Concerning Challenging Choices

Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend have written an excellent book on the topic entitled “Boundaries”. They assert that “having clear boundaries is essential to a healthy, balanced lifestyle. A boundary is a personal property line that marks those things for which we are responsible. In other words, boundaries define who we are and who we are not.” They offer a series of outstanding suggestions for setting physical, mental, emotional and spiritual boundaries. For those attempting to construct paradigms for making life-decisions, it is definitely worth the read.

should-i-should-i-not.JPGThere are some general principles that, in my estimation, need to be underscored. First, every decision should be bathed in prayer. That goes without saying for those who are committed to walking by faith and not by sight (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:7). Second, every effort must be made to live according to the wisdom which comes from above, not human wisdom. In this regard, several passages come to mind. A couple of these are:

Proverbs 3:5-6, 5Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; 6in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”

Ephesians 5:15-17, 15Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.”

In addition seeking God through prayer and sincere efforts to discern His will, I’d like to share something that I picked up years ago, when I was involved in campus ministry in Lubbock, Texas. I’ve found that most of the time, when people ask me for advise about making decisions, they are caught in the rapid flow of life-events and don’t really have time to take time to read a lengthy book on the topic. So, this series of questions has proven to be helpful. I’ve re-worked it a couple of times, but it remains largely intact. For those who are wrestling with making a decision and need some help weighing the options, I’ve found these questions to be helpful:

Is it commanded? …John 14:15; James 1:25

Is it condemned? …Romans 1:29ff; Galatians 5:16ff

Is it harmful to my body? …1 Corinthians 6:19-20

Is it good stewardship? …1 Corinthians 4:2; 1 Peter 4:10

— Is it in accord with truth in Jesus? …Ephesians 4:17ff

— Will it help me set my heart on things above? …Colossians 3:1ff

Will it harm my influence? …Matthew 5:13ff

Will it help others see “The Light”? …John 8:12

Will it put me in “bad company”? …1 Corinthians 15:33

Will it edify others? myself? …Proverbs 13:20

Could I encourage others to do it? …Hebrews 3:13

Would I be ashamed of it? …Romans 6:19ff

Will it glorify God? …1 Corinthians 10:31; 1 Peter 4:11

Will it grieve the Holy Spirit? …Ephesians 4:30

Will it enslave me? …John 8:34; Romans 6:15ff

Do I have doubts? …Romans 14:23

Does the desire to do it come “from faith”? …Romans 14:23

Two additional passages have proven to be helpful to me, as well. These are:

1 Blessed are those
who do not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,

2 but who delight in the law of the LORD
and meditate on his law day and night.

3 They are like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers.

4 Not so the wicked!
They are like chaff
that the wind blows away.

5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.

6 For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will be destroyed.

— Psalm 1:1-6

— — — — — — — — — —

1LORD, who may dwell in your sanctuary?
Who may live on your holy mountain?

2 Those whose walk is blameless,
who do what is righteous,
who speak the truth from their hearts;

3 who have no slander on their tongues,
who do their neighbors no wrong,
who cast no slur on others;

4 who despise those whose ways are vile
but honor whoever fears the LORD;
who keep their oaths even when it hurts;

5 who lend money to the poor without interest
and do not accept bribes against the innocent.
Whoever does these things
will never be shaken.

— Psalm 15:1-5

Well, hopefully these thoughts will be helpful for someone out there in blogland. What other principles do you find helpful? What other passages do you find beneficial when it comes to providing guidance for making decisions?

© Bill Williams, September 29, 2006

About a fellow sojourner

a sojourner in life, trying to follow in the steps of Jesus.
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11 Responses to Concerning Challenging Choices

  1. Kathy says:

    Wow! Bill, what excellent guidelines for decision making. Probably the most difficult part is making the decision to make the decision. 🙂

    Another question that I try to apply to the decision making process is, of the possible outcomes of various possibilities from which to choose, which scars can I live with the rest of my life?

    We so often can see the possible positive results of our proposed decisions, but do we equally consider the other side of this coin which can cause pain in various degrees, which in turn leave scars. Which ones can I live with the rest of my life without being buried in constant remorse? As Jesus put it, have I counted the full cost of this decision?

