This just blew my mind. He said “not righteous, but right-ish” (!) … Check it out.
PS: If you liked that, you’ll love this.
This is part four of a series of blogs on spiritual decision making. The basic premise is that God is not whispering in anybody’s ear today, so we need to find criteria to inform us as we make wise, godly, and spiritual decisions. If you’re new to the discussion, you may want to read part 1, 2, and 3 first.
I left off with an observation that even though it seems there is neutrality among options in some decisions, Paul made a choice in Phil 1 that, from his perspective, was not the best. He said that it would be “far better” to be with Christ (this is a very strong phrase in the original language) – yet something prompted him to ignore this option and remain in the body. The next verse tells us why:
But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live. –Philippians 1:24 NLT
It’s hard to fathom this kind of maturity. We live in a world where it is all about “me”; first, last, and always. Even among believers this mentality isn’t easily avoided. Yet the very opposite example is what we see repeated over and over in Scripture. Paul put the welfare of the Philippian church before his own desires. Jesus went to a cross and died for the eternal benefit of all mankind. The early Christians gave sacrificially of their means to care for their brothers. Esther approached the king to save her race, even though she knew the cost could be her life. And so on.
So, a major factor in decisions ought to be the welfare and benefit of others. This is the example of our Lord and the early church. We are not called to lives that are of benefit only to ourselves. As Paul went on to say to the same church: “Don’t look out for only your own interests, but take an interest in others, too” – this is the Biblical ideal.
But even this doesn’t go far enough, because I have no interest in throwing myself under a bus just so that someone else can have a measure of marginal comfort. There has to be a higher purpose than that. And I’ll talk about it next time.
Continuing on with thoughts on spiritual decision making…
In my first post, I discussed my conviction that God doesn’t give us detailed instructions on how to live every aspect of our lives – despite the fact that lots of people seem to look for that kind of specific guidance.
In my second post, I discussed the idea that it honors God when we acknowledge our preferences, and allow him to overrule. On the back end of that, I suggested that our preference doesn’t necessarily drag us away from the will of God. I want to expand on that in this post.
As I’ve mentioned before, there is this prevalent idea that there is one, and only one, perfect option in any decision that has to be made. This choice is the will of God – it is right, and all others are wrong. Again, I don’t think this is a correct way of thinking.
Consider Paul’s decision-making process in Philippians 1:19-26… he is not deciding between two options only one of which is right, but between two options that are both acceptable to God. Notice that one option, to depart and be with Christ, is “better by far”, but that’s not the option Paul chooses. I reason that if there is only one “right” option in any choice, then Paul made a mistake by not choosing the “better by far” option. But since he didn’t choose this, I have to conclude that the other option, to remain, was morally acceptable as well.
So if Paul could face a choice wherein both options were morally acceptable, may we not do so as well? Must we be locked into a mode of thinking that insists on there being only one “right” choice?
I believe that often we are faced with choices in which the options are morally neutral – neither right or wrong in an absolute sense. When faced with such choices, other considerations beyond the rightness and wrongness of the options need to be taken into account. This goes back to what I mentioned at the beginning – preference. If several choices are acceptable, then there is nothing inherently wrong in following my preference (provided of course that my preferences are guided by the word of God).
But you’ll notice that Paul didn’t do what I’m saying. While I firmly believe that preference is an acceptable criterion, at least in this situation Paul didn’t follow his preference to depart and be with the Lord. That leads me to another important factor, which I’ll get into next time.
I really don’t like forwards… they just tend to take up lots of time and email space. But every now and then a real gem comes across like this one I got today. I won’t ask you to forward it, though.
The dinner guests were sitting around the table discussing life.
One man, a CEO, decided to explain the problem with education. He argued, “What’s a kid going to learn from someone who decided his best option in life was to become a teacher?”
To stress his point he said to another guest; “You’re a teacher, Bonnie. Be honest. What do you make?”
Bonnie, who had a reputation for honesty and frankness replied, “You want to know what I make? (She paused for a second, then began…)
“Well, I make kids work harder than they ever thought they could.
I make a C+ feel like the Order of Canada.
I make kids sit through 40 minutes of class time when their parents can’t make them sit for 5 without an IPod, Game Cube or movie rental.
You want to know what I make? (She paused again and looked at each and every person at the table)
I make kids wonder.
I make them question.
I make them apologize and mean it.
I make them have respect and take responsibility for their actions.
I teach them to write and then I make them write.. Keyboarding isn’t everything.
I make them read, read, read.
