Dealing with the Jelly of Life

by Joe McKeever

In his book, The Passion Promise, John Avant—who for years has been pastoring the New Hope Baptist Church in Fayetteville, Georgia—tells a story you need to hear.

During the Desert Storm war, Col. William Post was charged with receiving the massive amounts of supplies for the ground forces. This included tons of food that arrived daily.

One day, the Pentagon sent Col. Post a message inquiring about forty cases of grape jelly that were missing. Post dispatched an aide to find the missing jelly. A day or two later, he reported back that the jelly was nowhere to be found. Post sent that information on to the Pentagon and assumed that was the end of it. Wrong.

The higher-ups in Washington kept badgering Post about the missing jelly. They would not be able to close the books on that month without locating those cases of jelly. It had to be found.

At this point, Col. Post sent this message to the Pentagon: "Sirs: you must decide. I can dispatch the entire army to find your missing jelly, or I can kick Saddam out of Kuwait. But not both." He's still waiting on a reply.

One of the legislators whispered to Avant what had happened. He said, "Bear in mind that you're speaking to a bunch of bureaucrats. They're still wondering where that grape jelly is!" He laughed and said, "As soon as you leave, someone will make a motion that we find that grape jelly!"

John Avant writes, "I have a jar of grape jelly sitting on my desk. It's great stuff, but I'll never eat it. It's there to remind me that there are countless things in this world that look good to me and may even be good. But they're just grape jelly! They are not worthy to be my passion or my master."

It's about priorities. What will be first and foremost in my life.

A Greek philosopher in olden times said, "A fox knows many things. But a hedgehog knows just one big thing." Those are the two primary types of doers and geniuses in the world. A fox—the master of many things—would be a Ben Franklin or a Thomas Jefferson. The hedgehog with his "one big thing" would be an Albert Einstein or a Billy Graham.

Now, if you are a Franklin or a Jefferson, you might be able to do many things at once. But for most of us, we have to choose.

As the Apostle Paul put it, "This one thing I do" (see Phil. 3:7-14).

A literature professor once remarked that Samuel Taylor Coleridge possessed the gifts of a Shakespeare. But when he died, all his writings combined filled one slim volume, in contrast to the massive works of the Bard of Avon. The reason Coleridge produced so few works, said the teacher, was "he was never able to say This one thing I do.'"

It's about choosing—selecting the best and leaving behind everything else.

One of the most intriguing assignments anyone ever received was given by God to Jeremiah. "If you choose the precious and leave the worthless, you shall be my spokesman" (Jer. 15:19). Choosing the valuable and leaving everything else—that is the challenge of everyone who would try to make a difference in this world.

There's a lot to do with your time. You can watch television. Get yourself a satellite dish or subscribe to all the cable choices available and you will find something worth watching every hour of every day. That is, if watching television is what life is about for you.

If reading books is what it's all about for you, the library has multiplied thousands of novels and biographies to fill your every waking hour. Book clubs and book stores compete for your attention and your money with great books demanding to be read.

There are stores to be shopped and catalogs to be perused. There are Websites to be surfed and people to be googled. Crossword puzzles to be filled in and e-mail attachments to be forwarded. Houses to be vacuumed and dishes to be washed and laundry to be done. Beds to be made. Cars to be serviced. Work to be done. All of it good.

Mary and Martha were so excited. Jesus was coming to visit. I'll let Eugene Peterson tell you the story:

"Martha welcomed Jesus and made him feel quite at home. She had a sister, Mary, who sat before the Master, hanging on every word He said. But Martha was pulled away by all she had to do in the kitchen. Later, she stepped in, interrupting them. Master, don't you care that my sister has abandoned the kitchen to me? Tell her to lend me a hand.'

"The Master said, Martha, dear Martha, you're fussing far too much and getting yourself worked up over nothing. One thing only is essential, and Mary has chosen it—it's the main course, and won't be taken from her.'" (Luke 10, The Message)

Lord, help us to choose the precious and leave the worthless, to choose the eternal and leave the temporary, to stay focused on the most important things in life, even if it means letting some good things slide.

And, Father, please help me to recognize jelly when I see it.

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