I like to make plans and then follow those plans. I like certainty. I don’t like surprises, and I don’t like to make decisions when I’m not pretty certain about all the implications. Does this sound familiar? I think most of us are uncomfortable taking “leaps of faith.” Our culture is full of words and phrases that signify our desire for certainty – we talk about “predictability”, “doing your due diligence,” “making sure there will be a return on investment,” “minimizing risk,” “using your head,”….
Most of us are unsettled by uncertainty and we can get overwhelmed with the emotion (often fear) that comes up when we aren’t sure about what to do or what will happen in a given situation.
What clues does the Bible give us about how to face uncertainty? I think the Bible tells us to:
In many situations slowing down seems irrational. For some of us, the anxiety associated with not having closure leads us into making decisions too quickly and then closing ourselves off from other options. Psalm 27:14 says, “Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” A mentor of mine used to encourage me to “sleep on it” when I had a big decision to make or when I was trying to sort out a difficult situation. Slowing down allows God to bring ideas, options, and perspectives to mind that we might otherwise overlook. Waiting allows for situations to develop and for new information to come to light.
I often sense that the pressure we put on ourselves to make a decision or take action, in the face of uncertainty, is more about control than about the ACTUAL urgency of the situation. Rarely do the dire things we predict actually happen if we chose not to make a decision immediately. Let’s be honest, we want to take control. I want to take control and not leave events to chance. Where is God in all of this busy-ness and pressure we put on ourselves?
Ask and Listen
Ephesians 5: 8-10 says “for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.”
Discernment is the fancy word Christians use to describe the process of asking God’s guidance and then “listening” for a response. The darkness referred to in Ephesians is the unsettling uncertainly of this world – often brought on by evil. As children of the “light”, God wants us to have a different posture than the culture. He wants us to seek His desires in the tough situations we face.
Are we willing to turn to God in the face of uncertainty and surrender the control that we believe might help us achieve the outcomes we want? I think many times we don’t turn to God because we’re afraid that his guidance won’t align with our desires and plans. Many times, we’re right to be concerned. My experiences suggest that often God asks me to do things, say things, and respond to situations in ways that the culture thinks are foolish. Think about it: How many missionaries would we have if people really did the math and considered the risks of following God’s will? How many people would follow the Biblical mandate to tithe if not for God’s prompting? Often God does ask us to do things that don’t seem to “make sense” by the world’s standards.
The good news is that God also promises to equip us AND to give us peace when we do actively discern and follow His will.
Trust, Act, and Adjust
Finally, we often do have to act in the face of uncertainty. I wish I could say that God speaks so clearly that when it is time to act, we are always certain we know His will and we are assured that we are taking no risks. In my experience and the experience of others with whom I’ve walked the path of faith, that’s not likely. God can give us the peace to move forward with a decision when we have taken the time to allow Him to move in our hearts. We can always trust that He will not ask us to do something that is inconsistent with His teachings. Maybe He is simply waiting for us to trust him enough to take action, before he begins to refine our thinking and bring resources to our aid.
The classic trust scripture in the Bible is Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”
What does this “make your paths straight” mean. I believe it means that when we move out, trusting God, that even when things go in ways we don’t expect, He will straighten them out. If we never move, if we never take a risk, if we never relinquish control, how can He give us the gift of taking care of us? Most of the time when we face uncertainty, we have to do the best we can to sense God’s will, then we need to step out, allowing Him to guide and help us make adjustments along the way. We have to be open and trusting enough that we allow the situation to evolve in the way God intends.
Now this all sounds neat and tidy. Three things we should do when facing uncertainty – 1) slow down, 2) ask for God’s guidance and listen for His will, and 3) then trust, act, and adjust along the way. For those who have faced uncertainly and tried to enact these steps, you know that they are very difficult. I believe, however, that they are at the center of a true Christian experience. This process is what makes (or should make) Christians’ response to the craziness of this world so different from those of others. It takes a lifetime for God to perfect this process in us and for us to develop the trust in Him that is His heart’s desire.
God is with us in unsettling uncertainty. The question is, “Are we with God?” When the answer is “Yes”, we have the opportunity to not only be unburdened from anxiety, but we also may find that we get some spectacular, unexpected surprises!