August 18, 2019
Good morning. We’re studying the proverbs this summer, so if you have your Bible, turn to Proverbs. We have been studying this book so that we can grow in grow in wisdom. And by wisdom, I do not mean data or information. Wisdom is the ability to skillfully navigate a complex world. The Proverbs give us a compelling way to handle all sorts of issues. This morning we are going to talk about how to make wise decisions. How do we plan for the future? Let’s look at a few verses and then we’ll pray.
Proverbs 12:28– In the path of righteousness is life, and in its pathway there is no death.
Proverbs 21:31– The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the LORD.
Proverbs 3:5–6 – Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.
When did you become an adult? If you’re not an adult yet, when will you become an adult? Does it happen overnight? Or does it slowly happen over the course of a year (or several years)? Previous generations had clear markers for becoming an adult. You got married, found a job, & bought a house. When you reached a few of these major life goals, you were safely in the adult world.
The threshold into adult life is a lot more confusing these days. Those same markers don’t seem to apply anymore. Many people are delaying marriage. There are more opportunities to extend education. Finding and settling into a career is trickier than ever. And not many 20somethings are itching to buy a home in this market – especially when they only plan on living here for a few years. The road into adulthood is a lot trickier these days. This is not because Millennials are less resilient than former generations. It is because our world is drastically different. (The pathway has changed).
Our world has been flooded with options. Think about the difference of finding a spouse. If you grew up in a small town in the 60s, you had 3-4 legitimate options. You picked the best one, got married, & started building a life. But now, you have access to millionsof potential spouses through the Internet. Surely your soul mate is out there. To say yes to one girl is to say no to millions of others. That’s a lot of pressure.
Think about finding a job. In the past, you trained for a handful of available career options and took whatever work was available (and that was only if you weren’t fighting a war). You played the hand you were dealt and made the most of it. The landscape is different these days. In my experience working with college-age students, there is a tremendous amount of pressure to find a career that is satisfying and fulfilling. And there are endless possibilities. I met with one student who had made a list of over50 potential careers he could pursue. Students are no longer dealt a hand of cards; they’re given the entire deck. Do anything you want…but chose wisely because you only get 1 shot.That’s a lot of pressure.
We live in a world that is flooded with opportunity. And as incredible as that is, it has made it far more difficult to make a decision. Have you ever thought about the meaning of the word decide? It comes from a Latin word that means “to kill, or cut off.” Homicide. Suicide. Genocide. Decide. To make a decision is to kill every other viable option. If you don’t have any options, decisions are easy. But if you have to pick between 60 potential careers, you need to be ruthless to make a decision. It’s not easy to make wise decisions in this environment. And I’m not simply talking to Emerging Adults; I’m talking to everyone. If you are approaching retirement, you have more options than ever. If you are in your 40s or 50s, you have the option to switch careers. We have more options – and more decisions – than ever. We’re not casually walking in a yellow wood like Robert Frost, reflecting on whether to take the road less traveled anymore. We’re flying by on a major interstate with exit ramps all over the place and we need to make quick decisions that will change the outcome of our life. The pressure is immense.
Is it possible to make good decisions in a world that is flooded with options? Yes. But we need wisdom. The church of Jesus can boldly move into the future without fear of failure. We do not need to cower in anxiety, or aimlessly fumble our way through life. God wants us to mature into the type of people that can confidently make good decisions. The Proverbs are loaded with wisdom to help us think about decision-making. And so I want to give you the outline this morning. Here are 3 points from the Proverbs to help us think about making a plan. (My understanding of Pr. has transformed. I used to think it was random nuggets of wisdom. I would pick out proverbs like candy at the candy barrel. I didn’t think I was taking them out of context because there is no context. Yes there is. The entire book is the context. If you read through it, you can see a narrative).
1. God shapes the planner.
2. We shape the plan.
3. God shapes the path.
Let’s jump in. God shapes the planner.What do I mean by that? Before we get absorbed in the details of a particular decision, we need to step back and look at the person making the decision. The Bible is far more concerned about who you arethan where you are going. In fact, this is the vast majority of the teaching on decision-making in the Proverbs. What kind of a person are you? Are you feasting with Lady Folly or Lady Wisdom? If you fear the Lord (and you are on a journey to know God more), you have nothing to worry about. If you are indulging in the flesh, watch out. Listen to this small sample: Pr. 10:24– What the wicked dreads will come upon him, but the desire of the righteous will be granted. Pr.11:23The desire of the righteous ends only in good, the expectation of the wicked in wrath.
