Charles Stanley - The Key to Making Wise Decisions
How do you make decisions? What's the basis of your decision-making process? All of us make decisions every day, sometimes they appear to be insignificant, and they become, as we see, in time, they were very significant. Sometimes those decisions have little or no consequence, and sometimes they have great consequences. Sometimes the consequences are joyful, sometimes they are not so joyful. We're all in the process of making decisions, and those decisions don't just affect us, they oftentimes affect other people, and we all have a basis for making them, that is, we all make our decisions based on something. But what I want to talk about in this message is how do we make godly decisions? How do we make wise decisions in our life?
Well, there are many examples in the Scripture, but I want us to look at one particular passage and one particular man who learned very early in life how to make godly decisions. And I want us to look at the contrast between the right and the wrong way. So I want you to turn, if you will, to the book of Daniel. And I want to give you a little background. Everybody knows Daniel by the fact that he was in the lions' den, but more important than that is something that his parents taught him very early in life. Well, Jeremiah the prophet had been prophesying to the nation of Israel for a long time that, because of their sinfulness, because they'd walked away from God, the judgment of God was coming upon them.
And so, here was one thing, for example, he said, "Therefore, thus says the Lord, the God of hosts, 'Because you have spoken this word, behold, I am making My words in your mouth fire and this people wood, and it will consume them.'" And this is the judgment he said, "'Behold, I am bringing a nation against you from afar, O house of Israel,' declares the Lord. 'It is an enduring nation; it is an ancient nation; a nation whose language you do not know, nor can you understand what they say. Their quiver is like an open grave, all of them are mighty men. They will devour your harvest and your food; they'll devour your sons, your daughters, devour your flocks, your herds; devour your vines, your fig trees; demolish with the sword fortified cities in which you trust. Yet even in those days,' declares the Lord, 'I will not make you a complete destruction.'"
Now naturally, they didn't like it. So what did they do? They threw him in jail. They didn't like what he was prophesying, so they put him in jail thinking that'll stop him. But here's what happened. In the thirty second chapter, "Then the Lord came to Jeremiah saying, 'Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh; is anything too difficult for Me?' Therefore thus says the Lord, 'Behold, I'm about to give this city into the hand of the Chaldeans and into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and he will take it.'"
So, when you turn to the book of Daniel, what's happening is that what we just read prophesied began to take place. And that is, Nebuchadnezzar attacked Jerusalem, Judah, and took away hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people. Killed many, of course, burned the gates, tore the walls down, and one of those who was taken to Babylon was Daniel. He was probably somewhere between thirteen, sixteen years of age, somewhere thereabouts. And he, along with a number of other Hebrew children, young people, were taken to Babylon, and the king said, "Now, here's what I want to do. I want to take the smartest ones, the most educated ones, the ones who are handsome, the ones who seem to have a lot of potential, and what we want to do is we want to babylonize them, that is we want them to think like we think, act like we act, live the way we live".
And so these things began to happen in their lives, and of course, they were growing in the middle of all this and, up until a certain point, there was no resistance. They did exactly what they were supposed to do, and then there came a time when they decided, no more. We cannot do that. This is where we take our stand. And so what I want us to talk about in this message is this, I want to talk about the whole idea of what's the basis upon which you make decisions in your life. And there are two words I want you to remember, if you forget everything else about this message, because here's the crux of everything we want to talk about. And I want to define, first of all, the difference between a principle and a preference. A principle is a moral rule based on the Word of God guiding our conduct, it's a fixed or predetermined mode of conduct, that is, if I'm going to operate on the basis of a principle, then it is a principle, a moral principle, in the Word of God.
That's one way to think and one way to make decisions, and when a person comes to that, these are principles out of God's Word and they're principles by which we establish our whole sense of conviction, our belief system, that is, all of us have convictions, we all have a belief system of some sort, and so the question is: What's the basis of what you believe? Those of us who are believers, we say the basis of what we believe is the is the Word of God. And so we make decisions consistent with that. For example, let's take the Ten Commandments. Thou shall not steal, lie, cheat, commit adultery, worship one true God, in other words, these are basic principles of the Word of God.
So, if a person says, "I'm a Christian and I live with the truth of God's Word," then we live consistently with what God teaches in His Word. So, when a person says, "I live by principle," what you're saying is this: I have established a roadway in my life. And I'm going to walk that roadway. And I'm going to do what my convictions tell me to do because my convictions are based on the Word of God. And so that makes it rather simple and plain to some degree. So, when you think about what are the principles in your life that you live by? Can you say, for example, "I live by principle"? Now the other word, preference. Preference says decisions and choices based on likes, dislikes, and desires.
So, here's the way that person operates. Well, today, it's a bad day. I don't like this day, and so you know what? I'm just gonna call and tell them I'm sick. Now, I'm not sick, of course, but I'm gonna call and tell them I'm sick. So preference says I'm gonna lie because lying will give me what I want today, and that is a free day. Preferences says I'm gonna operate on the basis of the circumstance. I'm gonna operate on the basis of my feelings, my desires, operate on the basis of things that please me, honor me, make me look good, make me feel good, or could profit me. And so a person makes decisions based on one of those two. Either I'm gonna live by the principles of the Word of God, or I'm gonna just sort of be all over the place, and that is, it just depends on the circumstance, 'pends on what the situation is. And people talk about situation ethics, that is, I'm gonna make a decision based on the situation and what I desire to get out of it.
