Decision making is not easy, especially big decisions. Chris Wells, a good friend and ministry partner, shares insight on a recent decision making process.
My Personal Brexit Saga
I’ve been trying to make a big decision. At least, it’s a big decision for me. The entire set of circumstances is long, winding, and convoluted. Ultimately, it boils down to this: stay where I am and keep doing what I’m doing or move on to something else?
A year ago, I was certain that moving on was the right thing. Nine months ago, staying was the right thing. Six months ago, definitely leave. My life in the last year has had uncomfortable similarities with the whole Brexit saga.
Trying to Hear Clearly
Confounding all of this, is that at each point in time I really felt certain that I was hearing God clearly. In each instance I had spent time in quiet, in prayer, with God’s Word, and come away certain that I knew what path I was supposed to be on. A month ago I took stock of all of this and decided that I needed to take my listening (or to use a church word: discernment) process to another level.
To go deeper I took stock of everything in my life and systematically removed distractions. First, I spent time on a strictly liquid diet. With every hunger pang – juice, broth, and water are not very filling – I asked God, “Stay or move on?” Next, I dropped alcohol. No glass of wine with dinner. No beer with the football game. No martini to mark the transition from the work week to the weekend. Every time I thought to myself, “I could use a drink,” the prayer that followed was, “Stay or move on?” Finally, I pulled back on my work hours. (I work a 50 hour a week day job and then generally put in another 4 hours in the evening and 10 hours on the weekend trying to build a totally separate business on the side.) I trimmed that back and spent the extra time resting, so that my mind would be more clear. Every time I thought about something I could be doing, that I wasn’t I prayed, “God, should I continue on the path I’m on or take a step in a different direction?”
My Question Lingered
None of this brought any answers to my question. It did bring other benefits. I lost some weight and gained some energy fasting, dropping alcohol, and sleeping more. Also, I’m not saying that God was silent. I felt Him reminding me of relationships that I had let drift and aspects of my life that I had lost a bit of focus on. I also very clearly felt Him reminding me that what He can do in my life is a lot bigger than the two alternatives I was putting in front of Him. It was a good process, but I was convinced there was another level.
An Invitation into the QuietAt that point, Dan came to me with the idea of getting a group of people from church together to go on a silent retreat. This past Monday four of us went up to the Jesuit Center for Spiritual Growth in Wernersville. It was an amazing experience spending the better part of a day in complete silence. No cell phone. No distractions beyond those in my own mind. We unplugged and we listened.
Truth for the Journey
I spent the morning with my question in front of God: “stay or go?” and I didn’t hear much. Toward the end of four hours of silence in the afternoon my mind was very tired and I cracked the book I had brought along: Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper. Our church leadership has been reading this book together and I’m a few chapters behind, so this seemed like a good opportunity to re-engage my mind and gain some ground. In Chapter Four, Piper writes about the need for us to be willing to go through difficulties in life in serving God and not accepting the lie our culture tells us about the mandate to chase ease and pleasure. In that chapter he prints a long quote from John Bunyan (the author of _The Pilgrim’s Progress) in which Bunyan is talking about Christian – that book’s protagonist – deciding whether to leave or stay in the face of peril. This line from that quote has been stuck in my head since I stumbled upon it during my time of retreat:
If it is in thy heart to fly, fly; if it be in thy heart to stand, stand. Anything but a denial of the truth.
Bunyan then goes on to give scriptural examples where God’s people (e.g. Paul, Jeremiah, Jesus) have fled difficulty and where they’ve persevered in it. In each case, it was not divine intervention that determined the path. They all took the steps they took out of a desire to please God, after taking honest stock of what was best for them in those moments.
So, I don’t know if I’m going to leave or stay yet, but I do feel like an incredible burden was lifted from my shoulders in those moments of silent reflection. Seeking an answer from God is always a worthy exercise, even if sometimes the answer is “make the decision yourself.”
© Chris Wells, October 2019