Sure, a lot of decisions don’t matter, either to you or others, but there are big choices that can have a major impact on your life and those around you. That said, we must acknowledge that though the Bible clearly addresses areas of morality, it doesn’t specifically address where you should live, whom you’re to marry … or what job you should take.
When the stakes are high, what guide do we have to make wise decisions? Fortunately, the Bible gives us a platform from which to launch major, life-altering choices. Let me explain. The choices we make are influenced by our world-view and passions, from which flow priorities, thoughts, etc. Prior to undertaking a new phase in his life, the Spirit of God led Jesus into the desert to be tempted, by the devil (Matt 4:1-11). Similarly, before the Israelites had a choice to transition into their Promised Land, two different generations went through a similar experience: one generation, by way of rebellion, failed to transition well (Num 13–14); the other, by way of instruction in hopes of future success (Deut 6–8), started off by making correct choices.
Interestingly, to show the parallelism between his test and Israel’s own experiences, the quotations Jesus himself used during his wilderness test all came from Deut 6–8. Jesus had to make hard, big choices just like us. If you’re in the midst of an important decision, I pray that this reflection on Jesus’ wilderness temptation will help you make a wise choice; I also hope that you have a trusted, older friend whose sage advice can be personalized to your particular situation.
Jesus’ tests describe and primarily revolve around issues concerning his identity as God’s son, his calling, and his relationship with the Father that would be based on intimacy, obedience, faithfulness, and trust. They exemplify the core principles from which he lived: Jesus is the obedient son, who unlike Israel fulfills the Shema with its tripart challenge to love God with heart, soul, and strength. Further, as the Way, the Truth, and the Life he is the exemplar of a Christian life. Lastly, he provides the means for us to succeed in this life and shepherds us through this process.
Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the Devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him. Matt 4:1-3a
Sometimes you have no choice in the matter other than how you react. Let’s remember, “Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.” Who wants to go through the trials, afflictions, oppositions, misunderstandings … and the shame that Jesus endured? Nonetheless, others like Jeremiah, Isaiah, the apostles … as well as countless saints would know similar pressures in their lives. Many things are just out of our control and occasionally bad things happen to good people.
In A Spirituality of Waiting, Henri Nouwen describes how most of us find worth and vitality through doing and by position, as opposed to waiting and being passive. I wish I could advise differently, but life often presents us with unpleasant circumstances and hard choices. During Jesus’ passion week, ugly things were done to him that we may loosely perceive as being out of his control: he’s arrested, he’s led away, he’s accused … and he’s crucified. By God’s design, he’s handed over (Matt 16:21; Acts 2:23). I quote from Nouwen: “That is the meaning of passion – being the recipient of other people’s initiative. Jesus does not fulfill his vocation in action only but also in passion … Passion is a kind of waiting … all action ends in passion because the response to our action is out of our hands … in this waiting the glory of God and our new life both become visible.”
We’re tempted to make wrong choices, when we quickly react against what we initially think is unacceptable. Has your company downsized and let you go? Do you have a teenager, who has once again put herself in tumultuous waters? Has someone done something very ugly to you? We can’t control how others act, nor flavor the culture around us to be just like we want … nor always have things our way, but by God’s grace we can choose a holy path forward regardless of life’s circumstances. Paul advised, “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”
Are you fighting against a fait accompli: something that has been done and cannot be changed? My choice in trying times is to believe Paul’s above advice to those in Corinth, to come to a throne of grace and mercy in my time of need, to not take fate in my own hands, and to wait for the leading and deliverance of God; then having done all I know to be right and true, I need to stand firm, even if I don’t like how events are unfolding (Ps 94; Lam 3:25-26; Luke 21:16-19; 1 Cor 10:13; Heb 4:15-16).
Jesus’ choices during his wilderness trial, Gethsemane solitude … and week of passion that culminated in a crucifixion are only seen as weakness and ungodly passivity, when we misunderstand the meaning of strength and from whom it comes. These events are perceived as solely from the devil, when we forget that “we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body” (2 Cor 4:7–11).
If you’re in a tough spot and tempted to make wrong choices, gather loving, godly friends around you and don’t impulsively react: Even Jesus, when his soul was “overwhelmed with sorrow,” wanted some close friends around him (Matt 26:37-38). His life can encourage us: when you have no choice in the matter and a godly “death” awaits you, resurrection is sure to follow!
