July 08, 2015

The Anatomy of a Great Decision

Written By Cary Schmidt

What do you do when the euphoria of a great decision suddenly vanishes?

The journey between sowing a great decision and reaping a great outcome is more difficult than we expect.

Last year I planted some peach trees in my back yard. Why? Because I’m crazy about peaches. But peaches aren’t instant. In fact, peaches aren’t even moderately fast. Peaches come so gradually, so slowly, that it’s nearly imperceptable—and frankly frustrating. The space between planting and peaches is excruciating—especially if you’re the tree!

Those baby peach trees endured a hot first summer with shallow roots. They lost all their leaves in the fall. Then winter blasted them for four solid, frozen months of snow, ice, sleet, wind, rain. On top of this, they are forcibly staked and strapped into place.

In the past 12 months they’ve had to endure exposure to the worst kinds of weather. To make matters worse, there are several more winters to endure before those trees are strong enough to bear fruit.

The path between planting and peaches is hard! Planting was easy. Sprouting is simple. Enduring—this is where the testing, proving, growing, and strengthening happens. Fruit doesn’t just follow planting—fruit only follows enduring.

You are the peach tree. Every good decision you’ve ever made is “the planting.” Let’s learn from this picture…

Do you ever feel like the Christian journey is hard? Have you ever felt like you got “the wind knocked out of you”, spiritually speaking? Have you ever second-guessed a great decision when suddenly life became harder after it was made?

Here’s what happens to me—maybe you can identify:

At some critical point of my life, I make a great decision—like getting into the Word, obeying God, being faithful to church, being generous, or honoring God in some way. These right decisions “feel” so great at first! The “buzz factor” is euphoric—it’s immediately refreshing to take right steps.

The euphoria of a great decision is fun, but it’s not what makes it a great decision. With or without the euphoria, a great decision is still right. Here’s where the problem comes in…

With a short time of making a great decision, something kicks my great decision in the gut. The wind—the energy, passion, and excitement behind the decision seems to dissipate. The “rightness” of the decision hasn’t changed, but the emotional “euphoria” does. It can be surprising and perplexing.

A great decision is right because it’s right, not because it’s easy, or convenient, or temporally fulfilling, or euphoric. It’s right because the long term outcome honors God and glorifies Him. Therefore, the goal of a great decision is not “to sustain the euphoria” or to “feel happy about it.” The goal of a great decision is to endure the testing to ultimately benefit from the inevitably good outcome.

The surprise impact of immediate resistance to a great decision is often confounding. After all, we all expect great decisions to provide immediate pay off—right? Isn’t that how we tend to define a great decision—by the immediacy and size of the payoff? Think about it…

We want every investment to yield immediate, dramatic increase (like a day trader gambling on penny stocks.) We want every real estate purchase to explode in value. We want every ministry effort to explode with long-term success. We want thirty minutes with our kids to correct every nuance of their internal spiritual battle. We want one appointment with a counselor to quick-correct twenty years of marital digression. We expect a daily vitamin to overcome years of bad health practices.

We make great decisions, often because we are in the grip of some debilitating distress, and we want relief. We come back to God. We get back in church. We renew our commitment. We restart our walk with God. We redouble our “try harder” determination. We set goals, join accountability groups, chart progress, and renew hope.

Then our hope is dashed against the rocks of hardness. Without fail, every single great decision you will ever make is destined for opposition. Why? Several reasons:

First, great decisions invite opposition. They put you on the hard road, the high road, the path of most resistance. Satan most opposes those who are moving forward.

Second, great decisions require great follow through. Great outcomes only arrive on the train of great endurance after patient growth and steadfastness.

Third, great decisions require stronger shoulders for bigger blessings. At the moment you make a great decision, you are not yet prepared to steward the greater outcomes. Your shoulders are not ready to bear those blessings yet.

Here’s my point. If, in season one, my peach trees myseriously exploded with an abundant peach harvest, they would have been destroyed. The weak branches would break, the tree would weaken and likely die. Yes, the very good but too early harvest of peaches would be the very thing that breaks the trees.

