Life Design 6: Decide

. 8 min read

Discipleship series
Nov 2019, Christ Mountain Top
the Scripture, Psalm 23
Matthew 27.15-26, Pilate washes his hands of the matter
2 Corinthians 9.5-15
Moment, none
Our fall discipleship theme is “life design” and we finish
up today with “Decide” and the opportunity to make our personal commitments to
grow in spiritual practices in the coming year.
making is difficult. It is hard enough to pick a movie on Netflix or dinner at
a new restaurant. Add pressure to the decision making and we get stories in our
own lives just like Pilate. We wash our hands of it, we make catastrophic
choices, we refuse to own our stuff. In the words of a friend, “Our best
thinking got us here.”
       Decision making is difficult. Aside from
our own catastrophic choices, we are at risk from the catastrophic choices of
others – children, spouses, bosses, friends. Things happen. Four letter words
happen. And they happen to us, things beyond our control. We talked about some
of this in our first message in the series: Disruption. Each disruption – and
many of them are simply bad – also includes a gift – the opportunity to start
afresh. “You reap what you sow.” Even if we are not responsible for the
disruption, we have the opportunity to sow something new and different in hopes
of a new harvest.
       Decision making is difficult. Because we
think we make decisions with logic, but we don’t. We make it with the gut or,
in the words of Paul to the Corinthians, we “decide in the heart.”
Evans & Burnett: Professor Sheena Iyengar from the Columbia Business School
is a psycho-economist who specializes in decision making. Her famous “jam
study” was done using specialty jams in a grocery store. One week, the
researchers set up a table in the store showing off six different specialty
jams (with snazzy flavors like kiwi-orange, strawberry-lavender)…. With six
jams on display, 40 percent of the shoppers stopped to check out the six jams
and about a third of them bought one—about 13 percent of the shoppers.
       A few weeks later, in the same store,
with the same time frame, the researchers came back with twenty-four jams. This
time, 60 percent of the shoppers in the store stopped by—a 50 percent increase
over the six-jam display! But with twenty-four jams on display, only 3 percent
of the shoppers bought one.
       What does this research tell us? First,
that we love having options…, and, second, that we can’t deal with too many of
them…. In fact, most minds can choose effectively between only three to five
options (p 161-163).
       … The perception that there are
gazillions of possibilities that may have been great but that we never got to
is a powerful force against being at peace with our choice making; even if we
don’t know what it was, there must have been a better option out there, and we
missed it. In the Internet-powered … world, there are always a gazillion
options, so we are now more capable of being unhappy with our choices than any
generation in history has been. Yay for us! (pp. 172-173).

