Simple Wisdom for a Complex World

May 1st, 2010
This article is featured in the Global Health (May/June/July 2010) issue of Circuit Rider

If nothing else, the various crises engulfing our world—pandemic poverty, disease, war, political instability, consumerist idolatry—remind us of what happens when simple wisdom is replaced with self-serving philosophies and indulgences. If I have learned nothing else living as an HIV-positive, Hepatitis C-positive United Methodist minister, it is that each day, though complicated in its own right, balances on a set of simple concepts, principles, and ideas that can guide us through our most difficult places. You know what I mean—those foundations of life we learn in “day-to-day” laboratories, like around dining room tables and swinging under large oak trees.

With each new headline, I am drawn back to those lessons I have learned while staying healthy and making each day count, in spite of great odds to the contrary.

In 1986, I went to bed one evening as the 16-year-old captain of the golf team, president of my class, and dating the prettiest girl in school. The next day, a doctor informed me that the medicines used to treat my hemophilia were contaminated with HIV and that I was, indeed, HIV positive.

It was a shocking and difficult diagnosis to hear. My life appeared to stop and my dreams seemed destroyed. Until my grandfather, a simple, common farmer with great wisdom and spiritual courage, reminded me that we have a choice each day as to how we will face the hand we have been dealt. “You can get in the corner and feel sorry for yourself,” he said, with tears in his eyes. “Or you can fight, and make every day count. Knowing you as I do,” he said, “I believe I know which you will choose.”

And, so for over two decades, I have fought to make each day count for some-thing—to make life matter.

It has not been an easy journey. Paths of disease and brokenness never are. But, each day, I trusted my faith in Christ, my faith in Christ's people, and how, for no matter how long any of us have, each day is a gift that should not be taken for granted.

I reinforced my life with simple principles of common wisdom that became the bedrock of how I saw God and how I saw the world. As a result, through my ministry, I found others who had done the same and whose lives, though much different from mine, possessed similar views of the world and of how life should mean something because of what Christ has done.

Of course, the opposite was also true. As I walked with others, whose bodies were whole and healthy but whose lives seemed broken and out of control, I realized that some carried little in their souls and spirits other than old hurts, frustrations and confusion. And, even worse, as a church consultant and evangelist, I discovered entire congregations who lived just the same—struggling to make sense of their journey and to add value to their efforts.

For twenty years, I have pushed people out of their comfort zones and back to these simple principles. They define us not only in how our individual spiritual lives are lived out but in how we approach and serve in the world.

The following are seven basic principles for life that I have learned as both an HIV-positive Christian and a fighter against disease, poverty, and brokenness in the Body of Christ. Most of us have heard these lessons before, in one form or another, in one place or another. And, all of us can recognize how each of them speaks to how we are to live as the Body of Christ to mend an often broken world.

Lesson One: If I break it, I own it

Every part of life costs something— good or bad. We invest ourselves into the lives of others and should realize the intentionality and effect that such investment requires and yields. Real community works when we realize how our lives affect others. If you want to change the world, take ownership of it.

Lesson Two: It's never too late to be sorry … but “sorry” doesn't cut it

Repentance and forgiveness mean embracing “reconciliation.” In God's economy, there is never too much baggage for one to seek and work for renewal. But as many a parent has said, “sorry doesn't cut it,” especially when “sorry” becomes a reflex instead of a real gesture of making things right.

Words are important. Actions even more so. The world knows the difference.

Lesson Three: Walk like Him

Loving Jesus is more than knowing the right doctrine or following the right disciplines. John 13:35 says “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Our relationship in Christ imprints itself on our souls, our words, and our actions. We “reflect” what we believe. As a friend of mine likes to say, “We are the moon not the sun (Son).”

Lesson Four: It ain't over until He says it's over

Too often, we give up if the situation gets too hard, or if the outcome does not serve our purposes. So much of life and the struggles we see in our world seem way beyond our control. “How can I make a difference against something as big as global poverty, malaria, tuberculosis, or AIDS?” we ask. However, God uses the difficulties of our world to teach us to look beyond our comfort zones, trust God, and move forward.

Lesson Five: I need a place

We are created to belong. We belong to God. As Christians, we belong to each other. I often talk to my children about the importance and sweetness of “place"— about how we are created to “belong” and how we are to offer that “belonging” to others. That is why Christ calls us around the Communion table—to recharge our identity in Him and in each other. So that we go back into the world and meet the needs of others, announcing that they, too, have a place at God's table.

Lesson Six: I am HOW I pray

When I pray, I either ask God to help with some problem, or thank God for

helping with… some problem. To make matters worse, I usually bargain with God as to how I will thank God more with— you guessed it—less problems.

That is not prayer—not even close.

Prayer has little to do with my words, and everything to do with my relationship with God. If I exhibit listening, praise, peace, comfort, wisdom, then that becomes the reflection for how my heart is connected to God through my daily walk.

Lesson Seven: “I am not enough”

From as far back as the Garden of Eden, we have believed we are enough. We are not. It is simple to know this, but hard to live it.

All people need to know that they are loved, valued, and respected. But learning early on that we are not enough on our own engrains in us the reality that we will need to reach beyond ourselves for others and for God.

No matter our gifts or strengths, eventually, we turn down a dead end, face an impossible question, or reach an obstacle too high. When facing the hugeness of pandemic disease, we are NOT enough. When facing the corruption and evil of governments that impoverish and destroy their own people, we are NOT enough. When facing the critical issues of mobilization, distribution, or deployment, we are NOT enough. Alone, facing the rogue wave of so many broken places and people, we are NOT enough.

But God is. And each of us learning that truth makes anything possible when we work together.

We are never alone. It is that simple.


Shane Stanford is Senior Pastor of Gulf Breeze UMC near Pensacola, Fla. He is the author of seven books, including You Can't Do Everything, So Do Something , A Positive Life , and The Cure for the Chronic Life, coauthored with Deanna Favre. For more info, see

About the Author

Shane Stanford

Shane Stanford is Senior Pastor of Christ United Methodist Church in Memphis, Tennessee. He is the author of read more…
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