Tag Archives: Decisions

The Motivation Behind Life’s Blocking

Nevertheless, in their presumption they went up toward the highest point in the hill country, though neither Moses nor the ark of the Lord’s covenant moved from the camp.
Numbers 14:44 (NIV)

Faith is an amazingly powerful, amazingly mysterious spiritual root force. Jesus said that faith as small as a speck could move mountains.   Repeatedly, Jesus told those whom He healed that their faith was the active ingredient in their healing. The author of Hebrews wrote that without faith it is impossible to please God.

Today’s chapter is an object lesson in faith (or lack thereof). Yesterday the Hebrew tribes spy out the promised land, but swayed by the exaggerated claims of ten of the twelve spies, the people doubt that their conquest will be successful. Swayed by their fears they speak of going back to slavery in Egypt and threaten to stone Moses to death.

When a mysterious plague afflicts the ten doubting spies, the people’s’ fear of God becomes instantly more powerful, in the moment, than the fear of death in conquest that had felt so powerful the previous day. Their fear prompts a hasty decision to move forward with the conquest despite Moses warning that their impromptu actions is doomed to fail. Why? They were acting out of fear, not faith.

What a word picture the tribes provide for fear-based thinking and reasoning. Their actions over the past few chapters have perpetually been motivated by what they feared most in the moment: starvation, discomfort, death, or plague. Fear is the constant and consistent motivator; It is the active ingredient in their words, decisions, and actions. Their fear leads them to false presumptions on which their decisions and actions were based.

This morning I’m reminded that it is that which motivates my actions that is critical to my spiritual progression in this life journey and the activator of spiritual power. If I am primarily motivated by fear or shame, by pride or personal desire my actions will certainly propel me down life’s path just like the Hebrew tribes climbing the hill. My movement, however, will be void of any real progress or direction of Spirit. As any well-trained actor knows, it is the motivation that drives the action of the character. Blocked movement disconnected from the characters underlying motivation becomes prescriptive, mindless action that empties the performance of any real power.

In the quiet this morning I find myself thinking about the actions on my multiple test lists. If, as the Bard wrote, “all the world’s a stage” then my task lists are my prescribed blocking in life’s script. Go here, do this bit of business, then go there and do that bit of necessary action so that she can proceed with her bit. Family tasks, business tasks, personal tasks… What’s the active, motivating ingredient?

Is it faith?

The Slippery Sweet-Spot Between Acting and Waiting

Moses answered them, “Wait until I find out what the Lord commands concerning you.”
Numbers 9:8 (NIV)

There are many forks in life’s road. There’s no avoiding it. It just is what it is.

Where do I go to school?
Should I marry him/her?
Do I speak out or hold my tongue?
Should I take this job that’s been offered to me or hold out for the job I really want? 
Should we rent or should we buy?
Do I invest in new or get by with used?
Should we stay or should we go?

As we traverse the Book of Numbers there is a pattern or repetition that many readers don’t catch. The phrase “The Lord said to Moses” is used repeatedly. In fact, it’s used over 50 times. In today’s chapter, some of the people bring Moses a question about how to handle an exceptional circumstance regarding the Passover celebration. Moses simply says he’ll check with God and God provides a seemingly quick answer.

We then go on to read in today’s chapter that the decision of going or staying was miraculously provided for the ancient Hebrews. According to the story there was a cloud that hovered over their traveling tent temple which gave them indication whether God wanted them to move or stay put. When the cloud remained over the tent they stayed put. If the cloud lifted they broke camp and moved.

Wow, I’d love it if God’s guidance and direction were that easy for me to see. At the same time, I have to acknowledge that this may have been the only easy thing in the experience of the Hebrews. I’m quite sure I’d struggle living the life of an ancient nomad wandering in the desert with a couple million cousins.

I have discovered along life’s road that there is a slippery sweet-spot of tension between discernment and decision. We live in an age when time is measured in nanoseconds and we are used to getting things “on demand.” I perceive that the virtues of patience, peace and prayer are increasingly found in short supply in our culture. At the same time, I have known many followers of Jesus who take so long to “prayerfully consider” decisions that they make no progress in their respective  journeys.

This morning I find myself once again seeking to both find and hold the tension between acting and waiting. I don’t want to be so quick to make decisions that I forget to pray for guidance and to give wise consideration to options and potential consequences. At the same time, I don’t want to become paralyzed waiting for some divine sign when there is a clear need to act judiciously and with expedience.

Rolling the Dice

“You shall describe the land in seven divisions and bring the description here to me; and I will cast lots for you here before the Lord our God.”
Joshua 18:6 (NRSV)

Throughout the Great Story we find the practice of “casting lots” which is basically an ancient version of rolling the dice or drawing straws. In today’s story, the division of land between the remaining tribes was determined by casting lots. In the story of Jonah, the sailors figured out Jonah was running from God because they cast lots. Jesus’ executioners cast lots for his robe. The successor to Judas Iscariot among Jesus’ twelve disciples was decided by casting lots.