I could keep going, but you get the point. It doesn’t really matter where you live or who you marry; if you reject God, things will not go well for you. But if you fear the Lord– God will guide your steps. And so, for just a minute, I want you to stop worrying about the particular decision you need to make. Before you pray about what job you should take, or if you should put your house on the market, or if you should start a family or pursue adoption, or whatever… stop and ask: am I growing in my love and pursuit of Jesus?This is the first question that we should always ask. What is the condition of my heart?
God is more concerned about the shape of your heart than the shape of your path. In the NT, God’s will for your life is always obedience. (My 10thGrade Latin teacher used to say that to me when I was cutting up in class: Michael, God’s will for your life is to be quiet right now. She was right). If you come to God with questions about your future, you might not get an immediate answer. But watch this: if you come to him with a desire to know him more, you will get so much more than an answer. You will get Him.According to Proverbs chapter 2, if you seek the Lord more than you seek silver or gold, you will find him. And look what he promises: (v.9-11) Then you will understand righteousness and justice and equity, every good path; for wisdom will come into your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul; discretion will watch over you, understanding will guard you, delivering you from the way of evil…
If you have set your heart on pursuing Jesus, you can confidently make a good decision. Because, as the text says, wisdom has come into your heart, and knowledge into your soul. You will have the character and discernment to pick the right path for your life.
I wonder if the main reason we become paralyzed by a particular decision is because we are immature. We don’t want this relationship with Jesus. We don’t want grow up in him. We want God to tell us every little thing we should be doing, when he offers us wisdomto choose well. (What we want is magic and not God). I heard this example from Tim Keller, but I think it’s brilliant. If you have little kids, this will be easy to imagine, but let’s say your five-year-old child comes up to you this afternoon and asks to go outside and play. The weather is nice, dinner will be ready in about 30 minutes, so you gladly tell him that yes, he can go out and play. That is a healthy interaction. But let’s say that you just dropped your child off at college. He’s now 20 years old. Later this afternoon you get a call from him and he says, “Hey mom, I just wanted to let you know that some guys in my dorm are going to throw the Frisbee on the quad. Can I go?” What would you say? Would you be proud of your son or worried? Hopefully by that point in his life the wisdom has been internalized. Hopefully he can joyfully navigate the freedom of college within the boundaries that you taught them.
Some of us want very clear answers for every little decision we need to make. But if you look in the NT and throughout church history, it doesn’t seem like God typically operates that way. Instead, he wants us to joyfully walk with him. He wants you to grow in maturity. And out of that relationship, the Spirit will guide us. And so as you think about making a decision, are you trying to bypass the most important part (the internalizing of wisdom)? Are you allowing God to shape you? If your heart is set on Jesus, and you have the Spirit of God, you can’t lose. Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your way, acknowledge him, and he will make your path straight.
And so, that is the first point. God shapes the planner. But we still have to make decisions. A relationship with Jesus doesn’t give us permission to sit back and let life pass us by. No, He gives us wisdom to actively navigate the slew of decisions that come our way. With God’s wisdom, we can skillfully map out a plan. This is the second point in our outline. God shapes the planner, but we shape the plan. According to the Proverbs, there are at least 3 things you can do to help form a godly plan.
First, do the research. As you think about making a decision, make sure to ask some basic questions. Is this plan wise? Where does this path lead? What would happen if I married this person? Would it be wise to sacrifice my family to seek this promotion? Don’t trust your instincts. Poke around a little bit and see if it’s truly wise to head in that direction. There are many attractive paths that would destroy you. Look at Proverbs 16:25 – There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.