Such is life. Such is the nature of GREAT DECISIONS. They feel great for a moment. Then they get hard for a long time. Then they explode in fruitfulness for even longer!

Step One—You make a great decision. This is the very, very easy part. Anybody can make a decision. Far fewer actually take action, and even fewer endure.

Step Two—You briefly feel great. This is the deceptive part. This feeling is destined not to last, so expect the euphoria to be overcome by temporary “deciders remorse.”

Step Three—You face hardship in keeping your decision. This the reality part. Every great decision is destined for opposition. Expect it.

Step Four—You endure every opporunity and temptation to quit. You refuse to second guess, doubt, or run from your great decision.

Step Five—You mature through the testing. The great decision becomes your very own “Mr. Miyagi”—your teacher! (“Daniel-san—Wax on… wax off!”) It takes you through long, freezing winters, and stakes you in place through overwhelming weather—which all serves to strengthen you. In essence, your decision and the hardship it brings actually MATURES YOU!

Step Six—You steward the fruit of your great decision. Eventually the great decision does what you hoped it would—it bears fruit. But oh, the distance between planting and peaches was much more arduous and painful than you ever expected. Yet, now your branches can handle the weight. You’re ready to bear the blessings and steward the good outcomes of those great decisions you made so long ago. To go with the Karate Kid metaphor— “you’re ready to kick the teeth out of some obnoxious bully, and take home the tournament trophy!”

This is the anatomy of a GREAT decision. Deciding is easy. Enduring is hard. Bearing fruit is a stewardship of great joy.

The great decisions of life are easy to make, but NOT EASY to keep! Great decisions that produce great outcomes are those that lead you through deep valleys and desperate resistance.

All of this is why Paul called the Christian life a “fight” and a “warfare” and a “race.” It’s why he used words like “diligence” and “steadfast” and “weary” to describe the journey.

In case you are risk-averse, there is another alternative. Next to the path of most resistance lies the path of “least resistance.” It’s a much easier path, but it is tragically unfulfilling. You don’t have to plant a peach tree. You don’t have to put up with wearying winters. But in such case, you should not expect peaches either. Easy decisions with no commitment, no sacrifice, no endurance always lead to regretful outcomes.

Many Christians today are afflicted with decisional ADD. They try this, then they try that, then they dabble a bit here and there—like picking at a buffet that’s been sitting too long under heat lamps. Their lives are not characterized by commitment but by experiment. Their life motto is “try and see how it works out for me.”

The problem with this approach is that it is a vain attempt to win the race without actually running it. It’s an attempt to grow peaches without actually growing a tree. It’s a life philosophy that seeks great outcomes from flippant decisions. Life just doesn’t work that way.

In a long time of walking with Jesus, I’m ashamed to say I’ve barely survived a lot of testing times. Great decisions are a mixed bag. When you make one, you are inviting eventual joy, but immediate hardship. So often I have been naive. The hardship caught me off guard. I expected immediate life improvement in the wake of a great decision—and what I got instead was a solid kick in the gut!

Great decisions, however, always say, “Get up, get in the car, Daniel-san—we have more work to do!” And they eventually come back to win the day.

Understand the anatomy of a GREAT DECISION. Great decisions involve a tedious process of deciding, acting, testing, enduring, reaping, stewarding. Then embrace the process. Commit to it irreversibly. Refuse to renegotiate or reconsider. Dig in for the long journey toward maturity.

As soon as you set sail in a GREAT decision, expect a raging storm to blow in upon you. And in the middle of that storm, when you are tempted to sail back to harbour and safety—remember that the sun is shining on the other side of that storm—and STAY THE COURSE.

He Who sails with you is GREATER than everything that assails you!

“For when God made promise to Abraham, because he could swear by no greater, he sware by himself, 14 Saying, Surely blessing I will bless thee, and multiplying I will multiply thee. 15 And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise.” (Hebrews 6:13-15)