As I considered the various choices I’ve made over the years born of a desire to overcome, to be free, to grow, I observed some that resulted in little or no improvement. From personal conversations with others, I discovered this experience was not unique to me. Recurring indecision or failure to live up to our own expectations is confusing and frustrating, whether we’re dealing with tenacious sin or pursuing maturity in Christ. At this point, there was no option; I needed to understand why, beginning with asking God for more wisdom.
After much time in thought and prayer, I sensed the Holy Spirit leading my mind to previously sensed but uncharted terrain. Could it be that we don’t experience growth from our decisions because we hesitate? We’re unsure, and from that uncertainty we choose human analysis as the “safer” path. Should we do what pleases others, try to control their perception of us? We want to make the right choice the first time but ask ourselves, “Do I really know what I’m doing? I don’t want to make a mistake.” So our motivation is either approval from other men or fear of choosing the incorrect road, even if it’s what we truly want.
Both these rationales can void genuine maturation of our understanding, because wisdom only increases from honest, genuine choices based on our own faith and conviction, regardless of the outcome. Those who advise us or comment on our choices may or may not be motivated by godliness; we can’t see their hearts as the Lord can. I’m certainly not asserting that the advice we receive from other people, particularly those who have been where we are, is worthless; on the contrary, God orchestrates their presence in our lives specifically to aid us. Especially in the case of life and death decisions, listening to their wisdom can save us a lifetime of regret and suffering. But if pleasing them or maintaining a positive impression in their minds becomes the sole impetus for our decisions, we have become fools. Why cling to another’s approval when God holds me responsible for the direction my will takes? This brings us to that second and staggeringly powerful motivation: Fear.
As I contemplated this more fundamental enemy, the Lord revealed a nuance: our fear is not of learning but of the process of learning, because, by nature, it requires mistakes, and most of us hate making them, hate being perceived as failing, hate the shame or embarrassment it generates. We fear feeling and looking like a fool and dealing with the ramifications of our error. This surreptitious focus on how we’re perceived has the odor of sinful pride, corroding the earthly nature we still drag along. I became aware of threads of the world tangling my mind, like a velvet fishnet, keeping my concentration on man’s evaluation of my maturity rather than on my Father’s.
The conclusion He brought me to is this: If I go through life letting these fears take power, I’ll end up owning no decisions at all. Those who take this route are relegated to observing yet another cycle of attempt-failure-discouragement unfold, and further exasperation is the only result. It’s nothing more than idolatry! Kneeling before the throne of the gods of fear and uncertainty instead of the one true God. I was stunned.
How does idolatry start? God has made it clear in His word: Idolatry enters through the open door of spiritual neglect. So many examples to study, from the Israelites’ circuitous journey from Egypt to Canaan to the plethora of ghastly post-Solomon kings to the Jews and their leaders during the Lord Jesus’ reconciling work. With time and fading urgency, we grow deaf. Inundated with understanding, I could see the tendrils of all those struggles in my past, how the infiltration had been enabled repeatedly by this singular inaction on my part.
I’d found the truth, the answer I had sought. Growth, maturity and the blessings therein are borne from approaching the Father, listening to Him, loving Him back, taking the trail He marks for us. And owning the decision.
“Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.” — Deuteronomy 4:9
“Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.” — Colossians 3:5-6
“You shall have no other gods before me.” — Exodus 20:3
Copyright (c) 2009 Jeffrey R. Snell
Scripture Taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION
Copyright (c) 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society.
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