Chapter 23 – Choices

 

When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

– John 8:12, NIV

We make so many choices each day – tiny insignificant decisions as well as the more impactful ones. When our will is aligned to the will of God, the choices that we make will honour Him. So may we surrender our choices to God. Of course, this is much easier said than done. If our choices and our will were constantly in His hands, how much more magnificent and beautiful and sinless would our lives be…? But it is not that easy. Sometimes to learn to continually surrender our choices to God we have to even surrender to Him the act of surrender itself. We can be fearful, hesitant, unwilling to give over to Him some of the choices we make, knowing that we may sometimes need to sacrifice the priority of our personal comfort or pleasure in priority of His Kingdom. But, knowing that it is His will and His calling for us to surrender to Him, we give into His hands our willingness (or lack of) to give our all over into His will; we surrender to Him our heartfelt surrender, or apparent inability to surrender, regarding the choices that we make. From there He can teach us how to surrender to His will and make us more open to doing so, more open to Him moving in our lives and more able to give our everything to Him. God can develop in us an excitement about surrender to Him, as He shows us His goodness and we become aware that His choices for us always far exceed our own; His ability and His desires reach far beyond the limits of our imagination. How exciting a life it is, to live with our choices and our will entirely in His hands!

He who makes himself his own master subjects himself to a fool for a master.

– Bernard

Over the years I have become self-aware enough to recognise that in my own strength I am nothing – I make mistakes and mess things up and cause problems all the time. Being my own ‘master’ is therefore problematic. Also, though, I would not particularly like to see anyone else as my ‘master’: I have learnt on numerous occasions of the fallibility of humanity, and that even those we really trust have the capacity to let us down in ways that can destroy us. This poses a potential problem. If I am not my own master and nor do I wish anyone else to be ‘master’ over me, what IS my life? Who governs it? Who guides my choices and directs my steps and leads me in life?

Anyone who might feel reluctant to surrender his will to the will of another should remember Jesus’ words, `Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin.’ We must of necessity be servant to someone, either to God or to sin. The sinner prides himself on his independence, completely overlooking the fact that he is the weak slave of the sins that rule his members. The man who surrenders to Christ exchanges a cruel slave driver for a kind and gentle master whose yoke is easy and whose burden is light.

– A. W. Tozer

The answer is clear, though not always easy. God does not let us down, and His choices for us are always good. We can set Him as our master and trust Him to lead us. When we surrender to Him our choices we can trust Him to guide us in making the right decisions according to His will. Jean-Pierre de Caussade offers us this counsel: “Since God offers to manage our affairs for us, let us once and for all hand them over to His infinite wisdom, in order to occupy ourselves only with Himself and what belongs to Him.” Sounds like a good plan!

One day when I lived in Bolivia I was in a particularly tricky situation and began thinking about this need to surrender each of our choices to God. I decided to go against the cultural norm and refuse to give a bribe, believing it to be God’s will – wanting to honour Him above my own needs. I don’t judge other people who do choose to give bribes in such situations – each person will have their own reasons and their own motivations before God – but in this situation I felt that I did what was right. This is what I wrote that day:

Surrendering our choices to God can be costly. As I write this I’m having some issues sorting out my visa while living in Bolivia – I’ve been living here over six months and still haven’t received my visa, despite asking about it all the time and filling in all the documents that they ask of me. I’ve found that almost every time I return to Immigration or the Police offices, they demand new and previously unmentioned documents (which cost money, and which they didn’t demand of any of the other missionaries in our ministry), and more money in general. Sometimes officials will refer me to other officials, who refer me to others, and then to others – all of whom saying that it’s not their problem but someone else’s; that they can do nothing for me. It got rather frustrating at one point this past week when I was told at the Police station that to fill in a certain document I need to show my passport (the original, not photocopies) – but then told at Immigration that in order to return my passport to me they’d need this particular document. Even though I returned several times over the week, neither party would give in but kept saying “It’s not our problem that you don’t have it; we can’t give you what you want from us unless you present to us what we need”. What could I do? I couldn’t take back my passport without the document, but couldn’t do the document without presenting my passport. In the police station when frustratedly asking what then I should do, the officer began asking for bribes. I felt like I’d never get my passport back, never get my visa, and certainly never get my residents’ identity card. There seemed to be no way that either party would give in without the illegal and immoral bribe that was being quietly but plainly requested.

