Making Wise Choices
God's Will; Wisdom; Choices; Lot; Abraham; Providence
Each and every day we make choices. We choose what we are going to wear, what we are going to eat, what time we will leave. We choose how we will spend our time, what we will say, how we will respond. We make thousands of choices every day. The people who make good choices succeed, those who make poor choices do not.
Chuck Swindoll writes,
- No married couple suddenly divorces. No home suddenly fractures. No church suddenly splits. Nobody becomes a cynic overnight. Nobody makes one leap from the pinnacle of praise to the swamp of carnality. Erosion is a slow and silent process based on secret choices. [SIMPLE FAITH p. 165]
The choices we make determine the path we travel. The choices we make determine the enjoyment we experience in living. The choices we make will determine what kind of fellowship we will have with the Father. This is why the issue before us is so important. This morning we look at an example of two men. One made a wise choice, the other made an unwise choice. The one was Abraham, the other was Lot.
Remember where we have been . . . Abraham has been called by God to move to a land that God Himself would show Him. In fact, God told Abraham to leave his home and his family and follow. But that’s not exactly what Abraham did. At first he moved from Ur with his father, brother and his dead brother’son, Lot to Haran. After the first leg of the journey it was Lot and Abraham who continued the journey to the land of the Cananites. When a famine hit Abraham, (and presumably Lot) went to Egypt. It was at this point that Abraham claimed Sarah (his wife) as his sister out of fear that Pharaoh would kill him to have Sarah. Having been kicked out of Egypt due to the deception, the group headed back for the land of Cananan (present day Israel).
Abraham and Lot both raised sheep and other livestock. They were doing very well for themselves. But their flocks and herds depended on grazing land and water. Because their operations were large and presumable the effects of famine remained, there was competition between Lot’s employees and the men who worked for Abraham. The tension got so bad that there was constant animosity. Abraham and Lot realized that this could not continue. It was time to go their separate ways. So, Abraham, the older of the two allowed Lot to choose which way he wanted to turn and Abraham would go the other way.
Of course, this was a breech of protocol. Abraham should have made the choice because of his seniority. But Abraham gave up his privilege and let his nephew choose. As the story tells us, “Lot looked up and saw that the whole plain of the Jordan was well watered, like the garden of the LORD, like the land of Egypt, toward Zoar. . . .So Lot choose for himself the whole plain of the Jordan and set out toward the East.” (Gen. 13:10, 11). In other words, Lot saw the land that looked like it held the best potential for profit and enjoyment and chose it.
Since we have history on our side we know the results of those choices. Lot ended up living in Sodom. He and his family was kidnapped and rescued by Abraham. Then a while later, Lot was forced to leave Sodom before God destroyed it for its wickedness. Lot lost his wife and had a sinful relationship with his daughters. I suspect if Lot had it to do over again he would have chosen the land to the west.
Abraham on the other hand, ended up in the land we know today as Israel. His household was blessed. His descendants did become a great nation. Abraham made the right choice. Lot made the poor choice. So here’s the question: “What can we learn about decision making from this passage?”
THE MORE STUFF YOU HAVE THE MORE COMPLICATED LIFE BECOMES
It’s interesting that the thing that caused the conflict between the two groups and the resulting parting of the ways was the abundance that Abraham and Lot had. Abundance not only battles for our heart, it also complicates our lives.
Think of how simple life was when you were younger. You didn’t have to concern yourselves with payment plans, interest rates, insurance premiums, investment portfolios and estate planning. You didn’t have to worry about maintenance schedules, current fashion trends, and keeping up to date on current trends and developments. Life was simple. Decisions were easier to make.
I’ll never forget James Dobson talking about buying a swing set for his children. He shared the day that it took to put the thing together. He related the frustration and the alienation he experienced from his family. When the swing set was finally put together he read how he was supposed to go out and oil the joints and tighten all the bolts once a month. His conclusion was simple. He did not own a swing set . . . the swing set owned him!
While Jesus walked on the earth he had little. When he sent his disciples out to minister he told them to take little. Jesus understood that the simple life was easier to manage. But living a simple life in our day is not all that simple. The list of basic essentials has grown.
