Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Art of Decision Making

As most of my readers probably know (if I have any more than the two that I know of), I have come face to face with a difficult decision to make. One that was made in cooperation with my wife whom I love and cherish. While this decision has been a hard one to make, I believe that she and I have made the right one, and that God is leading us in this direction. The decision being that we will be moving back down south to my hometown of Birmingham. Of course, now there are multiple other decisions to be made as well. Questions that arise would be things like: How soon should we move? When should I turn in my resignation? How are we going to pay for moving expenses? How long will it take for us to close on a House? etc. And all need some type of response, even if the response is to temporarily put it on hold until you have more information to make an educated decision. Which brings me to the point of this post.

Decision making is simultaneously incredibly easy and arduous. It's easy for some people to decide what they want to wear for the day (especially for people like me who just throw on whatever they see first as long as it matches), and there are others (to use a stereotype) who will spend hours trying to find that "perfect dress" for the occasion. We make decisions all the time without a second glance until we hit a point in our lives when the decision we make will have ramifications, good or bad, on our life. That is when many people begin to hesitate, and rightly so, about what kind of decision they should make. We all desire to make wise, good, and right decisions, but how do we do it?

I think one of first ways we should approach a decision is through logic. As I stated in a previous post, God has gifted us with a brain, and most of us can use this brain to come to logical, reasonable, and intellectual conclusions. So, it seems to me that it is only fitting to weigh out the pros and cons of a decision and approach it analytically because it is a waste of a gift that God has given to not use our brains. To go back to the decision I have had to make, when I looked at the decision from an analytical standpoint I realized that there would be a lot of good things that would come from moving down south, and not just good, but potentially healthy outcomes as well; some of which I have already seen beginning to come into fruition. So, then becomes this: Is the decision I am trying to make going to be good or bad for me?

Another approach that I believe we make as humans but do not usually think about doing it would be this approach of intuition. Many of us have had moments when a decision sounded like a good idea at the time, but something just felt wrong and thus decided to not to do whatever was suggested. This "gut" feeling can oftentimes lead to a prevention of a bad decision. For instance, if I am trying to make a hard decision and come to a conclusion about it I will either feel peace or unrest concerning my conclusion. These feelings, I believe, are partially coming from my intuition on whether or not I should pursue one thing or the other. The most amazing part of our intuition, I think, is that it is also a gift from God. It's almost as if God decided that he wanted us to make good decisions so he gave us multiple ways to approach a decision. Plus, I am sure that many of us would say that if we had not listened to our "guts" we would have probably ended up being miserable, dead, broke, etc.

Still another approach that I try to make is the opinion of my friends and family. In this, I usually have to proceed with caution because I know that if God is directing me one way beyond a shadow of a doubt, I cannot let the opinions of the ones I trust get in the way and cause me to hesitate if they disagree. That being said, I think there is great value in seeking the advice of people you trust to give you a straightforward answer. In Proverbs, Solomon alludes to the wisdom of taking council when making decisions multiple times, and the truth is humankind cannot sustain itself on the individual level. We are too wired to work cohesively as a united whole to be able to stand alone completely. That is what I believe, and truthfully "the proof is in the pudding" as the saying goes.

Finally, of course would be our approach to God with the decision we want to make. This approach is often associated with looking for the "will of God". Yet, as I said previously, that really is not the question we want to ask. What I, at least, am asking is quite simply: "What do you think?" Sometimes He will tell me directly what he thinks, and other times He waits for me to make a decision just to see what I'll do. I suppose it is similar to what a parent would do with their child growing up. Sometimes, the parent has to tell the child how to act because they do not know any better, and other times the parent can walk the child through the decision making process, teaching them how to think for themselves (even to think critically depending on the context). I believe that God operates in much the same way with us, His children. And God knows and understands better the things we could never hope to, which is why I feel that decisions, specifically "big" ones, should not be made without God's input.

Oddly, when I started writing this post I did not expect it to come out in such a formulaic fashion, but that is how it turned out as I wrote my thoughts. Decision making is anything but formulaic, but I suppose, at least for me, seeing the different approaches that can and probably should be made is helpful.

Grace and Peace

Monday, May 9, 2011

Dying to Life

What is life? Or rather what does it mean to live?

