How do I know which decision is right?
Which path should I take?
In life and ministry we often come to a crossroads. A decision that will forever change our life. One path seams easier. The other path is blocked by fear. Choosing a path can be confusing and frightening. It can leave us endlessly analyzing each decision.
Over the years, I have faced many fearful decisions: starting an AIDS ministry in South Africa, opening an AIDS care home, beginning to train Zulu pastors, and taking the Regional Director role in East Africa. Looking back, I see a pattern in the decision making process. I had a list of questions I asked myself, but I usually got stuck on this: Will I take the path marked FEAR?
In many parts of life, avoiding fear is wise. Fear keeps me from playing hopscotch in traffic and jumping rope with cobras. It keeps me safe.
But what about following God? When God calls me to follow, it’s not to safety, it’s to faith. Faith by its very nature means stepping out beyond my ability and control. This causes me to feel anxious and fearful because I am not in control. This initial feeling of fear is normal. As much as I don’t like the feeling of fear, I am learning that it can actually help me see which path God wants me to take.
How do I know which decision is right?
Take the path marked FEAR.
Walk towards fear, not away from it.
I use fear as a compass to show me the right path. If I don’t have fear, it is probably the easy path, the well travelled path. If I have fear, it is often because I am getting ready to follow God down the unmarked trail into the wilderness. I don’t know what lies ahead. The path marked FEAR is the path of faith.
That is the path I want to be on!
“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness…when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Cor. 12:9-10
How can we use fear?
Below are 7 ways that fear can point us in the right direction. Using fear like a compass will show us the right path. When we feel like we don’t know which way to go, fear can guide us.
If you have the courage to walk towards fear, your life will never be the same. God will use you in ways you never dreamed. I don’t know where God will lead you, but God does…and He is a great travel guide.
1. Walk towards the fear of failure.
What happens when there is a ministry opportunity and I have the desire and gifting to do it? I get excited about it! But this is when fear begins to creep in. Fear reminds me of all my inadequacies, of all the logical or logistical reasons why it is not a good idea and of all the ‘better’ options I should pursue. I am fearful when my hearts leading/gifting and my inability intersect. In other words, fear creeps in when it is my area of gifting but is way beyond my ability. Deep down, I know it’s what God wants me to do. I know I should, but I know I can’t.
Fear actually helps me identify the path where I must fully trust God instead of myself. I am fearful when an opportunity is before me that part of me is saying “Yes, this is what you were made to do” and part of me is saying “There is NO WAY you can do this!” Every step of faith is a step up. God calls us to harder and harder things. But even though the steps are harder, I learn to trust Him more each time. He is faithful and will carry us through!
Years ago, when starting an AIDS ministry in South Africa, we were praying about two options: opening a care home or doing home based care. The care home thrilled me, but also terrified me. How could I raise $150,000, plus monthly operating expenses? I couldn’t. If it was up to me it would be an epic fail. I distinctly remember this question coming to mind: “Will you trust Me?”. God wanted me to step out in faith into something that would utterly fail if He didn’t come through. God loves to show His power in our weakness! When there is an inner tension that says: “I know I should, but I know I can’t”, this is a path to take.
One of my mentors often asks: “What in your life can ONLY be explained as a work of God?” When I walk away from fear, the answer will always be “nothing”. When I walk towards fear God will do things that can only be explained as a work of God.
“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” Eph. 3:20-21
2. Walk towards the fear of the unknown.
I am fearful of stepping into the unknown. I don’t know about you, but I am rather fond of comfort (at least the facade of comfort we sedate ourselves with). In actuality, every single day is in His hands, whether we live in Tampa or Tanzania, Toronto or Timbuktu.
Fear of leaving comfort is actually fear of leaving the details in God’s hands. Fear is faith’s companion. Without the initial fear, there is nothing for faith to overcome. I can trust that if God planned the path, He has also planned the details. We must face fear with faith.
We saw God do this in our move to Tanzania. All of the details were completely unknown. How would we raise the extra funds? Where would we live? Could I actually learn another language? How would our kids adjust? I have often delayed decisions “until I had a peace about it”. But I was actually waiting until I “figured out” the details. God didn’t ask me to approve the details, He asked me to trust that His plan was best. When I followed God, He worked out all the details far better than I could have.
I do still wait for the Holy Spirit to give me peace before proceeding with decisions (2 Cor. 2:12-13), but peace only comes after I submit to God’s plan. True peace comes in two steps. Step one is the peace that comes from submitting to in God’s power to work out the details. Step two is the peace that comes from the Holy Spirit to confirm a decision in our heart, often in a way that “surpasses all understanding”. (Phil. 4:7)
The greatest gain is found in the unknown. I want God to use me, but this requires stepping out in faith. If Abraham had stayed in Ur would we even know his name? Probably not. Step into the unknown. God’s already been there….and He makes a great travel guide.