In the book THREE MEN IN A BOAT by Jerome K. Jerome we read the story of three friends who take a boat trip down the river Thames. When they are ready to begin their journey they make a list of all the things they need to take with them. But when they look at the list they realize that they cannot find a boat that is large enough to accommodate all these “essential items”. So they have a discussion and through the discussion they decide to make a different list. This list is of the things they cannot do without. They decide to simplify. At the end of the book the author writes,
- Let your boat of life be light, packed with only what you need–a homely home and simple pleasures, one or two friends, worth the name, someone to love and someone to love you. . . .You will find the boat easier to pull then and it will not be so liable to upset, and it will not matter so much if it does upset; good, plain merchandise will stand water. You will have time to think as well as to work. (p. 26-27)
If we want to make good decisions we need to unclutter our lives. If I understand Algebra one of the first things you do in solving a problem is to combine variables as much as possible. You want to simplify the problem. Why? Because it is easier to find the answer that way. The same is true in life. Decisions will be easier to make if we learn to live more simply. Much of our paralysis in making decisions comes from having too many variables.
I think this is the kind of life Paul was talking about when he said in 1 Timothy 6:6 Paul “godliness with contentment is great gain.” Paul had learned to “be content in every circumstance.” In other words, he had learned to stop running after what he didn’t have . . . so that he could enjoy what he did have. Oh, don’t you want that in your life? Much of the stress and clutter in our life is caused by our discontent. We are making foolish choices because we want something we don’t have instead of being happy and grateful for what we do have.
How do we know if we are struggling with contentment? Alistair Begg gives this list,
- Thoughts of money consume my day
- Other peoples success makes me jealous
- I define success in terms of what I have rather than what I am in Christ
- My family is neglected in my pursuit of money and things.
- I close my eyes to the genuine needs of others.
- I am living in the paralyzing fear of losing what I have.
- I am prepared to borrow myself into bondage.
- God gets my leftovers, rather than my firstfruits. (Made for His Pleasure p. 146)
If you see any of these things in your life, your decision making skills are compromised. It is time to pursue contentment. It’s time to free your life of the clutter so that you can see clearly. This leads us to our next lesson.
GOOD CHOICES START BY ASKING THE RIGHT QUESTIONS
Lot surveyed the options before him. He saw a well-watered area (remember this was probably still during the time of famine . . . and he did have lots of livestock.) But he also saw that the land looked a lot like Egypt. So, what was the real reason that Lot chose the east? Could it be that Lot really liked the days in Egypt? Could it be that he loved the excitement of city living and was bored back out in the country?
We’ll never know why Lot decided as he did. But what I think we can see is that Lot was asking the wrong questions. There is no record that Lot prayed for wisdom. There is no record that Lot asked what was best for his family. There is no record that Lot was concerned at all about what would best support the value system he held to. Instead, we seem to see that Lot was motivated by the lure of profit and excitement.
Surely you have heard the statement “the priority of the urgent”. It means that we run from thing to thing in our life dealing with the things that scream the loudest. We are constantly “putting out fires”. The problem with this kind of living is that the priority of the urgent is not the same thing as living by the priority of the important.
All our lives there will be urgent voices. There will be assignments to do, sales to make, things to save for, trips to take, people to see, work that needs to get done. It’s a never ending treadmill. The problem is that what gets lost in this pressure filled existence is time to enjoy the things that are important: family, quiet time with the Lord, living faithfully in this world in preparation for the next, caring for and learning from each other. What happens when we live by the priority of the urgent is that some day we look back on a list of things we have checked off our To-Do list, but we realize that we have never really lived. Life is empty.
Lot looked for excitement and profit. He asked “what would be the most exciting?” He wondered, “What would provide the greatest opportunity to advance?” But what he should have been asking is, “Where can I serve God the best?” or “What is the best place to raise my family?”
James Boice says it well,
- You may think that you are different from Lot. But if you have put your job ahead of your family’s spiritual life, if you have put your social advancement ahead of a proper association with God’s people, if you have let your choice of a home keep you from a church in which you can grow in faith and worship– you have moved from the highlands to the plain of the Jordan.
We could add other indicators to this list,
- if you are focusing your life on externals and not on your spiritual life . . . you are focusing on the wrong issues.
- if your focus is on attaining status rather than on cultivating character . . . you are focusing on the wrong issues.
- if you are more concerned with what something costs monetarily instead of what it costs spiritually….you are focusing on the wrong issues.
- if you are focusing on what will be the most enjoyable instead of what is the most beneficial . . . you are focusing on the wrong issues.
As followers of Jesus Christ, our values are to be different from the r rest of the world. Our primary concern is not profit or the amassing of things . . . our purpose should be to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever. If you want to make good decisions, ask the right questions.
IN EVERY CHOICE WE MUST TRUST GOD’S PROVIDENCE
Do you know what the best part of this passage is? It’s that we see a change in Abraham. In the last chapter we saw Abraham taking matters into his own hands. He ran to Egypt and resorted to lies and distortions to protect himself. In this chapter he has a different attitude. It’s interesting that Abraham’s attitude changes after he has had the opportunity to worship once again at Bethel.
