August 1, 2013
 Trust Your

When Following Your
Best Hunch Makes Sense
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This article is excerpted from Blaine's book Faith and Optimism: Positive Expectation in the Christian Life (formerly The Optimism Factor).

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Sometimes when counseling someone about a decision, I’ll give this simple advice: Trust your judgment.

I may add something like: You are in a better position to decide this matter than you realize. Make the choice that seems best to you, and believe that it is the right path to take. Yes, trust your judgment.

There are two situations where I’m particularly inclined to offer this counsel. One is when someone has made a respectable effort to work through a decision, yet cannot muster the courage to finally resolve it. A common example is a man (or woman) in a long-term relationship who cannot decide whether to go ahead with marriage. The relationship may be a solid, supportive one, and there may excellent reasons to choose to marry. The person may even be reasonably convinced that marriage is the right choice. Still, he hesitates, fearful that he isn’t seeing things as clearly as he should. This is someone who needs to be strongly reassured of his ability to make a good decision.

Another person who needs this assurance is someone prone to value others’ opinions above his or her own. This often is the case with the person who is fearful to break off a bad relationship. A woman, for example, is pursued by a man who makes every effort to win her affection. After giving it fair consideration, she concludes that the relationship isn’t right for her. Yet he persists, claiming that he has a better understanding of things. He may even insist that he knows that God wills for them to be together. She wonders in all honesty if he is right. And since he is a stronger personality than she, it’s easy to cave in to his persuasion. Again, my counsel to her is, “Trust your judgment.”

Typically, this advice is greeted with some surprise. “Doesn’t Scripture teach us not to trust our personal judgment?” people ask. “Doesn’t Proverbs 3:5 tell us not to rely on our own understanding?”

I confess I wince a bit when I mete out this advice. Years of conditioning have left me with the same knee-jerk reaction to hearing “trust your judgment.” It’s typically taught in Christian circles that this is precisely what we shouldn’t do. If we’ve been a Christian for any time, we’ve probably heard this notion preached so often that we feel irreverent even questioning it or considering whether there’s another side to the story.

A Two-Sided Coin

Indeed, on one level Scripture does advise us to be skeptical about our own judgment. Proverbs 3:5-7 declares, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and shun evil.”

Yet the Proverbs also prod us to develop the ability to make wise decisions. Admonitions to seek wisdom permeate the Proverbs. While these are given to challenge us to grow in wisdom, they do show that gaining sound insight is a realizable goal. Consider Proverbs 3:13-14: “Blessed is the man who finds wisdom, the man who gains understanding, for she is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold.” That statement and many like it throughout the Proverbs suggest that it’s possible to exercise good judgment, at least if certain conditions are met.

Even more significant is Paul’s assurance that we who follow Christ have “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor 2:16). This is a remarkable promise about the possibility of showing good judgment. Having the mind of Christ does not mean that our insights are infallible. Yet it does mean that we’re beginning from an exceptional position of strength in our effort to make good decisions. As we make the right effort to clear our field of vision, we may be confident that we’re seeing clearly to take steps of faith.

What do we need to do, then, to reach this point of confidence about our judgment? Here are several guidelines to keep in mind.

Question your first impressions. We ought to have an inherent distrust of our first impressions. Ironically, it’s those who find it possible to doubt their own judgment who are most capable of finally making competent decisions. But most often it’s our initial assumptions that need to be called into question.

We each have been influenced far more than we realize by ideals of our secular and Christian cultures that hit wide of the mark of how God sees our lives. Programmed is a better word for it, for this influence strongly affects our standards of judgment. It’s this internal programming that so often triggers our initial perceptions and renders them misleading.

Take “love at first sight,” for instance. The romantic attraction that we first feel for someone—or the absence of it—often tells us little about our true compatibility with that person or our potential for a successful long-term relationship. In one survey 1,000 happily married individuals were asked whether, when they first met the one to whom they’re now happily married, they believed this was the right person for them. A full eighty percent responded no. It took time for them to move beyond their initial impressions and appreciate the true potential of the other person—and the relationship.*

It’s the same principle that writers, artists and other creative people almost always discover, sometimes the hard way. Writers often find that their first draft of a manuscript, no matter how lovingly nurtured, does not communicate effectively. A second or third revision makes all the difference. Artists have the same experience. Consider the testimony of Yasho Kumiyoshi:

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 that 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 as well. 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 that 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 commands 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 to consider, for it suggests that an hour may be a reasonable period to spend praying over a critical matter. Jesus was certainly not suggesting a rigid or legalistic time frame in telling his disciples to pray for an hour, for the ancients did not 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 your involvement in your church—and have made a reasonable effort to get the facts and consider 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’re 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.

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Nehemiah Notes is available twice-monthly by e-mail.

This article is adapted from chapter 22 of Blaine Smith's Faith and Optimism: Positive Expectation in the Christian Life (formerly The Optimism Factor: Outrageous Faith Against the Odds).

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