The Battle Between Fear and Faith: How Good Decisions Can Lead to Toxic Outcomes

Any good leader wants his decisions to lead to good outcomes for himself and the people he leads. Yet in the midst of the fear caused by a stressful situation he may settle for making a good decision rather than seeking by faith to hear the Lord’s answer. Making a good decision out of fear can lead to a toxic and undesired outcome.

Jesus said we must live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. As Christian leaders our greatest desire is to do and say as Jesus did, “I only do what I see the Father doing.” So how can we insure that our decisions are not just good decisions birthed out of fear, rather than Holy Spirit-led decisions of faith that lead to life and the blessing of God.

An examination of the contrasts in decision making between King Saul and David can help us in this quest to understand how to avoid fearful and toxic decision making. King Saul was told to wait till Samuel came to him. And Samuel would offer a sacrifice before Saul could proceed to attack the Philistines. (I Samuel 13)

But as Saul waited, his resources became depleted. His soldiers went from 3000 down to 600 in number. His men hid in caves and some switched sides. Meantime the enemy, the Philistines, were increasing in number. In other words, King Saul’s assets were decreasing and his liabilities were increasing. In fearful desperation Saul did what many good men have done, he examined the worsening situation and he made a ‘good judgment call’. A good judgment call is the best we can do in a bad situation. But as leaders we are called to do more than make good judgment calls. We are called to wait upon the Lord till he gives us His word; we are called to trust the Lord that He will appear in our overwhelmingly difficult decision and reveal His glory. His glory is the sum of who He is and what He has and what He can do.

Saul’s ‘good judgment call’ led to the loss of his destiny. Samuel said, ” You acted foolishly in offering the sacrifice out of your anxiety; now the Lord is going to take the Kingdom from you. He is going to give the Kingdom to a man who is eager to know the mind and will of God more than he is anxious to make a good decision.” In other words God is going to choose a man after His own heart, a man of faith. And as we know, the man He chose was David.

Some time later, David, the man anointed to become king, was leading 600 armed men. While he was away on a campaign, his enemies burned his village and carried off his wives and children and the wives and children of his men. David and his men were grief stricken. The men turned their grief on David, their leader, and wanted to kill him (I Samuel 30). So here David’s assets were decreased and his liabilities were overwhelmingly increased. But David, unlike Saul, did not focus on making a good decision. Rather he “strengthened himself in the Lord,” and he sought the will of the Lord. He was a man after God’s heart, not a man after the best decision. Upon learning the will of God, he proceeded in faith to an amazing victory.

In a crisis we are all tempted to latch on in fear to something to guide us through the uncertainties of an overwhelmingly difficult situation. In our anxiety we grab on to things that have served us well in the past. What we do not see is that good things from our past are not the same as the will of God for this situation. By clinging to a good thing, we make it an idol. An idol is anything that we place above the will of God. And as Jonah said in his prayer of insight from the fish’s belly,

“Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs.” (Jonah 2:8)

What are some good things that have served us well in the past that can become idols when given a priority over the voice of the Spirit?

First, policy and procedures are good things that have served us well. Having a process and a way of proceeding is a good thing. A process is an orderly approach that is agreed upon ahead of time as a way of dealing with a given situation. As organizations we have manuals of policies and procedures. As we mature as organizations the book of policies and procedures becomes thicker. We learn new things from our experiences and we say “Let’s develop a policy for that so that the next time we will have a prescribed way through the situation that will hopefully lead to a good outcome.” When faced with a new difficulty, we refer to our manual and we decide we will follow our polices and procedures in this matter. At the conclusion of the matter, we review how the matter was handled, and we may then congratulate ourselves that we have done the right thing because we followed our guidelines. No one can criticize us because we have followed our guidelines, and we have good guidelines. We are right because we did the right thing.

However following guidelines and procedures, no matter how good they are, is not the same as following the Holy Spirit. As Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath.” Our policies and procedures are made to serve us and help us, they were not made to be our Lord and Savior. Consulting the policy manual before and above consulting the Holy Spirit leads to a carnal outcome, not a Holy Spirit-directed outcome.

