How many times have I been faced with trying to decide when and where to move in the work of the Lord? Way too many to count I can assure you. And in many of those instances it has been “me” and “my” understanding that has chosen the time and the place… leaning on my own understanding (Pro 3:5).
I got to thinking about that the other morning while studying my way through the Book of Acts once again as I reflected on Paul’s journeys. The many times he had to listen for the voice of the Spirit to make the right decision. Take a case in point where John Mark departed and Paul was left with making the decision of where he was to go.
Acts 13:13-14 Now when Paul and his party set sail from Paphos, they came to Perga in Pamphylia; and John, departing from them, returned to Jerusalem. 14 But when they departed from Perga, they came to Antioch in Pisidia, and went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day and sat down.
The decision to head to Antioch in Galatia was not an easy one as the way was fraught with danger, but after much prayer the Holy Spirit made it clear that was to be his next stop. And in the face of that decision, going north through the dangerous mountains was his path ahead. But how was he certain that it was the right decision? How was he certain it was the Holy Spirit’s leading? How do we know we are making the right decision? John Phillips provides some food for thought…
How to decide when and where to move in the work of the Lord. That is always a crucial question facing the Lord’s servants. Much of the decision-making is inevitably subjective; some of it has to be objective and some of it has to be contemplative, the result of quiet meditation on the Word of God. In the end the Holy Spirit makes it operative by tipping the scales of the decision-making process the way He wants them to go.
If we look at how Paul made his decision we see that it was decided partly by himself; it was his desire to share the gospel with the Jews in the local synagogue. That decision was also impacted by the decision of John Mark to quit and return to Jerusalem. But at the end of the day the Holy Spirit sealed the decision that was made in faith. Why? Because Paul and Barnabas waited. Look at the last part of verse 14… they came to Antioch in Pisidia, and went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day and sat down. They did not walk into the synagogue and announce to the men that they had come to expound on some theories of Paul’s famous teacher Hillel or to pass along the latest news from Jerusalem. They had come there looking for an opportunity to preach Christ and Him crucified. After prayer they believed that the Holy Spirit had led them to Antioch, but when the moment came they “waited” for Him to put His plan into operation. When the opportunity came they took it.
Acts 13:15 And after the reading of the Law and the Prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent to them, saying, “Men and brethren, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, say on.”
Think about Phillip’s four steps in the decision-making process: subjective, objective, contemplative and operative in terms of our understanding of those key words:
Subjective – decisions made based upon personal feelings, emotions, impressions or intuition.
Objective – decisions made based solely upon the facts.
Contemplative – decisions made based upon physical, intellectual, spiritual or social issues.
Operative – taking a decision based upon subjective, objective and contemplative analysis.
For us, as the bride of Christ, we are responsible through the Word and prayer for the first three, after which, like Paul, we sit and wait for the Holy Spirit to make it operative. He is the final arbitrator of that decision. Oh how often I have given plenty of thought to those first three steps and then taken the last one into my own hands! The reality is, if we will put our faith in Holy Spirit to lead us through subjective, objective and contemplative analysis of the decision before us, He will never lead us astray.
But what if we miss it during the first three steps?
If we are seeking His direction and waiting on Him we can be certain that He will make the necessary corrections in our thinking. The problem I often have is that after steps 1-3 I don’t wait. I have come to my conclusion and I don’t wait for the Holy Spirit’s approval, His making it operative. So, I have to be like Paul and spend more time with the Holy Spirit before I launch out on my own; the operative word being on my own! Because those are the results that I am going to get… my own!
Easy to say but harder to do. Better we should all make our decisions after all four steps of the SOCO process!