Today’s ‘Olelo Hawai’i word is Pono. Itʻs one of my favorite words in the language. If you ask a kamaʻāina (a local/a child of the land) what pono means, you will usually get the response “righteous” or “right living.” Like aloha, this is a word with many different layers of meaning. This is a great “context is everything” word and it is one of the things that I love about the Hawaiian language. It reminds me of Greek and Hebrew in that one word can carry so many different nuances, depending on the circumstances it is used.
“…seek first His kingdom and His righteousness [His pono],
and all these things will be added to you.
So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself.
Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
~ Matthew 6:33-34 (NASB)
Deeper Meanings of Pono
Among the possible translations of pono are: accurate, necessary, correct, fair, virtuous, proper, benefit, goodness, just, uprightness, morality, excellence, successful, well-being, prosperity, in perfect order, righteous, necessary, balanced, etc. The synonyms are almost endless and depend on the context in which it is used.
So, whenever I think of this word, pono, I am reminded of my time at Asbury Theological Seminary. I’ve shared many times over the years about an experience I had in my seminary chapel in 1990. A pastor named Bob Stamps was our speaker that morning and he told a story about a time in his life when he was really struggling and stressing about some big decisions. He said he was letting fear and anxiety and the “what if” monster get the better of him.
“Sit Down Boy!”
So, one day, in his prayer time, he was just kind of unloading all these worries and fears and worst case scenarios on God. And then he began to lay out his plans for the next 20-30 years. Maybe you can relate too. I sure could. So, Bob is telling God “I’m going to do this and then this and then this. Then, perhaps, I’m going to go here and do this and then do that and then go do this, etc.” You get the idea. Bob went on and on with his plans and fears and backup plans and worries and emergency plans. Finally there came a moment where he sensed God was speaking to him. God’s words? “SIT DOWN BOY!” Bob was taken aback! Did he hear God correctly? God spoke again:“SIT DOWN BOY!”
Just Do The Next Right Thing!
As Bob paused in his own prayers and listened to God’s answer he says he sensed God telling him this: “Let me worry about the next 20-30 years of your life. That’s my job. As for you, you just do the next, right thing. Just do the next, right thing.”
That was a major impacting moment for Bob and it became a defining moment in my life as well. “Just do the next, right thing.” Pono! It is such a freeing feeling when you can grasp the enormity of that concept. I don’t have to know what my next ten, twenty or thirty years of decisions and opportunities and responses are going to be. In fact, it is impossible for me to be able to look that far ahead with any accuracy. That is getting into the realm of God.
Our Job Is Simple
All I have to do is concentrate on doing the next, right thing, making the next, right choice, the next, right decision. One step ahead of me is all the further I have to look and all that I have to worry about. I can’t tell you how well this has served me in the twenty-five years since I first heard this concept. A major trial hits and I can’t even begin to imagine how I will overcome it. I can’t possibly fathom how everything could possibly work out all right. Maybe you do this too. I start to lose it. I start to freak out, jumping up and down, running to and fro, trying to put out every little fire. Then I hear those words come floating through my mind: