When We Have to Choose: The Indecisiveness Roadblock

He’d been warned that Gerber was something of a dullard, but the postmaster decided to hire him anyway. It was Christmas and he needed an extra set of hands to sort the mail. On Gerber’s first day of sorting the mail, much to everyone’s surprise, he separated the letters so fast that his motions were literally a blur. At the end of the day, the postmaster said to Gerber, “I want you to know how proud I am of you. You’re one of the fastest workers we’ve ever had.” “Thank you, sir,” Gerber replied, “and tomorrow I’ll try to do even better.” “Better?” the postmaster said in astonishment. “How can you do any better?” Gerber explained, “Tomorrow I’m going to read the addresses.”

choice_xsm_cChoosing was easy for Gerber! However, for most of us, making choices is a much more difficult undertaking. Because of the multiplicity of options before us today, making choices is more difficult than ever before. Unable to decide what we want to do, we are often unmade by our unmade decisions. The dilemma of making choices becomes another roadblock that keeps us from enjoying the abundant life Jesus wants us to experience. Steering around this roadblock means liberating ourselves to make the right decisions in our lives at the right time.

To begin with, these Scriptures reaffirm the importance of God’s word in making our decisions. The insights and instructions in the Bible provide guidance for the Christian who wants to make the right choices. According to Psalm 19, knowledge of God’s word will enable us to walk in God’s way. Even Jesus used God’s word as the basis for choosing the right response to Satan, for he confronted each of Satan’s temptations in the wilderness with the phrase, “For it is written…,” and then he quoted a Scripture as a rationale for his decision (Matt 4:4, 6, 7, 10). Likewise, for us, listening to God’s word will enable us to walk more effectively in God’s way.

These Scriptures also underscore the importance of faith in making the right decisions. Not just through his word but also through his presence in our lives, God will help us make the right decisions if we will listen to him and trust him. That is the advice of one of the best-known passages from the Old Testament, Proverbs 3:5-6. Some people say, “I would be glad to do what God wants me to do if he would just tell me. I listen to God, but I don’t hear him speaking to me. How can I know what God wants me to do?” The answer to those questions is found in the word “acknowledge” (Prov 3:6). To acknowledge God is to become aware of who he is. To acknowledge God is to fellowship with him in prayer and Bible study and corporate worship. To acknowledge God is to come to know him. When we do that, the writer of Proverbs says, “He will direct your paths.”

Further, these Scriptures point out the influence of our peers in making the proper choices. Proverbs 13:20 and 15:22 both remind us of the importance of our peer group. Of course, our peer group can either help us or hurt us. If they are wise, they can enrich our lives. If they are foolish, they can increase the suffering of our lives. In either case, they will inevitably influence us. Thus, seeking wise counsel is an important step in decision-making. In his book A Pretty Good Person, author Lewis B. Smedes expresses this truth: “Because our discernment is always—not sometimes, but always—partial, we need communities of shared discernment.” Being part of a community of shared discernment will enable us to make wiser choices.

These Scriptures also reinforce the contribution of the Holy Spirit in making the decisions of our lives. For example, John 16:13 reminds us that every Christian has the indwelling Spirit whose purpose is to guide us in the direction God wants us to go. Choosing our outward company is not always possible, for life often forces us into communities not of our choosing. Sometimes our outward company is determined by the circumstances of our lives—our living space or our context at work. However, each of us can choose to enjoy the spiritual companionship of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

Finally, these Scriptures remind us of the importance of prayer in our decision-making. The powerful promise concerning prayer in Paul’s letter to the Philippians reminds us of the importance of prayer in the decision-making process. In response to our prayer, God will both guard us and guide us (Phil 4:6-7). In a scene in the movie Shadowlands, Anthony Hopkins, who plays the part of C. S. Lewis, says, “Prayer doesn’t change God. It changes me!” That can be true of every Christian. Through the ears of our heart, prayer speaks the directions of God that steer us in the way God wants us to go.

God’s word is packed with informative insights for Christians who want to move around the roadblock of indecisiveness. In addition, many characters introduced to us in Scripture flesh out these insights in their lives. The Bible is full of models of those who were incisive in making decisions, but I want to focus on the man we know as Gideon (Judg 6–7). He lived in Israel at a time when God’s people were oppressed by the Midianites, a period when the nation of Israel was contaminated by the worship of Baal. God called Gideon to overthrow the Midianites and to destroy the altars that had been constructed for the worship of Baal. Several steps marked Gideon’s decision-making process.

Step one was to recognize the need. Gideon clearly understood that Israel had a problem, for the promises of God had clearly not been fulfilled (Judg 6:13). Through an encounter with the angel of God, Gideon became aware of the cause of the problem in Israel and discovered what needed to be done to solve the problem (6:14-24).

Step two was to enlist the help. Gideon was hesitant to tackle the challenge alone, so he selected ten men to assist him in tearing down the altar of Baal (6:27). He then gathered the troops of Israel and selected three hundred men to assist him in his battle against the Midianites (6:34-35).

Step three was to make certain he had God’s support. He accomplished this by the laying out of the fleece (6:36-40). On the one hand, he seemed a little slow on the uptake. On the other hand, the positive side of Gideon’s action is that he wanted to make sure he was doing what God wanted him to do.

