On Doing Your Own Thing

Dr. Robert R. Ball


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Sermon first presented July 18, 1971

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                                                 Scripture:          Matthew 25:34

             Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life. . .saying, “What shall
             we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” But seek first
             his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as

                                                                  Sermon by
                                                         Dr. Robert R. Ball
                                         Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church
                                         Houston, Texas      +     July 18, 1971

          LONG BEFORE anyone had ever heard of ecology, Jesus was saying,
                                    “Pay some attention to nature. It has lessons to
                                     teach you. Notice the birds of the air and the lilies
                                     of the field. Get a feel for the built-in order and
                                     purpose of God’s creation.”

          SO LET’S notice. Without any frantic effort, just by “doing their own thing,” the
     birds soar through the sky, build their nests, and lay in supplies for the winter.
     They don’t stash away more than they need; neither do they gorge themselves on
     their abundance if the sold weather s slow to come. There is a remarkable beauty
     and balance and harmony in their lives – just by “doing their own thing.”

          JUST by “doing their own thing,” the flowers burst forth in the spring, radiant
     and lovely. Artists try to capture that beauty on canvas and in plastics, but it’s
     never quite the same. Complementing each other rather than competing, just by
     being themselves and “doing their own thing,” lilies fill the world with their fragrant
     beauty, and the human heart with joy.

          IN ALL nature, “doing your own thing” means being what God has created you
     to be. To do so is fulfilling to you and a great blessing to the rest of creation. It’s
     easy for the birds and flowers. Unlike humans, they have no choice to make. They
     are what they are. They never have to worry about being authentic. That’s why we
     find it so peaceful and refreshing to “go back to nature,” as they say. Nature is so
     genuinely and charmingly what it is.

          But for us, to be authentic is a choice. Man alone in all creation has the
     capacity to accept or reject what God has created him to be. That choice is both
     our glory and our misery. To refuse our destiny is to throw everything in us and
     around us out of balance, but to accept it leads to fulfillment and joy.

          THIS is the message: “Doing your own thing” is not a defiance of God and
     reality. Rather, it is the bold and faithful confidence which leads us to choose
     God’s will for our lives – choosing to do and to be all that he has created us to do
     and to be. It is man’s willful, selfish passion to live independently of God and
     nature and other people that makes him a phony. The psalmist reminds us,

                                    “It is God who has made us, and we are his.”


          In this scripture, Jesus gives us some clues about “doing your own thing.” The
     first is, we can “do our own thing” only as we trust that God will do his.

          The farmer, for example, does well to study the new methods of irrigation and
     fertilization, but he knows that he cannot produce new growth. All his labors and
     ingenuity would be worth nothing if it were not for the creative spark of life in the
     soil. The farmer knows that the world has been purposely put together. He
     depends on it. It is that confidence which allows him the freedom to “do his own

          We who live so far removed from nature tend to forget that fundamental fact:
     but it is equally true for us. It is God doing his thing that makes our efforts

          * We fret and stew to make a successful dinner party, forgetting that there is
             something naturally creative about thankful people sitting together to share
             a meal.

               * In seeking to learn all that we can about interpersonal relationships, we
                 need to remember that God has created and equipped us to share our
                 lives with others.

                    * In struggling to find meaning for our lives, we need to remember that
                      God promises us that meaning does exist, a meaning that nothing can
                      ever destroy.

     God has purposefully created the whole reality in which we live, and he is present
     in that reality doing his own thing. Trusting him gives us the freedom to do ours.

          A close friend of mine in Tulsa is an agnostic psychiatrist. There are so many
     things on which we agree that it bothers me sometimes – I mean, his being an
     agnostic and all. We agree that for one person to try to control the life of another
     person always ends in disaster for both. We agree that something miraculous
     happens in the counseling relationship – something with the potential to produce
     new life and growth and hope. When I asked my friend why he thinks these things
     happen, he said he didn’t know and didn’t care. He just knew that they do happen,
     and he depends on them in much the same way that the farmer depends on the
     spark of life in the soil.

          My friend refuses to use the name of God which I think is (and I’ve told him) his
     psychological hang-up; but he has no hesitancy in admitting that there is a vital
     and creative “Something” at work in human life, working for health and wholeness.
     My friend is a first-rate psychiatrist, the best in town. Depending on the reality and
     power and love of that “Something,” he is free to do his own and helpful and
     healing “thing.”


          Furthermore, says Jesus, the God who is present and at work in every moment
     of life is a God who CARES about YOU – personally and persistently.

          Jesus says it again and again, well aware of how desperately we need to know
     it and how quickly we forget it. He says,

                                    “Look at all the intricate machinery God has put
                                    together in nature to allow birds and lilies to achieve
                                    their destiny. Do you think he would do less for
                                    human beings, for those whom he has created in his
                                    own image? You are of more value than many, many

          We cannot possibly “do our own thing” if deep inside we are wrestling around
     with doubts as to whether or not we are capable of doing anything worthwhile.

          * Sometimes kids wear cruddy clothes and call it “doing their own thing,” when
            in reality it is an effort to prove something of which they are not at all sure –
            that they are SOMEBODY.

               *Sometimes parents impose rigid rules of discipline and call it “doing their
                own thing,” when it is really an effort to prove that they are IN CHARGE.