  2. Mag says:

    I’ve bloglined this list to my favorites and plan to print it out. Necessary read for anybody in leadership…or growing into it.

    One of those things most of us find out about after the fact.

    I love how he talks about healthy boundaries being of varying degrees of permeability depending on how open or closed the “gate” needs to be. I used to think that if a relationship “changed”, it needed fixing.

    Now, I’m much more likely to trust time, various peoples levels of varying degree of maturity…each of us with varying wounds and needs…each needing space at different times for different reasons with our without any clear answer.

    I pursue my marriage relationship beyond boundaries more so…but all others, I’ve learned to let go of some idealic things and learned to “let go and let God” as a result of reading this book.

    I just really used to try to figure everything out too a fault, to the breaking down of too many boundaries. Hard to explain really, but relationships are really just that complex. God needs time to work with people…without me in the way.

    Why I wrote all that I really have no clue.

    Anyway, great book. (Boundaries for Marriage is also excellent. Boundaries for Children was helpful. Boundaries for Pets…Boundaries for (okay so not Pets…yet! Though I can imagine it would be helpful!)


  3. Greg England says:

    As usual, good stuff. This isn’t quite along the line you are writing here, but I learned years ago when I am angry to see that as a red warning light on the dashboard of my heart. Usually I am angry because I am not getting my way! It’s time to recognize that for what it is and settle down. Too, when I am angry (which isn’t nearly as often as at one time in my life) I give my wife, children and good friends permission (in advance) to laugh at me! That has done more to dissipate anger than anything.
    As for the list you gave, can’t add to it right now, but will think about it.

  4. Niki Nowell says:

    You have no idea what good timing you’ve had with this post. I’ll be contacting you soon Bill. Thank you!

  5. Mark Wilson says:

    Hi mag

    > I’ve learned to let go of some idealic things and
    > learned to “let go and let God” as a result of
    > reading this book.

    Yes it’s a great book, Boundaries. I was astonished to see there is a boundary between me and God. That helped me to stop being co-dependant on God. Truly.

    > I just really used to try to figure everything out
    > too a fault, to the breaking down of too many
    > boundaries. Hard to explain really

    You probably meant those words in a different way to me, but here is how I see those words.

    I have tremendous respect for my brother Bill, but I have learned to swerve away from lists of things to do, I go with my inner conscience now – and I find that is a much easier way to go forward, more peaceful and less intense.

    I simply cannot follow rules, I am unable to, Romans says that rules are fertile ground for sin to become active. So I don’t even try.

    I just try to love one another the best I know how at that time. I know I will fail, depending on where I am at in my day, sometimes I fail more, sometimes I fail less… but that’s ok. I tried to love, that’s what matters. To NOT try, for fear of not being able to do it well, is to do nothing. That’s worse in my view.

    Bless you guys,

  6. ksreyes says:

    I will be printing this one out to keep in my Bible – it is THAT GOOD! Thank you, Bill.


  7. Mag says:

    Hey Mike:

    Hmmmm. Not being co-dependant on God? Interesting. Does the book address that? I’d be interested in reading that section. Not sure I’ve heard that expression before and I’d like to hear how the authors articulate that.

    I say that he is God and I am not. That pretty much established most “boundaries” with God fairly well for me!

    Though I can’t follow lists or rules in a legalistic way, I have found that I live best by the principles/wisdom/lists of the word of God. If I do not, even my best efforts are going to fall flat, hit the ground, or worse yet, hit the fan, even with God on my side. Yup.

    He wants us to learn wisdom and live it so that His name and His ways may be glorified.

    We are not to live legalistically. Wisdom is Jesus. Learning his ways. That puts a shield around us, a hedge of protection that many of us pray for.

    The more a person grows in influence and ministry, the more maturity in wisdom God will lead us.

    I used to think and went through a season where I thought that being “led by the Spirit” and following truth for that day was enough. I’ve come to the point now of learning that these sort of lists are safeguard for me. My bodyguards. My soul guards.