“Go…to the land that I will show you.” Gen. 12:1
“Go …and behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matt. 28:19-20
3. Walk towards the fear of losing comfort.
I am fearful of losing what I have grown comfortable with. This can be things, relationships, activities, ministries, conveniences, etc. The list is infinite and personal for everyone. These things aren’t evil, in fact most of them are blessings from God. But if I hold them with a tight fist I will never truly follow God. God wants me to face the fear of losing them and hold them with an open hand.
After 8 years in South Africa, leaving was a sad day for our family. Sometimes God takes things away. We left a great home, friends, pets, ministries and a motorcycle. But all these things were gifts from God. If He gave them, He can take them. And if He was good enough to give them, He can easily replace them if it is best. Even if He doesn’t, trading temporal comforts for eternal rewards is always a good trade. It’s never easy, but it’s always best.
“The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” Job 1:21
“Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.” Luke 18:29-30
4. Walk with your eyes on the destination.
Keeping our eyes on the destination makes the path less fearful. Why does one path feel fearful? Because of what we are looking at. One path looks comfortable, one path looks fearful. But what lies beyond? What is at the end? The path marked FEAR leads to being completely open to whatever the Master calls me to do. It leads to a “Well done good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your master”! It’s hard, but it’s worth it.
Here is how this helped me when facing the decision to take the role of Regional Director and move to East Africa. I felt fear knowing the decision would be hard and require massive change (moving countries, learning a new language, raising more support, etc.). But my greater fear was looking to the end of my life. I was more afraid that I would get to the end of my life and have God say to me: “I had so much more that I wanted to use you for. If only you had trusted me…”
God is going to work, and He uses willing servants. God used Moses, but because of Moses’ fear he wasn’t God’s mouthpiece. Aaron was. Moses missed a greater opportunity. I fear missing an opportunity to follow God more than I fear the unknown or loss of comfort.
“His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’” Matt. 25:21
5. Walk towards something, not away from something.
When the path I am on suddenly becomes more fearful, I don’t immediately run. Sometimes God calls us to change our path. Sometimes He calls us to stay. I only change paths if I am running towards something, not running away from something. Many times walking towards fear means staying right where I am and facing problems or dealing with conflict. Don’t fall into the temptation of using a ministry change as an excuse to avoid problems or conflict.
“Fight the good fight of the faith.” 1 Tim. 6:12
6. Walk away from the path marked comfort.
If you aren’t fearful, walk away.
If I am not fearful, that path probably leads somewhere I don’t want to go. When a ministry decision is set before me, I don’t always feel fear. Some ministry paths are luring because they don’t cause fear. But I avoid these because they don’t lead where I want to go.
I am not fearful of ministry opportunities that I know are a bad idea. When I don’t have a passion for a ministry, know it is not my gifting, or don’t feel God leading …do I feel any fear? Nope. I know it isn’t right for me.
Also, I am not fearful of ministry opportunities when I think I can handle something. This can happen in two different ways. First, I won’t feel fear if I am not stepping out in faith to do something God sized. Second,I won’t feel fear if I am trusting in my ability to change the world.
Finally, I am not fearful of ministry opportunities that keep me comfortable. I like the comfortable path, but it doesn’t lead where I want to go.
Something that God recently struck me with was this: If I am not facing fear…I am probably on the easy path. I am probably avoiding some of the BIG things that I know God has placed on my heart. I have probably made excuses, or used someone else’s advice as an excuse to avoid doing something. So I settle into doing what is expected, normal and safe in ministry and the fear goes down. But when I do this…have I really conquered fear? No. I just ran away from it. What in our life will utterly fail if God doesn’t come through?
“Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant.” 2 Cor. 3:5
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” 2 Cor. 4:7
7. Walk towards FEAR, but not in FEAR:
Walking towards fear doesn’t mean walking in fear. Walking towards fear means facing our fears. Walking in fear means avoiding our fears. Joshua was commanded to not fear…but to walk towards something very fearful. That takes courage.
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Josh. 1:9
Why does God make the path fearful (and sometimes hidden)?
Because He does everything for His glory. God doesn't want servants that embezzle glory. God receives maximum glory when He doesn’t reveal His plan and I still confidently follow Him into a fearful situation. When I walk by faith without anxiety it shows the world that that God is God and I am not. I can’t embezzle glory when it is clearly not my plan or power. God alone gets the glory.
"For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another." Is. 48:11
“God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong…so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” 1 Cor. 1:27, 29
How can you know which decision is right?
Take the path marked FEAR.
Use fear as a compass to show you the right path.
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one” marked FEAR,
“And that has made all the difference.”
(a tweaked Robert Frost poem)
What is God calling YOU to do?
May you find the courage to walk towards fear, not away from it.
“fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Is. 41:10
Take the path marked FEAR.
It will change your life…and your eternity.
One Last Thing
May I ask you a favor?
If you were you encouraged or challenged, please share this.
Give the gift of encouragement to a friend or missionary.