“Never cut a tree down in the wintertime. Never make a negative decision in the low time. Never make your most important decisions when you are in your worst moods. Wait. Be patient. The storm will pass. The spring will come.” — Robert H. Schuller
Joshua 9 / Job 2:9-10 / Psalm 119:97-112 / Proverbs 3 / Proverbs 11:14 / Proverbs 16 / James 1:2-5
Making decisions is something that each of us do dozens of times a day; if you’re fully dressed, you’ve already made half a dozen (unless you’re wearing a uniform). What to eat, which way to go, scheduled events or tasks in a day… those are usually no-brainers. There are some phases in life that require more consequential decisions, such as embarking on further education, or who to marry, or where to live. Those decisions are more far-reaching and more challenging, and that’s where God’s wisdom is needed. When we come to a proverbial crossroad in relationships, careers or education, we need insight, sometimes beyond what our limited perspective can provide, and that’s where the Lord comes in. As the song by First Call goes, “I may not know what the future holds, but I know who holds the future.”
I’ve emigrated twice – from America to Scotland, and from Scotland to Switzerland (where I am a citizen). As you can imagine, emigrating is a huge decision; burning bridges, ditching possessions, residence, jobs, transport, reducing relationships to Skype and Facebook contact (though back then, neither were even a dream on the horizon and relationships were reduced to hand-written letters and rare, very expensive phone calls!) Several years ago my husband and I did some serious soul-searching about a possible third emigration, this time to New Zealand; it had come up again and again over the course of a few years, and we’d felt a growing pull; we prayed a lot about it, and then spent six weeks in a motor home travelling the north island. While we adored the country, its scenery, atmosphere, people and cultures, we both sensed that it was not our place. Shortly after returning to Switzerland with that decision made, we felt God’s peace in staying here, and we bought the flat we now live in. That decision process was an important one, and though it was a “no” to NZ, it led us to where we are, and I’ll be forever grateful to God for it!
Each and every major decision in my life has been made doused in prayer; I’ve learned that, when I have a peace about God’s will or direction, the decisions and consequences flow naturally, and events connected to that choice fall into place easily. Making decisions on impulse, or out of anger or time pressure is never a wise course of action; rash choices tend to go wrong. That’s not to say that I’m slow to make decisions; I have practiced prayer and discernment so long that I can make fairly clear decisions in a short time and know that it’s the “right thing to do”. And sometimes, reversing a decision also has consequences: Once when living near London, I decided on the spur of the moment NOT to go into the city one Saturday as I’d long planned to do. The day I decided not to go, the IRA set off a bomb in one of the major underground stations (through which I would have been travelling) and paralyzed the train system for a few days – I could have been a statistic at worst, and at the very least I would have been trapped in town, forced to pay for a hotel I could little afford!
In the Bible there’s quite a lot about making decisions: Joshua 9 tells us the story about the Gibeonite deception. If Israel had asked God (9:14), he would have opened their minds and eyes to the deception, and that would have prevented them from entering a treaty that went against God’s commands concerning the peoples in the Promised Land (Joshua 1:3-5; Deuteronomy 11:22-32); they were thus unable to possess the land of their treaty partners, but made them serve as household servants instead (9:21,27). In Job 2:9-10, Job is faced with an inner, spiritual decision: His wife offers the typical reactive choice to the experience of injustice or feeling like one’s been abandoned or tried too much – “why are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die!” But Job’s response reveals a commitment to a decision he’d made long before that point: It’s hypocritical to accept blessings and good from God, but suddenly reject God if trouble comes along. It’s all too human to blame God for anything and everything that goes wrong in life, even when he’s not the cause. In Job’s case we know by hindsight that it was a test from the enemy, but he could not have known that in the midst of the circumstances, much like our own tests – yet his decision to stand firm was abundantly rewarded in the end.
Psalm 119:97-112 talks about various kinds of decisions: God’s commands make us wiser than enemies, but only if we choose to obey them (vs. 98); choosing to meditate on God’s Word and doing it gives us insight and understanding (vss. 99-100); choosing to obey God’s Word keeps our feet from evil / wrong paths; making a decision to follow God’s righteous ways (vs. 106) means that our path in life will be illuminated (vs. 105). And because of these internal choices, though the psalmist takes his life in hand (vs. 109), he does so with full awareness of what he’s learned in God’s Word. “My heart is set on keeping your decrees to the very end.” (vs. 112) – that takes a daily commitment to the right choices. Proverbs 3 and Proverbs 16 are rife with decision processes and their consequences; our motives are weighed by the Lord. Is a right decision based on wanting to do the right thing out of integrity, or is it merely fear of being caught otherwise? Proverbs 11:14 tells us that a lack of God’s guidance leads to failure, even on a national level (as Moses was in danger of, in the portrait following). James 1:2-5 reminds us that tests are to our benefit; if we didn’t need to fight gravity, we’d never learn to walk, build muscles, or be capable of any physical activity; if a butterfly is aided out of its cocoon and its struggles alleviated, it will die because it’s not been able to develop the muscles through that very struggle to give it the strength to fly. So must perseverance have its work in our own lives, so that we can become mature and complete (whole). God will give us wisdom and insight through these times of testing if we ask (vs. 5).
In Exodus 18, Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, meets Israel in the wilderness to return Moses’ wife and children to him (Moses had likely sent them away to keep them safe during the upheaval in Egypt). In verses 13-27, Jethro (a ruler and priest in Midian, 2:16; 18:1) observed the practice of Moses in settling disputes, which had worked on a small scale; but as the discontent in the wilderness grew among the hot-headed Israelites, the number of disputes rose exponentially and was far too much demand on one person; but Moses had not recognized the dangers of burnout or of the bottleneck effect his custom had. His father-in-law had a fresh perspective on the situation, and gave his wise advice. Moses chose to listen and follow the advice, and established a judicial system very similar to modern structures (e.g. the town, county, state, national and international levels of judicial procedure of today).
Are there decisions you face in life right now? Have you asked God’s advice, or for his wisdom and help? Do you trust the Lord, or would you rather not ask because you fear his way may not be your way? His ways are not our ways – they’re higher, better, with a further-reaching perspective and insight than we could ever have! He offers us his wisdom freely; we’d be fools not to take him up on the offer! I’ve never regretted a single decision I’ve made with God’s help. Ever.