Decision-Making in Critical Times: Direct Address

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

– Romans 12:1-2

You and I are faced with decisions all the time.  We awake in the morning and we have to decide what to wear, what to eat, what to do in our day.  But the decisions I’m talking about for the next4-6 week is what I’ll call “life decisions.”  A now-retired teacher at a seminary, a Roman Catholic sister, by the way, named Beth Liebert, has good knowledge of the life decisions we all face:

“Kelly—not her real name—ponders the crossroads she and her husband face.  She has long wanted to begin a Ph.D. program, and now that her husband is settled in his profession, it seems to both of them that the time is right.  But Kelly’s biological clock is also ticking, and she wonders with increasing urgency if she should put off childbearing for the seven years that statistics suggest it will take her to finish her dissertation.  And immediately following those years will come more equally grueling years of finding a position and teaching new courses while simultaneously publishing substantial and original scholarly works in order not to get bumped off the tenure track.  How does motherhood fit into the picture?  Or does it?

Tom, a widower with grown children, retired a few months ago from his job as an estimator for an international plumbing and steam-fitting business.  He appreciates that he no longer feels as exhausted as in the past five years, and he certainly does not miss the drivenness of his former lifestyle.  Yet he beginning to find his days stretching before him with little to occupy his time and energy.  He realizes that he must find something worthwhile to fill his time, but what?

Terrie and Jake have been dating seriously for almost a year.  They are very much in love.  Both in their early twenties, they expect to graduate from college in a year in Jake’s case and two in Terrie’s.  Jake’s major, history, does not lead directly into the job market, and Terrie’s, human services virtually guarantee long hours and low pay.  They think, however, that they can live simply enough to make the economics work—at least until there are children.  But looking at all the transitions they will face in the near future, they wonder if now is the time for marriage, or indeed if they are personally mature enough for marriage.

Eighty-five-year-old Gladys ponders if now is the time to move out of the home where she raised her family” “I know I need more help, but a nursing home seems so final.  Is the right next step?  The right time?  I don’t want to fall someday and have the decision made for me” [she says].”

All of these are decisions we or those we love will have to face.  Most of us have these decisions behind us.  But the matter of independence, and what to do with our time weigh on us, and shape how we save and spend our days.

Abram faced the most common decision of all.  Where to live.  The Bible doesn’t tell us what the circumstances were for his move from Haran to the place we call today Israel.  In fact, the Bible is cryptic about how he was invited to pick up his family and move.  It says he moved by direct invitation of someone who is described as the Lord, in Hebrew, the language of the Old Testament, Yahweh, in older translations, Jehovah.

Don’t you ever wonder how it was that Yahweh, Jehovah God actually spoke to Abram?  Did he hear a voice?  (You better watch out because these days you would be diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia if you actually heard a voice.)  Did the Lord come to him in a dream?  Did the Lord send a relative or a friend and sit down with Abram and say “it’s time to move?”  We are left guessing with how the Lord spoke to Abram.  The decision was made for Abram.  The Lord tells you to move, you move.  So Abram moved.

This is what I call a direct address.  It’s one way God chooses to help us make decisions.

I had a friend named Clara who lived in a mountain house in the Valley of Enchantment.  Like Tom in our examples, she was a widow. She raised her family in the house, and her four children had scattered, two lived on the mountain, two lived down the hill.  One day she was sitting in her living room and she heard a voice.  It said, “stay here.”  It didn’t say much else, just “stay here.”  So she stayed and negotiated the living alone and mountain winters and happily was active in church and community.

Oh, that we could get simple instructions when we face crossroad moments in our life!  There’s a reality that we don’t talk about in Protestant churches very much.  It’s the reality of angels, messengers of God, what the letter to the Hebrews calls “ministering spirits.”  We say “he or she is an angel” but we don’t live like they inhabit our worlds very much.

I believe that’s the main way God directly addresses us.  God sends angels to tell us what to do.  The challenge is we need to look for them, and believe that they come in the here and now.  Let me tell you a story out of my own life.  It’s when I faced a life decision.

The decision to leave the military is a difficult one.  Our government puts enormous money and resources into an all-volunteer force and the decision points, at the end of enlistment, or the conclusion of a contract there’s a lot of pressure for you to stay in, especially if you’ve done a reasonably good job.  I was faced with a decision in the early ’80s as my for year contract was coming to a close.

An older couple, short term missionaries to the local Assembly of God mission that I attended spoke up one time in a Bible study.  I don’t remember what they said but I felt their wisdom   And a Christian friend in Turkey was on a path to make the Army a career said to me over a scratchy phone line between Turkey where he was stationed and Germany where I was stationed if you feel prompted to go to seminary, do it now, don’t wait.  There will be other ways to develop your leadership potential.  Both the older couple and the peer were angels that God used to address me at a decision point in my life.  Can we see fellow Christians, unassuming truth-tellers, as angels that God uses in our lives?  I wonder if adult children cannot be the same kind of ministering spirits in our lives.

The Apostle Paul was a tentmaker and a traveling missionary.  He faced decisions throughout his forties and fifties of when to move, and when to grow roots.  He wrote to the Christians in Rome to try to make the case for supporting him as he contemplated traveling to Spain to bring his message of peace with God through Jesus Christ.

He thought there was a way to understand what God’s will was in the here and now.  It involved presenting who you are as what he called a living sacrifice.  And making yourself what he called a priestly service.  Priests represent people to God.  We’re invited to give ourselves to God, and then we’ll understand what the will of God is.

It was Ignatius of Loyola who said the beginning of decision-making for the believer must be what he called indifference.  When we are indifferent we trust that God is completely good.  When we’re indifferent we make the prior determination that to be happy means being complete abandonment to our ego or the need to be right.  When we’re indifferent, all that we desire is God’s way, and then we trust that the feelings, what Ignatius called confirmation will come in good time.  Can we be indifferent in the face of crossroads moments in our life?

Abram developed this quality.  The Bible notes that Abram was 75 when he set off for land where apparently he had never been.  He took his wife, cousin, and all his possessions to say “I’m not coming back.”  He was promised a land and a people with no word of how they were to come about.  Indifference to the future.  Living sacrifice.  When I was a kid I loved the Wide World of Sports.  I loved to see the divers off the cliffs of Acapulco.  Indifference is like a diver making a long dive off the cliffs in Acapulco.  Abram and us must fall completely into the arms of grace.

It will take a prior belief that the One we are dealing with has “come to give us life and that more abundantly.”  It will take the assumption that, as the believing Blacks says, “God is good, all the time, all the time, God is good.”  Because only then will we come to see what God has said to us.

I’ve said there are angels that must be sought and spiritual indifference which must be cultivated.  What do we need to make good decisions in the everyday world of good and bad choices?  In personal life?  In church life?  We need abandonment—total trust that we are not alone.  Total trust that God cares about the intimate details of our lives.  “The calling and gifts of God are irrevocable”, Paul told the Romans.  And that’s our bottom line as we make decisions.  You’ve been chosen, you’ve been called, you are invited, to live a life of the trust.  Because God isn’t through with you or this world yet.  Come to God and lay the little trust you have into the waiting God of life, and you will find rest for your soul.

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