If you remember, we suggested that Abraham hadn’t worshipped and fellowshiped with God since the last time he was in Bethel. This absence from worship with God clouded Abraham’s judgment. Now, having spent time with the Lord, he was seeing clearly again. Now he remembered that he was in the Father’s hands. He remembered that his future was not something that was uncertain. God was leading the way. Abraham was able to let Lot choose because he trusted God’s providence.
This is so important. You see, sometimes the issue is not clear. We seek to unclutter our hearts and minds. We try to ask the right questions . . . but we still don’t know what to do. That’s when we must remember that God is leading the way.
You know the simple creed I try to live by:
- God is in Control
- God loves me
- God never makes a mistake
You see if we believe that . . . if we trust God’s promises we will make the best decisions we can, and then trust God. We will believe that even if we make a foolish choice, God will bring us back to the right road. His hand is on our life and He will not let us stray too far.
Chuck Swindoll writes,
- While Paul was addressing the eggheads on Mars Hill he spoke of providence when he stated, “for in Him we live and move and exist” (Acts 17:28) God not only struck the spark that gave you and me life, He continues to prompt each heartbeat in every chest. And what He does for us as individuals, He does for the vast universe about us. Furthermore, what God creates, God sustains. As the Scriptures state so clearly, He upholds all things by his power.The universe may seem fiercely independent, but it is wholly dependent upon its Creator: “all things have been created by Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together (Col. 1:16b-17)From the greatest to the least, nothing is beyond the scope of His sovereign power and providential care. He makes the rain fall, the sun shine, the stars twinkle–in this and all other galaxies. He raises up people and kingdoms and He brings down both. He numbers the hairs on our heads and determines the days of our lives. In doing so, He weaves everything together into His design.This is the ideal moment for me to urge you to remove three words from your vocabulary as you add providence. They are chance, fate, and luck Those humanistic terms suggest that there are blind,k impersonal, and spontaneous forces at work in the ranks of humanity. NOT! Only one is at work: “for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” (Phil. 2:13) [The Finishing Touch p. 138]
We believe in God’s prophecy because we believe He is in control of history and the events of history. We believe in prayer because we believe God has authority over the issues of life. We believe that God leads, guides and directs. It’s time to believe that in our decision making.
Let’s face it . . . worry is sin. Worry is, at its root, a lack of faith. It means we don’t trust God to lead us rightly, or protect us fully, or provide for us adequately. We worry because we don’t trust God! It sounds rather harsh when I state it that way doesn’t it? But it’s the way it is. Abraham wasn’t worried . . . he trusted. And when you trust God . . . you make wise decisions.
This morning we have looked at some basic principles for good decision making. These are simple and foundational things.
- Unclutter your life . . . if you have a big decision to make….go somewhere quiet. And to prepare for the big decisions of the future, pursue contentment in your living
- Ask the right questions …..don’t make decisions based on the priority of the urgent . . .base decisions of the priority of the important.
- Trust God . . . believe Him when He says He will guide you. Seek his help, weigh the options, and then move forward confident that He is leading just as He said.
At the core of the decisions that Abraham and Lot made was one central issue: what place would God have in their life. Abraham worshipped at Bethel . . . perhaps Lot did not. Abraham trusted God, Lot trusted his senses.
And even these many years later the key issue is still the same: what place will God hold in your life? The Bible is clear: we have a problem. Due to our reckless living there is a barrier between us and God. The Bible tells us that our sin is a capital offense in the court of Heaven. When we sin we are given the death penalty. The only way to get our hearts right with God is for someone to take our place . . . that someone is Jesus. When He died on that cross He went there in my place and yours.
We benefit from his sacrifice when we sincerely place our trust in this work of Christ. We must depend on Him and not ourselves. We must seek to follow Him and not our own instincts. It is a matter of trusting His goodness and not ours. When we place our trust in Christ our values begin to change, life becomes less complicated, and our decisions are influenced by His Spirit.
Sure we get distracted. Yes, we will make foolish choices. And when we do, like Abraham, we must come back to Him and start again. We must once again place our hand in His and follow His leading as provided in the Scriptures and through His Holy Spirit. Sometimes we will feel like we are moving in the wrong direction. Sometimes it will seem that we are getting the “short end of the stick” . . . but if you trust Him you will eventually see that God knew what He was doing all along.
In life we will make many important decisions that will effect the rest of our lives. We want to make wise decisions. But it all starts with a simple decision: who will you trust? And I hope you’ve seen this morning, that this is the most important decision of all.