|April 15, 1998|
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I have often obtained in painting directly from the object that which appears to be the real results at the very first shot, but when that does happen, I purposely destroy what I have accomplished and redo it over and over again. In other words, that which comes easily I distrust. When I have condensed and simplified sufficiently, I know then that I have something more than reality.*
Questioning our initial assumptions can be painful. Yet it's a critical beginning point in approaching any major decision. This, I'm convinced, is the concern underlying Proverbs 3:5-7. By urging us not to lean on our own understanding, the writer is saying, "Don't be too quick to take your gut instincts and first impressions uncritically."
Get the facts. We also need to make a reasonable effort to get the facts and weigh them carefully. This is the second condition for good judgment.
When we look at the many proverbs which stress seeking wisdom, we find them pressing us to be diligent thinkers. They implore us to get pertinent information and prudently sift through it. "If you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God" (Prov 2:3-5).
Our effort to gain insight in any important matter should not be halfhearted, the proverb stresses. We should seek the best information we can, consider it carefully and allow time for our insights to season. While the proverb clearly prompts us in this direction, it also assures us that we can be successful in this search. With the right effort, it promises, "you will find the knowledge of God"--or the insight of God. The verse that follows adds, "For the Lord gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding."
This assurance that we can reach the point of judging wisely is vital to keep in mind, for it cautions us against endlessly analyzing a decision. While God calls us to be responsible decision makers, he urges us to be good stewards of our time. The point comes when we should assume as a matter of faith that he has given us adequate insight to decide correctly. We should make a reasonable effort to get the facts and reflect on them. Then in faith we should trust that God has provided us enough information to make our decision.
Two people, for instance, who have dated seriously for two or three years, and have discussed the possibility of marriage for nearly this long, have usually gone well beyond making this reasonable effort. Typically they are at a saturation point of information. If you are in this position, the question to consider is whether by waiting longer you are likely to gain some radically new insight which will help your decision. If the answer is no, then you are at the point where a choice should be made. It makes sense now to trust your judgment--provided you are seeking the Lord's direction to begin with.
Pray for guidance. This brings us to the third condition for good judgment--the need to pray for wisdom. Throughout the Proverbs we're told that wisdom and clear insight are a gift of God. In light of this, James 1:5 instructs us, "If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him."
Here again, though, the guiding word is reasonable. Make a reasonable effort to pray for insight. Remember that James promises that if we pray for wisdom, "it will be given." Praying excessively for guidance may indicate that I don't believe God is honoring his promise to provide it.
While many Christians don't take prayer seriously enough, some become obsessive about praying. It's striking that most of the significant prayers recorded in Scripture are brief. Even in Gethsemane, with the momentous events to follow, Jesus didn't instruct his disciples to pray endlessly but for "an hour" (Mt 26:40). This is liberating, for it suggests that an hour may be a reasonable period to spend praying over a critical matter. Jesus certainly wasn't suggesting a rigid or legalistic time frame in telling his disciples to pray for an hour, for the ancients didn't have the precise time measurements we have today. Yet his advice does provide a general benchmark to follow in praying over a significant concern.
If you are facing a major decision--perhaps about a career change, a relationship or involvement in your church--and have made a reasonable effort to get the facts and weigh them, let me urge you now to give some attention to seeking God's direction. Set aside a period of uncluttered time--an hour, perhaps--and choose a quiet spot where you're not likely to be interrupted. Pray earnestly for God's insight. Ask him, too, for courage to step forward in faith as he directs you.
Then believe in faith that God is giving you the grace to think clearly. Trust your judgment. Go ahead and make your best choice. If in all honesty it seems that you still don't have enough information to decide, then don't force the decision. Choose to stay tentative--but make that definite choice with confidence.
But if there is reasonable evidence that you should move in a certain direction, then opt to do so, asking God to make it abundantly clear if you're not choosing the best course. Then move ahead confidently, even if some doubts remain. Look for substantial certainty but not perfect certainty.
Beyond Mood Swings
If you are one who is indecisive or analytical by nature, realize that there are some important benefits to your temperament. It gives you the energy and patience to carefully plod through all the angles of a decision. But realize the drawbacks it presents for you as well. You may be prone to overanalyze a decision or wait for a measure of "perfect peace" that isn't reasonable to expect before taking a major step.
Take confidence in knowing that if you
are a child of Christ, God has given you the mind of
Christ. He has put within you the capacity to make good
judgments. Honor him by taking that ability seriously.
And enjoy the incomparable adventure of decision making.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
This article is adapted from chapter 22 of Blaine's The Optimism Factor: Outrageous Faith Against the Odds (Downers Grove Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1994).
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Copyright 1998 M. Blaine Smith.
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