When You Don't Know What to Do
"I can't stay here, but I don't know what to do or where to go!
Something has to change, but what specifically needs to change and how I do not know!
Help! I'm on the horns of a dilemma!"
Most of the time (for the Christian), life's troubles can and will be worked out with varying degrees of thoughtfulness, prayer, wise biblical counsel, and a little mix of patience. But, there are occasions that appear to be encrypted in such a way that we struggle mightily to identify a way forward.
Examples of the types of scenarios I have in mind may include an unwelcome physical or mental health diagnosis and worrisome treatment options, the choice between homeschooling your children or sending them off to public or private school, or perhaps the dilemma of having to choose between the home you love in one town and the job you depserately need in another.
To be on the horns of a dilemma suggests that you are facing a circumstance in which you must choose between two courses of action, both of which are unwelcome and unpleasant. Other ways of describing these dizzying scenarios include finding that you're "between the Devil and the deep blue sea," or "between a rock and a hard place" (Collins Dictionary).
If you're facing such a condition today, I want to offer you a fresh change of perspective that will encourage you to both trust and rest in the promises of God to his people. Drawing on a passage of Scripture that you may not have read recently, I want to point you to a biblical "baseline" of sorts. I want to show you that there is indeed a course of action for you to pursue while you wait on the Lord for clarity of thought.
What the Lord Requires
What follows is neither a call to legalism or lawlessness.
Instead, it is an acknowledgement that our faith necessarily produces fruit in our lives (however small or profound), even, or perhaps especially, when we face trial and tribulation. This is a critical point to grasp for the discussion at hand. Dr. R. Scott Clark, professor of church history at Westminster Seminary California, writes this:
Our good works do not justify us. They do not sanctify us. They do not save us but they are the “fruit and evidences” of a true and lively faith. Christ saved us by his obedience, death, and resurrection. The Spirit sanctifies by his grace. Our good works are the fruit of God’s gracious for us and in us.
In Deuteronomy 10:12-13, God, through his servant Moses, spoke the following words to Old Testament Israel:
“And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you except to fear the Lord your God by walking in all his ways, to love him, and to worship the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul? Keep the Lord’s commands and statutes I am giving you today, for your own good."
For our purposes here, I will not delve into the history and theological detail of this great book of the Bible. I would encourage you to read it in full, and to do so with the help of a trusted commentary. Suffice to say that in the book of Deuteronomy, as we read Moses's re-telling of the nation's history and its relationship to God's covenantal promises, we find ourselves in Israel's place as a rebellious people who undeservingly (and repeatedly) receive and abuse God's mercy, grace, and forgiveness.
With an eye toward that Old Testament historical context, we can now ask how the verses we're considering here might help us re-evaluate and re-think the difficult circumstances we're facing. To be sure, OT Israel was a nation. You're an individual. OT Israel was living out what would become a significant part of redemptive history. Your circumstances probably won't become part of church history. But, none of this means that your struggles don't matter.
As a unique individual, you have an opportunity and a calling to suffer well for God's glory, and to let your light so shine before others, that they might praise his name, as well (2 Cor. 4:7-9; Matt. 5:16).
Having said that, let's get back to your concerns.
You're on the horns of a dilemma, and you don't know what to do.
Nothing seems right. Everything feels wrong. There's no hope in sight, humanly speaking. But, is it true that there's no hope? Is it true that there's nothing you can do, such that you're at liberty to do nothing, or to make decisions out of the sheer desires of your flesh?
Consider: Even if you're suffering inncocently, that is, not as the result of your own sin, do you not have the responsibility as a follower of Christ and child of God to seek first the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 6:33)?
You already know this.
The trouble is, when the storms of life blow hard with no apparent end in sight, we grow tired, and then especially we're prone to wander. We need--you need--God's wisdom to draw you back in to a place of faithfulness. I believe Deut. 10:12-13 (followed by a discussion of v.16) can serve us as a type of recalibrating tool when we're stuck, and perhaps tempted by our flesh to give in to worldly wisdom or depsair.