I am not asking about life in the sense of eating, sleeping, or even breathing. Nor, am I asking what life looks like within the constructs of interpersonal relations on the societal, familial, or intimate levels. Although, I suppose that those constructs might be involved to some degree. What I'm really asking, or at least looking for, is what does a fulfilling life look like. A life that has value and significance. A life that leads an incredible story that when "read" by others inspires them to be greater than themselves. This life cannot be conducted by the individual alone. It comes from both internal and external influences. And if you would allow the term, a super-external influence as well; the influence of a supernatural being that we have titled by the name of God.

To clarify, I believe in a creator God who, in love, created a world full of wonders and beauty, among which humankind is one of them. This same God also gave humankind free will so as to allow them the opportunity to choose Him, which makes their devotion and love that much better. The previous statement concerning the title of the being named God was more of an objective approach than anything. Perhaps, I am attempting to sound more intelligent than necessary. That is not my intention. Moving on...

I think I would like to look at the super-external influence first. The foundation to the message of Christianity is that human is innately sinful and that the first sin committed by the first humans are what lead to physical and spiritual death. To counter the schism between God and people that this sin created, God sent his son Jesus, from which Christianity gets its namesake, to die upon a cross. This action performed by the Christ, this sacrifice, took the sin of humanity and placed it on one perfect, sinless, and holy man. This sacrifice gave humanity an opportunity to be redeemed in the eyes of a God, who cannot look at evil, through bloodshed of Christ, and thus giving them a new life. In a very real sense, when we accept Christ as our savior, we are raised from the dead.

Jesus gave us life so that even though humanity still experiences the physical death, they will have a life after death; an eternal life. However, this life does not begin after death, but rather begins the moment it is given at the confession of Christ as Lord. Like joining a company of a good reputation, it has good pay, but also great benefits. So this new life then, leads to a fulfilling life because now there is a purpose behind the madness. Where there was hopelessness, there is now a hope that can't be squelched; where there were sorrows, there is now a joy that goes beyond just the emotion of happiness; where there was chaos, there is now peace; and where there was hatred, there is now love. And these are all things that make life so much more satisfying than just going through the daily motions of whatever rituals and traditions you follow (rituals in this sense would be regular practices, and not strictly religious in nature).

The reason I started with this influence is because I strongly believe that any type of life that is had outside of the life Christ has given to us, and given us the ability to have, is not a complete and truly fulfilled life.

The second type of influence I would like to look at is the external. This type of influence is interconnected in some ways to the internal influence, but more on that in a minute. External influences are where the interpersonal relations I had mentioned early come into play, because it is by the people we surround ourselves with that we are influenced. To give an anecdote, my mother has always told me that we pick up the traits of those we choose to befriend; thus, surround yourself with people that have traits that you desire. Or, to put it more succinctly with a cliche phrase, "garbage in, garbage out." Essentially, a fulfilling life from the external standpoint comes from surrounding ourselves with people who themselves have a fulfilling life.

At this point, I believe it is important to state that I believe that we cannot have a perfectly fulfilling life until we have reached perfection in the afterlife with Christ (which is another topic all together). However, I will say that different aspects of our lives can be quite fulfilling; just as everyone has their strengths and weaknesses, so too are different aspects of our lives more fulfilling than others. That being said, I think its important to surround oneself with individuals who inspire greatness. Search for people who make you want to be better than you are. Because when you aspire to be greater than yourself, the super-external influences begin to shine through. We cannot be more than we are without the help of something that is already greater. Surrounding yourself with friends, family, and loved ones who make you aspire for such greatness will keep you from growing complacent with where you are at. When you stop learning and stretching and become comfortable with where you are, then your life is no longer fulfilling. Instead, it becomes a half-life full of dull and asinine motions that are repeated regularly with no hope for something more, something new.

Which brings us to the final influence: the internal influence. This is probably the most difficult influence to control. I hesitate to use the word control, but I feel like it is the best word for what I am trying to say. Internal influence is based solely upon one's own discipline, desires, hopes, fears, beliefs, and everything else that makes a person "tick". No matter what type of influences you encounter externally, nothing will happen to give you a fulfilling life until you decide that you want to have one. A resolution, if you will, that leads to going beyond a mere decision and into action. Nations were never changed on ideals alone, there has always been an action to push those ideals through. The same is true for an individual. For instance, I can tell myself all I want that I want to be thinner, but until I put in the effort of controlling my diet, and regularly exercising, then I might as well have had no thought at all. The effect would have been the same, and my mind may not have hurt so much from the thinking. In the same way, I can want to live a life that has significance and value, but until I act upon the influences around me, and find things to do that are seen as significant and valuable, then all I am doing is wasting my potential on something that will not happen.