Now, here's the problem with that, because it is a very dangerous way to live, and it is a very dangerous and destructive way to raise your children because if they see parents operating on the basis of preference, if they see this kind of contrast going on, here's what I'm saying, here's what I'm doing. What you're doing is you're teaching them to live in a fashion that has no sense of strength, honesty, and protection. Here's a good example. Let's say that you're driving down the highway and it's midnight, and there's a center line. Let's say it's a white center line. As long as you're driving down the highway and the center line's there, you know where you are.
You know as long as you stay on this side, the other guy stays on his side, then you're gonna be safe. But it's midnight, and there are no street lights because you're out in the country. So all of a sudden, there's no white line in the middle. Then what? You don't know where you are because you may be wobbling on this side a little while and on this side. It's all pitch black dark and you're just all over the place because you don't have any center line to guide you. A person who makes decisions based on preferences is like the guy who's driving down the highway and no center line. Because, you see, your desires change. Circumstances change. Life changes for you. And so as a result, as things change, you make a decision based on this preference today, that one tomorrow. And so, there's no real sense of direction and guidance for your life.
Now, a person can have convictions without being a Christian. They can have convictions that certain things are right that you and I would never agree to because the Bible's very clear. But a follower of Jesus has basic convictions, and those convictions becomes the principles by which we live. And without them, you're just there. So when we come to Daniel, it's very evident that Daniel's mother and dad taught him very early in life to live by principle because here's what happens, they were coming along and, of course, they changed their names, and they had to learn the literature of Babylon, which was a Godless nation. And they had to learn about their worldview and their gods and their worship and their lifestyle and so forth.
Then there came the time when the king said to him, he said, "Now here's what you must do. I want you to teach them the literature. I want you to teach them about our worldview. I want you to teach them all these things, and then because I want them to be their best, do their best, and look their best, I want you to feed them from my table," the king said. That is, "My table is the best food, so I want them to look their best. So I'm gonna give you a period of time, and then when you bring these young men to me, I'm expecting for them to be handsome, I'm expecting for them to be very committed to our way of life. I'm expecting them to be excited about Babylon". In other words, you're gonna transform these men.
So Ashpenaz, who was the king's servant, comes to Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and he says, "Now this is the diet. The diet is right off the king's table". Well, that sounded pretty good. In fact, to be sort of a slave somewhere and you're gonna eat off the king's table and drink his wine, you couldn't get any better than that. So preference would have said, absolutely. Why not? Daniel said, "Ashpenaz, this is where we stop. We've learned your literature, we've done all these things, but we're not gonna do this". Well, why not? "Because it is against the Mosaic law, and we have principles by which we live that we cannot and will not violate. Whatever the consequence is, we're not going to do it".
And you recall the thing that people know most about Daniel was he did so well that the king had given him a position that made the other guys sort of jealous. And so they had this law that they had formulated that everybody had to bow down to the king and then you couldn't worship any other god, you couldn't pray to any other god. And so what does Daniel do? He does what he always did, and that is, he had a principle by which he operated that daily he prayed a certain number of times to God. Well, so they arrested him and threw him in the lions' den. He could have said, "Well look, you know, I can pray by myself. I can pray secretly. I don't have to tell anybody I'm praying. I can do this to myself and nobody will ever know and I'll get by". But you see, that's preference. He said, "I have a principle by which I live that, daily, I'm on my knees before the presence of Almighty God praying, and I'm not keeping it a secret".
And so it's interesting that they changed his name, but when the king came looking for him that morning and said, "Oh Daniel, is your God able to deliver you"? He didn't call him Belshazzar, he called him his Hebrew name. Now, watch this, Daniel stuck to his conviction. He said, "You know, whatever the cost, I'm not eating meat and drinking wine offered to an idol". Watch what happened, not only did God spare him, but Daniel lived about 70 years under 4 kings, Nebuchadnezzar, his son Belshazzar and Darius and King Cyrus. He had tremendous impact on the lives of those four kings.
Now, there's one other word I want to put up here, and that's conviction. And I want you to notice that all of us should have convictions, but look at this, it's a principle of which I'm committed and purposed to follow. All of us have convictions, and it's as if some people have convictions that are not biblical, but because we are followers of Jesus Christ, then biblical principles should be the basis of all of our convictions. These are the things that guide our thinking, so forth.
Now, let's think about some of these areas in which you ought to have immovable, unalterable conviction. For example, let's take Jesus. Do you have an unalterable, unchangeable conviction about the fact that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the only Savior of the world? You have a conviction about that? For example, let's take money. Do you have principles about money, that is, that money is not to be God? Money is a means of accomplishing and achieving or giving or helping or whatever it might be, many, many good things about money. But do I have a preference about money to the point that, listen, if it takes me doing a little cheating over here, it's gonna be all right.