Secondly, people with expertise have served us well. We all know the value of consulting the expert. If you have a brain tumor, consult a neurosurgeon and not your mechanic. However consulting experts is not the same as consulting the Holy Spirit. After 40 days of fasting in the wilderness, a nutritional expert would have undoubtedly told Jesus, “You need to follow a careful diet to regain your normal eating pattern. And bread can be a part of your re-entry diet.” But Jesus said, “I am not going to allow my hunger to define me. I will not let an expert in the things of the world, even though his advice is admired and respected all over the world, direct me. I will only proceed with the word from heaven.” As a result of Jesus faithfulness, he was nurtured by angels from heaven.

Experts make informed judgment calls. A true expert is not a technician who has a check list of signs or symptoms which he marks off and says, “This person has several of the signs of this illness so he has the illness.” The true expert examines the check lists, but he then makes a clinical judgment based on a complex interplay of what he knows from past experience and the present presentation. But as we all know, even experts can disagree. One expert says, “Operate;” the other says, “Do not operate.”

In the end we honor the experts, but we use them as consultants. We do not elevate them to a position as lords of the situation. We hear their advice, and we take it before the Lord and ask him for His expertise in how we should handle the various counsels we have received. Experts can be a blessing, but if they are elevated above and before the Holy Spirit, the outcome can be spiritually disastrous.

Thirdly, our own personal experiences teach us many good things. A child learns not to touch a hot stove through personal experience. We learn not to trust certain people because we have been hurt by people like them in the past. For example, we tend to be wary of strangers. This is a good guideline. Do not pick up hitchhikers; do not engage with strangers while hiking alone on a remote trail. But sometimes our personal experience prevents us from experiencing the new thing God wants to do in our lives. So the writer of scripture says, “Do not fail to entertain strangers because some have entertained angels unawares.”

And sometimes our experience distorts our ability to assess the present situation. For example, if I have been severely wounded emotionally by a person, it may affect my ability to relate to any person who reminds me of the one who wounded me. So, yes, experience is a wonderful teacher. But if our experiences are consulted before and above the voice of the Holy Spirit, our assessment of a situation can be severely distorted and the resulting decision can be very misleading, if not destructive.

A tragic consequence of good men making good decisions and not giving the Holy Spirit priority is that good men become enraged at anyone who challenges their good decisions by calling for a Spirit-inspired decision. The Pharisees were the experts with the experience and knowledge and laws for handling every situation. They became murderously angry when Jesus healed on the Sabbath. They accused him of rebellion against Moses and of being motivated by the devil. King Saul wanted to kill his son Jonathan because Jonathan had rebelled against his word by eating honey after an exhausting day of battle. (I Samuel 14: 24 -45).

In this situation the Spirit-directed person can be tempted to come under the same spirit of accusation. They can take pride in following the Holy Spirit. “I follow the Holy Spirit, and you follow the ways of man. I am right and you are wrong.” And so we are never in so much danger of being wrong as when we are right. The one who says, ” I am right because I have followed the best procedures, consulted the best experts, and have been guided by my best judgments” may well be wrong because he has not consulted the voice of God. And the person who says, “I am right because I have consulted the Holy Spirit” may be wrong because of a proud and arrogant attitude.

In the end we say, “Oh, Jesus, cleanse my heart of pride; give me a heart of love for those with whom I disagree and give me the courage and faith to humbly move according to the direction of your Holy Spirit, not fearing what man can do to me.”

And in response to this prayer, Jesus gives us the grace that He has promised to all those who seek Him first. And we receive the grace to which we are entitled because we cling to Him in faith and not to worthless idols.

E. Daniel Martin

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Benjamin Varghese
    Dec 17, 2012 @ 05:34:34

    Hi E. Daniel. I loved this article you wrote and am so blessed to know that you are using your tremendous gift of writing to share your deep insights into the mind of man and the heart of God to equip the saints through this blog. May God richly bless you and this tremendous adventure you have undertaken for our benefit! Looking forward to more tasty spiritual food from you, your brother and friend in Christ, Ben Varghese.


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