Straight talk on healthy decision making

alltheplacesAll the Places to Go: How Will You Know?
John Ortberg

Jesus said, “Knock and the door will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7). But as pastor and bestselling author John Ortberg points out in his most recent book, Jesus doesn’t say which door to knock on, how loud we should knock or how long we should keep it up.

All the places to go…. How will you know?

Ortberg shamelessly plays off the Dr. Seuss classic Oh, the Places You’ll Go to introduce the tension between what we want and what God would have for us. And in typical Ortberg fashion, he fills his chapters with biblical principles, personal stories, practical suggestions and feel-good humour to keep the pages turning.

As an author whose audience spans the evangelical spectrum, Ortberg’s strategy of responding to life challenges by mining for biblical principles is highly effective. He digs deep enough to reveal insightful discoveries, without going so far that readers feeling incapable of making these discoveries on their own.

Ortberg’s most valuable contributions are his rebuttals against common opinions that don’t stand up to the biblical landscape and that negatively alter people’s perspectives on what a healthy decision making process looks like. For example:

  • “Feeling ready” is highly overrated. God is looking for obedience.
  • Beware of manipulating other people by using spiritual language to claim divine authority for your own foolish will. Using theologically loaded phrases like, “I was called” or “God told me” can be a disingenuous and abusive way of smoothing over real issues of conflict, incompetence, ambition or personal choice.
  • If “having peace about it” were the ultimate criterion for going through open doors, nobody in the Bible would have done anything God asked.
  • Sometimes, the way a person chooses to go through a door matters more than which door they actually go through.

On a personal note, I felt convicted when I read Ortberg’s response to a myth he calls, “If I can’t tell which door to choose, either God is doing something wrong or I am.” Though at times, I have genuinely wanted to know the best road to take, there have been occasions when I simply wanted “a way to be relieved of the anxiety that comes with taking responsibility for making a difficult decision.”

Facing a decision is a catalyst for personal discovery and growth, but we can miss opportunity if we focus too hard on finding the “right” door. An unclear answer to prayer for guidance does not mean something is wrong; it can actually mean you will benefit more by grappling with options than by receiving a divine edict.

The ability to make wise decisions is one of the most critical skills a person can develop. Every parent, teacher and church leader would love to see those they influence exhibit mature decision making abilities, yet few resources outline the process in a way that captivates readers as Ortberg does. On a larger scale, corporate decision making groups (leadership teams, finance teams, etc.) may be challenged to develop an intentional strategy for listening to God and one another as they consider which path to take.

Ortberg’s ability to engage his audience from multiple angles makes this an attractive option for personal reading or small group discussion. A DVD and participant’s guide (not covered by this review) are available.

And should you find this resource unhelpful, just remember that God can use even the wrong road (err, book) to bring us to the right place.

—Keith Reed is the associate director of extended learning at Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary Canada (Langley, B.C.). He previously served Jericho Ridge Community Church (Langley) as associate pastor for the past eight years.

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