It is easy to make decisions when the path is clear, we have all the information we need, and everyone agrees on the decision. But there are many times when the way forward is difficult or filled with fear, and we do not have all the information we need to make the decision. Sometimes we're missing even the most important pieces of information.
During these times, leaders step forward and have to make decisions anyway, despite the disadvantage of not knowing everything they need to know. And then the people follow. Or they don’t, and either way, it is often a tough and thankless job to make decisions in times like ours.
An Example from Scripture
Which brings me to Moses, Joshua and Caleb encamped at Kadesh-Barnea. You are no doubt familiar with the story. The two younger men, along with ten other spies, were sent out from among the Israelites to explore the land and come back with their report about the long-awaited for milk and honey. Joshua and Caleb’s report is different from the others, both in content and in attitude. While Joshua and Caleb are confident that, with God’s help, they can be successful and take the land, the other ten spies speak against them and spread fear among the people (Numbers 13-14).
Do you resonate with anyone in this story? Unfortunately, I do.
As I write this, I see a little too much of myself in the people of Israel. Unfortunately, and to my disappointment, I find myself most like the people in the story that get it wrong. They have followed Moses all the way from Egypt (not without resistance, mind you) and at last here they are. They now stand on the precipice of the promised land, the culmination of all the travel, and manna, and quail. But when they send out spies to have a look and they come back with a mixed report, the chaos ensues. The produce of the land is huge! But so are the people!
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The Israelites think it is too risky to go in. They grumble against Moses and Aaron (and, let’s be honest, against God) and rebel against them. Then, once they are told that they will be punished in the wilderness for 40 years, they change their minds and decide they are willing to go take the promised land. Only now it’s too late. They go up, but without God, which results in a colossal failure.
What We Can Learn from the Israelites
I feel sometimes like that is how I have reacted to COVID-19. With each new wave of information or new set of reports, there are decisions to be made about whether we should wear masks, shelter in place, or all go back to work and keep the economy going.
And mostly, I just feel a little lost in the chaos.
In the face of sometimes conflicting information about how many people are infected, and how many people are dying, I struggle to know what is best. But through it all, I have had the luxury of not having to make the really hard decisions—things like whether to close schools and move the entire operation into the virtual world, almost overnight. Whether or not to cancel church and the sense of community it provides and opt instead for a safer, online experience. Or whether to close businesses and restaurants and industries that affect people’s families and livelihoods.
But Joshua and Caleb did not have that luxury. They could have easily gone along with the reports of the other ten spies and said the same thing. Or they could have remained silent, and just let things play out however they were going to play out, and pretended they had no duty in the situation. But they didn’t do any of that—they stepped out in faith, decided to trust God, and then moved forward in that direction even though it was not the popular choice (and almost got them stoned). They led from a position of faith in God’s power and sovereignty and called others to do the same. They knew where their strength truly came from. They spoke to the people in Numbers 14:8-10 saying, “If the LORD delights in us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us, a land that flows with milk and honey…Their [the Canaanites] protection is removed from them, and the LORD is with us; do not fear them.”
And Moses did not have that luxury. God offers Moses the chance to leave the people behind and to have his descendants made into a great nation. But he responds—to their grumbling, rebellion, and threats—with intercession and compassion rather than anger, frustration, and control. He pleads with God for mercy on their behalf. “Please pardon the iniquity of this people, according to the greatness of your steadfast love, just as you have forgiven these people, from Egypt until now” (vs. 19). And God grants Moses’ prayer.
Encouragement for Your Decisions
So if you are a Christian leader right now, and you’re weary from the weight of decisions that need to be made without enough information and without enough resources, money, or time, be encouraged. God is our great Provider, and you can continue leading from a position of faith in the one who is always faithful, even when our circumstances are so unpredictable.
If you’ve been hit by the stones that worried and scared people throw, or if you’ve been wounded by arrows fired in anger or stubbornness, I’m sorry. People rarely react well to chaos and fear. I should know since I’m one of the people. And while I can’t speak for everyone, I can speak for me, and chaos and fear are no excuse. Please continue to intercede for us and lift us in prayer.
And if your decisions have been criticized by the people you’re trying to lead, and everyone you meet knows better and has a different idea of how we should solve the problem. . . or if you feel no matter what you choose it is going to be wrong and the burden is too big for you to bear. . . thank you for carrying that burden. Thank you for leading and making decisions in the face of difficult and unprecedented times.