Proactive or Reactive

The Latest Word from John Ed Mathison

In Matthew 25 Jesus tells a parable about ten girls who were to be bridesmaids.  Their responsibility was to have oil in the lamps that would provide light for the wedding.

While they were waiting for the bridegroom to arrive, they began to nod and fall asleep.  Suddenly the cry came out that the bridegroom had arrived, and everyone was told to come out and meet him.  When the girls woke up and started to light their lamps, five of them realized they didn’t have enough oil.

They came to the five girls who had plenty of oil and asked to borrow some.  They were told there wasn’t enough for them, and those without oil needed to go to the store and buy oil.  When the bridegroom came, the five girls who were ready went into the wedding feast.  The door was closed.  When the other five got back from the store, they discovered the door was closed and they could not get in.

Five girls were proactive, and five girls were reactive.  Being proactive normally produces good results.  Being reactive oftentimes produces bad results.  This parable is an example of that.  Here are three fundamentals for a proactive attitude:

  1. Purpose – know why you are at a certain place at a certain time and have a certain responsibility.  The purpose provides motivation to be prepared.  Five of the girls knew that their purpose was to have their lamps burning.  That motivated them to have ample oil for their lamps.  The other five were not conscious of their purpose, and therefore found themselves left out of the feast.

Knowing why we are involved in a situation helps us to know better what to do.  Trying to do meaningless things without knowing the purpose will wear a person out.

2.     Planning – good planning helps promote a proactive stance.  Poor planning usually has us trying to react to the reality of the situation.

An obvious example is the importance of having some form of health insurance.  If you proactively secure insurance before you need it, it will be available at a critical time and help you avoid unnecessary stress.  If you fail to plan for that need in life, you come to a point and have to start reacting, and sometimes reaction produces worse results than the illness.

3.    Persistence – being proactive helps to look at the larger picture and think in terms of the future.  Reactive behavior focuses on the unplanned moment and increases anxiety and worry and frustration.  Persistence is a quality that shows us that we don’t have to understand everything that is happening right now, but we have a plan to move forward for the future.  We don’t sit down and quit.  We keep moving forward.  A reactive outlook can create discouragement, disappointment, and can lead to defeat.

A proactive attitude is something that people have to choose to create and participate in.  The ten girls in the parable all had a choice.  Five of them chose wisely, and five chose foolishly.  The outcome for the proactive five was the joy of a wedding feast.  The reaction of the ill-prepared five meant that the door was shut and they were not allowed in.  They could not blame the bridegroom and the people organizing the wedding – they could only blame themselves because their prior choice led to their situation.

It’s a choice – proactive or reactive?


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