This morning I spent six long hours in Immigration arguing with officials, and waiting in queues to argue with other officials – to no avail. In the early afternoon back at the house I cried out to God, surrendering this choice to Him – whether to go with their behind-the-scenes system which didn’t seem to be God’s way and to get everything sorted much more quickly, easily and cheaply, OR to wait in an apparently hopeless situation for some miracle to happen, all the while being charged more and more time and money that I didn’t have to spare. As I cried out to God I felt a subtle but noticeable surge of faith in that God honours integrity as we choose to honour Him with our choices even when it costs us and puts us in difficult situations – that He would provide, somehow, for my visa situation without me needing to “bring about the fulfillment of the promise by [sinful] human effort” (Galatians 4:21-31 NLT).

Later this afternoon I returned to Immigration for the umpteenth time, with very little hope and feeling sorry for myself, but determined not to give up. To my incredible surprise, fifteen minutes after arriving at the building I left the building with passport in hand and a huge grin on my face. I’ve never been at the Santa Cruz Immigration office for anything less than three hours, and each visit usually takes four or five hours to get through all the queues and sort out the documents and payments. I really don’t know what happened in there this afternoon, other than that God shifted SOMETHING – and I get the feeling that this had something to do with my time of surrender to God and the determination to keep my integrity that I’d felt earlier in the afternoon.

Surrendering our choices to God is costly, and it doesn’t always work this way that God does an apparent miracle as soon as we surrender – sometimes we have to suffer and struggle through things for His sake rather than taking the often “easier” option of sin. This is what I believed would happen to me, that I’d struggle with this for who knows how long, but that at some point God would provide in some way: He always provides for His will. I don’t know how different things would have been for me if I’d continued to stress without surrendering it to God, or if I’d chosen to go the “normal” way and bribe the official to get me through the system rapidly and smoothly. But I can’t express how glad I am that God provided the strength to believe that He would honour my integrity if I don’t give up. Still, I don’t know what will come of my situation – I have to return the passport within fifteen days and sort out other important documents in the meantime, and who knows how long it’ll take to get everything sorted out under their “new system”. But I will trust God, that He will somehow provide for me to make the right choices in His strength.

 (In the end, after many more lengthy trips to the next Immigration office, I did receive my visa and my residents’ ID card – though not until three days before I was due to leave the country – so perhaps God was testing my faith! If it had come three days later I would have had to pay immense fines because I had technically been in the country illegally for nine months because I was without a visa after the first thirty days in the country, even though the fault was with their system. Praise God that it was sorted in time, without needing to pay the usual bribes!)

Bonhoeffer talked of the difference between making Christ our Saviour and making Him our Lord. He used the example of Jesus’ 12 disciples, stating that if they had simply accepted salvation through faith in Christ but decided against following Him as disciples (which would mean making Him their Lord, over every part of their lives – bringing complete transformation to their lifestyles), how different would their lives have been? They may have had respectable jobs or financial security or great family lives, but they would have missed out on so much that Jesus wanted to show and teach them. May Jesus not only be our Saviour, in that ‘we go to Heaven when we die’, but also our Lord – the governor of our choices and the director of everything we do.

John MacArthur wrote, “The question in salvation is not whether Jesus is Lord, but whether we are submissive to His lordship”. Elisabeth Elliot expanded on this, telling us that “Until the will and the affections are brought under the authority of Christ, we have not begun to understand, let alone to accept, His lordship”. This is an active decision on our part, to surrender our will and our choices to God. This means not simply saying the words, “God, I surrender my choices to You – please guide me”, but in everyday life and situations when faced with choices, giving them over to God and choosing to walk in His ways no matter what the cost. Do we choose Christ as our Lord? Then we must bring our will under His authority, giving over to Him our choices. Surrendering to God our choices can be costly, and sometimes we have to suffer and struggle through things for His sake rather than taking the “easier” option. Are we willing to pay that price, surrendering our own will in favour of His, and letting Him guide our everyday decisions instead of going our own way? 

Perfection does not consist in the knowledge of God’s order, but in submission to it. The order of God, the good pleasure of God, the will of God, the action of God, grace… all these are one and the same thing in this life. Perfection is nothing else than the faithful cooperation of the soul with the work of God. This ultimate purpose of our life grows and increases in our souls secretly and without our knowledge.

– Jean-Pierre de Caussade

Because of this ultimate purpose for our lives leading us to submit to God, let us first address the difficult choices in our lives, the big things – perhaps the decisions that worry us the most. What university course to choose, what job to go for, where to live, whether to buy that shiny new car or save the money to fix the roof – as we surrender, may we bring before God the choices that are most important in our lives. God wants to be involved! So easily we can think about these things and stress about these things and not even ask God what He thinks. If He is our Lord, He should be leading us in every big decision we make – He has not left us alone to ignore Him while we worry about what to choose! May we surrender to God our big and difficult choices, inviting Him to take over and lead.

