Taking fear out of the decision process
At a weekly bible study a while ago, we went over the story of David deciding to build a temple for the Lord. The story picks up at 2 Samuel 7:
1 King David was living in his palace, and the Lord had given him peace from all his enemies around him. 2 Then David said to Nathan the prophet, “Look, I am living in a palace made of cedar wood, but the Ark of God is in a tent!”
3 Nathan said to the king, “Go and do what you really want to do, because the Lord is with you.”
4 But that night the Lord spoke his word to Nathan, 5 “Go and tell my servant David, ‘This is what the Lord says: Will you build a house for me to live in? 6 From the time I brought the Israelites out of Egypt until now I have not lived in a house. I have been moving around all this time with a tent as my home. 7 As I have moved with the Israelites, I have never said to the tribes, whom I commanded to take care of my people Israel, “Why haven’t you built me a house of cedar?”’
8 “You must tell my servant David, ‘This is what the Lord All-Powerful says: I took you from the pasture and from tending the sheep and made you leader of my people Israel. 9 I have been with you everywhere you have gone and have defeated your enemies for you. I will make you as famous as any of the great people on the earth. 10 Also I will choose a place for my people Israel, and I will plant them so they can live in their own homes. They will not be bothered anymore. Wicked people will no longer bother them as they have in the past 11 when I chose judges for my people Israel. But I will give you peace from all your enemies. I also tell you that I will make your descendants kings of Israel after you.
12 “‘When you die and join your ancestors, I will make one of your sons the next king, and I will set up his kingdom. 13 He will build a house for me, and I will let his kingdom rule always. 14 I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he sins, I will use other people to punish him. They will be my whips. 15 I took away my love from Saul, whom I removed before you, but I will never stop loving your son. 16 But your family and your kingdom will continue always before me. Your throne will last forever.’”
17 Nathan told David everything God had said in this vision.
In this story, we read about David hatching a plan. He looks at all the goodness the Lord has given him, how richly he has been blessed with power and position, and specifically how beautifully he has been housed. Then David looks at how the Lord is being “housed” (at least how the only physically tangible symbol of the Lord was being housed) and feels ashamed. How dare David leave the Lord of all the universe in a shabby little tent, while David whiles away the days in his luxurious palace?
So, David has an idea to build God a temple. He consults another godly man for advice, and, upon his approval, everything seems set for things to go ahead.
Until they don’t. Nathan is contacted with immediate instructions for David to abort the mission, and David listens. The whole plan is thrown away and never discussed again (at least in David’s lifetime).
Often in Christian circles, when we hear about people making decisions, we hear them praying for the Lord to make the way clear. As I said last week, that’s not a bad thing! It’s good that we ask the Lord for guidance and submit our wills to His. However, sometimes I think the urgency of our asking is actually based on fear and wrong beliefs. I think sometimes in these situations we suddenly adopt a strange and twisted form of super intense predestination theology where each life decision becomes some kind of sick and impossible test, as if God is demanding we comprehensively discern every tiny element of the future in order to decipher which singular path leads to His pleasure and blessedness in our lives. We fear that only having one life means only having one chance to get things right, and unless we choose exactly the right choice at every point, who knows how far we could end up off our intended destination?
Now it’s likely that none of us would actually say that our intention in praying is really to see the future. But I think sometimes that is our subconscious wish. We want to be 100% sure that the decision we’re making is a good one, and therefore we want some kind of guarantee from God that we’re choosing the option that definitely turns out well. Life can genuinely be scary; our knowledge is limited and knowing both what to expect and that the expected thing is good would indeed be very reassuring.
I think sometimes we also fear that God will be angry and upset with us if we accidentally choose the wrong path. We believe it’s as if He’s set up this intricate obstacle course with constant forks in the road and He’s just waiting for us to trip up and take the wrong route. At that point He’ll pounce on our mistake and cut us off from the way to pleasing Him forever.
This story of David directly confronts all these fears. And it does so by showing us what happened when David got things wrong.
The heart of a man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.
David came up with an idea, ran it by a fellow believer for approval, then went ahead with things. His intentions seem like they were honourable; he received wisdom and blessing on the decision, and he himself was using all his wisdom and full understanding of the world, theology, and his situation. David seems to have done everything right. Yet things still didn’t work out.
But it wasn’t the end of the world! God didn’t get mad at him, and David’s life wasn’t ruined. God semi-rebukes him, but not really. He basically points out the silliness of David’s plan and points out that the act is something that was never asked of David, but other than that God doesn’t really get angry about it. If anything, God showed him increased blessing and honour by revealing that the plan He had for David’s life was different and far greater than anything David had previously imagined.
