June: Wise Decisions
This spring has highlighted the need and the difficulty of making good decisions, especially in the “fog and friction” of war…Covid has been a war…waged by the virus against us and by us against it.
Von Clausewitch, the famous Prussian war theorist coined the term “fog and friction” to describe how in war everything is less clear(fog) and more difficult(friction) that you would have imagined.
So good decision making, in the heat of the battle is very difficult.
Yet good decisions are essential to survive in battle and to thrive after the war.
But how are we to decide during times like this…what are we to think and do?
It can be baffling to hear “experts” saying the exact opposite things about the same things.
To read the same data being used to come to opposite conclusions by different people.
Then there is the emotion that is tied to all of it…some people pride themselves on being driven by facts alone…
but try to “touch” on one of their prized facts and you will get anger, or hurt, or pain…
…demonstrating the “fact” that we are all emotional beings...we get emotional about our “facts”
We all do what makes sense to us to do…and of course, we believe, that what makes sense to us…is true, real...factual.
We think, for the most part…we are good decision makers.
And when others think or do other than what makes sense to us…then clearly, they are wrong...bad deciders.
So, the reason, we(I) can’t get along with others right now…why our culture is so fractured…the reason for the fights and quarrels out there…is that “I’m right and they are wrong.”
If people would simply…see the facts as they are (meaning: like I do)…we would all get along just fine.
James asks (4:1) “What causes fights and quarrels among you?
We would answer him… “That’s easy my boy…they are wrong, they don’t see things like they really are.”
James says…no… “Actually…they come from desires that battle within you?”
What??? No!!!…that’s not right.
We quarrel and fight…between us…because someone is wrong and someone is right. (I’m the someone who is right by the way.)
*Because if I wasn’t right then I would change…since I’m not changing…I’m right (how’s that for circular reasoning?)
“No” James says the source of our interpersonal problems, the quarrels between us and others…is inside of us…the desires that battle within us…we want to be right...we are convinced we are right.
So, we act foolishly…make foolish interpersonal decisions...we fight and quarrel.
So once again…we are back at the heart level.
“Above all else guard your heart, it is the wellspring of life.” 4:23
This year: Wisdom
This month: Wise decisions
Today: Becoming a Wise “Decider”
The goal is not just to make to good decisions, but to become a person of wisdom…a wise decider.
Why that distinction?
There is this phenomenon called “The Leadership Fallacy”
Basically, it means that a person who makes a lot of good decisions over time…becomes successful and confident of their ability to make good decisions.
Okay…what seems to be the problem with that?
This “success and confidence” sets them up for catastrophe because the day comes when their self-confidence in decision making causes them to make a terrible decision.
This has played out many times in history…it is most often what is behind the epic downfall of historic figures.
They rise to great heights on the stairs of successful decisions only to fall from that great height because of a foolish decision.
So, Proverbs has a lot to say about making wise decisions but it’s focus is on becoming a wise-decider.
A heart that is well-kept will be positioned to make good decisions.
Proverbs is directed to the young person who is choosing a life-path.
The wise teacher/parent wants the child to learn how and why to make good decisions…but they ultimately want them to become a “wise person”…a good decider, whose decisions flow naturally from a certain kind of heart.
Just as last month we focused on wise words flowing from a wise heart…so too, wise decisions are going to come more consistently from a wise heart.
Learn rules and principles of decision making, they are good and helpful…but they won’t protect us if we are failing to become a wise “decider” at the heart level.
We must have hearts that are continuing in humility, teachability, fear of the Lord, and love and concern for the well-being of others.
To simply teach a set of “Decision making Rules” will not be enough when the right decision is a costly one…or goes against what the “heart” has trained itself to want.
This explains what I have seen very recently…outside the church.
A person who made a long series of good decisions…but was not becoming, at the heart level…a “wise decider”…who then made a catastrophic(seeming out of character) decision.
This decision…has in effect…ruined this person’s life.
God can redeem them…but in terms of how life will go for them…for at least decades…they will suffer for their decision.
We can become people who live in fear of that single catastrophic decision…but the fact is there is never really a single decision.
The one decision that causes things to explode…is really just one in a string of smaller decisions that are happening on the inside of us.
That war, James describes as the “desires that battle within you.”
We decide day by day…which side of the battle is going to have the strategic advantage.
Napoleon, the general who exemplifies what we have been talking about…lots of good decisions that set him up, in his pride, for destruction...once famously said “An army marches on its stomach.”
Meaning soldiers need to eat, they must not outrun their supply lines.
So…let’s look at these battling armies within us as James wrote…and their need to eat.
Desires, like armies…march on their stomachs…they are strengthened by what we feed them.
You decide, I decide…what wins in my heart by deciding where I allow my heart to feast.
Today we return to Proverbs 9…to look at the two feasts available to us.
