"A prudent man foreseeth the evil, and hideth himself: but the simple pass on, and are punished" (Prov. 27:12).
Some people don't lead life: they follow it around. Take the case of John and Martha. Against the aggregate wisdom of everybody they knew, they got married. None of their friends believed they were right for each other. Even the minister almost refused to perform the ceremony. They married anyway. Predictably, they didn't get along. John spent a lot of time running around with "the boys" whose company he preferred to that of his wife, or luxuriating in his own machismo while he tooled around the local environs in his multihued van. Martha couldn't stand it. She even hated to get up in the morning. Their marriage was marked by arguments, fights, door slamming, and one partner or the other leaving and vowing never to return. Still, they continued to muddle along as (not quite) husband and wife. John and Martha got a good deal on their apartment and both were working, so they were in good shape financially. But one day John saw an ad in a magazine offering the glories and satisfactions of "owning your own business" and "retiring before you're forty" by becoming a "dealer" for a particular company's products. Two weeks after John had answered the ad, quit his job, and become a "dealer," the company folded. Amazingly enough, John could have gotten his old job back. But he couldn't accept the offer — pride wouldn't let him. He preferred to look for work with another company dealing in the same line of products. Martha, in the meantime — and at the worst conceivable time — conceived. They had been "careless." Since hers was the only steady source of family income and she had to leave work, their formerly optimistic financial picture evaporated. John finally took a job as a salesman at a local car dealership. The owner offered him a "special deal" on his old van in trade, and a discount on a yet newer one, fully equipped with stereo, carpeting throughout, and utterly ego-assuaging padded leather trim. John couldn't resist this bargain. Payments were "only" $150 a month more than what he had been paying. But more family fights ensued. Just after their first child was born, their marriage broke up, and each went his own way, with the child being put up for adoption. This tale of trauma which I have just outlined, while fictional in itself, is altogether too true in the lives of thousands of people. Individuals with good health, unaffected by catastrophic accidents or diseases, still manage almost by sheer dint of perversity to make themselves unhappy.
Living by Accident
Most of us don't have some perverse, masochistic urge to make ourselves unhappy. We'd rather not go through life blindfolded, living by accident as it were, bumping in to objects because we don't have the good sense to take the blindfold off. We don't consciously desire our own hurt, and there is a lot we can do to prevent it. We can think, reason, look ahead, open our eyes, make intelligent judgments, and otherwise use our brains. In short, we can learn to make wise decisions. In some ways, life is like chess, in others, like poker. It is like chess in that we call improve our lot by making the right decisions. We do have control over many things, such as our personal relationships with others, our careers, our goals, and our purchases, which are amenable to our conscious wills. Life is like poker in that there are some things over which we have no control: who our parents are, the state of health with which we were born, outside forces in the world, the state of the economy. But even when life deals you a bad hand, you can still come out pretty well off by skillfully managing the cards you hold. Or, as is demonstrated in Christ's famous parable of the talents, no matter how few abilities or advantages we start out with in life, we should still make the best of them. Let's look at the principles John and Martha could have applied in order to make their lives something other than an unmitigated string of disasters: — The Know-Your-Goals Principle. If John and Martha had each done some thinking on what life is all about before they got married, probably they both would have wound up with mates more suited to their personalities. Did John have a definite career in mind before he married Martha? Did he have some firm idea where marriage and family life fit into the overall pattern of his life? Had he ever sat down and considered his talents, interests, and abilities, and consciously decided what he wanted to do with his life? Had Martha really thought out what she wanted to do? Marriage, career, children, or what combination of these three? Had she really analyzed herself enough to know what kind of a husband she wanted? — The Trade-Off Principle. If John really wanted to marry Martha for her good qualities, was he willing to accept her bad traits also? If Martha really wanted John, was she willing to tolerate those personality and character traits that she now finds so annoying? In other words, John and Martha should have realized that no one is perfect, that we usually can't have something we desire without giving up something else in return. — The Counsel Principle. "In the multitude of counselors there is safety," wrote Solomon (Prov. 11:4). There is a basic law of statistics that when a large percentage of capable people agree on something, it should be considered seriously. In John and Martha's case, the overwhelming unanimity of the advice against their marriage should have suggested to them that they ought to postpone their marriage for a few months until they had more time to consider all the facts. Generally, when getting advice, one should strive to obtain quality advice from a diversity of sources. Quality advice should come from people who have no personal stake in a given matter, individuals who are far enough removed from the decision to look at it objectively. It should also be sough I from many different parties with different points of view and outlooks. Often, advice will vary and even objective observers will disagree among themselves on the best course of action. When advice is split, you have to examine additional criteria. Some decisions, because of their importance and permanence, deserve more attention. Decisions concerning marriage and career, for example, affect us for a longer period of time than most other choices we make in life. Did John and Martha really take that much time considering with whom they would like to spend the rest of their natural lives? Did John really mull over the decision to quit his job to start his "own" business? Were these deliberate, well-thought-out decisions made only after consulting with several businessmen, or were they spur-of-the-moment decisions? Impulse decisions may be tolerated to a degree when shopping in a grocery store where all we are risking is a few dollars, but they're certainly not for matters which will affect us for years to come. — The Get-the-Facts Principle. "He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him" (Prov. 18:13). This principle seems almost self-evident. Problems are sure to crop up when you don't have or can't get all the facts. When making decisions, we should ask ourselves. "What's the worst possible thing that could happen if I do such-and-such?" For example, John could have reasoned this way: "I don't know whether this ad really promises a genuinely advantageous business venture or not. It might. Then again, it might not. Now if this outfit really is on the up-and-up, it still might be years before my end of the business would get established, and I would be making as much as I do now. Furthermore, since most small businesses have a very rough time of it and many fail, there is a good probability that even if this company were honestly seeking independent outlets for their product. I could still have a lot of financial problems. On the other hand, maybe I don't have the talent for running my own business. Maybe the company will make demands on me that I don't know about now. If things don't work out. I will lose my job, and possibly I could be left 'up a creek.' Do the potential benefits of having my own business outweigh the risks? I've got to examine all the facts and get some more advice." By a hardheaded calculation of benefits and costs — the same process that Christ alluded to when he spoke of "counting the cost" — John would have come out of things much better off. Again, the Proverbs impart a judicious warning: "The simple believeth every word: but the prudent man looketh well to his going" (Prov. 14:15). — The You-Are-Your-Own-Worst-Enemy Principle. In order to impress someone else, to assuage one's ego, or to massage one's vanity, we will often be tempted to pursue a foolish course of action to our own hurt. In John's case, he went out and bought a new van when the family income was at a low ebb: $150 more a month is, quite literally, the price of pride. John should have asked himself whether the joys of cruising around in his personal macho-mobile were worth the added financial hardship to his family. Had he even attempted to make a right decision in a calm, clear-headed way, there is little doubt the outcome would have been different.