What parent or leader, from time-to-time, hasn’t been tempted to sacrifice the needs of those they’re called to serve on the altar of their comfort or ego? Who doesn’t want things to go their way? Who picks, as a first choice, to drink from “the cup”? Fortunately, we have a Great High Priest, who was tempted in all ways and is able to extend grace and mercy to us in our time of need.
Assess the reservoir from which you will make a decision. “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, … made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant … Therefore God exalted him” (Phil 2:5-9).
In order to make a choice, all of us draw from our well of thoughts, experiences … and desires. What fills your well? Is it tainted by insecurities, selfishness, and blind ambition? The counsel of well-meaning but poorly advised people? Immature or damaged emotions? Or is it filled with God’s love for you and trust in him? A love for others? Godly counsel? A desire to do justly and walk humbly and mercifully before others?
Further, do you instinctively think from a negative or positive perspective? That is, is the glass always half empty or half full? Inherently, each way has its strengths and weaknesses. However, in order to make wise choices and stick with them, more than your base instincts are essential: God’s living waters must not only feed your thoughts but also sustain your choices and actions (Jer 2:5, 11-13; 17:13-14; Micah 6:1-8; John 7:37-39).
Augustine wrote: “My love is my weight … two cities have been formed by two loves: the earthly by the love of self, even to the contempt of God, the heavenly by the love of God, even to the contempt of self. The former, in a word, glories in itself, the latter in the Lord.” Are your decisions based out of a desire to love God and those around you (Matt 22:34-40; 1 Cor 10:31; 1 John 2:10-11)?
Appraise the magnitude of your decision. Many of our daily decisions, by themselves, are insignificant; e.g., choosing on a special day to indulge this one time in a very unhealthy meal won’t matter much; however, consistently choosing a lifestyle of self-indulgence can bring about destruction. Some choices really matter: the entire world has been altered forever, because Jesus went to the cross, picked twelve disciples … and choose correctly during his wilderness temptation. Likewise, some of our choices can have great implications. For example, a leader’s decision can have a major impact on many other people, for either good or bad. Further, even though a young person has time to recuperate from a bad decision, this may not be the case for someone older. But this doesn’t mean an adolescent minus many responsibilities can recklessly decide: though the young may have time on their side to bounce back, they should realize that when a shot arrow is both slightly off course and needing to travel a long distance, eventually it too will be way wide of its target without a major course correction.
Realize that there will be pressure to make other choices. Depending on your doctrine, you may see Jesus’ temptation in various ways: as a sincere test that could’ve gone wrong, an opportunity for believers to understand how a disciple of Jesus should think, a glimpse at the well from which Jesus would draw to make upcoming choices, or a combination of the above. Either way, due to Satan’s presence, we can safely assume that Jesus’ decisions in the wilderness contained pressure to choose otherwise.
A decision, by its very nature involves options, pressure, and often a right or wrong choice. At a minimum, it involves doing or not doing something. But often there are other choices, as well; e.g., not just should I go to college but which one of three colleges should I attend? When faced with an important choice, don’t make a decision in the midst of indecision. You should, instead, fully work through your alternatives until there is only one standing. Furthermore, make sure that the influences bearing upon your decision aren’t short sighted, ungodly, or representative of a “knee jerk response” that will later be regretted; also ensure that it’s not solely a strong vacuum, represented by a pressing need, that’s pulling you forward (Mark 14:7): even Jesus waited several days, before helping Lazarus.
You need to own your decision and let it be primarily based on your persuasion of what is best; this choice should not be based on what someone else thinks is best, for eventually the consequence of your decision will own you. Martin Luther, when challenged to make other choices said, “I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God. Amen.” Because Luther was fully convinced about what was right, he was able to stand strong, not only during his formal inquisition but also during the unfolding years, which were equally challenging. Had he made his initial stance, because someone talked him into it, he would not have been able to withstand the unfolding pressures brought about by this choice.
As you contemplate your choices, realize that God wants to lead you more than you want his guidance (Luke 12:31-32) and that big decisions should receive big confirmations (Acts 15:1-29). Yes, there is always pressure to make a wrong choice but also promised wisdom from God to make a correct one (James 1:5-18). Let your forward momentum come from an inner conviction and mental persuasion that boldly thrusts you into the loving thing to do (Ps 138:3, 8; Gal 5:6; Rom 14:23; James 1:6). If you do so, your new season will come with added strength, so you don’t doubt in the dark what God spoke in the light.
Five more posts on this topic will follow. Please feel free to drop me a note, so I can pray for your specific decision.