A friend once said to me, “Anytime you have options, you are blessed.” Only this is reason for me to stop many times today and say, “Thank you”. Of course, every option necessitates a decision. On what will we depend to make decisions and to respond to the various situations that we encounter in 2011? You and I will face many decisions this year, large and small. Some larger decisions that I am facing prompted these thoughts. As we look at refocusing during this season, please consider with me the following:
Will we make decisions and responses based on how we feel, on principles, on what the Bible says, on what the latest scientific studies indicate, on our response to past mistakes, on instinct, on common sense, on what a respected author or leader says, on what our pastor says, on WWJD, on how we were raised, on what our friends say, or on perceived consequences/results? What is our current pattern? Do we use all of these options? Of course we do! Do we also go to a living Jesus and discuss our decision with Him, listening for His perspective and guidance, and do what He says?
Christians talk of obeying God. What does this mean? Does it mean that we learn the Bible and respond according to how we think it applies to each situation? What is the role of the One that Jesus said would be our Counselor and our Helper?
When it comes to making daily decisions, we are often practical Deists. We talk of Jesus being alive but we live as if He doesn’t exist or He is uninterested. When we pray we talk as we would to ourselves or to the air, really expecting no response. We are superstitious; if we pray, we will see a better outcome. We take no real time to listen, to give our Father a chance to respond. We live as though the Bible is God rather than a revelation of Him. We are people of Biblical principle and we try to obey the book (just like the same Pharisees that we are prone to criticize and mock). We “follow” the Bible rather than a living, communicating Person. We make decisions based on feelings, common sense, principle, Bible verses, experience, and others’ opinions rather than based on conversation with a living father, helper, counselor, and friend.
Does Jesus interact with us today? Can we learn to hear Him and know His “voice”? Do we ask for His input and look to Him for direction in our decisions? Or are we like the so many church-goers (in both Amazon Brazil and the States) who “believe in God” but actually live their lives as if He is either not there, impotent, or doesn’t care?
In Josh McDowell’s “Evidence that Demands a Verdict”, he does a very nice job of citing evidence for the reality of the Jesus’ resurrection. He also says something that for many years irritated me because it was so subjective and I could not say it personally. He says that he believes Jesus to be alive because of all the evidence noted in his book, but perhaps the most significant reason that he knows Him to be alive is that, “I spoke with Him this morning.” This is why His followers are still called witnesses – witnesses still to His resurrection because they personally interact with a living Jesus. That is why the early followers and many until today endure imprisonment, torture, poverty, and even death. They know that they know that He is alive. Their faith is not in a book, in standards, in rules, in rituals, in a better way of living, in doing good works, etc. Their faith (trust) is in the Person with whom they conversed that morning, whose profound and undeserved love they know, who told them again about their future home and that their relationship with Him would never end. It isn’t our words or power of persuasion, but rather the radical way in which we live (as if He truly is alive), forgiving our enemies, placing no value on the things of this world, and trusting His purpose and power while we suffer, that provide the evidence that causes hungry seekers to consider the Truth.
A radical trust in the power and care of God, joy in suffering and a radical willingness to take risks characterize the decisions of those who walk with a living Jesus. None of these is necessarily evident in someone walking according to sound principles and common sense. When He speaks to us, Jesus often does not instruct from even the best man-made principles. He often asks us to do things not based on likely best results, what will give us the “most bang for our buck”, or what will make us happy. He leads us to the most unlikely places and often focuses on the few, the broken, the hurting, the outcast (Mt 5). These qualities characterize both those He uses and those He seeks.
We (especially ministers) must be so careful in our decisions to remember that what is esteemed by men is usually detested by God (Lk 16:15). One of the most significant pursuits in church and mission leadership today is that of “success” (just like the pursuit of those living apart from Jesus). We make decisions, choose locations, choose programs, give advice, and lead based on what will deliver the “best” results (most converts, biggest crowds, growing church…). Is this always our Father’s will? We very much can lead independently of our Master and His personal instruction while we achieve much “success”. We must remember that success is NOT evidence of God’s will. We make our decisions and we tell Him to bless them. We construct our ministries so that we feel holy, spiritual and/or successful. So often we are like the carpenter who works on a house with a team but never checks with the head carpenter about wall height, room dimensions, and construction material. What He builds is beautiful and admirable but all of his skill, talent and effort have no relevance because He isn’t working with a listening ear to the instructions of the head. All of his work, done independently of the others and the leader, serves no purpose and will need to be torn down.
