In 2016 I attended a conference on real estate investing and the presenter mentioned that he took $50 from his tenants’ rent and put it aside as a gift toward the down payment on their future home. I thought:
I love that. I could do that for inner city renters.
I had few handyman skills, and the only time I’d rented to poor people it had gone badly. But this idea thrilled me. I felt it could really help a neighborhood I’d ministered in for several decades. So I talked with Nancy, and we cashed out most of our retirement savings and started a housing business.
Was I an idiot? A naïve do-gooder? A faithful disciple? A dupe for the devil? I have felt like each of those in the six years since I bought my first abandoned house. This brings up a good questions: how do you know if it’s God, the devil, or your own imagination speaking when you get an idea like I did?
Test #1: Does it square with scripture? Scripture is a radicalizing document. It speaks from a mindset wholly different from that of the greedy and prideful world. So even if from a worldly point of view it seems foolish, a desire to house and empower poor people does indeed square with scripture. But the decision may still be naïve, so additional tests are needed.
Test #2: Is your ego involved in the decision? Wisdom is easier to find when the ego is tamed. Unfortunately, someone who is submerged in ego lacks the perspective to answer this question. As Proverbs 12:15 states,The way of a fool seems right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice. So it’s imperative to surrender the outcome of the decision to the Lord. As we learned from out study with Henry Blackaby, we must pray energetically about the matter but be detached from the outcome. God’s will, not our own wishes, must be our prevailing desire.
Test #3: Are you contemplating this decision because you’re aimless? If you’re recently retired, or recently graduated from college, or coming off a recent loss, it’s natural to be a bit aimless for a while. Instead of hoping your latest bright idea will save you from aimlessness, I suggest another path: be intentional about research and experimentation. Talk to people in the career you’re considering; read articles on the investment your considering; volunteer in the mission your considering. And set up a reflection process with your pastor and friends. They will help draw out the wisdom.
Test #4: Are the key people in your life on board? If you’re not sharing the discernment process with others, stop right there. You’ve gone off the rails. In my question about starting an inner city housing company, my wife was willing to move ahead – but step by step, one house at a time. Her wisdom was helpful, which is why we need to ask input from the key people before we make a decision. Of course, sometimes one must forge ahead without support; if your tribe doesn’t know God, or is immature in their knowledge of God, they might hold you back unnecessarily. For example, parents often counsel their young adult children to play it safe. But a young adult often must take a bold faith step if they are to grow and be useful in God’s kingdom. So that’s an exception.
Test #5: Do you have a track record? Plunging into a costly decision when you don’t have experience in an endeavor is foolish. Usually it’s better to take a only single step and wait to see what develops. Take the example of the young person I mentioned above: undertaking a long-term mission in Cambodia would command more credibility if the young person had first been on a short-term mission trip to Appalachia or inner city Rochester.
Test #6: Where will the money come from? While often we have to move out in faith before the resources arrive, sometimes financial realities help mold the shape of the decision. Passionate enthusiasm is served through a budgeting process.
Test #7: Are you getting confirmation of the decision? If the desire fades, it’s either because your character is not able to sustain a commitment or because the desire came out of fear or ego. Confirmation is usually accompanied by peace, or if not peace, then a sense of “rightness”. That doesn’t mean you won’t feel nervous; a kingdom decision usually entails risk and generates some electricity in the gut.