There is great power and freedom found in making decisions ahead of time.
I’ve always had a very hard time making decisions whether it was choosing a doughnut at the grocery store or choosing a college to attend. (Believe it or not, going to Auburn was not automatic for me.) My desire to make the Right Choice combined with an insatiable desire for more information too often puts me in a state of analysis paralysis. Just ask my kids sometime about shopping with me in Hobby Lobby. In high school, I once had to choose a nickname to go on the back of some sort of jersey (not athletic, I assure you). After much lengthy and painful deliberation, I chose “CNTDECYD.” (On the upside, this propensity will almost certainly keep me from ever getting a tattoo.)
Over recent years, though – and especially recent months – I’ve learned that making a single decision at the right time can virtually eliminate the need to even consider a myriad of other decisions. For example, when I’m trying to eat healthier, I tend to make wise choices when I can see the menu ahead of time. But if I wait until I’m in the restaurant hit with all of the delicious smells and tempting pictures, I often fail to think clearly about what I’m ordering.
I thought about this a few weeks ago when I noticed something new in a familiar passage. During the years in which Abraham and Sarah were traveling between Ur and the promised land, there were at least two occasions where Abraham told the local king that Sarah was his sister instead of his wife. Apparently, even at 90 years old, Sarah was still quite a looker, and Abraham feared that the king would kill him to take his wife. So instead, he just presented her as his sister. Sure enough, during the passage we were studying, King Abimelech took a fancy to Sarah and took her home to be his wife. Thankfully, the Lord protected her from harm, she was returned to Abraham, and – in a twist I still can’t quite understand – Abraham ends up with lots of additional wealth in the process.
Here’s the part of the story I had never noticed before. When Abimelech asked Abraham why he had lied about Sarah, he responded:
I did it because I thought, “There is no fear of God at all in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife.” Besides, she is indeed my sister, the daughter of my father though not the daughter of my mother, and she became my wife. And when God caused me to wander from my father’s house, I said to her, “This is the kindness you must do me: at every place to which we come, say of me, ‘He is my brother.’” Genesis 20:11-13 (emphasis mine)
Did you catch that? The whole “she’s my sister” thing had been agreed on ahead of time. Pre-making that bad decision had made lying almost effortless. (He had also apparently pre-rationalized the lie since she was technically his half-sister.)
Now clearly Abraham had also pre-made some good decisions. I think he was willing to leave his homeland in the first place because he had already decided to trust God. He was willing to sacrifice his son, Isaac, because he had already decided that Isaac ultimately belonged to the Lord.
We can’t avoid being faced with decisions that have to be made quickly in the heat of the moment, but the more we can decide ahead of time while we’re able to think clearly and carefully, the more likely it is that our split-second decisions will be good ones. All training – educational, military, Biblical, physical, mental – involves learning skills that will enable us to make the right choice in a future situation. It’s so important for us (and our children) to make good foundational decisions that will determine the ultimate direction of our lives.
- I will be faithful to my husband.
Once, many years ago, I caught myself flirting with a male coworker. It had happened completely unintentionally, but the second I realized what I was doing, I stopped. I had already decided that was not something I would participate in, so the temptation was gone, and the behavior ended immediately. Nothing ever happened beyond that single conversation. I didn’t have to mentally debate about whether to continue, and I didn’t try to rationalize it, because I already knew the answer.
- I believe the Bible to be the inerrant Word of God.
The culture constantly bombards us with messages that are contrary to God’s Word. A person can quickly and easily find arguments against Biblical teaching. In fact, a person can easily find churches that don’t believe in the inerrancy of Scripture. But this belief is absolute for me. Anything that I hear that is contrary to the word of God is automatically flagged as “false” in my mind and heart. His Word is the standard against which all else is measured.
- I will guard what my eyes see and what my ears hear.
Admittedly, this one has to be reinforced periodically. As I’m writing this, I’m thinking of a series on Netflix that I’ve become quite addicted to but that needs to be stopped. Most people would find it to be fairly harmless, but I know that it has already started affecting my mind in a negative way. I decided a long time ago that I wouldn’t watch R-rated movies. It’s very rare for me to see a PG-13 movie. I hardly ever read a “current” novel. I’m very influenced by what I see and hear, so I have to be on guard in those areas of input.
I don’t tell you these things to brag. They’re a battle strategy against a very real enemy who seeks to steal, kill, and destroy. And that enemy knows my propensity toward over-thinking which leads to razor-sharp rationalization skills. Putting me in a position of doubt and indecision is one of his favorite tactics. Making decisions ahead of time – before the moment actually arrives – is one of my most effective weapons.
A Tale of Two Holidays:
As many of you know, I’m in a season of paring down – both things that I own and weight that I’ve been carrying. I knew that Thanksgiving would be a major challenge in the weight-loss arena, and I was trying to figure out how to enjoy the holiday without undoing all of my hard work. For the first time ever, our family decided to go to Cracker Barrel instead of cooking a big meal at home. That was also going to be challenging, but using the “Does this spark joy?” standard from The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I decided ahead of time to focus on the foods that actually “made” Thanksgiving for me. I ate dressing, sweet potato casserole, cheese grits (randomly chosen by my son who was sharing a plate with me), and a few bites of dessert. In spite of that meal, pizza that night, and two trips to a bakery the next day, pre-made decisions allowed me to actually lose a pound and a half that week.
Fast forward to Christmas this past weekend. This time I didn’t know ahead of time what all would be served. Also, for three meals, I had to walk past every available item to fix my plate. Couple that with my love of All Casseroles, and it did not turn out well. Instead of losing weight, and in spite of feeling that I hadn’t done all that badly, I gained a pound and a half. Failing to consciously pre-make good decisions led to making bad choices in the heat (and smells) of the moment.
Perhaps food isn’t a big challenge for you, but I’m guessing you have at least one area of weakness. Maybe you’re making yet another New Year’s Resolution to address a challenging area of your life. What decision can you make today – while you’re thinking clearly – that will eliminate the need to decide when those moments of temptation come?