Our Father asks that we not hold onto anything of this world (Acts 20:24). This will affect our every choice and response. Have you met someone who really lives this way? NOTHING mattered to Jesus except doing what was asked of Him by His father and loving the people that He so dearly loved. He had no ambition for success, fame, happiness, prosperity, comfort, pleasure, etc. Are we His followers? What ministry, achievement, possession, or relationship are we afraid of losing? So many before us have considered everything “loss”, including their own lives, in order to do what they perceived Jesus was asking of them. Are Christians people who do good things? Or are they people who do what a living Jesus tells them to do? Are they people who follow the Bible, or are they people who do what a living Jesus tells them to do? Are they people who think WWJD, or are they people who ask a living Jesus what He would have them do?
Is Jesus alive? What does that mean to us practically? Does He interact with us today and how does our interaction with Him affect our decisions? When Jesus said that His sheep would know and recognize His voice, was this some deep, theological statement (spoken to “sheep”!) or did He really mean that we could learn to recognize His voice and be led by it? Jesus said that “my Mother and my brothers are those that hear the word of God and obey it”. Did He mean “hear” or “read”? He spoke as if God communicated clearly (“I only do what I see the Father doing”) and that the Holy Spirit would interact in real time with His followers. He even told them to wait (not preach, heal, evangelize, work!) until the Holy Spirit came and instructed and empowered them. Are we taking the time to “wait” and hear God speak to us?
I don’t always take the time to listen, but He has been so faithful to speak to me and to lead me when I give Him the opportunity to do so. It is never crystal clear and hearing Him always require faith. He only needs me dependent, needy, without self-confidence, and willing to come to Him, trust Him and do what He says. My responsibility is to be broken, meek, mourning, humble and hungry (Mt 5). Our weakness demonstrates His strength because we depend on only Him. A weak, broken person is dependent and listening and won’t act on His own or consider his ideas, opinions, and success as valuable . A self-confident person will do beautiful work apart from the Master (will be successful and admired), will be pleased with himself, and will have no eternal impact (the branch and the vine). We must remember that obedience cannot be judged by our measure of success or by how we feel, because He will lead us into the darkness to be light and this will rarely feel good or draw applause. Kingdom work combats against our flesh. It will so often leave us exhausted, rejected or feeling foolish. Our Father’s way of judging success can be quite different than ours (“There was a woman with two mites…”; “Do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in the Book of Life”…)
So then, how do we make decisions? We must remember the Master that we serve and that He doesn’t want us to have better lives, He wants us to abandon the pursuit of comfort, pleasure, and security and give to Him our lives. He wants us unburdened and seeking His kingdom first. We don’t pursue success, comfort, security, health, happiness, or good results. We lay our lives, our pursuits, our success, our health, and our happiness at the cross and make ourselves available to be spent in any pleasant or unpleasant manner. We listen to our living God. We do what we believe Him to be saying (of course, we see as through a glass dimly, which adds to the challenge and the risk). We trust His guidance when we suffer after following His leading into the darkness.
Decisions made in His presence with such humility and trust will often not be understood by others within the church. Our decisions will appear foolish and risky and they will see us as subjective and unprincipled. How differently risk (potential loss) is measured by those who have nothing to lose because they have given their life away. There is a great number of Jesus-lovers who have gone before us and who lived their lives foolishly dependent on their interaction with a living Jesus, and who are still interacting with Him today in a mansion not built with human hands.
How will we live in 2011? Imperfectly! The humble carpenter carries many tools in his belt and uses every one. In making the decisions that form our lives, we are the same. How ever we make decisions this year, we will err and need our Father’s grace. But this year, before we make decisions, let’s practice more interacting with our Counselor, our Guide, our Comforter, our Friend, and our Lord and allow Him to lead us into the darkness of His choosing.