Nowhere in scripture does God command us to make decisions based on a complete and unerring knowledge of what our or others’ futures will be. What you can be held accountable for in times of decision-making is praying and waiting on the Lord, expectedly seeking guidance from the Word and the Spirit, and finally using the wisdom God has granted you and the fellow believers you invite into the decision (which, as David modelled, is often a very good idea). There may be times that, like David, you make the wrong call. But God is a good, loving, and gracious Father! He will not let faithful hearts wander long, rather He will reroute you into continuing your role in His overarching story, using even the eternally-anticipated detours for His glory. Like I said last week, often God is orchestrating events under the radar in completely undetectable ways anyway, and even your unrealized plans may be a part of that!
There will likely be many times in our lives when the plans we make don’t work out. Sometimes these may be ministry plans that are aimed to bring glory to God, like David’s temple idea. Sometimes these just may be logistical plans for our own lives. But we must remember that it was God Himself who put an end to David’s plan. What could superficially be seen as a failure was actually God’s loving and shepherding sovereignty on miraculous and gracious display in David’s life. It was not a dead-end at all, but rather God showing His faithfulness in rerouting David away from what was planned for someone else, and towards the tasks He actually did have for him.
Are you currently considering a big next step or life decision? Pray about it, wait expectantly on the Lord, seek out and ask for wisdom on the topic, and talk to other believers about it. Then, if all seems good, go ahead in faith. You may be right that it is the way you should go. If God has decided it isn’t, then you can trust He will faithfully reroute you to what He has for you instead. Either way, if your heart is seeking His, you can bring delight to Him wherever you end up.
As I was posting this the first time, I had a bit of a vague, uneasy feeling in the back of my mind, and it kept returning each time I thought of the blog. So, I decided I should review what I wrote and see if anything needed tweaking. As it turns out, I think there is something.
My main motivation in writing this was to 1) think through the ways that we needlessly let fears paralyze our decision-making capabilities, and then 2) share the theological truths that conquer those fears and let us go forward in freedom. However, as I thought over the topic more, I realized that there is one other major way that fears can affect our decision-making; that is, by making us unwisely rush into decisions in the interest of security or comfort, rather than waiting on God even if that means entering or continuing a situation that is more insecure, difficult, or unknown, one that will require more trust in God. I’ve been under two major church decisions (in two different churches) that, in hindsight, I can see were rushed into out of fears of uncertainty, lack of provision, and possibly even fears regarding upsetting the congregation. Both had fairly disastrous effects, with many church members leaving and a handful not even calling themselves Christians anymore. While we can be confident that God has provided us with the resources we need to make good decisions, if we’re not making full use of them and genuinely seeking Him to align our hearts with His, we cannot use their mere presence as an excuse to blame God for not giving us better direction when we make decisions out of fear, foolishness, or selfish motivations.
As we talk with other believers about potential decisions, we need to be brutally honest with ourselves about why each option is attractive or unattractive. What scares us from making – or into making – a decision? Sometimes that fear isn’t necessarily a reason to switch the direction of our decision, but we should be aware of its presence and influence, remaining vigilant that the fears aren’t clouding our judgment and keeping God’s wisdom from truly illuminating the situation. While we don’t want to paralyze ourselves with self-analysis, ending up in the same predicament as if we were paralyzed by self-doubt, we do want to pray with the Psalmist, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23-24)
There is no shame in taking time to make a decision, provided the situation allows for it. As I’ve been reading through the Old Testament recently, I’m often surprised at how long God takes to do His work; after Joseph was put in a pit by his brothers, it took over 20 years for him to see His family again! Abraham was over 100 before he had his promised son, and even Jesus waited thirty years before he started his public ministry on earth. God is on an eternal timeline, so your feeling that something needs to happen or become clear NOW needs to be set aside. Rest assured that God hasn’t forgotten about you, He is active right now even in the waiting, and there’s never been a deadline that He’s accidentally missed. All His purposes will prevail, so if the situation allows and you think you could benefit from more prayer, more discussion to work out or better understand some issues, or more wisdom sought from more mature believers, it may be a good idea to take it.
Pray and ask God to search out your heart. Reflect on past situations: do you tend to have patterns of being paralyzed by fear and becoming unable to make a decision? Or do you err on the side of making decisions too quickly out of fear of the unknown or the insecure? Know that God is merciful and good in both situations, and that those fears have no place in your life. He is there in midst of the unknown, the undecided, the situation that still has yet to be worked out. He is also there in our deciding, giving us the resources and confidence to make a decision with wisdom and faith in His ultimate sovereignty over all circumstances in our lives. In both situations, let His perfect love drive out our fears and enable us to both wait on Him in peaceful assurance of His timing, and then to go ahead in confidence of His loving presence in every step we take, whichever direction it is in.