Years ago we embarked on the challenging pursuit of house hunting for the first time. As I stepped in the foyer of the fifth house, I immediately knew this was the one. Had I seen the bathrooms, bedrooms, or even the kitchen? No. But, I just knew. That gut-feeling-knowledge. From literally the foyer of the home. (My husband took longer to reach the same conclusion. Opposites attract.)
Along with all that is going on in 2020, personal character development has also been on my plate. On this humbling journey of self-discovery, I have learned about my tendency to be impulsive in certain situations. Based on the previous story, you might have falsely assumed I already knew this about myself. However, I considered my ability to just seemingly instantly know which course of action to take to be the desirable characteristic of discernment. When I was in high school, I actually had a college student tell me I had impressive discernment for my age. Perhaps I took that compliment a little too much to heart in addition to misapplying whatever it had meant.
Coupled with this tendency to immediately follow my gut at times was also my misunderstanding of Scripture about being “led by the Spirit” or “moved by the Spirit.” The impression forming in me as I grew up was that when I had these automatic responses or bodily reactions, such as a quick heartbeat in particular circumstances, I was being “moved by the Spirit” and so needed to do what I felt impressed to do. So, not only have I been operating for years with the belief that following my gut reaction was an acceptable way to make decisions, I have also thought I was being directed by God in many of these circumstances.
Two different conversations with close, trusted friends gently pointing out my impulsiveness, including a specific example, were required before I finally had the light bulb moment and unequivocally grasped that my decision-making process and understanding of how God leads both needed renovation. Not that long ago, my first real test after acquiring this new self-awareness came. Something happened and everything in me wanted to jump to action as I normally would have. To start problem solving. Make the situation better. To do something. But I knew this was exactly the type of situation where the advice received should be applied. My responsibility was to do nothing.
Well, not nothing exactly. I knew I needed to pray. Instead of running and taking action, I prayed. Holding myself back and only praying was hard. Not following my gut felt like I was going against my nature. However, I purposely followed the new wisdom I had gleaned. Just pray.
But that is when I questioned my understanding of prayer. Is prayer really doing nothing or is it actually doing something? The Bible tells us over and over to pray, to call out to God, to depend on Him and is replete with examples of people who did just that, including Christ Himself, the perfect man who clearly made it a priority during His earthly life to pray. (Romans 12:12, Psalm 18:6, Ephesians 6:18, Daniel 6:10, Matthew 14:23, Luke 5:16) We are even commanded to pray without ceasing (I Thessalonians 5:17).
If God puts such an emphasis on the necessity and pervasiveness of prayer in our life, should I really be considering it “doing nothing?” Quite the contrary. Prayer IS doing something. It’s exercising absolute dependence on God. Absolute trust in God. Absolute obedience to His Word. Absolute hope in His promises. Absolute reliance on His strength. Absolute faith that God reigns supreme and can do anything He chooses. And perhaps a beautiful reality we forget, prayer is an expression of absolute friendship with the one and only omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent, good and loving God.
Following is some advice given to me that I’m trying to implement. When the impulsivity strikes, slow down. Pray. Take an extra step and really consider if your next move is the best. Sleep on it if able. Consider getting a second opinion. Yet at the same time, we do have to take risks. We can evaluate the impact of our decisions and make necessary adjustments for future decisions. As to being “led by the Spirit,” we need to keep in mind other balancing principles of Scripture (I’m still contemplating this truth; maybe one day my conclusions will be in a blog post.).
Thankfully, sometimes our impulses mercifully turn out fine, but other times the results are painful, not only for us, but also for others. To all of you who struggle with impulsivity, I feel your pain! I understand how hard it is to hold yourself back. How natural it is to just act or react. The fact that prayer is really doing something has been one of the most helpful truths to combat my own strong urge to take impulsive action.
To be clear, I am not saying only pray and never take additional action. I’m also not saying never take quick, decisive action. I am saying that for those of us who tend to have no problem immediately taking action at times and a really hard time pausing and carefully analyzing our decisions, we most likely need to learn to slooooooow down.
Bottom line: Whether we are frequently impulsive or only once in a blue moon, let’s all strive to become people who habitually and instinctively pray believing by faith it is accomplishing immensely more than anything else we can fathom doing (Romans 12:12).