Monday, July 13, 2015

Discernment in the real world: How am I supposed to decide?

Everyone makes millions of decisions in a life time, probably billions. Each day is lined up with hundreds and hundreds of decisions. Most of those decisions are simple and easy, like brushing your teeth in the morning. Other decisions are huge and life altering like whether to go to college, getting married, or what you might do for a living. Although every decision you make deserves your attention and wisdom, the more substantial the decision the more wisdom is needed. Huge decisions come with huge consequences (for better or for worse), so making the best decision you can make is pretty important. Although some decisions must be made in an instant like I’m getting robbed what do I do? Most decisions, however, provide some lead time before having to be made.

But how does someone go about making a good decision? Do good decisions just come out of thin air?

Well, sometimes people just get lucky and accidentally make great decisions, but most of the time that is not the case. Luck is a poor decision-making strategy. Most of the time people make good decisions not because of luck, but because of discernment. They have learned how to make good decisions because they have cultivated discernment.

 So, what is discernment?

In its simplest form, discernment is using wisdom to make choices. 

Ok, so how do I get me some of that wisdom?

·         Self knowledge. Knowing yourself, your experiences and having a clear understanding of what happens when I do that. Learning from experience is a great pathway to wisdom.

·         Other people’s experience. Look, you can’t just experience everything. You’ll never live that long. So, learning from other people’s experience is good. If Jimmy throws his Axe spray can into the fire and it blows up, maybe I don’t need to throw my Axe spray can into the fire to know what is going to happen.

·         Scripture – relationship with the Bible. The Bible has the richest deposits of wisdom in the world. No other book even comes close. Read the Bible with the question, “What wisdom is trying to find me here?”

·         Relationship with Jesus. Most people know Jesus is loving, good and kind, but what a lot of people don’t really get is that Jesus is the smartest and wisest person to ever walk the Earth. The Bible does not report his IQ, but it was most certainly higher than Einstein, Plato, and Edison combined. Learning the ways of Jesus and what he was thinking and how that motivated his actions will result in wisdom.

·         Prayer to God. Prayer is, for some people, an unexpected location of wisdom. Seeking God is always a good idea. Sometimes just sitting and asking God for wisdom results in getting more of it.

·         Relationship with older people. People older than you have had more time in their lives to learn from their own mistakes and the mistakes of others as well as their good choices and the good choices of others. They can really give you some great advice on some things and help you avoid the mistakes (and the consequences) they made and model the good choices (and positive consequences as well) they made.

 What are the individual conditions under which wisdom could thrive? There are some conditions under which wisdom can thrive. Each person must create within herself or himself conditions in which wisdom can take root and really grow.

·         Humility. Wisdom and pride (arrogance) cannot co-exist. They are oil and water. In the ears of a person filled with pride, anything wise sounds stupid. Seriously, the wisest counsel will sound like foolishness, judgment or oppressiveness. Pride sours wisdom, but humility makes it grow rapidly. Humbling oneself results in space for wisdom to dwell.

·         Desire. You have to want wisdom to get wisdom. It is not hard to find if you actually go looking for it. Hunger for wisdom. Thirst for wisdom. Go looking for it and you will most certainly find it.

·         Space. It takes some intentionality to carve out space in one’s life for wisdom. There is so much in our lives that will take our time and space from us. If we do not devote time and space to the search for wisdom, something else will take that time and space from us. Right now a lot of people are experiencing “The techno-timesuck” in the form a smartphones. When we are bored, lonely, or whatever, our “go-to” is our phone. What boredom and loneliness are telling is that there is something lacking in our lives. One of those things is wisdom. Rarely is wisdom found in getting sucked into “10 things your doctor doesn’t want you to know” or “These mind-blowing pictures will change your life forever - #3 just about did me in.”

·         Preparation. Gaining wisdom before you need it is essential. When a decision comes upon you, that is not the time to consider getting some wisdom any more than when you need to run away from a wild animal is the time to start the discipline of running.

 How do I make wise choices? Getting the wisdom-generating processes into place will result in making much better decisions. Some decisions you know are coming up and some you do not. Either way, setting into motion the time, the self-reflection, the relationships, and the relationship with Jesus through scripture and prayer are going to set you up to be a wisdom accumulating person.

 How do I make unwise choices? People make unwise choices for lots of reasons. They are unique to each person. I will share some of the ways in which I make unwise choices. Feel free to learn from my shortcomings.

·         Anxiety. When I make decisions motivated by anxiety or by fear, it puts me at risk for making poor decisions. When I make decisions in this way, I am usually doing it for the sole purpose of relieving the anxiety or resolving the fear. In short, these decisions are usually self-centered or simply self-absorbed. When I am fully and completely focused on myself, I am helpless to make a wise decision.

·         Insecurity.  Sometimes I get insecure, especially when someone is going to evaluate the work I do. When I start making decisions to appease my insecurity, I make poorer decisions. Again, this is selfish.

·         Affirmation lust.  I admit it, I want everyone in the universe to like, me, a lot. Too much. This is not good. When I make decisions with goal of getting more and more affirmation, even if the thing I am doing is the right thing, it is for the wrong reason. I can get sucked into a weird “Christian” looking narcissism that is real trouble in the end.

·         Anger. Decisions made in anger almost always s result in revenge. In short, I become a worse person and other people get hurt.

·         Regret. When I make decisions out of regret, it never goes well. I cannot change the past, and that is all regret really wishes could happen. When I make decisions based on regret, I am the one who ends up getting hurt. 

 Discernment is the use of wisdom to make decisions. Get wisdom, whatever you do. Begin a wisdom-generating way of living and a wisdom-accumulation way of being and you will make much better decisions than you do now.

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