    People I counsel with and help, co-ministers, friends, need to feel safe and secure. Whatever we need to do to provide that atmosphere of ministry, we need to learn to do. Sometimes, it is being less “authentic” and more of what they need. Try to sell that to today’s “real”, “authentic” goals in Christianity and you may have problems, but it’s just what I’ve learned. Even my responses to people have begun to be built by what they need, not what I feel free to give.

    When I was talking about rationalizing, I think I was trying to say that if you live by your own thinking and planning, you risk disobeying. My thoughts need to be Christ’s thoughts, not me sitting around trying to figure out how I can present what I’m doing as “right”. This list of scriptures as a guide helped me articulate the difference personally.

    I highly recommend reviewing it with all diligence. It is not just a list. It is wisdom, which is Christ. It’s much easier to hear his voice when you already know what it sounds like. This list helps tune your ear to his voice so that it takes much less time in the heat of battle to hear a reminder and discern it is him.

    Blessings to all!

  8. bill says:

    Yes, Maggie. Your last comment seems to hit the nail on the head, especially when you refer to the list of Scriptures as a guide.

    What I think Mark may be seeking to avoid, though I don’t want to put words in his mouth, is what might be thought of as “check-list Christianity”. Some have suggested that all a person has to do is… and he or she is done. Where’s the walking in the light, or walking by the Spirit in that?

    While I am not suggesting that this list rises to the level of God’s list, I would remind us all that God has made a few lists of His own. I’ve come to think of these as filters that ensure my heart has coming into it what God wants. Or, conversely, that my life has going out of it what God wants. The key, whether we think of these sorts of things as lists, guidelines or filters, is to be sure that we are genuinely seekings to think, do and be what God wants.


  9. Mag says:

    Oops. I meant Mark. Apologies? (I have a friend Mike online at I was wondering how I would tell you two apart! If you don’t have the same name, that will certainly help!)

    Good balance, Bill. I get that. (“Sin guides” for praying have often scared me for the same reason. I get it.) I hope you are well today. May God’s face shine upon you and minister to you.

    We are studying Daniel right now…the Beth Moore study. (Very excellent, both her guide and the videos. Recommended study on my list…her best yet I’d say).

    She talks about how Shadrach, Meshack, and Abednigo could not have decided to be “resolved” at the moment of testing, staring the hot fire of death in the face. Their resolve came from a predetermined “daily resolve” that was already strong in them.

    I had that text in mind when I read your excellent blog. I realized that even more, on important matters of selflessness, I need to be PRE-resolved. Waiting to decide when I am tired, worn, and fragile is not the best time to be thinking about the right answer. The tests will bring to my words and actions what is already in my heart.

    I wish I’d had this list 10 years ago. As it was, I had some fires to go through. Unfortunately, unlike those three men, I came out “smellin’ like smoke”. Yup.

    But, God is a Redeemer. And I stand to praise Him today for being “all that” and more!

  10. Mark Wilson says:

    Hi Maggie and Bill

    > What I think Mark may be seeking to avoid,
    > is what might be thought of as “check-list
    > Christianity”. Some have suggested that all a
    > person has to do is… and he or she is done.

    Bingo. Yes. Thanks for helping me get that out Bill. I see that I have two different thoughts going on inside.

    I was driving to work today and I thought about keeping “lists” and I clearly felt that I should not strive to complete lists in order to be acceptable to Him (as I have before), because it’s Jesus who makes us righteous and our efforts NEVER can.

    And I also agree with Maggie that it’s good to put the information “in” ahead of time, so when we’re in the situation we have some wisdom that can be applied to the situation. It’s not about being acceptible, just having some wisdom for an ever-changing situation. Yes, I see that. Because when we’re IN the situation, what we do… is what we do. (I don’t have high expectations of myself or anyone else.) There is no ideal way… as maggie shared with her wisdom, each situation and each need (for a hurting people and a hurting world) is so different.

    Mag and Bill, you guys are a font of wisdom. Please keep letting it flow.

    Bless you,

  11. danski says:

    This post is brilliant. Thanks for your valuable insight and expository of this topic.

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