Obviously, there is much more that could be said on the subject. Things that I have considered but have not pondered through, or things that I would not have ever thought about, but that is the beauty of exploration. I dare to be wrong in the hopes of being right. The most beautiful and painful thing about having a fulfilling life (and perhaps the hardest aspect of internal influence), is that to truly live one must die. One must cast away their own hopes, dreams, fears, wants, needs, sorrows, and joys to take on those of another. Which brings us back to the super-external. When we take on Christ's aspirations, we discover what it really means to love. To live is to give all of yourself to this selfless, unconditional, gracious love. A love that can be defined by the term Altruism, and one I have not used in some time. I suppose, if I were to wrap up all that I've said into a sentence it would be this:

True life begins when you die at the hands of Altruism, because when you are more concerned about others than yourself you begin to see what life is all about.

These are just thoughts of a 20-something year old trying understand life as he sees it now. And that is where I end this post. As always, you are more than welcome to post your own ideas and opinions. After all, discussion is great for refining thoughts so, who knows?

Grace and Peace

Friday, May 6, 2011

Will or Will Not?

What is the "will of God"? I constantly hear about how we just need to, "seek the will of God," and wait for Him to give us direction. I know that I have said things like this in the past as well. In fact, I would say that even now I probably would use the terminology as I try to discern what is the correct course of action. But all that being said, the question still is this: What is the will of God?

Now obviously there is something to be said for the Great Commission. It's pretty obvious that Christ wanted us to go out and share the truth of His gospel. That is to say, He wants us to share about the salvation He is offering to all humankind. I would say that following this command would be within the will of God, and many would, at the very least, agree if not take it further by saying it is the will of God. In the Old Testament God spent time teaching His people, the Hebrews, what His will was by giving them the law. The very same law that many of them adhere to today when they can. This law encouraged actions that were beneficial to others, and despised the actions that caused harm. And this too, is within God's will. Suppose now that these two examples could fit under one category, which is to love God with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength.

Jesus himself said that this was the greatest commandment, and then added that the second greatest is to love others. Jesus also stated that, "If you love me, you will obey my commands." Because Jesus claimed to be God, it is easy to say then that God wills us to obey the commands He has given us, and to do so out of a love for Him. I suppose this is why free will appealed to Him so much. I believe it is safe to say then that the will of God is that we freely choose to love Him and thus obey his standard given to us through His commands found within Scripture.

If this is the will of God, then perhaps we are seeking the wrong answer when we say that we are seeking the will of God. Perhaps, what we really are looking for is God's advice. Now, I don't mean advice in the sense that I would ask my friend for their opinion in which way I should do this or that, but rather in the way I would ask the for the advice of my parents in how to do something. I think what we are really asking God when we are seeking his will is closer to the question, "How do I follow the will of God." To which I respond: is what you are about to do showing love to God and is in accordance with the standard? Then you are following the will of God.

However, there is a fine line in our perceptions of this. Even the best intentions can end up making situations worse. So then we get to the real question that is behind all this seeking, "Is this or that what I am supposed to do?" And this is where I am stuck. What I truly seek is God's voice telling me, "this is what you should do for this situation." But, the truth is, God rarely gives me such a direct answer. I think often times He wants us to actually use the minds He has gifted us with. I think He wants us to make a decision based upon logic and reasoning, but also discernment must be involved. He is quick to gently guide us back to the point where we went wrong as long as we are open to His instruction, but I think most times the decision still remains with us.

This isn't to say that God just abandons us to make decisions on our own, but I also do not think that He will "spoon feed" us the answers either. Maybe He likes to see what we'll do and How we'll do it.

But all this is just the ramblings and opinions of one individual. I would like to hear the thoughts of others on the subject. I apologize if anything I said seems contrary or confusing. I have been slightly distracted when writing this by my nephews. Overall, it is just some thoughts.