Ever been totally at a loss for what to do?
I get asked for advice a lot. People want to know what God’s will is for their lives. They want to know who they should marry (and where they’re hiding out). They want to know whether or not to take one particular job over another. They want to know which school to attend.
To be fair, I don’t think they’re asking for my opinion. Whenever people come to me and ask for advice, I think they’re really asking for help making their own decision. Because we know that how we make decisions is as important as the decisions we actually make.
In the Bible, there is one word that refers both to the process of discernment and to our selections. The word is “mind” and it is less about intelligence than it is about comprehension (see Romans 8.27, Titus 1.15, Ezekiel 18.31).
Mind = comprehension (choices + deliberation).
But most of us, particularly when confronted with choices of consequence, are afraid of making the wrong decision. We’re afraid that if we choose poorly, we will doom ourselves to a life of misery, hardship, and frustration. As a result, we tend to over-inflate the importance of our decisions, thinking there can be no recovery from a mislaid step.
In the famous words of Frank Herbert, author of Dune, “fear is a mind killer.”
The more we’re afraid, the more we develop a rough edge that prohibits others from getting close and giving help. Because we have catastrophized our problems, we become defensive about our decisions.
I remember one Christmas Eve service, back when I was a music pastor, when I had to select a song to follow the sermon. We would have nearly 1,500 people in church that night, over the course of several services, and I was informed that this song was “the moment” when people would reflect upon the pastor’s invitation to follow Christ. I felt like I had a holy obligation to choose the right song, or else people might not respond to God.
The key phrase here is “or else.”
I agonized over the decision. I prayed. I asked for counsel. I read the scriptures.
In the end, I chose “Silent Night.” It was great. Everybody loved it. Big sigh of relief.
Until afterwards, when my brothers teased me about picking something so obvious and boring and traditional. I got angry, and told them to pound sand. They laughed again, baffled by my response. I got more angry and stormed off.
Do you see what I did? I let my inability to realize the scope of the problem fill me with fear. Fear governed me, and I became defensive and hostile because I felt like I had made the right choice for a fantastically significant problem. When other people didn’t like my choice, I vilified them and responded with anger.
But the truth is it really didn’t matter which song I chose.
I could have chosen O Holy Night, or Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus, or even Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas and the response would have largely been the same. God’s Spirit isn’t limited by our song selection. There was more going on in that room than my decision. The rest of the night was too great for me to screw it up even if I wanted to.
In the end, the only thing I wrecked with my decision was my own ability to enjoy Christmas Eve.
I’ve learned since then that we have to control our thoughts. We have to renew our minds. And the best way to do so is to ask God what he’s already doing in the world around you. Figure out what God is up to, then figure out how you can help.
If all else fails, follow St. Augustine’s advice to “love God and do what you want.” When you love God, what you want is never bad and you do not have to be afraid.