The feast of wisdom and the feast of folly.
What we allow our hearts to feast on…will set the course of our life...it determines the outcome of the “battle within us”
We will become a foolish or a wise “decider” based on what table we frequent.
Here’s how the chapter is organized...it’s brilliant.
First six verses are the “Feast of wisdom”
The last six verses are the “Feast of folly”
The seven verses in the middle compare and contrast the different approaches and outcomes of the hearts that feast at each table…lady wisdom’s or woman folly’s
Feast of Wisdom: (9:1-6)
Wisdom has built her house; she has hewn out its seven pillars. She has prepared her meat and mixed her wine; she has also set her table. She has sent out her maids, and she calls
from the highest point of the city. “Let all who are simple come in here!” she says to those who lack judgment. “Come, eat my food and drink the wine I have mixed. Leave your simple ways and you will live; walk in the way of understanding.
Wisdom’s house is well-built and enduring…seven pillars hold it up. (perfection)
Her feast is one of abundance…the table is set with food and drink that satisfy.
Her feast is one of careful preparation…you don’t get microwaved meat and a can of diet coke.
She offers well-prepared meat…taking days sometimes to get it just right.
She offers expertly mixed wine…she added herbs and spices to make it delicious.
You get the picture…this is a really great house and a really great meal…who gets to come?
- You have to know (admit) you lack wisdom or judgment (that you areprone to wrong decisions left to yourself)
If you think you are already wise…you are self-sufficiently a wise decider…you are not invited.
Cause you won’t like the food or the company.
- You have to be willing to leave behind yourown way of living and walk in a new way of life.
To qualify: You need the self-awareness of humility.
Okay, let’s walk over and check out what is happening at Women folly’s bed and breakfast…
Feast of Folly (9:13-18)
The woman Folly is loud; she is undisciplined and without knowledge. She sits at the door of her house, on a seat at the highest point of the city, calling out to those who pass by, who go straight on their way. “Let all who are simple come in here!” she says to those who lack judgment. “Stolen water is sweet; food eaten in secret is delicious!” But little do they know that the dead are there, that her guests are in the depths of the grave.
She is loud...her restaurant doesn’t have good food but she spends a lot of time and money on advertising.
She is not carefully preparing her food…she’s too busy trying to use deceit and decibels to make up for the lack of quality.
She’s after the same crowd as Lady wisdom…the simple…but her invitation to them is very different.
Lady wisdom says…you can come and feast…if you are willing to change, to leave folly behind.
Lady folly says…You can stay a fool and you eat with me…you don’t have to change...your good to go!
“What your heart wants…the forbidden, the stolen, the illicit, the wrong…you can have it here.”
Wisdom is telling, folly is selling.
Wisdom is telling of the way to change, to experience real abundance.
Folly is selling her destructive lifestyle by withholding a key piece of information.
“Little do they know her way is death”
And she’s not telling them that as she calls them to come eat with her.
“You don’t have to change…come eat.” (and be destroyed)
Okay…the two feasts form the bookends of this chapter…let’s look at the middle and see if we can learn some things about becoming a wise decider.
Approaches and outcomes of the two feasts (7-12)
“Whoever corrects a mocker invites insult; whoever rebukes a wicked man incurs abuse. Do not rebuke a mocker or he will hate you; rebuke a wise man and he will love you. Instruct a wise man and he will be wiser still; teach a righteous man and he will add to his learning.
First, a super important factor in becoming a wise decider…humility.
The contrast is between an open and a closed mind.
The foolish will not tolerate correction, the wise value it.
So, the wise become wiser…because they invite instruction, correction.
If you know it all, already…how could you possible learn anything else?
Why listen to contrasting views if yours is perfect?
Why be open to correction if your path is already perfection?
You see why this is so crucial to making wise decisions…or to becoming a wise decider?
Being open minded in Proverbs is very different than how that phrase is used in contemporary society.
In today’s vernacular…open minded means to be void of convictions about behavior.
An open mind in Proverbs would include:
- Acknowledgement of a moral universe created by God…whose will and ways are best.
- Willingness to accept correction from others, from God’s words…even from Ants (6:6)…in order to better align life with how God has made the world.
An open mind in general culture means:
- There are no absolutes in regards to morality.
- You must accept whatever I choose to do and believe (though I am not obligated to accept you if you disagree with me)
The purpose of an open mind, CS Lewis famously wrote…is to close on something solid.
So, the fool will not tolerate having his or her current beliefs and behaviors challenged.
The wise welcomes a challenge to current beliefs and behaviors…because he or she really wants to align them with the reality of God.
So open minded doesn’t mean…lack of conviction or no life foundation.
Everyone begins with some presuppositions about reality…then makes decisions from there.
So, the foundation for the wise that allows them to be open minded and yet full of conviction…is the next verse…
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
So, the presupposition or the starting point of wisdom…God is God…to know him is to have understanding.