Step four was to develop a strategy that would enable him to accomplish his goal (7:15-18). Through the direct word from the Lord and through the indirect word of a dream, Gideon developed a plan. Then he told his three-hundred-man army, “Watch me. Follow my lead. When I get to the edge of the camp, do exactly as I do” (7:17). Recognition, support, caution, strategy—these were all a part of Gideon’s plan for making the proper choices. Studying his story closely in Judges 6–7 will enable us to make decisions more effectively today.

Set the Strategy

From the clear teachings of Scripture, Christians in today’s world can shape strategies for making the right decisions at the right time. Let me suggest several strategies.

Strategy #1 is to refine our focus. Alvin Toffler wrote a watershed book about change in 1970 titled Future Shock. He introduced a word that captures the experience of each of us today—“overchoice.” When we buy an ice cream, we have dozens of flavors from which to choose. When we watch television, we have hundreds of channels to watch. When we buy an automobile, our choices are even more overwhelming. In his 1970 book, Toffler told of a computer specialist who put into his computer all the variations available in automobiles—body styles, colors, accessories, etc. The computer suggested 25 million different combinations! That was in 1970. Imagine the combinations available today! With such a plethora of choices, the place to begin in our plan for making proper choices is to refine the focus of our lives on the decisions that can be made and that should be made.

Lincoln Kirstein, founder of the New York City Ballet and School, provides an extreme example of this strategy. He wore the same clothes every day, and here is his reasoning: “I long ago worked out that I would save a great deal of time if I forewent the particular choice of dress.” In similar but perhaps less dramatic ways, each of us can narrow our choices by refining our focus.

Strategy #2 is to clarify our options. After refining our focus and identifying the decisions that have to be made, the next step is to study each decision to make sure we understand our options. The waitress who would ask her customers each morning, “Do you want one egg or two?” caused some of the customers to lose sight of the possibility that they might not want any eggs at all or that they might not want any breakfast at all. Making the right decision is not possible until we clearly understand all the options we have. Only then can we make the right choice at the right time.

Strategy #3 is to establish some guidelines. To make the right choices at the right time also requires guidelines by which the correct option can be determined. Different suggestions have been offered as to the proper guidelines for making the right choices.

For example, well-known pastor John Claypool once said that he passed his decisions through the net of three questions: the limits question, the gifts question, and the obedience question. The limits question asked, “Given the pool of psychic, physical, spiritual, and intellectual energy I possess, which is the decision that I can accomplish?” The gifts question asked, “Which decision is in line with the shape of my own uniqueness?” The obedience question asked, “What does God’s will dictate?” That is one possible set of guidelines.

Author Leslie B. Flynn offers another set of guidelines by suggesting three additional questions to ask before making a decision. Question one: Which decision will glorify God? Question two: Which decision will bless others? And question three: Which decision will help me? These three questions can also guide us as we make our decisions.

For me personally, I have established a mission statement for my life that I regularly review and daily remember. Especially when an important decision has to be made, I will examine the alternatives before me under the microscope of my personal mission statement. Whatever guidelines you adopt, the point remains: every Christian needs guidelines. This is a crucial part of the decision-making process.

Strategy #4 is to consider the consequences. Every choice has consequences. Sometimes a choice seems appealing until we chart out the consequences of that choice. Remember again the experience of David. David chose to go to bed with Bathsheba (2 Sam 11). It seemed like a good idea at the time. However, David did not consider the consequences of that action—Bathsheba’s pregnancy, the necessity for the eventual elimination of Uriah, the death of the baby born out of this indiscretion, the loss of the respect of his children, and eventually the disintegration of his family. Had he considered the consequences he might have made a different choice.

Anticipating the future is of course a tricky process. Trying to determine exactly where a decision today will put us tomorrow is problematic. Nevertheless, taking the long look when choosing what to do is a vital step in making the right decisions at the right time.

Strategy #5 is to seek counsel. Biblical admonition and human experience coincide at this point. Both confirm the importance of getting advice from others before important decisions are made. Sometimes a friend will raise questions that have evaded our notice. Sometimes our colleagues can point out consequences that have escaped our perception. Sometimes they will suggest options we have not even considered. Sometimes they can share out of an experience we have not yet had. In any of these manifestations, the wise counsel of others will be beneficial in our decision-making process.

Strategy #6 is to be willing to adjust. Because no one is perfect, no one will be perfect in the choices he makes. Even with the most thoughtful approach to making decisions and even after seeking the best advice, we will still make mistakes and wrong decisions. In those instances, we must be willing to adjust.

Christians often attribute greater value to being consistent than to being right. Some suggest that it is courageous to stick with a decision once it is made and to fight for it to the end. Actually, it is both more courageous and more Christian to say, “I made that decision, but it was the wrong decision. Based on further light, I am now moving in a different direction.” When our decisions confirm our commitment to Christ and the guidelines established for decision-making in our lives, consistency is called for. However, when our decisions push us toward consequences that weaken our commitment to Christ and negatively affect the lives of those around us, changing our mind is both the most courageous and Christian thing to do.

Final Word

No one can escape the responsibility of making choices. Decision-making is an inevitable part of living. Even refusing to choose is a choice. Choices are inevitable in the process of living. Therefore, trying to avoid making decisions is not the proper approach for the Christian. Instead, Christians need to establish strategies that will enable them to navigate around this roadblock and move toward the abundant life God has provided for us in Jesus Christ.

This originally appeared in 17 Roadblocks on the Highway of Life: And How to Move Around Them by Brian L. Harbour.

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