Bulletin Articles

Bulletin Articles

“How Should You Make Difficult Decisions?”

Categories: Iron sharpens iron

In the game of baseball, the umpire faces a frustrating problem.  He is tasked with calling each pitch a ball or a strike, and his calls will have an enormous impact on the outcome of the game.  Now, most of these calls are obvious and take very little effort to label correctly; and there is a clearly defined border to the strike zone: in order to be called a strike, the pitch must pass over home plate, and when it does, some portion of the ball most be between one horizontal line just below the batter’s kneecaps when he takes his batting stance, and another horizontal line midway between the batter’s shoulders and the top of his uniform pants.  As that definition wore on into its seventh or eighth clause, you may have noticed that it’s a bit complicated.  And that’s just the start!  Despite what TV viewers may assume, an automatically self-adjusting box is not actually suspended in midair over home plate to aid the umpire in clearly establishing the lines for each new batter.  On top of that, we could consider how trajectory matters,  the catcher’s efforts to fool the umpire by giving the pitch a favorable framing, and the small matter of the incredibly high speed of many of these pitches.  With the benefit of 4k resolution broadcasts and giant screens, overlays, and instant replay, every slob at home on his couch thinks he has a better eye than the umpire, but in fact it’s a very difficult job just to decide whether each pitch was a ball or a strike!

What do we do, when we are faced with tough calls that affect more than just the outcome of a game, but potentially the eternal outcome of our souls?  Continuing the baseball analogy, forget about the umpire for a minute—what about the batter?  He has an even smaller fraction of a second to decide whether, when, where, and how to swing at each pitch—and let’s not even get into the base running decisions that immediately arise, in the unlikely event he makes contact!  Most of us don’t face this exact set of fast-paced decisions, but other choices present themselves to us daily.  Should you take that job?  Should you buy that house?  Which brand of toilet paper should you select?  Which meal will you pick from the breakfast menu?  Even those can matter an awful lot, but of course we also face decisions whether to sin—or, even more difficult, whether a particular course of action is sin, or not. 

As with the umpire’s task, for the most part it’s easy to make that call—God’s commandments are clear, and they are “not burdensome” (1 Jn 5.3).  “Flee from sexual immorality” (1Co 6.18)—there’s no ambiguity there.  “Let the thief no longer steal” (Ep 4.28)—we all know what this means.  “Forgive, and you will be forgiven” (Lk 6.37)—this is much simpler to implement than the umpire’s mumbo-jumbo rule about the ever-changing lines governing the strike zone!  However there are also times the correct call is not so clear.  At exactly what point does an innocent conversation about a mutual friend become gossip?  How many cookies can you eat before it becomes gluttony?  Where’s the line between frugality and love of money?  Is your reaction to an awful news story righteous anger, or malicious wrath?  Or, is your choice to shrug off the same news story and do nothing, the same as the priest and Levite in the parable of the good Samaritan, who sinned in that they “[knew] the right thing to do and [failed] to do it” (Ja 4.17)?

How do we make these decisions?  How should we make these decisions?  Peter and the rest of the Apostles give us an excellent example in the first chapter of Acts.  Jesus has ascended back to his father and told them to wait for the promised Holy Spirit to be poured out on them.  He has also told them their job, for the rest of their lives: “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Ac 1.8).  As they wait, Peter notices a problem.  Jesus chose twelve Apostles, but now they are only eleven.  What should they do?  Anything?  Should they presume to replace Judas?  What does Jesus want them to do about this?  He didn’t tell them anything.  But they consult the Scriptures and find that Judas’ betrayal was foretold, as was his subsequent death:

“For it is written in the Book of Psalms,

        ‘May his camp become desolate,

                       and let there be no one to

                       dwell in it…’” (Acts 1.20a)

In another psalm they find a Messianic appeal about the “wicked man” and “accuser” who returned “evil for good, and hatred for my love” (Ps 109.5-6).  Christ, speaking through David, had said, “Let another take his office” (Ac 1.20b).  This still leaves the question of exactly how to choose a replacement.  Peter exercises wisdom and prudence, and puts forth his best judgment regarding the criteria upon which to base their selection.  The others agree, but find two excellent candidates, with no reason to choose one over the other.  The Apostles pray for guidance, and resort to casting lots to choose between the two.  Did the roll of the dice, so to speak, reflect God’s specific will in this matter?  We’re not told.  Either way, the Apostles had made their first difficult decision, and they made it well.

Some people don’t have this problem.  They never second-guess their own decisions.  They should start!  God will hold us accountable for the decisions we make, and the manner in which we make them.  Others are crippled by indecision through fear of choosing wrong.  This approach is no better.  Consider your options; consult God—in his word, and by prayer; exercise wisdom and prudence to best of your ability; then make your choice.

Jeremy Nettles