     No one can live creatively unless he has confidence in himself, and real
     confidence is always a matter of faith – believing, in spite of everything that denies
     it, that you really do matter.

          The person who is free to “do his own thing” is the person who believes in his
     own worth. His energies go into DOING rather than PROVING. The rookies in the
     Oilers’ training camp at Kerrville who have to prove that they are good enough to
     make the team probably go to bed at night thinking, “I could do much better if I
     could just relax.” The established veteran believes in what he can do,
     and he does it.

           So it is with life. As long as we feel the need to prove to our husbands or
     wives or kids or parents or employers or neighbors that we are persons worthy of
     their respect, we will not be able to be who we really are, or to put our abilities
     where they are needed – into the creation of personal relationships of mutual
     helpfulness and growth.

          Believe in Jesus Christ. You ARE a worthwhile person. You have
     EVERYTHING you need to make your experience of living fulfilling to you and a
     blessing to others. God is working in you at every moment to bring his purpose
     for you to be. Quit wasting your energies trying to prove something. DO IT. Do
     “your own thing” – all that god has given you to be. It will be like, “Wow, man.”


          Jesus also reminds us that “doing your own thing” means living in the here
     and now.

                                    “Do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow
                                    will be anxious for itself.”

          I find it exciting that the world’s best minds keep catching up to Jesus Christ.
     For example, Fritz Perls, founder of the Gestalt school of psychotherapy, has
                                    “Anxiety is the excitement we carry with us, and
                                   which becomes stagnated if we are unsure about
                                   the role we have to play. If we don’t know if we will
                                   get applause or tomatoes, we hesitate so the heart
                                   begins to race and all the excitement can’t flow into
                                   activity, and we have stage fright. So the formula of
                                   anxiety is very simple: anxiety is the gap between
                                   now and then. If you are in the now, you can’t be
                                   anxious. The excitement flows immediately into
                                   ongoing activity. If you are in the now, you are
                                   creative, you are inventive. If you have your senses
                                   ready, if you have your eyes and ears open, like a
                                   very small child, you find a solution.”

          “Stage fright” is a good way to describe how we live a lot of the time, afraid to
     experience and enjoy the present because of our anxieties about what might
     happen to us later.

          * “If I allow myself to feel and to show how delighted I am today, and tomorrow
              turns out to be bad, won’t I look like a fool for having been so happy?”

               * “If I allow myself to feel the grief that surrounds my heart, I might get buried
                   so deep in misery that I would never be able to smile again ever.”

     Anxiety about what tomorrow might be slams a stopper on all the vitality and
     creativity God has put within us, leaving us unable to live authentically today OR

          One man skimps and saves and hoards his money away, telling himself that
     one of these days he will have enough that he can sit back and relax – just
     enjoying his luxurious ease. But when that day comes, if it ever does, the only way
     of life he knows is to be tight and miserly. He is no more able to enjoy his riches
     then than all the other people were from whom he withheld them all his life.

          Another man knows that God has given him all that he has, to be used in living
     and helping others to live. He lays aside what he can for the responsibilities he
     anticipates in the future, but he uses whatever is necessary to fulfill the
     responsibilities God sets before him today. This man saves in terms of his
     responsibilities; the other hoards in terms of his greed. One man lives now, and
     continues to live as long as he is alive; the other man never lives at all.

          On his eightieth birthday, Dr. George Arthur Frantz told me that it’s not true that
     people become more loving as they get older. They become more of whatever
     they have always been. If they’ve always been hard to get along with, they get
     unbearably crotchety. If they’ve been generous and kind, they become even more
     loving. We are in the process now of building what we will become.

          God has given us this day, these relationships, these opportunities, and
     everything necessary to live in them. He promises to do the same for whatever
     tomorrows there may be. He calls us to do our own thing, trustingly and
     responsibly, and to do it today.

                                                          C O N C L U S I O N

          In one sentence, Jesus gives us a summary of this entire passage.

                                    “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,
                                     and all these other things shall be yours as well.”

          We all want to live as fully and creatively as possible. We try this and then that
     and then something else – desperately hoping to find the place that is right for us
     where we can “do our own thing.” Our lives become a hodgepodge of scrambled
     and conflicting efforts, and we have little sense of satisfaction.

          Jesus says, “Get your priorities in line. Make the finding of God’s will for your
     life and a right relationship with him your number one objective. Then you will be
     who you really are. Then everything else in your life will fall into place.

          Dr. Frantz has a homely but extremely helpful illustration which demonstrates
     how commitment is what gives us freedom to “do our own thing.” He says that a
     violin string lying loose on the table might be said to be free. At least, no one and
     no thing is compelling it ot be or to do anything. But what CAN it do? Only when it
     is securely fastened to the violin, and only in the hands of a great master can it
     give forth the beauty it has stored inside.

          Christ is the Great Master who is able to bring forth the beauty we have stored
     inside of us. It is only as we choose to place ourselves in his hands that we can
     “do our own thing.”

          The difference is that the violin string has no choice, and we do. We can
     choose to seek our own, independent destiny – which throws us out of harmony
     with everyone and everything in the world. Or we can choose to be what we are,
     the royal sons of God. In that committed choice there is joy and creativity and life.

           DO YOUR OWN THING: “Love one another as I have loved you.”

(Sermon preserved and provided
courtesy of Pamela Mudd Conlan.
Thanks, Pam!)