause one to react with bitterness. Be nice to these people. Work with them if you must, but do not spend casual time with them. Everything should be planned when you are together so as not to give the person a chance to exhibit his behavior or actions that would cause an unwise reaction on your part.

2. Do not read materials that make you react unwisely. I grew up in Dallas, Texas. Because of that I grew up following the Dallas sports teams. This has made me a rabid Dallas Cowboy fan, a Dallas Maverick fan and a fan of nearly all the sports teams in and around Dallas. Then, too, I am interested in the news of my hometown. Because of this, for years I have taken a Dallas newspaper. At first I subscribed to one of the two newspapers, but there is a sports writer in one of those papers who has a terrible habit of unnecessary and extreme criticism of the local sports teams. He is so cynical that just to read his column stirs me to anger and almost contempt. One day I reminded myself that I did not have to subscribe to that newspaper, so I changed my subscription to the other Dallas paper. This was done because I did not want to read that which made me react unwisely. The same would apply to radio talk shows, television talk shows, television preachers, etc. There are some talk shows that I know will provoke me to anger and disgust and will cause me to react unwisely. Since I do not want my behavior controlled by liberals, humanists, modernists and critics, I do not listen to them, read their articles or subscribe to their publications.

I know many preachers whose preaching is simply that of reaction. They read things all week that make them mad, and then they preach on Sunday against those things. This makes for interesting preaching and will keep a good crowd coming for a little while, but it is preaching that is simply reacting to improper stimuli and will not build great Christians. Do not misunderstand me. I believe in preaching against sin, but one is supposed to hate sin, not because an undesirable creature is for it; he is supposed to hate sin because it is contrary to the will of God and the good of man. The right kind of a preacher will not need the enemy to provoke him to anger. He can provoke himself to anger by the realization of the awfulness of the sin. Much of our preaching against sin is not preaching against sin; it is preaching against sinners!

The wise Christian will not allow himself to be exposed to those things that take his initiative away and enable his behavior to simply be a series of reactions to someone else who has turned him on by their actions.

3. Be oblivious to what makes you react unwisely. I travel every week. I preach hundreds of sermons a year all over America. (In fact, this chapter is being dictated as I drive down the side of a mountain in the northwest part of our country.) I sometimes have to sit through music that could cause me to react. When such is the case, I become oblivious to that music, and during the song service and during the special music I discipline my mind to be on something else, usually on the message I am to preach and the truth I am to present. Occasionally a preacher who speaks before me will say things contrary to the truth. The temptation is for me to leave what God has given me for the congregation and to start chasing that preacher. In so doing, I get to blow off some steam and get to tell the preacher and the people what I thought about the first sermon, and the people go without what God had given me for them! Normally I simply think of the great truth that I am going to present and become oblivious to the first preacher.

On two occasions in my ministry after I preached a sermon, the pastor of the church where I preached stood to tell the people that he did not agree with my sermon and he took several minutes expressing points of disagreement and reasons for the disagreement! In one instance I had to preach again within 15 minutes. The other time I had to preach again that evening. Of course, the natural tendency is for me to make my rebuttal in the next message, but the natural tendency is not usually right, so in both cases I proceeded to preach the message that I was going to preach without making a rebuttal at all. Why should I cause the people to suffer because I had been injured! Why should I preach a reactionary sermon when I had already decided the course of action that I felt the Holy Spirit wanted me to follow!

4. Plan your reactions. By that I mean, foresee battles that may arise and times when you will be compelled by conviction and circumstances to respond to someone else's behavior. Take some time. Sit down for awhile. Think of possible actions that you may have to follow and to which you may have to respond. Decide beforehand what you are going to say and do. Do not let the spur of the moment cause you to react unwisely but in the prayerful quiet of your own study or room, decide yourself what your reaction will be to certain forms of behavior. This changes your reaction to action, since you have decided what you are going to do before the other person has done it. This enables you to have more time to decide. It enables you to decide before the heat of the battle, and it enables you to decide without emotion.

Twenty-eight years ago I became Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Hammond. The first year was a hectic one. People set themselves against my ministry and made serious attempts to force my resignation. A special night was set when we would thrash out the problems and the people would be allowed to ask me questions from the floor. For hours I sat in the basement of our parsonage and tried to predict what questions would be asked. I came to the conclusion that each question that would be asked me would be one of seventeen. I wrote these seventeen questions and made a full page outline as to how I would answer each question when and if it were asked. Though all the questions were not asked at this special meeting, there were no questions asked that were not on my list. Consequently, when each question was asked, I did not have to react, for I had planned my reaction beforehand, making it an action. So when the question was asked, I simply pulled out the prepared answer and read it. This was done calmly without emotion and not in a reactionary spirit. Ibis probably saved the First Baptist Church of Hammond for the cause of fundamentalism and probably for the cause of usefulness. Any time one expects behavior that would tempt to improper reaction, he would be wise to plan his reactions to that behavior, making his reactions not reactions at all but actions because they were planned before the behavior was planned.