how do we make decisions? We narrow the list of options. That’s why our spiritual
practices list is four pages long! Actually, it has three categories, and each
category has three subcategories. And I don’t expect anyone to do everything
here. Pick from the menu what fits you best.
       Pick one way to grow in each of the major
three categories. And remember this is an experiment. You might try something
that doesn’t work for you. Believe me: I’ve tried lots of spiritual practices
that didn’t stick with me. I got started with them but couldn’t keep them going.
So, the next time I revisit my spiritual practices, instead of doing the same
thing and hoping for different results, I try something a little different in
hopes that I find what fits me, the way God has made me to love and follow
pray over a way to grow in your generosity. It is the spiritual antidote to
anxiety. One couple told me their tithing story. They had been church members
and regularly involved for years. Finally, they felt God pushing them to
embrace the call to tithe, to give a tenth to God. But it was scary. Kids in
school, need to save for retirement, and now we’ll have less to do it all. They
gulped, took the leap, and began to tithe. Then he got a promotion that more
than compensated for the reduction in income.
       It was interesting to talk with them
about their story, because they each told it differently. She said, “You never
know how God will surprise you!” He said, “But there is no guarantee! So I
don’t like to tell people about that.” They were both right. We have a God who
constantly surprises us, and a God who is completely independent of our
expectations. In the midst of the independence of God and the uncertainty of
life, we must make and own our choices. We don’t control every outcome, but we
do own our choices.
and owning our choices is the path to making better choices. You know the
proverb, “Be careful what you wish for.” Sometimes we make the wrong choices,
and we only compound the problem by refusing to own the choices. So we’re
stuck. We reap what we don’t want, but refuse to be responsible for what we
he gave to them their request,
he sent leanness into their souls.[1]
       Psalm 106.15
person starts the business they always wanted, but discovered that running it
was miserable. Another has a great career fueled by significant student debt,
but hates the work. The debt was a prison, keeping him from pursuing his dream.
A little experimentation along the way, what design theory calls prototyping,
would have helped. But it also helps to own our stuff and find a way to make
new choices going forward.
we have the opportunity to grow in our spiritual practices, including the grace
of giving. Paul’s instructions to the Corinthians regarding a special
collection they are taking moves from sowing and reaping to “enlarging the
harvest of your righteousness” and “overflow in every good work.” In the
language of Psalm 23, some folks will speak of their blessing and say, “My cup
overflows.” An old pastor of mine would respond, “How big is your cup? Is it a
thimble? Or a five gallon bucket?” What makes your cup larger, what expands the
capacity of your soul, what expands your harvest of righteousness, is deciding
in your heart to give yourself to God in fresh ways, to embrace spiritual
       I don’t know about you, but I want a BIG
cup. And I want God to fill it to overflowing. Saint Augustine prays:
narrow is the house of my soul
you to enter into it:
it be enlarged by you.
       It lies in ruins: build it up again. (The Confessions)
Munson’s funeral service, yesterday, included two pieces used in the main
worship services this weekend: “Here I Am Lord” and Psalm 23. Both were chosen
by her family, and given to me after the worship planning for this weekend.
       And, it reminded me how Carol modeled
much of this in her life. She endured some tough stuff, her first cancer in
1968, the year I was born. Instead of being focused on what was happening to
her, things that were outside her control, she focused on what she could
control: Her own decisions. And she owned that. She chose to focus on the love
of family, on the joy of adventure, on the surprise of discovery. And her cup
overflowed and was enlarged.
       Years ago, in the process of moving
toward ordination in The United Methodist Church, I went through an interview
that was just awful. I was convinced at the time – and still am – that one of
the interviewers had some of his own personal stuff get in the way. Because of
that interview, I did not get to move forward in the process and was held back
a whole year. I also had a choice to make: Would I fixate on what I could not
control? Would I stay angry at my life plan being delayed? Or would I figure
out what I could learn from it (the gift in the disruption), would I own my own
personal stuff (and there is some, I assure you), and plan a new way forward?
In that process, my cup was enlarged and overflowed.
       Just this week, I had the opportunity to
meet a man who told me the story of his massive stroke five years ago. Two
weeks in a medically induced coma and four months in the hospital. Today he has
some disability, but he does walk with a cane and his doctor shakes his head
looking at the chart and says, “It’s a miracle.” But five years ago, he had a
choice. He could focus on what he had lost, or he could choose to receive the
gift in the disruption. For him, that gift was a call to a much more healthy
life that includes sleep – something he routinely skimped. We call it Sabbath,
and one of the spiritual practices we encourage is at least one good night of
sleep each week. The word of the Lord that kept coming to him: “Be still and
know that I am God.” Sabbath. So, he owned his old choices and makes new ones,
in hopes that he will reap something new, his cup enlarged and overflowing.
how do we make decisions? Yes, we narrow the field of options to a manageable
size. Yes, we do our analysis, pros and cons. It is important to do analytics
and do it well. Nevertheless, when it comes to life, there are no certainties. We
make a choice, we “decide in our heart.” That’s why our spiritual practices are
so important. That is how we train our hearts toward better discernment. That
is how we make it possible for us to decide and not agonize, or decide and
agonize less.
       “Solid food is for the mature, who
because of practice have trained their faculties for the [discernment] of both
good and evil” (Hebrews 5.14 LEB).
Scripture, 2019: Ephesians 3:18-21
 I pray that you may
have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and
length and height and depth,  19 and to know the love of Christ
that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of
God.  20 Now to him who by the power at work within us is able
to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine,  21
to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever
and ever. Amen.
       Abundantly far more … both a big cup and
an overflowing one.
Joan/Phil begin to play our hymn, I want you to take out your Life Design
response form. You may already have some commitments in mind. Mark those down
and pray over your form. In a few moments, you will be invited to come forward
and place your commitment in the gift basket. If you wish, you may linger at
the altar for prayer before returning to your seat.
Bill Burnett & Dave Evans, Designing Your Life: How to Lead
a Well-Lived, Joyful Life

Harris, W. H., III, Ritzema, E., Brannan, R., Mangum, D., Dunham, J., Reimer,
J. A., & Wierenga, M. (Eds.). (2012). The Lexham English
(Ps 106:15). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.