I just finished reading “Simplicity” by Mark Salomon, a rock singer, who also happens to be a Christian. I’m glad I bought the book, because I think it provided just the kind of in-your-face honesty that I needed, and that is sadly missing from so much of the ‘Christian’ world we live in.
I’ve been very encouraged by it, and it’s reinforced the lesson that I think God’s been teaching me throughout the past year that I need to stand firm on my convictions and let no one but Him shake them, because a solid wrong conviction is less messy (and in that sense, better) than a weak and wavering one, under the guise of “trying to do right”. I think this is one of the biggest lessons of the year for me: Whatever decisions you make, just make firm ones. Right or wrong, you just have to make a decision. Always be humble and real enough to admit that you could be wrong, or that you were wrong when proven so, but never mistake indecisiveness under the guise of wanting to “be sure you’re making the right decision that God wants you to make” for humility. The Bible tells us to be single-minded, and yes, ideally, we’ll be single-minded with our mind set on the right thing, but even if not, I think it’s always better to be single-minded anyway. Hot or cold, but never lukewarm. Nothing can be done with lukewarm water. Nothing can be achieved if you stay sitting on the fence. If you go the wrong way, you can be turned around, but if you go nowhere at all, you’re, well, going nowhere – neither the right way nor the wrong. And perhaps the only thing worse and more dangerous and damaging than going the wrong way and going astray is not going anywhere at all.
Be honest with yourself and honest with God. Work things out with Him and then just go with that. Faith involves taking risks. That’s why it’s called faith. Clichéd, perhaps, but true by definition. Not blind, dumb, reckless risks, even though they might appear so to others who don’t know the full story (i.e. anyone but you and God), but careful, considered ones.
I think many of us, especially living in Singapore where failure is often made to seem akin to hell, are too afraid of making decisions, and hence are horribly indecisive. I’m guilty ten thousand times over. We are repeatedly told that it’s of the utmost importance that we make “the right decision”, and so we stress out about it like nobody’s business, because really, how do we know what “the right decision” is? How does anyone? When it’s as clear as black and white, we’re safe. We might have to wrestle with ourselves a bit and make ourselves do what we know we should do even when we don’t want to do it, but that’s an ‘easy’ struggle in the sense that we know what’s “right”. But when we’re choosing not between something good and something bad, nor even something good and something better, but simply something good and something else that is equally good, what do we do? Who but God can tell us what to choose? And what about times when God remains silent?
Without getting into an argument about whether or not God really has one very narrow path which He has mapped out for us and intends for us to follow, including answers to things like “which shirt should I wear today?”, I’ll just say that I believe God is good, and I believe He provides as much as we need. He leads us just enough for us to follow. Just enough for that next step.
I think we need to stop being afraid to make the wrong decisions. Only then will we be able to make the “right” ones. How do we do that? First, by realising what it is that we are so afraid of. I think most commonly, it’s people. People’s opinions on whether we made the right decision or the wrong. People’s judgements that come after we’ve made our decisions, saying that “they told us we were choosing the wrong thing” and “see, look what happened”, implying that we chose wrongly.
Embedded in that is the (I believe, wrong) belief that trials and hardships and ‘failures’ of plans or the lack of appearance of what we expect to happen following a “right” decision mean that we made a wrong one. I don’t buy that. So many ‘bad’ things happened to good men of God who made the “right” decisions. Joseph chose to stick with Mary, on direct orders from an angel of the Lord (Matthew 1). Had he sought advice from others (and perhaps he did), it is likely that they would have told him to do as he had originally planned and “divorce her quietly”, not wanting to expose her to public disgrace as would have happened in that time. I’m sure there would have been those who doubted the appearance of an angel of God in his dream telling him to keep the child and stay with Mary – “Are you sure you heard correctly? How do you know the dream had any significance? How do you know it really was an angel of God and not your own voice?”. Yet amidst those voices of doubt, Joseph made his decision, according to what He believed God said. I’m sure it must have been a difficult thing to do, and even after that, there was no relief, no immediate proof that he had chosen the right thing. What do you think those people who doubted his decision said when Joseph took Mary and Jesus and fled to Egypt, again according to God’s instruction (Matthew 2)? That isn’t exactly the evidence we look for in a “right decision”, is it? But we who believe hold no doubt that Joseph had, in fact, heard correctly and made the “right” decision. It’s really not that different today.