The practice of making decisions with the drawing of the short straw or a roll of the dice seems ludicrous in our age of reason and science. Nevertheless, the practice reminds me that there are many times in life when we are required to make life decisions and reason does not provide any clarity. The fork in the road beckons us to choose and our Excel spreadsheet of positives and negatives are equally balanced.

We roll the dice in life on many occasions. No matter how much we beg and plead for God to give us a sign, the silence from heaven seems deafening. I have come to understand that there is a mysterious dance between my decisions and divine guidance. It is the eternal tension between free will and predestination. I choose the path only to find along the journey that there was a reason for my choice that I did not understand at the time. God weaves His will in and through our choices to make the tapestry of our lives, our stories.

Today, I sit in my hotel room a thousand miles from my loved ones and stare at a long day with my client. I’ll be honest: It feels like a mountain sitting in front of me and I’m short on mustard seeds. This is part of the journey. We throw the dice. We make choices. We fumble and fret and second guess our choices amidst the daily commute. We trust God to lead us and weave His will and purpose through our daily slog. We press on. We continue on the path despite our doubts and nagging second guesses… being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

 

 

The Dance of Sliding Doors

But the people of Judah could not drive out the Jebusites, the inhabitants of Jerusalem; so the Jebusites live with the people of Judah in Jerusalem to this day.
Joshua 15:63 (NRSV)

SlidingdoorsThere was a film many years ago called Sliding Doors which has stuck with me since I first saw it. The movie, starring Gwyneth Paltrow, tells the story of a young woman. Actually, the movie tells two stories. In the beginning of the story we see her heading to catch a train. The movie then splits. In one part of the movie we see what her life would be like if the “sliding doors” of the train stop her from catching her train. In the other part of the movie we see what her life would be like if she squeezed through the “sliding doors” and made it on the train. The film leaves you thinking about all of the small moments in life that may have had profound impact on the way our lives turned out.

As I look back over my life journey I can pinpoint certain waypoints where a decision made a significant impact on my trajectory. This is life. What may seem like a relatively small decision in the moment may change our lives forever. Even typing that sentence prompts my heart to whisper: “Lord, please direct my steps.”

Today’s chapter ends with what seems like a relatively trivial fact. Caleb and his tribe did not drive the Jebusites from Jerusalem. Okay. Great. Whoop-te-do. What does that have to do with the price of tea in China?

For Caleb and his generation it mattered very little. Jerusalem was, at that time, a rather insignificant village on the borderlands of the tribe of Judah’s inheritance. No one had any inkling that the small village of Jerusalem would someday be the political and religious hotspot on Earth. The fact that the Jebusites remained there and Caleb didn’t drive them out wasn’t a major deal for them. But, it would be a bigger deal in a few generations when David was ascending the throne.

It was David who chose the Jebusite city of Jerusalem to be the capitol city of the nation of Israel. David was desperately trying to unite a fractured family of tribes into one nation. Jerusalem was a strategic choice for a host of reasons. The fact that it was a Jebusite city made Jerusalem a more neutral choice in the eyes of the other tribes. Being a border town, Jerusalem was less likely to raise the ire of the other tribes than if David chose a town in the heart of Judah’s land. David would have to take the town that Caleb left alone in order to make it his capitol. In the end, Caleb’s choice not to take Jerusalem allowed Jerusalem to remain an inter-national city where people of different peoples lived in contention with one another. It remains so to this day.

Today I’m thinking about choices. I’m thinking about decisions that effect the course of our lives. I’ve come to believe along the journey that there is a dance that happens between me and God in the choices I make. I seek where He is leading me, but He doesn’t force my hand. I sometimes am required to make my own move. As with a good dance partner, He anticipates my step and counters to be right where I need Him to be. Sometimes I stumble awkwardly, but He counters again and somehow redeems my misstep into what seems a choreographed moment.

It’s easy to be paralyzed in fear of choices we must make. I observe many wallflowers who stand endlessly on the periphery of life, afraid of doing the wrong thing, afraid of looking foolish, or falsely believing that their every step must be perfect. I’ve learned that I have to get in there and dance. Maybe the doors shut before I get on the train. Maybe I sneak on and catch my connection. Either way, I can trust God to direct my step. He’s a flawless dance partner.

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featured image: sudama via Flickr

Acceptable Choices are Not Always Wise Choices

When you have come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and have taken possession of it and settled in it, and you say, “I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are around me,” you may indeed set over you a king whom the Lord your God will choose. One of your own community you may set as king over you; you are not permitted to put a foreigner over you, who is not of your own community.
Deuteronomy 17:14-15 (NRSV)

St. Paul wrote, “all things are permissible for me, but not all things are beneficial.

In today’s chapter, Moses predicts that the Hebrews would one day wish to appoint a king over them as all of the other peoples around them had done. He makes it clear that having a king was not a wrong thing, but goes on to lay down some crucial boundaries for that person. He would have to be subject to God’s law like everyone else. He would need to constantly be reminded of God’s law so he didn’t forget it. He would need to be humble and not be considered better than the lowliest of his subjects.

