Some of the actions we take in life just don't come out right, do they? We might plan one thing, but in the course of living out the details of the plan, something quite different actually begins to blossom. We have a pretty good idea we are headed in a direction we will actually benefit from, but in the end, we almost lose something in the venture. What's going on here? In the simplest terms, we can plan all we want, but unless we submit those plans to God's purpose and his timing, we can have all the right plans but miss the timing or purpose he has for us. Therefore, we need to have some pretty well understood "tests" which will help us to determine of the action we are planning will actually fit into both God's purpose and his timing for our lives.
Honesty lives confident and carefree, but Shifty is sure to be exposed. (Proverbs 10:9 MSG)
These aren't rocket science by any means, but if we will keep them in mind, they should answer the "purpose" or "timing" question for us pretty well:
1. Is the decision we are making right now going to pass the integrity test? Another way of saying this is: Will the decision I am making right now actually reveal that what I say matches up with what I do? If we are to think about this carefully, we will realize quite readily God's desire is for our actions to match our testimony. What we say we are to do - there isn't supposed to be a disconnect. Sometimes we do things which just don't match our basic belief system. At other times, we don't explore to see if our decision will actually pass the "Word" test (what does God's Word say about it). Grey areas certainly exist, but if we cannot do something with a totally clear conscience, knowing it will align with what God says is right for us, we probably shouldn't go there at all. God knows how each of us functions - so if he restricts us from something, but may not seem to restrict another from the same action, we shouldn't resist this restriction. For us, the action is wrong.
2. If we take this action, will it actually do anything to improve who we are? If not, will it do anything to damage who we are? It goes without saying that there are actions we can take which will have absolutely no harm for us. We might not get "brought down" by the activity, but does it do anything to build us up? We cannot simply engage in activities which just leave us in "neutral" all the time as it applies to our growth. We need activities which will challenge us to grow. We certainly should not pursue the ones which will hurt us or others. These are clearly wrong for us. Those actions which are not "clearly wrong" may not be "clearly right" either. If they damage our reputation or testimony in the eyes of God or another who is trying to see God through us, those actions may not be "clearly right" for us!
3. Does the action we plan on taking actually help others draw nearer to Christ or understand his influence in our lives any clearer? This is a tough one because we really cannot always see and understand how another will see our actions, so we need the Holy Spirit to assist us with this one. It should be clear to us that we always, and I mean always, have someone watching us. The things we say and do show how much our words and actions align. We proclaim to be Christian, but are we always acting in a Christ-like manner. If I were to be painfully truthful with you, I could admit freely there is often a disconnect between what I say and what I do. This is the toughest part of my walk - ensuring my actions and words match. There are times when my actions might just present a "stumbling block" for my brother or sister who are looking on. I think the Apostle Paul dealt with this well in First Corinthians 8 when he dealt with meat offered to idols and whether it was okay to eat it. The meat isn't "tainted" by being offered - it is still good for eating . . . BUT a weaker brother or sister may get a little "hung up" on what the meat has been used for and see our eating it as an issue they just cannot resolve in their conscience. We need to be sensitive to the weaknesses, and even the questions, of others.
4. Does the choice have the benefit of producing a good outcome, a better outcome, or the best outcome for our lives? All choice can really be viewed as an investment of sorts. We can make "good" investments which return decent returns. We can make really "smart" investments which actually produce a little "healthier" return. Then we can make really "wise" investments which actually position us to have the best outcome or return on our investment. There is clearly a difference - each has a "yield" but it differs. This is where God's timing comes in to play - we need to understand his timing in our choices as much as we do the timing in how we invest our monies! Sometimes the timing can be off with our choices and we might get a "decent" return on the investment, but it is not fully what he would have planned for us if we had of waited on him for the timing!
Since all choice actually bears some type of outcome, it is important to ask if the outcome will hold up under the test of time. Nothing is more disappointing than to find we ahead or behind his timing, except to find what we hoped would hold up over the course of time actually does not. If we have to violate any principles in order to "open a door" for the opportunity, it is also probably going to be pretty disappointing for us in the end. If we will keep these principles in mind, asking the "right" questions of ourselves when we are faced with choices, we will likely not be outside of his purpose or his timing for our lives. In turn, the results will come a whole lot closer to the "best" for us. Just sayin!