How not to kick the can down the road
Suddenly I was confronted with a signpost showing two opposite directions, not what I was expecting as I walked the second leg of the Sandstone trail this Monday. Disconcertingly I was being asked to decide between two alternative routes to the next stage. By and large we don’t like making decisions. As essayist, Edward Dahlberg helpfully points out: “Every decision you make is a mistake.” So we procrastinate, we delay our decision, we kick the can even further down the road. This is what politicians tend to do, especially if the decision they are faced with has long-term benefits but short term costs. So government after government has dodged the need for a coherent and sustainable policy for social care. Make it someone else’s problem. But sooner or later a decision has to be made; in Kipling’s phrase, to bite the bullet. For our decisions decide who we become. It is how God has made us. We are created for decision-making; it’s what sets us apart as human beings. Decisions give us dignity. The Roman empire was built on slavery, people stripped of any meaningful choice. Your owner spoke; you obeyed. As simple as that – you just did what you were told, no possibility of thinking for yourself. But the cross of Christ has redeemed us from such an existence. As the apostle Paul celebrates “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” (Galatians 5:1) For being free to make decisions for ourselves is at the very heart of being a Christian. So Jesus invites his followers to follow, their decision. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said to (Simon and his brother Andrew), “and I will send you out to fish for people.” (Mark 1:16-18). At its heart to follow Jesus is a decision and a decision only I can take for myself. It just doesn’t happen by itself nor can anyone else sign us in. That has to be said loud in this commitment-avoiding age. It may be a climactic decision at some big event or one simply made over a period of time. Either way we are given the privilege, the responsibility of choice. I was only telling my cousin yesterday how one retired bachelor became a Christian during our time in Rochdale. Having considered the good news of Jesus through our Saints Alive course, he decided over breakfast to surrender his life to Christ But being by himself, Harold wanted to mark the occasion and so he got up, went into the hall, opened the front door and said “Come into my life, Lord Jesus.” However, such a decision is hugely important and needs our full consideration, not to be taken lightly. It takes time but there comes a point when a decision has to be made and to reject the temptation to leave it for another time.
Decision-making is at the heart of discipleship. It’s fascinating to note that in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus teaches: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34), to imply a once-for-all decision. However, in relating the same teaching Luke adds one key word: “Take up their cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23) to show that discipleship is also a decision to be made each day. Lots of decisions, most small and straight-forward and some not. But this is how we grow, how we mature as Christians - in our daily decision making. But again, as for me walking the Sandstone Trail, we may do our best to avoid making decisions for the simple reason is that decision implies risk. Decision – observed theologian Paul Tillich - is a risk rooted in the courage of being free. Sadly many of us lack courage and prefer to practice our can-kicking skills. I’ve been a Christian long enough to remember the rise and fall of the shepherding movement of the 1970s and early 1980s when good Christian folk decided to subcontract the responsibility of decision-making to their church leaders. This included where to live or amazingly, even who to marry. Sadly many were damaged and their Christian growth stunted but like all forms of false teaching there was an element of truth – we do need to share our decisions with our fellow disciples, at least those with a measure of wisdom, but not to the extent of handing over the responsibility of how to live our lives. In fact, the reality of following Christ each day means that we grow in confidence and competence in our decision making. After all it should be something that we are practicing each day. Certainly God promises his ongoing guidance through the resource of his Holy Spirit. Above all, he gives us the dignity of choice. And such is our security in Jesus that we may embrace risk. We do not fear failure because we are assured of his love and acceptance wherever we go. We are set free to follow unexpected paths and to leave the familiar behind, confidence in the presence of the Good Shepherd. I recall a seminal talk given by Bishop Stephen Verney when I was a young curate about to make a key decision on where to move. It seems that he was invited to take up his dream job. Wonderful! But then his other dream job became available and he didn’t know which one to take. So he prayed for guidance: ‘Lord, which one do you want me to accept?” And God’s answer: “You decide!”