Advent 1 2017 Fear of Indecision

In the old hymn “O little town of Bethlehem” the first verse goes:

O little town of Bethlehem
How still we see thee lie
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight

<play clip>

The line “The hopes and fears of all the years” is going to form the basis of my leadup to Christmas in this time of Advent

I want to talk about 4 basic fears of the key people in the Christmas story and the solution to those fears that is Christ. 

We often think that biblical characters have it all together, but I want to look at how they were real people, just like us, with hopes and fears.[1]

The first fear I want to deal with today is exemplified by Joseph, the earthly step-father of Jesus.  The fear is the fear of decision making.

We often read the Bible with the skill of 20/20 hindsight.  We see how things work out in due course but for the participants in the bible story, that was not the case.  They were living out their lives trying to make the right decisions:  hoping that they got it right, fearing that they might get it wrong.

This clip from a film before my time might explain:

<Fiddler of the Roof clip.>

Tevye’s predicament was Joseph’s predicament and our predicament: having to make a decision and stand by that decision, but not knowing which is the right decision, when we are confronted with options.

Back to Joseph:

18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly

 

Put yourself in Joseph’s shoes for a moment (without the benefit of hindsight). He is engaged to Mary and loves her dearly and knows she is a virtuous and godly woman.  Engagement in ancient Israel had the same rules as marriage except for the physical union. However, just before they were to come together as man and wife, he suddenly discovers that she is pregnant.  Consider the shock that Joseph suffered: “My God, what shall I do? I love her, but…”  Indecision must have flooded in to him.

Joseph does not know what to do.  Go to the elders and risk Mary being stoned as an adulteress? stay with her and face the ignominy of living with the subject of scorn by the village? Divorce her quietly and write this relationship off as a bad experience?

The Bible says he was a kind man

Being a just man, Joseph knew that if Mary had been unfaithful to him it would be impossible to go through with the marriage. Yet his nature as a just man also did not want to make this an unnecessary hardship or stigma upon Mary. Joseph made the understandable decision to seek a quiet divorce.

Charles Spurgeon commenting on this quandary of Joseph commented: “When we have to do a severe thing, let us choose the tenderest manner. Maybe we shall not have to do it at all.”

20 But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” 24 When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25 but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

The angel of the Lord came to him and resolved his indecision: “Fear not, this is God working in your life.”

<video clip>

If only we too could have an angel come and tell us of which decision to make.

Many of us want someone else to make our decisions for us. We revert to being a child, waiting for a parent to tell us what to do; and secretly we also want them to decide so that if the wheels fall off, we can blame them and not ourselves.

When we face significant life-changing decisions, the fear of indecision can be a torment.

Our indecision comes from external factors but also from our own stuff.

Marva Dawn reminds us that besides the externally related hindrances to thoughtful, wise and genuinely Christian decision making, there are inner and more powerful hindrances…the most deafening voice is our own. Desires, fears, anxieties and obsessive worries, a treadmill of thoughts, issuing from a constantly chattering mind.[2]

 

But we do have someone to approach about our indecision.  God himself tells:

Psalm 32: 8 I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you

Last week we looked at the relationship we should have with the Holy Spirit (as I talked on story of Elisha and the Shunamite woman).  As we grow up in Christ, we learn to hear God’s voice in times of peace where we grow in out trust in him to lead us, so that in the hard times he can lead us out of torment and take the fear out of the decision-making process.

The Psalmist could write in response:

                Psalm 73:24 You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me with honor.

 

                Psalm 25:8-10 Good and upright is the Lord; therefore, he instructs sinners in the way. He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way. All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his decrees.

 

The will of God is discovered as we become acquainted with God, move in his ways, and become his friend. As the friendship grows, as the conformity grows, we will know instinctively what actions will please him, what decisions would be in accord with his way[3]                                                                 

            But sometimes our faith and trust are not as it should be and the Psalmist’s words of petition in Psalm 25 ring true for us:

 

            Psalm 25:4-5   Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long.

 

            We want to hear God and trust him to lead us, but we struggle with our doubts and indecisions

 

We have an enemy who wants us to indecisive. Some of His methods of his attack are to cause us to act independently of God and to act upon decisions that are contrary to the will of God; to lead us to act independent of God in times of decision; tempts us to lie or to believe his lie; …[4]

 

It is not until we refuse to trust ourselves that we will begin to trust God [5]

            But when we know more profoundly and listen more attentively to the God and the people to whom we belong, we make better decisions that reflect the character of that community and that God.[6]

 

                Proverbs 16: 9 The human mind plans the way, but the Lord directs the steps.

 

Trust is confidence in the character of God.  Firmly and deliberately we say, ‘I do not understand what God is doing or even where God is, but I know that he is out to do me good.’[7]

 

We may not have the physical manifestation of an angel of God to direct our decision making as Joseph had but we have the living Holy Spirit within us to guide us and lead us into right decisions. We need to train our ear to hear him and have the trust to follow through on what he says to us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



[1] Inspired by Bob Mumford “Hopes and Fears” in Rise Up magazine undated

[2] Marva Dawn Joy in Divine Wisdom: practices of discernment from other cultures and Christian traditions 85

 

[3] Richard Foster Celebration of Discipline 236

[4] Mark Bubeck The Adversary 80-82

[5]Michael Wells Sidetracked in the wilderness 15

 

[6] Marva Dawn 134

[7] Richard Foster Prayer: finding the heart’s true home 25