The "Plan Ahead" Principle
Human beings are not leaves to be blown around in the wind. We have been given minds with which to think. We can plan ahead before we act, look at what has gone before us, calculate the benefits and the costs. weigh the risks and the gains. We can, in short, approach life rationally. The typical negative response to this approach is to denounce it as too cold and calculating, as robbing life of its rich, warm spontaneity. It is summed up in the "manana" approach to life: live for the moment, soak up the "now," bask in the immediate. Rationality, thought, and planning sound dull and laborious and too much like work. The problem is, reality isn't so pliable. Today's now was yesterday's "manana." The fact that we have to pick between the lesser of two evils today is because we didn't care about today while it was still yesterday. The "manana" philosophy makes life even more difficult because events end up controlling us, causing many of our aspirations to go unrealized. In fact, it is only when we are able to control the events around us, when we actually try to guide our lives according to some sort of rational, coherent pattern — wise decision making, if you please — that we'll ever have enough freedom to be spontaneous anyway.
Solomon's Advice for Making Major Decisions by Jim E. Lea
One of the sources most often consulted by those seeking wisdom is the Proverbs of Solomon. Solomon, known as "the first great commercial king of Israel," was not only a wise ruler, but also a skilled diplomat and director of extensive shipping, trading, and mining ventures. However, Solomon is most often remembered as one of the wisest men who ever lived. His Proverbs contain a rich vein of practical principles worth mining for use in making major decisions. The key principle for making wise decisions, echoed throughout Proverbs, is: "Lean on, trust and be confident in the Lord with all your heart and mind. and do not rely on your own insight or understanding. In all your ways... acknowledge Him, and He will direct and make... plain your paths" (Prov. 3:5-6, The Amplified Bible).
Seek Out Facts
Of course, God will not make all a person's decisions for him the minute the words "Heavenly Father, please give me..." are formed on his lips. As Solomon explains, God wants us to learn to analyze and evaluate facts and make proper choices ourselves! Though God certainly helped Solomon to be wiser, Solomon put forth most of the effort himself. In fact, Solomon stresses throughout Proverbs that one must actively pursue wisdom, as well as knowledge (facts), insight, and understanding (Prov. 2:3-4; 23:12). Solomon dwells on the value of wisdom at length: "Wisdom is better than jewels, and all that you may desire cannot compare with her" (Prov. 8:11, RSV). "Happy is the man who finds wisdom, and the man who gets understanding, for the gain from it is better than gain from silver and its profit better than gold.... Long life is in her right hand: in her left hand are riches and honor. Her ways are ways of pleasantness" (Prov. 3:13-17, RSV). Solomon recommends one way of embracing wisdom: "He who walks with wise men becomes wise..." (Prov. 13:20, RSV). He further adds that "the mouth of the righteous brings forth wisdom" (Prov. 10:31, RSV). However, those who think they can sit around all day praying for knowledge, but who are unwilling to diligently seek it, will find themselves stagnating at their present mental level.
When it comes to the subject of counsel, Solomon discusses a number of vital principles to remember. He points out that a person's life-style always seems right and pure in his own eyes (Prov. 16:2), but goes on to warn that "he who trusts in his own mind is a fool: but he who walks in wisdom [trusts in God and righteous wise men — Prov. 3:5-8; 22:17-19] will be delivered" (Prov. 28:26, RSV). Solomon urges his readers to consult an "abundance of counselors" (Prov. 11:14) who will provide a variety of opinions from diverse viewpoints. He cautions that it is foolish and shameful to make a decision ("answer a matter") before one hears a number of qualified people's points of view ( Prov. 18:13), because the first person one consults with might sound convincing but be biased or simply unaware of certain facts (Prov. 18:17). If one seeks counsel, however, he'd better be totally open-minded, or all his efforts to seek out truth will come to naught. Once a person begins following Solomon's practical advice, develops a working relationship with his Creator, and seeks wisdom, facts, and counsel, he is ready to tackle the big decisions of life head-on and come out victorious.