It was one of those rock-and-a-hard-place moments. On the one hand, he longed to be faithful to the law. On the other hand, he wanted to be faithful—even gracious—to his future wife.
His wife… Would she still be his wife one day? Could he marry an unfaithful woman? Was the wedding off? It was his decision to make, and he felt like Moses, stuck between the Red Sea and the Egyptian army. He couldn’t go forward, but there was no way he could go back.
Joseph made the best
decision possible. How do
you make difficult decisions?”
When Joseph received news of Mary’s pregnancy, he didn’t react immediately. Two little phrases in Matthew 1:19 and 20 tell me he thought about it for awhile: “he had in mind” and “after he had considered this.” Joseph finally reached what he believed to be the best conclusion possible, given the situation. That’s all he could do.
How do you make difficult decisions? I’m often hasty, so Joseph’s deliberate approach helps me. As I meditate on these verses, I imagine Joseph may have approached the decision something like this…
Four steps in decision-making for the Christ-follower
- Search the Scriptures. As a good Jewish young man, Joseph had studied the law. He knew (or could quickly find) the penalty for infidelity. (It’s stoning, if you’re wondering. Deuteronomy 22:23-24) But he also knew Hosea’s story—a real man, like him, called to embrace a repeatedly unfaithful wife. He knew the many times God forgave the Israelites and perhaps he had memorized this portion of Psalm 103:
The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. –Psalm 103:8-10
What was the higher call: to follow the Law given by God or to be like God Himself? It’s easier for us now, on this side of the cross, but Joseph and his contemporaries held the Law in the highest esteem. It governed every aspect of life.
Joseph models prioritizing the Word in all of life, a good message for us.
- Study on the problem. It’s an old-fashioned use of the term (which I used only because I like alliteration), but people used to say “studied on” to mean they had pondered something. It’s more than just thought about it for a second. It means you’ve considered it from all angles. I imagine Joseph thought through the ramifications of all possible scenarios before he decided to divorce Mary.
There’s a clear difference between consideration and worry. Worry says, “What if…?” Consideration says, “If…then…”
Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? –Luke 14:28
Worry reflects a lack of trust
in God. Consideration reflects
careful attention to our actions.
Worry reflects a lack of trust in God. Consideration reflects careful attention to our actions. We do well to think about the outcomes and possibilities of our decisions. Often, the Holy Spirit will direct our thinking in these times to show us results we didn’t envision at first.
- Seek wise counsel. I hope Joseph had a trusted friend or family member with whom he could share his heart—someone older, more experienced, and closer to God than he could be at thirty-something.
Whoever gives heed to instruction prospers, and blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord. –Proverbs 16:20
The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded than the shouts of a ruler of fools. –Ecclesiastes 9:17
Rather than giving answers, the best advisors ask questions that lead you toward understanding. For example, sometimes we know the answer but are unwilling to acknowledge it. A wise person can gently draw that answer out of us.
- Sleep. Once Joseph made the decision, he could rest because he had done everything he knew to do. How long had it been? How many nights did he agonize before settling on this decision? We don’t know. But it’s clear that once he made the decision, he was able to rest with a clear conscience.
We tend to second guess ourselves, to decide then undecide, then decide differently. The Biblical pattern is to make the best decision you can under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, lay it before the Lord again, then move on. That’s what Joseph did.
That very night, the Lord redirected Joseph through an angel in a dream. Does this mean all Joseph’s deliberation and effort were wasted? Not at all.
God knew Joseph’s heart from
the beginning, but maybe Joseph
didn’t really know how he felt.
God knew Joseph’s heart from the beginning, but maybe Joseph didn’t really know how he felt. In my experience, God’s timing (a.k.a. delay) has given me opportunity to examine my own motives and desires.
Joseph’s deliberation also meant that, when he accepted God’s instruction, he knew what it would entail. He had already imagined the possible outcomes of marrying Mary, so he went in “with his eyes open,” as they say.
And here is where we find our best role model in Joseph. Even though he had a reasonable, well-intentioned plan, Joseph forsook it when the Lord said otherwise. Did he even hesitate? I don’t know. The Scriptures say,
When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. –Matthew 1:24
I wonder if Joseph ever told Mary about his deliberation and first decision. Surely, he told her about the dream and the angel. There’s just so much we don’t know about Joseph. What we do know, however, challenges us to a closer walk with God.
Do you have trouble discerning God’s will as you make decisions? I think we all do at times. How can these steps help you through the process? Alternatively, what impresses you about Joseph? Anything you’d like to share in the comments is welcome!
Related: The Cast of Christmas: Joseph