A few books and a few centuries later, the people would do exactly as Moses predicted as chronicled in the book of 1 Samuel. The people demanded a king and Samuel capitulates but reminds the people that while it was permissible for them to do so, it wasn’t necessarily the wisest choice. And, it would come back to haunt them.

I’m reminded this morning that there are many times in life when we may make perfectly permissible choices for ourselves that will come back to haunt us. We can make decisions that are not wrong, but are not necessarily wise either. We may end up regretting those decisions and living through the painful consequences they bring into our lives.

As I continue to progress in my life journey, I pray that I can be increasingly wise to make the choices and decisions that are good and beneficial for me and my loved ones in the long run rather than those that are permissible and simply feel desirable in the moment.

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Steering Out of Unhealthy Ruts in Life’s Road

The Road to Home
Familiar ruts (Photo credit: Universal Pops)

Return to your rest, my soul,
    for the Lord has been good to you.
Psalm 116:7 (NIV)

There is an ebb and flow to life. Things cycle. Relationships repeat familiar refrains. We often wander thoughtlessly from day to day, then wake from a daydream to realize that we are in the same place we’ve been before. If you’ve noticed, our life journeys follow patterns of our own unconscious making. Like tires that slip easily into the well worn ruts of a dirt road, we slip into well worn patterns of thought and behavior.

Over the past few days I’ve found myself in an emotional valley. I recognize this place. I’ve been here many times before. I’ve come to know that the depth of winter is a difficult seasonal stretch of the journey for me. Short, gray days give way to long, dark nights. The holiday hoopla is over and with it comes a certain physical, emotional and relational hangover. My subconscious links familiar sensory stimuli to painful memories of seasons past. With my guard down, anticipation for the year ahead is lined with an uncertainty that easily lends itself to anxiety and fear. Ugh. Back in the rut.

I ran into the above verse this morning and I heard in it the whisper of the Spirit calling gently to my soul. Return to the rest God has for me in healthy paths and patterns. I have learned from experience that the first step in progressing out of unprofitable emotional or behavioral ruts is to recognize that I’m in it. Once aware of the situation, it takes a conscious resolve to steer out of the rut, which may require an initial jolt of personal effort and energy:

  • Replace: Combat negative thoughts with positive affirmations.
  • Replenish: Do one tangible thing each day to show care for myself.
  • Refresh: Do something loving and unexpected for someone else.
  • Relate: Make time with friends and family who will encourage and fill my life and love tank.
  • Return: to familiar, healthy patterns and paths that have led to good places in the past.
  • Remind: myself daily. Without conscious attention, I easily slip back into mindless, unhealthy ruts.
  • Repeat: There are cycles and patterns to life. Healthy, positive ruts will not made by doing things once, but many times over and over and over again.

 

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A Thread in the Tapestry

Image from the Bayeux Tapestry showing a longs...
Image from the Bayeux Tapestry showing a longship in the invasion of England. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
    his faithfulness continues through all generations.
Psalm 100:5 (NIV)

Last week Wendy, her sister Suzanna, and I had dinner with friends who traveled to Europe over the summer. In hearing about the things they enjoyed seeing in their journey, I learned about the Bayeaux Tapestry. It’s a giant tapestry 230 feet long which dates from around 1070. It tells the story of events that happened from 1044-1046 in the Norman conquest in England. I’d never heard of it and so it was fun to hear about what intrigued our friends with it. My curiosity led me to look it up and learn a bit about it on my own.

I thought about the tapestry this morning as I pondered Psalm 100 because I’ve always thought that tapestries (large, woven textile works that often tell a story) an apt metaphor for family history. I’ve done a good deal of genealogy work on my families on both my father’s and my mother’s branches. It’s fascinating to me to find out where I came from and to discover family history. My curiosity has been more than a trivial pursuit, however. My desire has been to get a better grip on who I am, how I came to be, and what threads of family history were woven into the tapestry of my own personal story. I discovered the good, the bad, and the ugly in my research.

I have come to realize that what God has said in His Message is essentially true. Sins of the parents are passed down through subsequent generations. They are passed along because behaviors are both learned and systemic. Psychological, sociological, and spiritual factors are all at work.

Yet, if the sins of the parents are visited upon subsequent generations, then the opposite is equally true. The blessings of the faithful are also visited upon subsequent generations. Just as you can trace threads of alcoholism, greed, or abuse back through multiple generations you can also trace threads of faith, generosity, and love. As David’s lyric states, God’s faithfulness endures through the generations of the faithful.

In my journey and pursuits I have come to the conclusion that the real question that I need to answer is this: Who am I going to be in light of my family’s stories? Certain behaviors and bents have generational roots, but it is within me to choose how I will behave today. We are influenced by previous generations but we are not enslaved to them. The choices I make in my thoughts, words, actions and decisions today are a thread in the tapestry which will influence the ultimate shape, color and design of my own family’s story.