An interesting word, “torn.” It is the past participle of the verb, “tear.” If you are an English speaker, I don’t need to tell you what this word means. You know that it is to rip or slice, making something that was one to become two or more pieces. It is usually a reference to something being destroyed, but can be useful in everyday life. We may tear a piece of bread as we are eating. The usher may tear our ticket as we are admitted to a movie. Negatively, I may be upset if my new shirt gets torn on a nail, or my manuscript is torn by a critic who calls it drivel and tosses it back in my face (a little extreme, I know). The point is, tearing can be beneficial or detrimental, depending on the circumstance.
There is, however, another meaning of “torn” that is a little less common. It is being “in the state of uncertainty between two conflicting options.” Chances are, you’ve been there. We find ourselves in decision-making situations every day. Most of the decisions we make are of little consequence in the big picture…what will we have for lunch? …whether to have another cup of coffee? …buying those new shoes? One may argue that even these decisions carry consequences; and they do, but they aren’t generally life-altering in weight.
On the other hand, we do face decisions often that are quite life-impacting. These decisions can have long-range effects on our lives, and the lives of those around us. Decisions like relationships, career, education, lifestyle choices and personal responsibility, can make a huge difference in the trajectory of our lives. This can be true in a deeply spiritual and moral sense, as well as just the practical path of our lives. Have you ever wondered how things might be different if you had made a different choice at some juncture along the way?
I remember taking our first ministry position after graduating from my undergraduate program. I began working as a youth pastor at a church on the east coast. It was a process that had taken a few months…contacts, interviews, visits, prayer, discussions with my new wife. We decided that this was the place God would have us begin our lives of ministry. So, we made the move halfway across the country. A month into our new work, a call came from seemingly out of nowhere. A friend at a publishing company in Nashville, TN (from where we had just moved and left friends and familiar surroundings), called and offered me a position in a new division they were creating. It would be a national-level youth ministry position. It was an opportunity to get in on the ground floor of something influential and new. The possibilities were exciting and the offer was enticing. Here I was, just getting started in a new church ministry position and facing this offer that was more than I could have imagined. I was torn.
It is in situations like these, that we need more than just our own judgment. Using only my personal judgment and the criteria that human reasoning brings, it would have been a “no-brainer.” There is much more future, recognition, chance for advancement and self-promotion to take the publishing house position. Just think of how that would look on my resume. Think of the doors that may open. However, there was more at stake here. I had made a commitment to a church…a body of believers. I had prayed and determined that God was directing us to this place for ministry. There were youth there who had accepted us with open arms and were excited that we wanted to lead and minister to them. I needed wisdom that was beyond my own to make the right decision. It was a matter of integrity and faithfulness, and those are two elements that earthly wisdom doesn’t always provide.
Just yesterday, I taught as a guest speaker in our children’s worship. The topic was wisdom. I shared with them that wisdom is “using knowledge in the right way.” That means that we may have lots of knowledge…the “know how” it takes to get something done or to accomplish a task, but that doesn’t mean we know how best to go about it. Wisdom takes the knowledge we have, and it sifts it through the grid of God’s truth. Whether it involves a career decision, or a moral decision, the process is the same. Take what you know and submit it to the truth of God’s Word…the principles that will guide us into making decisions that reflect integrity and faithfulness, among other characteristics.
I love what James reminds us,
If you need wisdom — if you want to know what God wants you to do — ask him, and he will gladly tell you. He will not resent your asking. (James 1:5)
I love it that God wants us to know how to make good decisions. He has promised us that if we ask Him for wisdom, He will freely give it. He isn’t hiding the truth and playing games with us…sitting up there joking with the angels about how we just don’t get it and taking bets on whether we will figure it out. He is ready and willing to give us what we need to make right choices…if we only ask. That’s a promise I can use!!
I stayed in that youth pastor position and went on to have a very fruitful ministry with those teenagers. I still communicate with them today and they share with us how thankful they are for the years we had together and what God taught them during our tenure there. Might life have taken a very different path if I had made the opposite decision? Yes. Would it have been a bad thing? Perhaps not. But, there is no doubt that the decision I made, with the wisdom God provided, resulted in so many things that were God-ordained. I wish I could say that every decision I’ve made in life had equal application of God’s wisdom. Nevertheless, every time I’ve been torn, and I’ve allowed God to give me the wisdom to make the choice, the tearing has been for my benefit and the benefit of everyone around me. There is no better way to maneuver the choices of life, that through the application of true wisdom.