Two cowboys bought a couple of horses that they used to make some money during the summer. But when winter came, they found it cost too much to board them. So they turned the horses loose in a pasture where there was plenty to eat and made plans to pick them up the next spring. “How will we tell yours from mine when we pick them up?” one guy asked. “Easy,” replied the second. “We’ll cut the mane off mine and the tail off yours.” But by spring, when the men returned, the mane and tail had grown back to normal length. “Now what are we going to do?” asked the first. “I have no idea,” the second guy said, “So I guess I’ll take the black one and you can take the white one.
We all have choices to make in life, but unfortunately not all of them are as clear as black and white. Many decisions are just plain tough.
Arnold Schwarzenegger recently revealed, “Running for governor was the most difficult decision I've made in my entire life, except the one I made in 1978 when I decided to get a bikini wax.”
In recent years, I faced some extremely hard decisions. As I dealt with those dilemmas I began to realize that so much of the leadership role is tackling tough decisions. Church planters, pastors and ministry leaders seemingly always have a hard choice they are facing. So, how do we handle it?
Judge Ralph Currin of Pendleton, Oregon recently came up with a unique way of making tough decisions. For one entire day in his traffic court, Judge Currin listened to officers and defendants present their cases. Then the judge would flip a coin in the air and ask the defendants to call it. Interestingly enough, in all but one case, the defendants called the coin flip correctly and were found not guilty. A stunned review panel now faces the tough choice of what if any action to take against Judge Currin.
When we’re facing tough choices is there a better way to decide than to flip a coin?
Recently I was studying through the book of Proverbs looking for help in decision making. Here are seven strategies from Proverbs on how to face the tough choices in life.
Strategy number one for facing tough choices is Humility.
“When pride comes then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.”—Proverbs 11:2
“Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.”—Proverbs 26:12
“He who walks trusts in himself is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom is kept safe.”--—Proverbs 28:26
Solomon suggests that the really tough decisions have to be met with a humble attitude. Sure, we need God-confidence, but if we think we know it all, we’ll be in trouble.
“Money” magazine reported a while back about a group of people who were asked which is longer, the Panama Canal or Suez Canal. Then they were asked how certain they were about their answer. Among those who were 60% certain, 50% got the answer correct, so that group was 10% too certain. But among those who said they were 90% certain, only 65% got the answer right—they were 25% too sure. The report made the point that the more convinced we are of our knowledge, the bigger the gap between what we think we know and what we actually know. The more we think we know, the less wise we may actually be. Wisdom comes through humility.
John Wooden put it this way: “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”
In his book, “Good to Great” Jim Collins uncovered a common denominator on great leaders. He calls is, “extreme personal humility.”
When we face tough choices, adopting a humble spirit helps.
Strategy number two for facing tough choices is Homework.
“The plans of the diligent lead to profit.”—Proverbs 21:5
“The wisdom of the prudent is to give thought to their ways.”—Proverbs 14:8
“The wise look ahead to see what is coming, but fools deceive themselves.”—Proverbs 14:8 (NLT)
“The prudent see danger and take refuge, but the simple keep going and suffer for it.”—Proverbs 27:12
Solomon encourages us to do our homework before pulling the trigger on a big decision.
An aspiring politician gave the speech his best shot. When he finished the candidate looked out on the crowd and asked, “Are there any questions?” Someone in the back yelled out, “Who else is running?”
Patrick Morley wrote, “When do we make poor decisions? When we don’t have our facts straight…Keep collecting data. Write it down so you don’t forget it. Talk to wise counselors, get other people’s perspective. Talk to experts who have skill.”
We need to do the hard homework as we face big choices.
Strategy number three for facing tough choices is Patience.
“It is not good to have zeal without knowledge or to be hasty and miss the way.”—Proverbs 19:2
“A patient man has great understanding.”—Proverbs 14:29
In my early ministry days I made a few bad choices simply because I had “zeal without knowledge.” I’m starting to realize that slowing down, taking some time, getting away from the decision for a bit, and going slow make for better decisions.
Les Parrot, in his book, “3 Seconds” makes this observation: “If you’ve ever taken a multiple-choice exam like the SAT, you’ve probably been told not to change your first choice, even if, on second thought, you think an alternative answer is probably correct. The common wisdom here is that your initial instincts are the best. But research actually shows this isn’t a good strategy. In fact, thirty-three studies over seventy years suggest that sticking with your first instinct is not a smart approach. Researchers found that when test-takers second-guess and change their answers, it’s most often from incorrect to correct,”
A Chinese proverb says, “One moment of patience may ward off great disaster. One moment of impatience may ruin a whole life.”
