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What Is More Important? Your Attitude or Your Actions?

by Greg Baker  
5/30/2011 / Christian Living

In an ideal world, we would like to see a positive attitude that promotes a productive action. But, as most parents know, we don't always get both. So what ought to be more important? The action or the attitude? As parents, should we be more concerned with the child's attitude or, if a child performs the correct action, is that good enough?

For example, you tell your thirteen year old son to take out the trash. He grumbles, procrastinates, argues, but eventually does it. He scowls the whole time. He slams the trash lid down in frustration. He stomps around as if he has been greatly insulted. But he did take out the trash! I understand that we want both and I would hope the parents would address such an egregious attitude. But, if you could only have one, if you would get a polite refusal to obey, or resentful obedience, which one is more important?

The story of Naaman in 2 Kings 5 comes readily to mind. He had a horrible attitude towards Elisha's solution to his leprosy. He got angry, criticized the river Elisha told him to dip himself in, criticized the method, and by implication he criticized the man of God himself. But in the end, his servants talked him into giving Elisha's solution of dipping in the Jordan river 7 times a shot. And despite his bad attitude, he was healed.

In this case, obedience is more important than attitude when it comes to acquiring God's blessing. God didn't bless Naaman because of his attitude. He blessed him because of his obedience. And, naturally, the resulting benefits of his obedience caused an attitude change. But from the beginning, the action, the result, or the obedience is the thing that most counts in the eyes of God.

For example, if your neighbor calls you up and asks for your help fixing his car and you don't want to, but you do so anyway, I believe your neighbor would see the action as more important than the attitude.

In a more extreme example, let us say you saw someone drowning in an ice cold lake. It may be that your attitude towards the foolishness of the individual, your hatred of the cold water, and even a bad attitude towards the inconvenience of having to rescue someone from their own folly would create a general air of resentment and just a plain ol'all around bad attitude. But if you saved the individual from drowning, I suspect your actions and not your attitude will be of more importance to the individual you saved.

You can argue, however, that attitude will often dictate behavior. And a person's perspective will dominate his attitude. Naaman was only willing to give Elisha's solution a try when his servants challenged his perspective. Having his perspective challenged may have been the swing vote in his decision to obey. I suspect his attitude didn't change much--just enough to get him to obey.

In the end, the question may be: which result is more important to the one it affects: the action or the attitude? In Matthew 21, Jesus speaks of two sons one who had a bad attitude, repented and obeyed, and one who had a good attitude, but did not obey. The question Jesus wanted to know was: Whether of them twain did the will of his father? Not which had the best attitude.

From a purely practical point of view, the action may be more important than the attitude in the immediate circumstance. But many actions are the result of a person's attitude. For long term results, the attitude may take priority. To continue to achieve the correct actions in the long haul, it may be necessary to work on the attitude now. Long term behavior is often determined, first, by the attitude one has. In this case, the attitude is paramount to achieve the right actions.

To summarize, for immediate circumstances and situations, actions are more important than attitude. But for long term results, the attitude must be more important.

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