Last week I found a website that was offering brand new Chacos at half price. It was an incredible deal. Almost every set of Chacos on the entire site was on sale. I finally settled on a pair with navy blue straps and began the checkout process. I had my credit card out and was typing in my billing information when the thought struck me: this is way too good of a deal. Then the next thought struck me: wait a minute, what website is this?I glanced up and realized that I couldn’t even pronounce the website name. Yeah, I felt dumb. Fortunately I caught it in time, but the entire site was a very attractive scam. It seemed right, but it would have lost a lot of money.
Just because it seems right, doesn’t mean that it is right. Our world is selling us a lifestyle that seems good. It feels good. It looks good. But it’s a sham, and it leads to death. So before you make the decision, do the research. Poke around a little bit. Why is that car so important? What is driving you to accept the promotion and corner office? Why are you willing to relocate for a little extra cash? If you discover a flaw in your plan when you do the research, have the courage to walk away. Don’t justify the decision to get what you really want. Look at Proverbs 22:3 – The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it. Don’t sell your soul for a cheap thrill.
Second, listen.God has made wisdom available to you if you simply listen. Our world gives the craziest advice. If you need to make a big decision, they will tell you to look within. Search your heart, and there you will find the answer. That would make a good movie, but it’s horrible advice. It essentially says: close your ears. Don’t listen.The Bible would have us open our ears and listen. One of the best ways to discern God’s will is to listen to wise people. Look atPr. 15:22– Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed. Pr. 12:15– The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice. The fool doesn’t ask for advice because he knows everything. But the wise man knows that he doesn’t know everything. He doesn’t have the right data or perspective or experience to make a decision on his own. So he seeks advice from a godly community.
A few thoughts: First, make sure that you are asking the right people. Ask people that will speak the truth in love. Don’t surround yourself with “Yes Men.” You can always find people that will tell you what you want to hear, but they don’t care about you. Find people that love you and are saturated in God’s word. Second, listen with willing ears. If you ask a wise person for advice, you should actually consider their advice. Proverbs 19:20says – Listen to advice and accept instruction. Have the courage to change your course if wise people are steering you in a different direction. Don’t ask people for advice if your mind is made up. There are rare moments when it is acceptable to go against a community of wisdom, but only if you are making another wise decision. I think of Paul’s plan to go to Jerusalem in Acts 21. He met believers in Tyre who advised him – in the Spirit– to turn back. He met a prophet who tied a belt around his hands. Paul, don’t go to Jerusalem: you will be arrested.Paul went anyway. His decision was between two wise options. He went against the community that was looking out for his physical needs, but he still made a wise decision. There are rare occasions when it is acceptable to make a wise decision that is not popular in your community, but generally speaking, God has given us a community of wise brothers & sisters to keep us from plunging into folly. We need to listen.
Finally, slow down. (Do the research, listen, and slow down). Look at Proverbs 21:5 – The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty. If you move through life quickly and carelessly, you will make poor decisions. I wonder how many of our bad decisions can be traced back to a frantic lifestyle. You don’t think as clearly when you’re in a hurry. You make mistakes when you’re tired. You don’t listen very well when your mind is cluttered. We need to slow down. We can only make good decisions when our lives are reasonably paced. I don’t think we need to pray about every decision for a decade, but we do need to pray. We need to take the time to think about our plan biblically and theologically. We need quiet space to listen. Do you build periods of silence and reflection into your daily routine?
Eugene Peterson has written about a turbulent scene in Moby Dick in which the whaleboat was in hot pursuit of the famous great white whale. Captain Ahab is maniacally driven to catch the whale, and the sailors on the boat are expending every ounce of energy to fight against the waves. But there is one person in the boat who doesn’t do anything. He doesn’t sweat, and he doesn’t shout. He is poised, quietly waiting for his moment. That is the harpooner. Listen to Melville: “To ensure the greatest efficiency in the dart, the harpooners of this world must start to their feet out of idleness, and not out of toil.” (Not out of laziness, but out of clarity). You cannot make a good decision when you are frantically fighting against the waves. Church, can we slow down the pace? Can we rise above the chaos of our frantic world and think? And pray? Can we slow down and simply be with Jesus?
And so this is how we form a plan. We slow down, listen for advice, and do the research. We’re ready for the last stage. It’s time to act. It’s time to pick a path and get going. Now, this is the part that terrifies so many people, but it’s the best part. Here’s why: the path doesn’t belong to you; it belongs to God. We shape the plan, but God shapes the path.Look at these verses. Proverbs 16:9– The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps. Proverbs 16:33– The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD. (Even the seemingly random things belong to God). Proverbs 21:31– The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the LORD.
