Making Big Decisions
Before entering full-time ministry, I spent 25 years as a Special Agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). In this work, I made countless decisions that had life-or-death implications. Conversely, I had a front-row seat to the consequences of bad decision-making by many people I investigated and arrested. All decision-makers face dilemmas between competing sets of values and priorities. Doing what is “right” rather than what is expedient is determined by four things;
- What you worship
- Your conviction to what you say you believe
- Consistency in your decision-making process
- A willingness to critically analyze your decisions
Let me illustrate these points through a story. Early in my FBI leadership career, I responded to an armored car robbery. Two men had approached the armored car driver while he was doing a pickup at a local bank. The masked robbers exchanged gunfire with the armored car driver, seriously wounding him, before fleeing in a waiting car. A tip led us to a nearby house where we found the getaway car. We surrounded the home and eventually negotiated the surrender of two shooters inside. While we searched for the third subject, the getaway driver, I interviewed one of the two shooters. After a few hours, I got word that we had located and arrested the third suspect. As the third suspect entered the police station in handcuffs, I immediately recognized him. A few weeks before the robbery, a pastor friend had called me saying he met a young man who could use guidance and encouragement. I told my pastor friend to bring him over the same day. During our meeting, the young man admitted he had made bad decisions in high school but was pursuing his GED, wanted to join the military, and eventually get into law enforcement. I spoke with him for several hours about how God is good and just. I explained how he could change the trajectory of his life and how the military could help him accomplish his goals. I shared the truth of Jesus with him and encouraged him to find forgiveness and purpose in Christ’s promise. So, how does someone within a few weeks get from honorable goals and plans to handcuffs? To answer this question, let’s revisit the four points above.
What you worship - Everyone worships something. So, the most important decision one will ever make is whether to worship Jesus - or to worship something(s) lesser. Following Jesus changes everything for the believer. Once one makes that decision rightly, we begin to see things from the objective truth of God’s will and not subjectively from our selfish desires. I assess that young man knew of God - but had not submitted himself to God. He worshiped his friends, money, acceptance by the group, and a lifestyle rooted in cultural lies. What you worship dictates your decision-making, so choose wisely. Proverbs 2:6 says, “For the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth comes knowledge and understanding.”
Your conviction to what you say you believe - Right now, your internal philosopher is most likely trying to reason at least two things; the rationalization that every non-Christian does not become a bank robber, and that there are innumerable “good things” done by people who do not follow God. It is here that one has to grasp selfless obedience. Romans 12:2 says “to not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” In this, we receive a call to action in being “transformed” and “renewing” our minds. Why? So that we will know the “will of God.” To make good decisions, it is not enough to merely identify as a Christian but to actively be “transformed” in our conviction in Christ. Those who do good things outside their conviction to Christ do them selfishly - not selflessly. God still controls those things for His good, but Christians should be marked by selfless decision-making through faithful obedience to God’s will.
Consistency in your decision-making process - I often have people tell me how conflicted they are about their decisions. I get it. Decisions are seldom between “good” and the “bad.” Most of the time, the hard choices are between various levels of bad. This young man had to decide whether to deny his friends or help them rob an armored car. To many of us, this seems like an easy decision. However, how often have we decided to deny God-honoring decisions because we chose someone else's approval over His? When reflecting honestly, you most likely learned more life lessons from bad choices than good ones. By God’s grace, we grow through consequences and experiences and thus find greater consistency in decision-making. C.S. Lewis wrote that “good and evil increase at compound interest. That's why the little decisions we make every day are of infinite importance.” So, this is why consistency in your process matters. Develop good habits like being in God’s word, gathering data, being patient, asking good questions, and seeking wise counsel. Ultimately, we have to make decisions - so make them confidently. Remember, if you seek God’s will and have done so consistently, then accept the consequences of your action. Your decisions will not always be good, but you can defend your process.
A willingness to critically analyze your decisions - Maybe the best habit I carried with me from the military and the FBI is the practice of the “after-action review.” It is good to be confident in your decisions and defend your process - but we must be humble enough to admit when we are wrong and grow from our mistakes. Doing so makes us more dependent on God. We tend to write off bad decisions instead of learning from them and thus often delaying the consequences. Proverbs 26:11 states “Like a dog that returns to its vomit is a fool who repeats his folly.” Handcuffs are real, but the most severe consequences are not for this world but for the next. Pride is often our worst enemy, but by admitting our shortcomings we grow in humility, dependence, and grace toward others.
I am not aware of the young man’s decisions after the consequence of this very public sin. His natural state, and mine, cannot be changed on our own. It requires us to come to Christ in repentance and accept the gift of salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ.
Surrender desires not of Christ and adopt His desires, your will for His will, and your rebellion for faithful obedience. Without that, your decisions will be inherently flawed, but in Him, you will receive grace, wisdom, and confidence.
Matt Espenshade is and elder and Executive Pastor of The Journey Church in Lebanon, Tennessee. Prior to full-time ministry, he served as an Army officer and enjoyed a 24-year career as a Special Agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). During his career, he served in various leadership positions in New York, Texas, Africa, and Europe, before retiring as the Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Nashville office. He has a B.S. from Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, PA, and M.S. in Organizational Leadership from Norwich University in Northfield, VT. Matt is also an adjunct professor at Cumberland University and serves on the board of BlueSky Global Ministries.
- Decision Making, The Church