A Dutch proverb added, “A handful of patience is worth more than a bushel full of brains.”
It doesn’t matter if we’re Chinese or Dutch or whatever, if we’re impatient we will tend toward making bad choices. Tough decisions need time, distance and prayer.
Strategy number four for facing tough choices is Stability.
“A wise man keeps himself under control.”—Proverbs 29:11
“A crushed spirit who can bear?”—Proverbs 18:14
Years ago I ran across what is known as the “Peak to Peak Principle.” This principle basically says that we should make the major decisions in life when we’re at an emotional peak, rather than when we’re at an emotional valley.
When we’re depressed, disillusioned, discouraged and down we should avoid making major life-changing decisions. We will probably make a bad decision because of our emotional state. The time to make major decisions is when we’re up, when we’re at a peak—because from that peak we can see the next peak. We will have a better perspective.
I’ve seen too many colleagues make disastrous decisions when they are down. That helped me this past year. I had my share of tough days and weeks. But I wouldn’t allow myself, actually my wife wouldn’t allow me to make big decisions when down. Wait until the peak to make the tough choice.
Strategy five for making tough choices is Discernment.
“The mocker seeks wisdom and finds none, but knowledge comes easily to the discerning.”—Proverbs 14:6“
A discerning man keeps wisdom in view…”
The word “discern” is used fifteen times in the book of Proverbs.
Discernment is clearness of mental sight. It’s the ability to see clearly enough to make tough calls. It’s an inner knowing.
And discernment comes in three different ways. First, discernment is a personality trait. Have you ever taken the Myers/Briggs type indicator? One of the grids that tool uncovers is a discernment grid. Some folks are naturally a bit more discerning, a bit more intuitive than others.
Second, discernment is a spiritual gift. 2 Corinthians 12:10 talks about the “gift of discernment.” Some people supernaturally have discernment.
Third, and this is critical, discernment is a learned skill. Paul prays in the book of Philippians that we would be more discerning. John encourages us to “discern the spirits” in 1 John and Proverbs tells us to grow in discernment. So even if it isn’t natural to us or supernatural to us we can develop it.
How do we develop it? By facing tough choices! Perhaps the real tough decision we’re facing is not this one, but the next one. We simply need to keep growing and growing and as we do, we’ll get better at this.
The sixth strategy for facing tough decisions is Advice.
“Wisdom is found in those who take advice.”—Proverbs 10:8
“The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice.”—Proverbs 12:15
“Listen to advice and accept instruction and in the end you will be wise.”—Proverbs 19:20
“Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.”—Proverbs 15:22
Bill Cosby quipped, “A word to the wise ain't necessary, it's the stupid ones who need the advice.”
An C. K. Chesterton admitted: “I owe my success to having listened respectfully to the very best advice, and then going away and doing the exact opposite.”
Taking advice is not easy. An article in The Chicago Tribune, entitled, “Most People Immune to Sound Words of Wisdom” said: “It’s a shame really, that human beings are so lousy at taking advice. There must be some sort of biological nerve ending in our brains that send s off an alarm whenever advice filters into our consciousness and tells us, ‘Reject, blunder on your own.’”
One of the keys to the effectiveness of GHC and the GHC Network is our mentoring and coaching systems. We don’t have to face tough decisions alone. There is someone, or even a group of someones, who have probably already faced a similar choice in their life and ministry. If I can get connected and stay connected to them, I’m going to be much better off when I face the biggies.
One last strategy number for facing tough choices is Prayer.
“There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the Lord…for victory rests with the Lord.”—Proverbs 21:30-31
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight.”—Proverbs 3:5-6
Roberta Hestenes hit it on the head when she said, “When the fear of God is gone, the decisions of daily life are threatened.”
Perhaps God is allowing me to face the tough decisions because he really wants me to turn to Him and rely on Him more. We can’t do it without him.
Its been said that we’re not born winners and we’re not born losers, we’re all born choosers. And if we take Solomon’s suggestions and work on humility, do our homework, have some patience, move toward stability, develop discernment, listen to advice and make sure we’re praying …we’ll chooses wisely—even in the tough choices.