1) Plan your reaction to criticism. The flesh hates to be criticized, and when criticism comes, it is often prompt in retaliating with unwise reaction. The wise Christian will have a course of action already planned that he may follow when criticism arises.

2) Plan your reaction to things that anger you. Each of us knows things that more readily provoke him. When such actions occur, the temptation is greater to react unwisely. The wise Christian will list these -provocative things and will prepare in advance his reaction to them.

3) Plan the things for which you would fight. No one should fight impulsively Consequently, the person with character will plan the things for which he would fight and will plan the manner of the fight. He will not fight in response to temporary provocation; he will fight only for those things that are predetermined and in a manner that is predetermined.

I have a list of things written down and placed in a drawer in my office for which I would fight. I have a list of things for which I would die. Consequently, I will not fight or die in a quick response to an impulse. My fighting, even unto the death, will be predetermined in the prayerful quiet of my office.

Someone perhaps would say, "I just don't believe in turning it on and off like that." Nor do I believe that. I find it impossible to turn it on and off, but I find it possible to turn on what turns it on and turn off what turns it off. In other words, I can control what controls me and not allow myself to be controlled by the passion of an immediate response to a stimulus that causes me to react unwisely

I do this concerning the church services. I prayerfully decide in the quiet of my study what my reaction would be when a baby begins to cry in the service. I likewise decide what my action would be if baby continues to cry in the service. I have planned action that I carry out when I am disturbed briefly in a service and other planned action for disturbances I know will not end without my help. This prevents me from acting impulsively and doing something for which I will be sorry later. The people in the audience may or may not agree with my response to the disturbance, but I will have done what I think is best because it is what I thought was best in the quiet of my study before the disturbance arose.

5. Learn to whom you can trust your reactions. There are some people with whom you can feel perfectly comfortable and whom you can completely trust not to lead you to unwise reaction. Know these people. They are usually people who think, philosophize and would rather speak of ideas than of people. Someone has said, "Great minds speak about ideas; good minds speak about things; weak minds speak about people."

I am thinking now of a dear friend, Pastor Bruce Porter, in Islamorada, Florida. For many years I have preached for him. I have learned that I can trust my reactions to him. He will not provoke me to unwise reactions. He wants to learn. He wants to talk about ideas that are constructive. He does not indulge in people-talk, so I feel perfectly at ease to have a casual conversation with him. In fact, I enjoy doing so. He meets me at the airport when I make my annual visit to his church. I do not make plans concerning our conversation. I do not need to, for I know he will provoke me to good thoughts and not to unwise reactions.

On the contrary, there are other people to whom I cannot trust my reactions. I would find myself on the defensive. I would find myself not wanting to talk about other people, and I have learned that their conversation would tempt me to reactions that would be unwise and perhaps even divisive.

The wise person will discover such people in order to find out to whom he can and cannot trust his reactions. In the case of the latter, you might want to plan the conversation and think of some questions that you could ask him in order that you may control the conversation, making it necessary for him to react to your behavior rather than your reacting to his behavior.

6. Spread the word that you do not participate in criticism. Let it be known that you are not interested in character assassinations nor personality critiques. Word will soon get around, and you will have the reputation for not being critical. People will either respect what they know is your desire or they will be fearful of approaching you with negative subjects,

For years I have traveled the length and breadth of this nation. It is understood all across America that there are certain subjects about which I do not speak. My reputation precedes me, which makes it much easier for me to avoid situations that would be tempting to unwise reaction.

7. Do not live in unplanned situations. Idle time is one of the great causes for unnecessary and unwise reaction. Just sitting around and talking with nothing planned leads to differences, arguments, fusses and reactionary conversation.

One of the great problems of our society is that it is built on critique. It is falsely assumed by many that the ability to critique someone is a sign of strength. Nothing could be farther from the truth! To attack the strong is not a sign of strength. To do nothing but critique those who do something is certainly not a sign of strength. The time was, for example, when the local sports writer was a cheerleader for the local team. He has now become the Devil's advocate and is considered somewhat of a successful sports writer if he can criticize the coach. Men who have never carried a football, thrown a pass, kicked a field goal or made a tackle seem to know more about coaching than men who have coached for a lifetime. The pew critiques the pulpit. The student critiques the teacher, and the press critiques everybody! One can hardly listen to a radio station without finding movie critics, restaurant critics and a bevy of other self-styled experts whose only talent is criticizing talent, whose only strength is criticizing strength, whose only accomplishment is shooting at those who have accomplished.

God, give us men who act, not men who react! Give us men with the character to determine their behavior and who decide their own course of action!


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