Working with the Text
As you re-read our passage, would you consider thinking of it in personal terms? Think about your dilemma, and then replace the name of Israel with your own. It may sound like, "Lori, what does the Lord your God ask of you except to fear the Lord your God by walking in all his ways?"
Your mission is to consider, for example:
- What might it look like to fear the Lord in the midst of your trouble by walking in all his ways?
- How has your decision-making evidenced a fear of the Lord (Prov. 1:7)?
- How have you or have you not been walking as Jesus walked in specific relation to the issue at hand (1 Jn. 2:6)?
Continue this excercise through the rest of the passage, paying special attention to each clause. Ask yourself how you might love God and worship him through your trial, acknowledging that, in and of yourself, you do not have the answers.
Lastly, how are you relating to God's moral law, otherwise, throughout the ordeal? Have you resorted to telling half-truths? Have you given up on the church and stopped attending Lord's Day worship services? What questions would you ask yourself?
Write down your detailed answers, and think of potential resolutions to those issues. In prayer, ask for God's forgiveness as needed, and also for a spirit of repentance to help you embrace and apply needed change.
What the Lord Provides
The purpose of this excercise is not to condemn (Rom. 8:1). If you find that you've been missing the mark, don't despair. The gift of repentance is at hand for you, and your heavenly Father will supply all you need not only for that action step, but for what awaits (2 Pt. 1:3).
Behind the words of our text stands the only living, sovereign God of the universe. Your suffering, among many other things we may or may not be able to know, is super-intended by God for your sanctification (Rom. 8:28). Your trial is under the rule of God's providence, which is to say that if you discern that there is no known (to you) answer but to trust, rest, and lean on the everlasting arms, then that is by God's good design for you at this time.
Too often, in our humanity, our natural (and understandable) desire is for our suffering to end, while God's will is that we be formed and fashioned into the likeness of his Son through our troubles.
So, what do we need to know about the application of Deut. 10:12-13 to our present situation?
Mainly this: You cannot actually do any of those verses under your own power. You are completely dependent upon the Spirit of God working out in you every good and righteous clause of that text (Phil. 2:13). Which brings us to verse 16:
Therefore, circumcise your hearts and don’t be stiff-necked any longer.
For this post, what we need to know is that by circumcision God was representing to his people their great need for the cutting away of the sin that had come to defile them. This is why, repeatedly, in the OT (as in our text) the people of Israel are called not to trust in the outward act itself, but to seek the true circumcision of their hearts, a circumcision not made with hands (Col. 2:11).
The major point I want us to grasp here is that without the Spirit's circumcising of our hearts, that is, the progressive cutting away of all that threatens to distance us from God, we will never produce the good fruit that is described in Deut. 10:12-13--the fruit we rightly desire while we wait for wisdom and discernment as to the struggle we're facing.
Because men are by no means inclined or disposed to obey God, Moses exhorts them to self-renunciation, and to subdue and correct their carnal affections; for to circumcise the heart is equivalent to cleansing it from wicked lusts. ~ John Calvin, Commentary on Deuteronomy
Genuine devotion can flow only from a heart that has experienced the reality of that qualification which was symbolized in [circumcision]. ~ Meredith Kline, Treaty of the Great King
Be Sure of This
The call to pursue what is described in Deut. 10:12-13 is not a call to "white-knuckle" our way through life's struggles, but a call to reliance upon our heavenly Father even for the very strength of heart that we need to endure while we wait.
This great lesson of the Christian faith is a fruit of your sanctification itself, and one that cannot be over-emphasized.
So, as you read Deut. 10:12-13 and consider all that's been discussed in this post, be encouraged by what the apostle Paul wrote concerning you:
I am sure of this, that he who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Phil. 1:6; CSB)