From that foundation…I am open to correction… in fact I invite it.
Not because I love to be wrong…but because I love God…and I want my life…my belief and behaviors to align with that is true…with him.
I don’t want to be destroyed…I don’t want to pretend to be right…refuse to be wrong…and miss the feast of God’s will and ways.
That’s where this middle section ends…with the outcomes of where our hearts feast…wisdom or folly.
“For through me your days will be many, and years will be added to your life. If you are wise, your wisdom will reward you; if you are a mocker, you alone will suffer.”
This is not a promise that wisdom means you will die of old age and folly you will die young.
It also doesn’t mean that those who live with or around fools (mockers) won’t also suffer with them…but fools, in the end…really do suffer alone (even as they cause others to suffer was well)
The principle outlined here is that we can and must choose (where our hearts will get their nourishment)…whose house will we eat at.
And those choices have real outcomes in our lives.
Blessing or suffering come from where we allow our hearts to feast.
Remember our objective: To become people who make consistently good decisions…and of course avoid making bad ones.
We can all agree that this is a good and appropriate goal…anyone just really not want to have the capacity of good decision making?
We will look at this from different Proverbs and angles this month…today the essential focus on the heart.
Not merely learning tricks and techniques of good decisions…but the importance of a heart from which good decisions are more likely to originate.
Two applications from our passage:
- Remember the importance of the location of Lady wisdom and Woman folly’s houses.
High points of the city…the place where Worship happened.
This is about, at the heart level, who we will worship.
Wisdom is the worship of God.
Folly is idolatry…which is putting anything or anyone other than God at the center of our hearts.
So…we have verse 9:10 “The fear (heart worship, awesome reverence) of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom…”
This is key.
When I speak with people or I think myself about making decisions my first question is “Is my heart surrendered on this matter?”
Can I look in the mirror, with no one around to impress or convince and say “I want what God wants on this?”
If the answer is truly, honestly “no” or “not sure” or “not yet”…that is where my work and my praying needs to begin.
Not… “What is the right decision here”
But… “God give me a surrendered heart on this matter…give me a ‘not my will but yours’ heart.”
Sometimes you have to decide quickly…and you may not have lots of time for introspection and praying
But I would say…as much time as you have…a significant amount of that time and energy should go towards the direction and affections in your heart.
Not just “what” to do…but to evaluate my heart’s “why”
You can make plenty of good business decisions, make lots of money in the stock market or in real estate without a surrendered heart…but in terms of the overall trajectory of your life…
Without ongoing attention to a surrendered heart(toppling lots of idols)…what matters the most will be absent from your decision making…and the outcomes of those decisions will not peace, or impact, or relationship with God.
- Remember the key difference between the one who feasted with wisdom and the one who joined folly?
Both the fool and the wise love to be right…but in very different ways.
The fool loves to be seen to be right…hates to be told they are wrong…because they are more concerned with their own pride, insecurity and self-will than with the truth of God.
They don’t love to be “right” in terms of what God says is right.
They want to be their own “lords” deciding for themselves what is right.
What’s wrong with that?
Have you noticed how bad we are at it?
Have you noticed any difficulty in even figuring out how we should respond to a virus?
We are very good at trying to be god…we are terrible at it.
And where do you first see this idea of “trust yourself” in history?
Genesis 3:4 “You won’t die, Satan said, God knows that your eyes will be opened and you will be like him, knowing good and evil.”
They already knew good and evil…good was worshipping God and relationship with God, evil was worshipping and serving self and other created things...and the loss of relationship with god.
Satan’s temptation was “Believe and trust yourself…be your own master”
Catastrophic results then…and now.
The wise love to be right…but in the sense of knowing and doing what God wants
Since they love to “be right” in this sense…they are learning to love it when someone points out where they are currently wrong.
The fool despises the rumble strips on the highway that says… “You are veering out of your lane.”
The fool curses them for their loud noise, for disturbing their peace…as they drive into the ditch or oncoming traffic.
The wise…are disturbed by the rumble strips as well…but in a way that leads to course correction…they steer back onto the good and safe path.
No one, fool or wise…really enjoys those annoying rumble strips…but the fool refuses to heed them, the wise thanks God for them…and for their life-giving warning.
So…this month…start thinking about how you have and are making decisions.
Talk about this with your friends, in your groups
Take this chapter with you…this week…think it over, talk it over.
We are after transformation not mere information…this requires attention and effort more than just this single message.
Proverbs will give us principles on wise decisions…you won’t find a “simple plan for all your decisions”
But even though having a free heart and surrendered heart…won’t tell you exactly what to do in terms of specific decisions…it will certainly position you to make a wise decision.
We will find that we can become wise at the heart level…and become people whose hearts “produce” good things…words and decisions.