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Monday, September 12, 2011

The Error of Thoughtlessness

A wicked man puts up a bold front, but an upright man gives thought to his ways. --Proverbs 21: 29 NIV 1984

There is tremendous pressure in today's society to make quick decisions, act fast, or speak up. This is a recipe for disaster when coupled with the human tendency to avoid asking ourselves probing, reflective questions like, "Where did I learn this habit? How did I come to believe this or do that? Are my reasons sound?" Ultimately, it is very easy to go through life without thinking very deeply about our ways, and even easier to fall into sin without noticing how we got there. Even the most careful, introspective people can be guilty of this.

Speedy Decisions Sometimes Mean Impulsivity and Thoughtlessness

It is very difficult to get into the habit of thinking about your motives before you act. I speak from personal experience. I think I was one of the most impulsive kids you could meet, and that was a lethal quality when paired with my tendency toward thoughtlessness. My repertoire of impulsive and thoughtless mistakes included an incident in which I participated in a rock throwing game that sent one flying through my parent's bedroom window. If only I had thought about what might happen when the game got started. Hadn't I been taught not to throw rocks? If I had really looked at myself at the moment I was asked if I wanted to play, I might have seen that my desire to be likeable to my friends was outweighing all other concerns and everything I had been taught. If I had thought about it, I think I still could have had fun, just without all the trouble.

There are widely-accepted cultural proverbs that seem to pressure us not to think too long before we act, like this one, attributed to sixteenth-century writer Joseph Addison: "He who hesitates is lost." The Biblical proverb at the beginning of this post seems to directly contradict this idea on first glance. Are we to believe that the Bible tell us to hesitate before everything we do? Isn't it also wisdom to act quickly before opportunities are lost?

Did Jesus Model Impulsivity?

If I just focus on the life of Jesus, I see plenty of examples of unplanned behavior. Jesus turned water into wine at Cana ( John 2: 1-11); spoke to the sinful woman at the well when she walked up to draw water (John 4: 1-26); and healed a blind man on the way into Jerusalem for the last time (Mark 10: 46-52 please note as well that Bartimaeus was rewarded for his impulsivity). I gather from these and many other examples that Jesus modeled impulsive, that is, unplanned, spur-of-the-moment decisions, as long as they proved righteous both at the time and later, upon further scrutiny.

When Jesus did something that seemed unplanned, both the action He took and the results were righteous, and that is a good Scriptural test for our own lives. We can learn from Him that seizing an opportunity is good, as long as the decision can stand up to rigorous testing and reflection long after the moment is past. At the same time, we recognize the challenge--we can't reflect on the goodness or badness of an issue for long, or the whole situation will pass. If Jesus had thought about the wedding couple, the woman at the well, or Bartimaeus for too long, these miracles would not have happened, and many would not have been saved.

Because of this, I see a careful line being drawn in Scripture between impulsiveness and thoughtlessness. You can be impulsive, but thoughtful, and do what is right. Alternatively, you can be hesitant, but thoughtless, and do what is wrong. The awareness of good and evil in everything you do is critical for a good outcome. You have to have that awareness before the situation arises, or you could end up doing the wrong thing (2 Timothy 2: 15; 2 Timothy 4: 2).

Strange as it sounds, the key to making a good impulsive decision is, well, good planning. Returning to the verse at the beginning of this post, we see that Proverbs 21: 29 is a not as much a commentary on impulsiveness as it is about this kind of moral planning. It is urging you not to put on a "bold front," that is, appearing to be so secure in what you are doing that people are afraid to challenge you or your actions. Rather, this proverb urges readers to do what they know for certain--through study and self-analysis--is a righteous action.

This is my challenge for you today: Plan ahead by knowing what the Bible says is right before leaving your home in the morning, so you don't have to hesitate and wonder about it when some situation arises during the day. That way, when evening comes and you are reflecting on your own behavior (a thing you should do regularly), you can say, "Yes, I made the right decision, and the reason why I acted that way is because the Bible told me so."

Until next time, this is me, reminding you to stay savvy and go out and put what you've learned into practice. God bless!