The Bible and Difficult Choices
Most of our decisions are relatively unimportant. Imagine yourself in the oral hygiene aisle at Wal-Mart. It probably does not matter very much to your life whether you choose the toothpaste that whitens your teeth while freshening your breath, or the one that gives you fresher breath while whitening your teeth. Either one will probably do about the same. Choices such as which gas station you use to fill your car with gas; which cell phone carrier you use; whether you buy the honey wheat bread or the one with all the little nuts; these are routine and generally do not amount to much. These fill our day and most of them are relatively unimportant. Let’s call these “level 3” choices. These can be changed frequently. They require little effort.
Some choices are more important. If you choose typewriter repair as your profession you are going to deal with the consequences of never having any work. If you choose to live in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan you should be prepared for the extreme cold that winter brings. These choices are more serious than the brand of t-shirt you buy. (If you choose to live in the UP I would buy the wool ones). Let’s call these “level 2” choices. They have some life-changing implications, but they are not ones from which a person is unable to recover. You can learn a new profession but not without some difficulty. You can move to North Carolina, but not without some expense and effort on your part.
Even further, there are decisions we have in which we are tested as to whether we are going to follow Christ or not. These choices are deal-breakers. They mark out our path through life. Some of these choices occur in the moment such as the decision to follow Christ in salvation. Others are daily decisions such as whether to invest some time reading the Bible or not. When it comes to these kinds of choices, going in the wrong direction can result in severe consequences. These are “level 1” choices. Moses’ decision to strike the rock instead of speaking to it as God commanded, and thereby give God the glory He alone deserved, caused him to miss out on experiencing the Promised Land for himself. Demas forsook Paul and fled to Thessalonica. This was likely not a spur of the moment decision but one that was precipitated by hundreds of less dramatic ones, all of them leading him away from loving God and towards loving the world. Level 1 choices, whether dramatic or not, are the ones where we either follow God or follow something or someone else.
In Psalm 119 we find a man with two incredible things going on in his life. First, we find someone who is committed to following after God. You cannot read the Psalm without noticing this. In nearly every verse, and there are one hundred seventy six of them, he refers to God’s Word in some fashion. He refers to it with terms such as precepts, statutes, judgments, law, commandments, testimonies, and ordinances. Because of the time in which the writer lived, he probably had very little of the Old Testament available to him and none of the New Testament at all. Every appellation that he pours out on God’s “word” is in reference to the Pentateuch and maybe a couple historical books like Joshua or Judges/Ruth. He has a limited view of truth from our perspective as we have the entire Scriptures. Yet he is fully committed to what is there because even though it is incomplete in its scope, it is not incomplete in its dealing with the heart of man. God’s Word is powerful to save and to change the life in every part. By committing himself to following God’s word this man is demonstrating that he is committed to following after God. The second thing we discover about this man is that he is suffering. While the psalmist never identifies the cause of his suffering, it is certain that he is in great difficulty. It may have had something to do with lies which were told about him by his enemies (69). These were apparently very important people too (23). He refers to himself as being afflicted (50), and under the persecution of others (51). He describes this as “horror” which is the result of wicked people hurting him (53). He talks about what life was like before his afflictions came to him (67). He refers to himself as being in great trouble (81) and desperately needing the Lord to help him (84). He recognizes that on various occasions he was near death (87).
How important do you think decisions are for a person going through difficulties like these listed here? Decisions are crucial when your life is on the line. So where does this man turn for counsel? Remember that he is committed to following after God. Because of this initial choice, he turns to the right source of comfort. He writes that God’s Word illumines his path (105). To the contrary, he also notes that whatever direction does not come from God’s truth is “false” and he rejects it out of hand (104). This is an important cluster of verses for the contemporary Christian. The way ahead, he admits, includes an “evil way” (101) which he wants to avoid. Because of this he rejoices that God’s truth is “sweeter than honey” to his mouth (103). While the “evil way” includes a trap that his enemies have laid before him (110), he has chosen to follow after God’s way (112).
What difficult decisions do you face today? What problems do you see coming up quickly from behind you? What trials are about to overwhelm you? Whatever they are, you can be confident that God’s Word has the solution. It is sufficient in all things. Seek the Lord to give you wisdom for the choices you will have to take. Ask Him to teach you (33); to give you understanding (34); to help you follow His way (35); to incline your heart to choose what is right over what is convenient (36); to help you avoid the emptiness of the world that seems so easy and alluring (37); to ground you in His truth (38); to lift you up (39); and ultimately, to enliven you from the depths of your despair (37, 40).
As God makes plain to you the way in which He wants you to go, you will find yourself ordering your steps in God’s truth (133); delighting in God’s commandments (143); and resting in His peace (165). You will go from a troubled Christian with all the accompanying sorrows and fears to an upright, joyful, praise-filled saint (171). Certainly, there will be times when you feel a little bit lost, but at least you know that God is watching over you like a shepherd keeps his sheep. How wonderful to know that even if you do stray a bit off of the pathway, God will be there to steer you back on track (176).