I believe that God loves to be a part of the simple, everyday things too – the little decisions that we make on a daily basis. Things like how we discipline our children, how we respond to grumpy colleagues at work, how we organise time so that everything fits into the schedule – even what food we will eat. God is closer than our skin and desires to be more intimate with us than could ever be humanly possible. He wants to share everything with us and to have us share everything with Him – every breath, every thought, every tiny split-second choice. May we surrender to God these little choices, inviting Him to come and be a part of everything we think and every little decision we make, no matter how insignificant. Despite God’s holiness and the fact that His thoughts are higher than ours and that He is immeasurably different to us, He longs to be this close to us – and He cares more than we can imagine about our little meaningless, passing thoughts and cares and choices. It means so much to Him when we surrender to Him these little things too.

May we surrender to God our choices regarding our home life. How to respond to the family when they say or do wonderful things, or things that are not so wonderful. How to plan time and important commitments so that family still come as a priority. How to show love to the family in ways that they can receive. What to do in leisure time. How, when and where to spend time just talking with God at home. What colour to decorate the kitchen. God is so interested, and wants to walk with us through these things and guide us in our decisions. So may we surrender them to Him, allowing Him to shape our home life to fit the design of His Kingdom – and bringing glory to Him through the choices we make.

May we surrender to God our choices at work, inviting Him to be involved in everything we do in the workplace. The workplace is a mission field in which He has placed each of us. This does not mean that we should preach non-stop to our colleagues until they are fed up with us, but it does mean that we are called to live as God’s representatives wherever we work – making choices that honour Him and living in a way that shows (and conforms to the will of) the One we belong to. No matter what jobs we might do, be it construction or medicine or admin or cooking or social work or childcare or lecturing or managing projects or dentistry or whatever else, God is interested and He wants to be a part of the choices we make daily in the workplace. So may we surrender them to Him – giving Him opportunity to work through us and to speak to us and lead us every day to develop more and more of the character of Christ in our lives.

May we surrender to God our choices regarding our time. This one is difficult for many of us! We read in so many parts of the Bible about waiting on God, being still in His presence, listening at His feet – how difficult it can be to live by these things and put them into practice in our lives, in today’s age of busy-ness and of the necessity for everything to be instant! And, in an age of competitive success, how difficult it can be for some people to resist the temptation to shape life’s priorities around work and earning money. May we surrender our choices and our priorities to God. His ways are greater, His plans hold purpose, He knows what He is doing far better than we or society or culture do – and He should be the one to guide us. May we surrender to God our choices in the ways in which we manage our time – maybe God will challenge us to change things a little as a result of this, or maybe He will shape our priorities and enable us to see the importance of the important things and the unimportance of meaningless things – and give us the ability to manage time accordingly.

God doesn’t always tell us in words or audible voices or visions how to make the right choices. And the Bible doesn’t always seem to give clear answers to such questions either. God can guide us in individual situations through the Holy Spirit, and give us His wisdom to lead us. His wisdom sometimes seems quite different to the “wisdom” that the world offers, which revolves around knowledge and statistics and common sense and human security – God’s holy wisdom leads us into deeper intimacy with Him, sometimes involving risk and dependence and challenge, which might lead us outside our comfort zone. But the Bible is clear that when we ask God for wisdom, He doesn’t hold it back from us! It may take a little while to develop in our lives, and we must keep surrendering our own human understanding and earthly “wisdom” in order to be open to His; not presuming that we know everything but being willing to learn more of His character and let that guide our choices. May we surrender to God our choices, our minds and the “wisdom” that we possess – may we let God shape it and bring us to fuller understanding of His ways.

 

Wonderful Lord,

Thank You that You know what’s best, and care about me infinitely.

Thank You that You long to be involved in all I do.

I’m sorry for not always making the right choices, and for making bad choices in my own strength.

I’m sorry for having wrong priorities and sometimes letting the world’s lies guide my thoughts when making decisions.

I surrender my mind to You now – please take control, be my Lord, and guide the choices I make.

I choose to make my decisions based on You – Your will and Your guidance.

Please come and be a part of my big, intense decisions: I surrender these to You.

Please come and be a part of my small, everyday decisions: I surrender these to You.

Please come and be a part of my choices regarding my home life: I surrender these to You.

Please come and be a part of my choices regarding my time: I surrender these to You.

Please give me holy wisdom to replace my flawed understanding.

I surrender my mind to You – please lead me and guide my choices.

I surrender to Your will – please teach me, my God!

I give You my mind, and I ask that You’d plant in me Your own.

May I live in Your ways, guided by Your Spirit and glorifying You in every decision I make.

Amen

 

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