Making radical decisions: Three important principles

Jan 12, 2023 | INSIGHTS

When we have radical decisions to make, it is normal to do our best to ponder the best course of action before plunging into action. We have shared more about the process of evaluating these options in Triangulating, but may I suggest three important principles to bear in mind as part of the pondering process?

In The Power of Pondering we told the story of Jackie Pullinger, who received a life-changing call from the Lord that no-one else recognised. It is a wonderful blessing when we receive a significant revelation that everyone who matters in our life joyfully accepts. But how about those times when we sense, like Jackie, that the Lord is leading us in a direction that is disputed by those we trust and love, some of whom will be negatively impacted by our obedience to Him?

We experienced something of this when we began to realise the Lord was calling us to lay down our English-based home and ministry and to relocate for a season to Shetland. The ramifications of such a radical move would affect many, and not all were happy that we were going.

Ros greatly enjoyed being with the women of Shetland, and was a great blessings there as the senior midwife on the islands, but to get there involved leaving a great deal behind – including certain family members who would find our being so far away a strain.

There was also the matter of there being no obvious area of ministry for me to engage in when we got there! But the Lord had taken care to signpost the rightness of this move in all sorts of really clear and even dramatic ways. Two visitors who came to our house knowing nothing of our proposed move were even led to prophesy, ‘Put on your hat, gloves and scarves: I am taking you to somewhere cold!’

It was a whole variety of assurances such as these that spared us having to worry whether the starting vision was right, and encouraged us to have the confidence to take the plunge into the unknown.

Three principles can help us in any ‘radical’ decision making: firstly, having a strategy to help us deal with ‘log jams’ that they often bring in their wake; secondly, understanding that obedience often precedes understanding; and then, thirdly, allowing time for the process to unfurl. Let’s have a look at each of these in turn.

1: A strategy for dealing with log jams

When we have done our best to think through an issue with the Lord, and still find ourselves in a quandary, uncertain whether Option A or Option B is the better one, a helpful way to process it is to try offering the Lord a ‘weighted’ proposal – something that I call a ‘loaded’ question. That is, we tell Him that we intend to follow a particular path unless or until He warns us not to do so, or moves to make it impossible.
This approach can do wonders to clear what I refer to as the ‘log jam’ in the whole guidance process. You may remember that I have written something on this theme before.

From the first hint of our call to Shetland, I felt strongly that we should not pursue something quite so radical without preserving at least one known link with the mainland. So we invited our friend Anna, who was looking after Dominic, then aged two, to consider coming with us.

Our pondering in this instance (as at one or two other major crossroads in that we have faced) took the form of a rather dramatic fleece. That is certainly not always the right or automatic thing to do, but it did feel the right response then. The outcome was truly amazing: it turned out that Anna, quite unbeknownst to us, had already received a call from the Lord to live in Shetland! (See these sections on Moving to Shetland and also on Fleeces and Decision-making).

2: Obedience often precedes understanding

Whereas very young children (and puppies!) are expected to obey, childhood generally is a process of growing in independence. When parents go on issuing commands and demands in later life there is something seriously amiss! As we mature in our walk with Him, God expects us to be able to make our own wise decisions for the most part, and does not need to give us precise instructions, or to intervene specifically – except when He has something in mind that we would not have thought of for ourselves.

The servant who buried his talent did not disobey his master, but because his response was resentful and fear-driven it displeased his master when the time of reckoning came. The ones who multiplied their talents pleased him to the point that they effectively became his heirs.

God didn’t ask David to build Him a temple – that was David’s own idea, and the Lord was happy to partner with him in it until such a time as Nathan pointed out that he has shed too much blood to be the one to complete it. Even then David’s attitude was laudable in providing all the materials for his son Solomon to complete it.

We are meant to be growing in our partnering with God, and to enter and embark on the fulness of our inheritance. After all, we are sons and daughters and not slaves. We will even be the Bride of Christ!

Like Jesus Himself, we learn obedience as we go along – not least through the things we suffer and get wrong. (Heb. 5:8, Phil. 2:8) Because we have imbibed so fully the imprint of the Lord’s heart and ways, obedience becomes not so much a matter of obeying by rote but rather the very warp and woof our life.

Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. (Jn. 12:26)

There are times, however, when the Lord expects – demands even – that we follow Him, no matter what or who may be saying something very different, just as they did to Jackie Pullinger. When we followed the Lord’s leading to go to Shetland, we had no idea that He had an international conference in mind that He wanted me to organise to bring Scandinavian and British intercessors together to pray for Europe!

I wrote in how testing this proved, and how, at a time when it all felt completely impossible the Lord said, ‘just give me chance to come through for you!’

Think of times when you have felt a particular call from the Lord. Were you put off because it seemed impossible? Or did you give Him the chance to do something amazing and to come through in such a way as to bring Him praise, and to deepen your own love and trust in Him?

Praise Him for all those He has raised up in their weakness to set out in like faith Abraham, not knowing where they were going, but knowing that He had called them. People like Gladys Aylward, Amy Carmichael, James Fraser, Hudson Taylor and Jackie Pullinger and so, so many more. Even though our own callings are far smaller than those of these giants of faith, we can still be grateful that He has chosen us, and can dedicate all we do to Jesus for love of Him.

3: Give matters time before acting – and be prepared to ask the Lord to intervene directly

The Creation account in Genesis makes it clear that God delighted not only in His handiwork but to spend time with the man and woman whom He had made. The whole of Scripture tells of His desire to dwell amongst His people, climaxing in the glorious image of God and man dwelling in perfect unity. How eagerly He looks forward to that day!

Eager and zealous though He was for that, nothing would induce Him to rush sending Jesus into the world. There was a time appointed, and events moved toward that moment in order and beauty. Being willing to wait, and to understand that God has a perfect time is a godly quality. Without it, we may either miss the moment, or else jump the gun. Jephthah merits a mention in the roll call of heroes of the faith in Hebrews 11 as leader of Israel, but his impetuosity cost him dearly.

Jeremiah, on the other hand, had learned to wait for the word of the Lord to come. It would not always be by means of an ‘instant’ word or parable from nature, such as he had experienced when he was in his infancy as a prophet as we find in the opening chapter. Much later, when he was Invited by the leaders of his people to discern the best way forward, he needed to seek the Lord – and it was a full ten days before God answered. (Jer. 42:7)

Can you think of times when you were too impatient or too anxious to ponder properly? Or perhaps when you were quick to leap to judgement and wrong conclusions, making a hasty and impulsive decision that you later regretted?

Through the years I have needed vision, verve and drive to push through to get things done – but I have not always avoided the temptation-trap to rush, and to press the ‘send button’ prematurely. In those instances how I need those I work with to say, ‘Hold fire a bit on that,’ ‘that needs more work!’ So many things benefit from taking more time to mull and ponder.

If you are facing a tricky decision at the moment, perhaps you would like to make the words of this song by Noel Richards, To be in Your presence your prayer.

Lord Jesus, bring us into the flow of Your timing. Forgive us the times we forge ahead too fast – and also the times we hold back too much and procrastinate!

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