Acting or Reacting

You might not know James Shaw, Jr., but you probably recognize what he did recently at a Waffle House restaurant in Antioch, Tennessee. Shaw and a friend stopped at the Waffle House for an early morning breakfast. That’s when Travis Reinking entered the restaurant with an assault rifle, and began shooting, killing 4 persons, and wounding 4 others.

Patrons, along with Shaw’s breakfast companion, Brandon McMurray, urged Shaw to hide in a bathroom. Instead, Shaw hid behind a door in the restaurant, and when Reinking went to reload his weapon, Shaw sprang into action. He grabbed the barrel of the gun and wrested it away from Reinking, throwing the rifle over a counter and forcing Reinking outside.

Shaw suffered a severe burn on his right hand when he grabbed the smoking hot barrel of Reinking’s rifle. But the painful burn did not prevent Shaw from going to Vanderbilt Hospital later that day to visit some of the shooting victims.

I would say that James Shaw, Jr., knew the difference between reacting and acting.

All of us face situations every day in which we feel we need to make some kind of response. In those moments we can “act” or we can “react.” What’s the difference?

Kristen Jensen has said, “Reacting typically occurs with little thought. Reacting does not stop to consider potential consequences that come from using a reactive approach. Reacting is almost always based on how we feel. Acting, on the other hand, requires thought and consideration. Acting is based on knowledge, skill, and self-control.”

Ultra-marathoner, Dragos Roua, has written, “Whenever you act, you perform a conscious choice, you decide you’re going to do that thing. You become responsible. But when you react, you’re responding to an external stimulus. You’re not responsible anymore, you leave the responsibility to the stimulus. When you act, you’re the puppeteer, when you react, you’re the puppet.”

You can apply the react or act principle in your marriage. When your spouse says something that doesn’t sit well with you, do you react (yell, become angry, stew and simmer, say something in the heat of the moment that you regret)? Or do you act by saying, “Honey, help me understand what you are saying.” Or, “I’m not sure I agree with you, but let’s keep talking so I can understand your point of view.”

You can apply the react or act principle in your personal money management. Do you sometimes make impulsive, unwise purchases (react) or do you live by a spending plan, and mentally evaluate your purchases (act)?

You can apply the react or act principle to your emotions. You can act by taking control of your feelings, or you can react by responding emotionally to other people’s actions. By reacting, our emotions control us and cloud our judgments and decisions. But by acting we gain control over our feelings and use them for positive purposes.

I’m thinking Jesus knew the difference in acting and reacting. While hanging on the cross, enduring horrible pain and suffering, He looked down on those who had crucified Him. Instead of reacting (cursing those people, or name-calling them), Jesus acted. He prayed to God, “Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.”

Jesus set an example for us. In the heat of the moment we can react, or we can act. Acting is always the more hopeful response.


Learn from Bible characters who learned to “act” rather than “react.” Check out my newest book: Wow Words from God: What I Want God to Say About Me. Order from Amazon (Print Edition). Order from Amazon (Kindle Edition). Order from Barnes and Noble (Print Edition).


You also may order the Wow Words from God Personal Study Guide containing 30 personal devotions-Bible studies that correspond with the 30 Bible characters in the Wow Words book. Order from Amazon. Order from Barnes and Noble.

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