A couple days ago, I threw away the pumpkin on our front steps.
It had been sitting there still, not because I didn’t have the time to throw it away, but because I didn’t want to throw it away. Because I had big plans for that little pumpkin.
Do you know that pigs like to eat pumpkins? I didn’t know until a couple weeks ago when someone posted about it in our neighborhood Facebook group. Apparently some people who raise pigs are happy to receive the carved carcasses when we take down our autumn decor and replace it with stockings and wreaths.
But in my case, once Christmas had already passed, I kept walking by that pumpkin on our front steps and remembering my long to-do list of things I needed to prioritize before even thinking about the plight of pigs. So, though stubborn about things like this, I finally relented and threw the pumpkin away. And I decided I was going to be okay with not donating it this time.
Throwing away that pumpkin made me realize that sometimes, even when fighting the good fight, we have to pick our battles.
On “Picking our Battles”
Have you ever been to a wedding reception where the couple asked their guests to share their best marriage advice? My husband and I are only about 2 years into marriage, but “pick your battles” would be my choice if someone asked me for advice today.
The idea that I should pick my battles has been so freeing to me. In relationships, when I lay down the “battles” I think I am entitled to, it’s my own pride that I have to swallow. It’s humbling, and it’s good for me, but in the moment, it feels like the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. (And don’t worry, I win a fair share of my “battles.”)
But “picking my battles” is for the sake of connection with the people I love. And it’s for my own good, because God tells me in His Word that dying to myself is what I should do, and constantly.
But I think “pick your battles” can be applied really well outside of the relational context, too.
Changing the World
Missionary Charles Thomas Studd said, “I pray that when I die, all of hell will rejoice that I am no longer in the fight.” It’s an inspiring quote that can make us Christians remember the good that we are fighting for when we represent Christ in this world.
But I think sometimes we forget that we can’t fight every “battle.” (Can I just put here, because of the times we live in, and for the record, that I am not talking about physical battles in this post, but spiritual ones.)
The missionary that this quote is attributed to was talking about winning souls for the Lord. And in our modern American culture, we might describe it as loving people like Jesus did. Serving, washing feet, binding wounds, and yes, “winning souls” and calling for repentance. Loving people perfectly.
As Christians, we often want to be “world changers,” and for good reason. This world needs a lot of changing. We want to buy local, so that we can support our friends with small businesses. We want to eat unprocessed food, because it’s better for us and shows the politicians that yes, we do care about what we put in our bodies, thank you very much. We try to use our resources wisely for the sake of our personal finances and for the good of the planet. We donate to our friends’ fundraising campaigns or bring them meals when they are in a time of crisis or recovery. The list goes on and on.
And, of course, we are zealous for the ultimate cause of Christ: to save sinners. Though Christ is the one who saves and we are simply told to love God, love people, and make disciples, we get excited and energized at the prospect of being his “hands and feet” in this world that so desperately needs hope and healing.
The Apostle Peter’s “Battles”
The Apostle Peter is a good example of what it can look like when we aren’t picking our battles appropriately. Often during Jesus’s earthly ministry, Peter seemed to lead with his great passion. From what we read in the gospel accounts, Peter confessed Christ before anyone else. He denied him a short time later, and this after he made the mistake of trying to fight Jesus’ captors in the garden when they came to arrest him.
So the problem for Peter definitely wasn’t his lack of passion or zeal, it was his lack of self-control.
We modern-day believers know that self-control is one of the fruits of the Spirit. After the Pentecost, and by the time Peter wrote his first epistle, it seems The Holy Spirit had taught him a great deal about self-control. Passion was never his problem, but Peter can teach us a lot: The passion of Jesus’s followers is a beautiful thing when it’s combined with a healthy dose of self-control.
So a good question is: what’s a “healthy” dose of self-control? I don’t know; it isn’t quantifiable for us. But the Holy Spirit knows, and when we are following His guidance, we can pray for Him to teach us, and show us, in each moment. The point is that we are abiding in Christ and depending on the Holy Spirit to lead us.
The Battle at the Red Sea
In Exodus 14:14, God told Israel, through Moses, “The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.” The Israelites were being pursued by Pharaoh and his chariots. And they were panicking.
In this moment, they didn’t need to sit down or not move, but they needed to be still in their spirits. They needed to trust the God Who was delivering them. They needed to move forward, remembering what He had already done for them, with full confidence in what He was going to do for them.
A short time later, after God used Moses to part the Red Sea, the Egyptians said in verse 25: “Let’s get away from the Israelites! The LORD is fighting for them against Egypt.” And the Israelites never even had to lift a finger in this battle.
My January Pumpkin
What that pumpkin on my front steps reminded me was that while The Bible says that every one of us was created for good works in this world, I can’t fight every “battle” that comes by way.
Yes, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
But does this verse mean that I was meant to do all things?
I have to pick my battles, because they aren’t actually my battles to fight. This doesn’t mean God doesn’t sometimes call me to “fight” in them. But the battle for good in this world, whether it’s donating a pumpkin to help my neighbor’s pigs or standing up for justice and freedom and against oppression and evil, is the Lord’s.