I make them show all their work in math. They use their God given brain, not the man-made calculator.
I make my students from other countries learn everything they need to know about English while preserving their unique cultural identity.
I make my classroom a place where all my students feel safe.
Finally, I make them understand that if they use the gifts they were given, work hard, and follow their hearts, they can succeed in life. (Bonnie paused one last time and then continued.)
Then, when people try to judge me by what I make, with me knowing money isn’t everything, I can hold my head up high and pay no attention because they are ignorant. You want to know what I make? I MAKE A DIFFERENCE. What do you make Mr. CEO?
His jaw dropped, he went silent.
That just made my day. ;0)
James “Gibby” Gilbert, director of the Family and Youth study track at SIBI, has recently started a blog. I’ve been reading it over the past couple of days, and it has some great stuff – check it out.
If everything goes the way it should, May 21, 2011 is going to be a great day. It’s a day that many have anticipated with joy for a very long time. It will be a day of great celebration, acclamation, shouts of joy… a day of reunions with loved ones long separated, hopes realized, dreams fulfilled. Yup, it will be a great day.
So what will be happening that day…? Graduation from SIBI, of course!!!
I’ve recognized for a little while now that there is a potential scheduling conflict. It was brought home for me again yesterday in a sermon I heard. In all seriousness, I don’t believe Jesus will return on May 21 – history has consistently proven Jesus’ words true. He is coming “like a thief in the night”. Attempts to predict his return almost seem like challenges to his word; I don’t personally see that he would validate this latest pretension over any of the dozens of others in the past.
But then again, he could. There is certainly nothing stopping him. He could come before then. He could come before I finish typing this. Or before you finish reading it.
I wonder, if I had to choose between Jesus’ return and my graduation, how I would handle the conflict. It’s possible that as we are caught up in the minutiae and details of life, our priorities can get a little bit out of focus. Our ultimate hope – to see Jesus in peace – can be subordinated to our desire to graduate from school, or get a promotion, or see our kids grow up, or watch our favorite team play, or go on vacation…
May we always be able to say with joyful anticipation – “Come, Lord Jesus”.
In my last post, I reflected on what I think is a fundamental truth of spiritual decision making – that if you are waiting for the kind of specific guidance in your life experienced by Moses, you’re probably going to be waiting for a long time. Maturity and wisdom is demonstrated by acknowledging this and taking responsibility for our decisions.
The next principle that jumps out at me as I reflect on Scripture and my own situation is one that I think people need to grab hold of. So often I hear people that are trying to make decisions with the will of God in mind talking as though there were something morally wrong with having a personal desire to go one way or another. It’s often couched in really spiritual sounding phrases like “I just want to serve God”, or “Wherever the Lord leads me, I’ll follow”.
Those are good sentiments and all, but I think I do myself a disservice when I refuse to acknowledge that I have a preference. In fact, by being real enough to admit to God that there is an option that is particularly attractive (or unattractive) to me, I find myself in good company biblically.
Take the example of Esther. When Mordecai asked her to intercede with the king on behalf of her people, she gave a roundabout response:
All the king’s officials and the people of the royal provinces know that for any man or woman who approaches the king in the inner court without being summoned the king has but one law: that they be put to death unless the king extends the gold scepter to them and spares their lives. But thirty days have passed since I was called to go to the king. –Esther 4:11
That’s a really long way of saying, “I don’t want to do this because I might die.” Yet she did it anyway. Despite her personal preference, she made a spiritually sound decision to the contrary that resulted in the preservation of her race and the continuation of God’s plan to bring Jesus into the world through the Jews.
Jesus went through intense agony in the garden of Gethsemane. His prayer, in a nutshell: “Father, I don’t want to do this… but I will, because I am determined to submit myself to your purpose.” Or, as you’ve heard it before: “Not my will, but thine.”
I don’t think that God is so much glorified in my pretending to be a completely blank slate without personality or preference as he is in my willing submission to his purposes in my life, despite my desires to the contrary.
Of course that’s all well and good if you know that God wants you to go address a king, or to die on a cross. Like I’ve already said, we don’t have that kind of specific insight into our personal decisions today (or at least I don’t think we do), so clearly there need to be a few more principles at work. But acknowledging our preferences I think is a starting point. Not just because our own preferences are often something that need to be gotten over in order to do what God wants us to do, but for another reason as well.
Because sometimes our preferences are perfectly in line with the will of God, and we need not feel any shame in doing what we want to do.
This is getting long… more in a little bit.