Friends, if you are in Christ, you literally can’t go wrong. So make a decision. Act. Your future is secure. Romans 8:28says that God is weaving everything together for the good for his children. Ephesians 1:11says that he is working all things according to the counsel of his will. I wonder if some of you feel like God’s will is a hidden mystery and its up to you to uncover it. One false step will spiral you into a life of misery. That’s not how it works. According to the Bible, God is shaping your path as you go. He lets you make the plans, but he takes care of the path. He will take you where he wants you to go. God never gets the address wrong. Even if it seems like a miserable failure to us, God is always guiding his children. (He leads us with cords of kindness and bands of love).
This reality should encourage every soul in the room. If you are on the brink of a decision, you can make it with confidence. Open doors, make phone calls, test the waters. See where God might be leading you. Here’s the encouraging part: if he doesn’t want you to go where you planned to go, he will close the door. He will redirect your steps. God shapes the path.
But this is an encouraging reminder to the people whose path has been reshaped. Youdidmake a good plan. You werecertainit was God’s will for you to be married by now. You knew God was leading you to that career or house. It was good and wise, but the door was slammed in your face. You were detoured into the wilderness. That’s a hard place to be. Detours are miserable. This weekend I was traveling from Charlotte to Winston Salem with my family. We were enjoying a great car ride together (5 kids in the car, this is rare). Everything was great. But as we were traveling down I40, we saw those ominous brake lights. One hour later, we had traveled a five miles. I was a miserable person at the end of that five-mile stretch. The day way great, but traffic jams are incredibly frustrating. Some of you have a good and wise plan for your life, but the brake lights came on. Maybe you came to a dead end. God shaped a different path. And you’re wondering, how can I ever move forward? (Can you even trust God anymore?) I want to remind you that God is doing something that you cannot see. If you can accept it, God is taking you to a better place, and teaching you to desire him more. (He’s shaping your heart as he shapes your path).
As we close I want you to think about Paul one more time. In Acts 15, Paul set out on his 2nd missionary journey. The 1st one had been an incredible success and so Paul & his close companion, Barnabas, were eager to retrace their steps to encourage the churches. But their plan fell apart. Very early into the journey, Paul & Barnabas separated over a sharp disagreement. They were furious with each other and went separate ways. Can you imagine the pain Paul experienced as he traveled North without his closest friend? His ministry partner? It gets worse. Paul’s travel plans continued to fall apart. He wanted to go to Asia, but God wouldn’t let him. The door was closed. So he went to Troas. It was a crushing blow for Paul. Don’t discount the pain. Proverbs 13:12 says that Hope deferred makes the heart sick. If God has rerouted your life, it can make your heart ache. I know there are aching hearts in this room.
But be encouraged. God never gets the path wrong. If he sent you into the desert, he has a purpose. If he slammed the door, he has a purpose. Trust in him. He is calling you into a deeper relationship. He has something better than you could have ever imagined.
Paul was crushed and disappointed when he went to Troas. But two incredible things happened. First, Paul met Luke there. Luke was a good doctor, so Paul brought him along. But it turned out that Luke was pretty good at writing. Would we have the gospel of Luke & Acts if Paul didn’t get detoured? I doubt it. Second, Paul received the famous Macedonian call when he was in Troas. He got on a boat and went into Europe. This is how the gospel was introduced to the Western world. Friends, our spiritual heritage can be traced back to Paul’s painful detour.
Hope deferred makes the heart sick. But, finish the proverb: A desire fulfilled is a tree of life.I want to invite you to entrust your soul to Jesus – especially if you are mourning the death of a dream. Sometimes God defers our hope to give us a greater hope. And if you turn to Jesus today, he will meet you in your pain and encourage you to keep moving. He has something incredible for you.
2 Corinthians 2:12–16
 When I came to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ, even though a door was opened for me in the Lord,  my spirit was not at rest because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I took leave of them and went on to Macedonia.
 But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere.  For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing,  to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things?