For example, let's say you go to the grocery store and the lady gives you $20 more than you should have gotten and you walk away saying, 20 bucks, praise the Lord. $20, and your 9-year-old son says, "I was in Sunday school last week and they said thou shalt not steal. How does this work"? Because preferences will kill you. Preferences will destroy your testimony. In other words, listen, if stealing is a sin, if stealing, if it's a nickel, $20, if you steal from your daddy, if you steal from a stranger, whatever it might be, stealing is stealing. In other words, principles don't change. And our conviction should be based on principles, and those principles are divine principles, the principles of the Word of God. Listen, you can't violate the principles of God and get by with it.
You know, people can say, "Well, I don't know that I believe that". Look around. Just look around. We're to be people to live by principle. There's certain things that we will not tolerate in our life, and when we do, what we're doing is we're going by preferences. This is what I prefer to do today, and lots of people do things that are very questionable, and you ask them why, and they say, "Well, it's my own business". When you're a child of God, it isn't just your own business.
Now, the question is why do people do that? Let think about it. Why do people choose to live by preference when it's not the best way to live? Well, one of primary reasons is they fear rejection by other people. If I don't do what they want me to do and I don't go where they want me go, then they're gonna reject me. If that's not where God wants you and you are convicted about it, it doesn't make any difference what they think, but that's the reason people choose to live by that. Principles say I have a guideline that is for my protection, and once I go beyond the guideline, I'm like the guy who's wobbling down the highway with no center line, pitch black night and, listen, no lights on the highway, and I'm all over the place. And that's the way most people are living. They're living by preference and they lack moral convictions. They've never stopped to say, "Now, what do I really believe? What is it I really and truly believe about life and about how I treat people and how they treat me and what I do and how I give and I am jealous? Am I generous"? In other words, what are the guidelines?
The guidelines are all right here. In the Word of God, both the Old Testament, New Testament teaches how to live, and it's always by principle, not by preference. And when people start living by preference, they get in trouble. All of life is a decision-making process, and when we decide this is the way I'm going to live, these are the principles I'm gonna follow no matter what. And sometimes, as we said, it's costly, but God always honors obedience, and you have to decide, am I gonna be obedient to God and just leave all the consequences to him or am I not? And you see, God does not want us to live with this upheaval on the inside of, how am I gonna? Suppose this happens and suppose I get this offer and suppose he says this and suppose she says that?
Listen, when you're living by principle, you know how you're gonna respond. You say no to sin, no to things, listen, that may not even be sin, but things that you know will not get you where God wants you to go and things that can become sin eventually, you say no because of where it will lead you. Principles are for our protection. They're not, listen, they don't prevent us from having fun. They're for our protection. Now, there's certain requirements if you're gonna live by principle, so just look at them for just a moment. I'll just mention a few of them. First of all, you've gotta decide, I'm gonna live for a cause that you're greater than myself, and that is, I'm going to live for Jesus Christ, for the kingdom of God, and bear witness of who he is in my life. I'm gonna live for something that's more important and greater than I am, and that is the kingdom of God. That's number one, you have to decide that. Am I gonna live for myself? Any of these other things go. Secondly, I have to be very clear, watch this carefully, I must be very clear in my mind as to what I believe.
Now, watch this, there's some things that are nonnegotiable. If you're unmarried and somebody wants to go to bed with you, that's nonnegotiable, no. Well, what about, nonnegotiable, that means this conversation is over. The decision has been made, we move on to the next subject. Nonnegotiable. Once you get an offer of something that is ungodly, watch this, and you start turning toward that to consider it, you're in trouble. If you have a principle in your life, listen, principles don't move. They don't change. I think also, you have to expect conflict, that is, if you're gonna live by principle, you can expect conflict because there are gonna be people who don't like it and don't want you to be a part of their life because they don't like the way you're living. You can expect conflict.
Another thing is this, you've gotta make your decision, watch this, make your decision and go, I'm leaving all the consequences to God. If he lets me suffer, so be it. If he blesses me in most unusual ways, so be it. I'll leave the consequences of my obedience by living by these principles. I'm gonna leave all that to God. But you have to come to the conclusion in your life and make that decision. And the last thing is this, if you're gonna live by principle, you've got to believe in the sovereignty of God that he is in absolute control of every single thing. That means when you live by principle, you're living in obedience to him, and therefore, you believe that he is great enough, powerful enough, loving enough, and interested in you enough and with you in every circumstance of life that you don't have to worry about the consequences. It's who he is.
So I would simply ask you this: Which one of these best fits you? They can call you dogmatic, they can call you a fundamentalist. They can call you anything they want to call you, but which one fits you best? Are you a person who knows what you believe, you're committed to those beliefs because they're the moral laws of God and you don't budge, period? Does it mean you're perfect? No. Does it mean that you'll never sin? No. But in the decision-making process in your life, that's how you live, which means, watch this, you only travel roads that have a white line right down the middle. Now, if you forget everything else about this message, here's what I want you to remember, two words, what are they? And the other thing I want you to remember is this: How would you feel driving 75 miles an hour down a dark road, no white line, and there are ditches on both sides? Would you not agree that that is dangerous? When you set aside your principles, that's the road you choose to follow.