Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: “Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly. (Matthew 26:75)
When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty silver coins to the chief priests and the elders. “I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.” “What is that to us?” they replied. “That’s your responsibility.” So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hung himself. (Matthew 27:3-5)
Life offers us choices, and choices matter because they impact others and ourselves.
One important category of choices relates to the decisions we make during times of stress, pressure, and crisis. Typically, people are not at their strongest in these situations. They are not thinking as clearly, don’t have their normal perspective, and they often let their emotions override sound judgment. The results of choices range from inconsequential to major, from immediate to long-range, from temporary to eternal.
But the bottom line is simple: good decisions are better than poor ones.
I recall a young lady at one military installation who came to see me. She had entered into a relationship with a young officer on post and made a poor decision that resulted in her becoming pregnant. But that was hardly the end of her stress. Although marriage was out of the question, the officer voluntarily offered child support once the baby was born.
However, he changed his mind. He was not going to help her financially and now encouraged her to terminate her pregnancy. The young lady’s world had been turn upside down, but she didn’t lose her head. I encouraged her not to terminate her pregnancy and helped her explore options once the baby was born. She prayed to the Lord for wisdom and guidance. She made the choice to have the baby.
In the months following the birth of her daughter, she came to see me a couple of times. She thanked me many times for my assistance, particularly my encouragement to her to seek God’s guidance in the whole matter. She beamed with joy and happiness. Though she had made one poor decision that created great stress in her life, she responded in a godly manner. She made the right choice.
Making sound decisions during challenging times is not easy, nor is it automatic.
The ability to decide wisely doesn’t necessarily correlate to a person’s age, experience, education, or financial status. All of these can play significantly into about ability to make choices, but they are not determinate. We always need God’s help, but particularly during times in our lives when stressful conditions seem overwhelming to us. We need to know that God cares, that He understands and that He loves us unconditionally.
We also want assurance that God has the clout to help us- that nothing is too difficult for Him. Sometimes, our circumstances may appear so dark that we don’t even know how we will keep going. Hopelessness, depression, lack of purpose – God is able to deal with any of these issues, and much more. Perhaps above anything else the Lord provides for us, we need His wisdom. The good news is that God’s wisdom is available.
The Bible tells us this is James 1:5: “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” The bad news, however, is that in desperate circumstances many people don’t seek it. They go after information from other sources and often wind up making the wrong choice. There is one vital reality regarding the choices we make, and many still haven’t accepted the truth on this one.
Regardless of the situation and how hard it may be, the individual has to assume responsibility for the choice.
Yes, there can be huge pressure from many sides, but ultimately we make the decision, not someone else. Why is this so crucial? This is why. If we continually blame the circumstances, another person, or cite something else as the reason for the choice, we never learn to take the responsibility for our own actions. We don’t learn to seek the truth and deal squarely with the facts. We never develop our God-given potential as a human being to behave in ways that honor God.
In the final analysis, God will judge each of us for the things we have done or left undone. It makes a lot more sense to understand this now and start accepting accountability for our choices. God is just and fair.
But the Bible makes it clear that He will hold each of us accountable for our decisions.
By this point, I trust you are more persuaded to seek the Lord during your trials. Even if you are the culprit and brought the circumstances upon yourself, our gracious God is available to help. But the choice to seek his support belongs to you.
Let’s conclude this discussion about choices by contrasting two biblical figures. Each encountered an incredibly tough set of circumstances. Each had to make a choice. As we examine their situations along with the decisions each made, note the stark contrast in the consequences of their choices.
Reaping and Sowing
The two men are Peter and Judas, both among Jesus’ original twelve disciples. Both men were part of the select group that traveled with Jesus during his three years of ministry. Both were recipients of his teaching and witnessed the many miracles Jesus did. Both were present with Jesus in the upper room when the Master shared one final meal with his followers. During the time of Jesus’ arrest and mock trial, both found themselves in the most stressful circumstances of their lives.
Consider Judas, the disciple whose betrayal prompted the religious leaders to arrest Jesus. After a long night of inquisition, Jesus received the death sentence. Scripture tells us that at this point Judas realized his wrongdoing and went back to the religious leaders to confess his sin. Despite Judas’ admission, the decision to kill Jesus still stood.
It’s impossible to put ourselves in the shoes of the very man who betrayed Jesus Christ. But we can examine the breath of Scripture and conclude that Judas’ decision to take his own life was not his only choice. His was a tragic decision with eternal consequences. Nothing in the Bible provides evidence that Judas made heaven. The evidence seems to indicate just the opposite- that Judas will spend eternity separated from God.
A bad choice under unimaginably stressful conditions. Could Judas have sought God for forgiveness? Could he have reset the course of his life and continued serving as a disciple of Christ? The answer is a resounding ‘yes.’ But that’s not the choice Judas made. It was his decision and he bears full responsibility for it.
Let’s review Peter’s situation. Leading up his arrest, Jesus had told Peter that the disciple would deny Him three times.
Unquestionably, Peter didn’t believe it. But following Jesus’ arrest, things started to unravel for the brash disciple. On three separate occasions, Peter denied ever having been with Jesus. Following his last denial, the rooster crowed just as Jesus had foretold.
Peter was both stunned and shocked by his lack of courage.
All of his claims about remaining loyal to Jesus, even to his own death, were apparently nothing but hot air. During the most crucial moments to date, Peter had failed his Lord. What could have been worse? Like Judas in many respects, Peter had failed Jesus.
But unlike Judas, Peter exercised a radically different choice. Instead of deciding to take his own life, he doubtlessly sought forgiveness and direction from God through prayer. Only Peter and God alone could know how painful the next few days must have been. Jesus, their leader, gets crucified and buried.
Peter, along with the other followers, had no idea of what was coming next. News of the Resurrection must have amazed Peter, but not nearly as much as the appearances Jesus made to the disciples following his rising from the dead. The most special occurred when Jesus appeared to Peter and a few of the disciples along the shore of the Sea of Galilee.
At that time, the Gospel of John records pieces of a conversation between Jesus and Peter. The essence of the discussion focused around Jesus telling Peter to continue his ministry. Phrases like ‘feed my sheep’ and ‘follow me’ gave new meaning and purpose to Peter’s life. The rest is history.
Peter went on to become the recognized leader of the disciples. He even wrote two books of the Bible- First and Second Peter. Until his death, Peter’s life was totally committed to preaching the Gospel and building the Church. Though not fully substantiated, Christian tradition reports that Peter died a martyr’s death, being crucified upside down. The upside down part was at Peter’s own request, for he didn’t feel worthy to be crucified in the same manner as his Lord.
Two men. Two choices. Seek God. Make the right choices.