As a young reporter in Virginia, Mark Twain was walking down the street one day when he ran into a female acquaintance of his. Seeing that Twain was carrying a cigar box under his arm, the woman said to him, "Mr. Twain, you promised you would stop smoking." To which Twain replied, "Ma'am, there aren't cigars in this box...I'm moving."
There's something inherent in all of us that--in an instant--can create excuses for our less-than-stellar behavior. The goal is to make others think better of us...to keep them from seeing our flaws...or to explain away the chinks in our armor. Our addictions are because of stress. Our moodiness is because of exhaustion. Our carelessness is because of busyness. Etc.
We even make excuses with God. I can't give to that homeless man...he might spend the money on alcohol. I can't serve in the nursery...kids really aren't my thing. I can't mentor a troubled high school student...my days are too full as it is. Etc.
You're probably familiar with the parable of the vine and the branches in John 15. Jesus is the vine, and we are the branches. The point, of course, is that when Christians stay connected to Christ, we are able to grow and flourish and produce spiritual "fruit." And that's true. But, to me, the most important part of that chapter comes in verse one when we learn that "God is the gardener."
If you're a gardener, you understand that the fruit your plants produce is for you. It's not for the rabbits...it's not for the neighbors...it's for you. If you want to give it away to those who need it, you can. If you want to use it to feed your own family, you can. If you want to just sit on your porch and enjoy the beauty of the fruit for yourself, you can do that too.
And I believe that God looks at us the same way. As the gardener, God asks his branches (you and me) to simply produce fruit. That's it. Produce. Distribution is his job. But when we make excuses--when we evaluate situations to determine whether or not our love or service or effort is worth it--we strip God of his right to hand out fruit that is rightfully his. We're essentially telling the Lord of the universe, "I'm only going to produce fruit if you agree to use it in the way that I want you too."
The next time God prompts you to love, give, or serve, don't worry about whether or not it makes sense or fits within your comfort zone. Sometimes God has plans in place that we can't see quite yet. Sometimes God wants to make a big difference with something small. And sometimes God just wants to sit on his back porch and enjoy his garden.