Choices (Part 2)

Christians need to have a predetermined mindset about what is and is not acceptable in their lives. They need to have decided-upon convictions that will enable them to make the right decisions. Some years ago the WWJD movement had folks wearing rubber bracelets with those letters, representing the question “What would Jesus do?” That’s a good question, and Christians should use that question as a filter in evaluating their own choices. However, Christians must already have the knowledge available to make the right decision when the time comes to make a decision. Effective, God-honoring decision making takes more than a conscience. The conscience is an important guide in decision making, but the conscience is really only a window or sky light–it serves only to let in light from our decided beliefs and convictions. In other words, conscience that is not informed by biblical principles will be a false guide.

What kinds of decisions am I talking about? Any decision, really. For the sake of the three principles I want to share now, though, think specifically about the influences you allow to enter into your mind through your eyes and ears–what you watch, what you listen to and who you hang out with. This includes movies, television shows, internet sites, video games, music and more. There are three tests that I believe will be helpful in making wise decisions.

First, there is the content test. Philippians 4:8 tells us what we should be thinking about. Ask yourself if the content you are filling your mind with is pleasing to the Lord. Is it helping you grow in your relationship with Him or is it hindering that relationship? I Thessalonians 5:22 tells us that we are avoid even the appearance of evil. I John 2:15-17 and James 4:4 tell is that loving the world means loving sin. Reflecting on these verses and using them as filters through which we evaluate our choices can help us to make God-honoring decisions.

Second, there is the control test. In I Corinthians 9:27 Paul writes that he disciplined his body in order to keep it under control. Some things may pass the content test but fail the control test. How? Because whatever controls us is sin. It becomes idolatry when we get fulfillment from anything other than God. Many people, quite frankly, worship themselves. Just a few chapters earlier, in I Corinthians 6, Paul writes that not everything that is permissible or acceptable is also beneficial. In the NIV translation of that verse Paul writes, “everything is permissible for me but I will not be mastered by anything.” We must be careful not to allow anything other than Holy Spirit to control our lives, thoughts ans actions.

Third, there is the clock test. Ephesians 5:15-16 tells us to redeem the time. In other words, we are to use our time wisely–to be good stewards of it. If we spend so much time on unnecessary and unbeneficial things that it takes us away from God then we have failed the clock test. Even those things which are good become bad if they are getting in the way of what is best. Again using the NIV translation, Ephesians 5:15-16 says we are to “making the most of every opportunity.”

So, next time you need to make a decision or evaluate some options, put the matter through these three tests. If it passes the content test, the control test and the clock test, the odds are quite high that the decision is a safe one to make. If, however, there is a failure in any of those tests there should be cause for concern. The should be careful evaluation and consideration given to whether or not that choice which failed the test is really the right one to make. Is it, in other words, really what Jesus would do?

Get out of the way

I remember hearing Joe Stowell speak several years ago and him telling those of us in the audience that he wanted us to listen to God during the weekend’s sessions. “You can stop listening to me anytime you want,” he said, “but don’t stop listening to God!” He went on to share that sometimes people will come up to him after he has spoken and tell him how encouraged or challenged or blessed they were by something he said and, after they share what it was, he cannot remember even saying that. “So do I tell them, ‘I didn’t say that! Forget the blessing!”? he asked. Of course he does not do that. His point was that sometimes the Lord, through the Holy Spirit, pricks our hearts or our consciences and speaks to us beyond the actual words we are hearing.

I understood Stowell’s point when I heard it, and I probably even thought to myself that I had experienced that or could imagine experiencing that, but in the past few months two specific instances have brought Stowell’s point vividly to the forefront of my mind.

In the first instance someone told me after a church service in which I delivered the sermon that they found one particular phrase so neat and meaningful that they had written it down. Only the phrase was one I did not even remember saying! It got me to thinking, so later I went back and looked at my notes and it was indeed something I said; it was part of a quote I shared from someone else, actually.

Then, just this past Sunday, I had the experience that all speakers and preachers dread. In the very midst of my message I felt as if I was really struggling. Though I did not let it show (I hope) there were times in the back of my mind that I was literally thinking, “This is terrible. It isn’t making any sense. You’re just floundering up here. There’s no excuse for this!” Needless to say, when I sat down I was not feeling real good about the message. Interestingly, several people approached me afterwards to comment (positively) on the message and to discuss specific things that were meaningful to them. One of these individuals was a gentlemen who never says anything after my messages other than basic platitudes or polite comments–things like, “Thank you” or “That was a good message.” Funny, isn’t it, how the one message I felt did not go well at all was the one that was meaningful enough to prompt him to say something deeper than he usually does…

Stowell’s point, and mine in writing this post, is that we humans are the instruments through which the Lord chooses to work, and when we have that privilege we should be grateful for the opportunity. However, we must never allow ourselves to believe that anything we may have to say is particularly impressive or important. Never should we allow ourselves to get focused on or caught up in our own accomplishments or oratorical skills or pleasing turn of phrase. Instead, we must seek to remain true to God’s Word, to share it as accurately as we can and then, quite simply, to do our very best to just get out of the way.

As Joe Stowell said, you can stop listening to me anytime. After all, nothing I have to say is all that important anyway.