I’m sure we’ve all met people like the ones I mentioned above. We’ve probably even been one ourselves. And it’s every easy to look at them and say they were leading us astray. But that wouldn’t be fair. I fully believe that almost everyone, if not everyone, who doubts our decisions in that way and gives us counsel and advice about them has good intentions and is trying to help us do what’s best for us. I do. We can’t blame them for not knowing what God knows, for not having His mind. But I think that as friends to others, ourselves, we have to learn what it means to trust God for our friends who are making decisions. We use our God-given wisdom to evaluate the situation, yes, but it’s even more important to seek God directly on it, because our wisdom is superceded by far by His. Ideally, God would tell us the same thing He’s told our friend making the decision, and it’ll all add up, but sometimes that doesn’t happen. I think that -and yeah, we have to be really careful about this- sometimes we just have to trust our friend’s own faith in God and just be behind them in whatever decision they choose to make, whether we personally agree with it or not. And for us making the decision, ask God, hear what He says, and stick to your convictions.
If you look for sinful motivations behind every decision and every action, you will find them, simply because we are humans who are sinful by nature. But that doesn’t mean that we are automatically making the wrong decision. There will always be someone who finds fault with you and your decisions – it might be a stranger, an acquaintance, a trusted friend. What do they have in common? They’re all human. They have imperfect knowledge, and they’re just like you, trying to find their way around as best as they know how. Do I believe they have good intentions when they doubt you? Yes, I do, like I said before. Do I think good intentions make things right? No, I don’t. I believe that Jesus makes things right, because Jesus is righteous. Righteousness is found through Him.
So stranger, acquaintance, friend…in an important way, they’re no different from each other (though in many other very important ways, they are). Take everything with a pinch of salt – everything except that spoken by God. Why should we fear man, who is powerless to determine our destiny? If things that others say shake you up and make you doubt and second-guess yourself all the time, you’re fearing man. I’m not saying that we should view everything said and done to us by fellow humans with distrust, but simply with godly caution and discernment. I believe God speaks to us through others, and it would be a waste to miss hearing what He has to say because we refuse to trust that God’s words can come through an imperfect human vessel. I completely believe that they can.
But that distinction, between the vessel and God, is an important one to make. We must not mistake the vessel for God, nor must we think that the righteousness or holiness of the vessel determines whether or not we can trust words that come from their mouths as supposedly God’s words. We cannot evaluate words God speaks through humans by our own assessment of who they are or where they are spiritually. It isn’t about that. When God speaks, you’ve gotta know it’s Him. He can speak through any vessel. But if our eyes are on the vessel, rather than Him, I can promise you you’re only gonna get confused. Personal biases, judgement, and all that comes into play when we look at the vessel or instrument being used instead of God, and that’s sad, cos it really is irrelevant.
Look at God. Know Him. Listen to Him.
“His sheep follow Him because they know His voice.” – John 10:4
“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me.” – John 10:14
If we know God, we will know His voice and be able to recognise it anywhere, whether it comes forth from a stranger, an acquaintance, a trusted friend, or maybe even an enemy. It could be spoken through a drunk on the street, a guy shoulder-deep in drugs and alcohol, someone who speaks more swear words than other words, a serial killer, a teacher, a pastor… Fundamentally, we’re all the same. That God chooses to speak through us says nothing about us except that we are privileged to be loved by Him and to be recipients of His grace – just like everyone else.
We are all the same.