written by
Timothy Fong

Better Decisions from Better Distinctions

15 min read
Forking forest path
Photographer: Jens Lelie | Source: Unsplash

As we discussed earlier, our goal is to enable you to live your “life as an arrow” — a life with Purpose, Power and Presence in accordance to the God’s word. That life is one where "straight" isn't clear, and may need many course-corrections along the way.

Being mentored, then, means receiving guidance to help you make better decisions as you navigate life.

Here are the four steps:

  • Examination
  • Distinction
  • Confession
  • Decision

Let’s take a look at each one:

Examination

Self-examination is the first step for you to take:

Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you--unless indeed you fail the test? (2 Corinthians 13:5)

This feels understandably scary. No one wants to fail a test!

Yet, that fear of failing could also cause you to not examine yourself. But examination — self-examination — can strengthen your faith and give opportunities to “recognize this about yourselves — that Jesus Christ is in you.”

Not doing so is like being unwilling to look under the floorboards to see if your home’s foundation has rotting wood and termites. Not looking doesn’t make those risks go away. Not looking keeps the foundation fragile.

Far better to discover where you have a weak foundation and then repair or build upon it.

If you’re interested in change and growth, you just need a willingness as David exhibits here: (Psalm 139:23-24):

Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.

The first step towards entering a successful mentoring relationship is being open to searching yourself, truly recognizing who you are (the good and the bad), and testing how you live out your faith.

But how do you actually “test” yourself? How do you get guidance for you, yourself, to “see if you are in the faith”?

Distinction

This is where a mentoring relationship kicks in. Your mentor will help you make distinctions between a life of faith or a life filled with doubt. He won’t tell you, but will act as a guide for you to examine yourself.

Making distinctions — thinking and acting differently from the rest of the world — is what Paul asks of all Christians:

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:2)

In order to test God’s will — to live and experience God’s work in your life — he says “do not conform to the pattern of the world.” This means, in part, knowing what a conforming pattern looks like, and what a spirit-led life looks like.

The non-conformance starts with how you think, to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

Mentoring will be help guide your understanding of these distinctions — which we’ll describe in just a moment.

So let’s recap.

Examination — specifically self-examination — is stepping into relationship to help you search your own heart and thoughts.

Through gatherings, reading, and meeting with your mentor, you’ll fine-tune your ability to make Distinctions. What does faith look like? What does doubt look like? What does life in Christ look like? What does life in the world look like?

Together, you start to find opportunities for growth and change. And that happens through Confession.

Many trip over the term “confession” — it sounds like you need to reveal deep, dark, moral aberrations in your life: adultery, embezzlement, murder. Confession is sharing your conviction where you are “missing the mark” — distancing yourself from God.

Confession is the arrow saying, “I need correction in my aim, in my power, and in my ability to sink deeply into the target (presence”). Given how turbulent the winds of life are, every man’s life is an arrow buffeted off-course. This means that everyone has something to confess — and it doesn’t have to be adultery, embezzlement, or murder.

In a mentoring relationship, confession is also not one-sided. Just as you wouldn’t have only one person pray for the other in a mentoring relationship, you wouldn’t have only one person confess to another.

A healthy relationship would involve praying for one another; so it is with confession.

Confession is literally at the center of the prayerful life. Consider this verse (emphasis added):

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. James 5:16 | NIV |

The context of this verse, however, is within a passage where James writes about prayer. How easily we acknowledge the importance of prayer, yet miss the centrality of confession. I’d argue that, in the context of this verse, prayer without confession misses the mark.

Let’s look at the passage in full (James 5:13-20 - emphasis added):

Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick?
Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up.
If they have sinned, they will be forgiven.
Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.
The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.
Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.
My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.

The “chiastic” — the cross-like — structure emphasizes the importance of the the verse James 5:16. If we consider spiritual change and growth in our faith as a form of “healing,” then you cannot escape the centrality of the confessional.

Let’s recap where we are now:

You enter the relationship open to self-examination.

The content, gatherings, and mentoring will help you to develop better distinctions — what does it mean to conform to the world versus to be set apart through Gospel transformation?

The realization of a need for change comes through two-way confession, which is sharing a conviction that you may be on the worldly side of one of the distinctions.

So what’s the fourth and final part?

It’s making a decision.

Like the first part, self-examination, the decision is up to you. No amount of mentorship can force you to act. However, the Mentor can support you in one of three ways1:

  • Encourage
  • Comfort
  • Urge

But only you can make the decision for your life.

Your mentor is invested to help you to choose life in your every day decision:

This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live…. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

“Life” decisions occur when we make choices that either affirm or strengthen our reliance and hope in Jesus; “death” decisions occur when we rely on the values of the world or the needs of our sins.

Your mentor will “encourage, comfort, and urge” through questions, self-confession, stories, and relationship — all ways that Jesus discipled.

But making a change by making a decision — entirely up to you.

So in what topics will we actually mentor you?

Areas of Life

We want to drill into four primary areas which roughly show up in practical parts of life: your heart, mind, strength and soul2.

  • Heart: your relationships with family, friends, romantic partners
  • Mind: worries, fears, planning, ambition, self thoughts
  • Strength: work, career, money, finances, exhaustion
  • Soul: your spiritual state, your sense of well-being

Whatever season you may be in, it’s likely you could want guidance in one or more of these areas.

Read through them now and ask yourself: are you “hitting the mark” in all of them?

Of is there an area where you believe you could use some guidance to aim better, get clarity in your purpose?

Are there areas where your bow is not fully drawn, you feel exhausted or burned-out relying on your own Power?

Do you feel that you are living with a spiritual dryness, despondency, or anxiety that comes from missing God’s Presence?

This means talking about and growing in different areas in your life — possibly in areas you don’t discuss at work or even your small groups.

Given that, mentoring can’t just be about the relationship, although it is important.

Relationship is only one part of mentoring

We do want to enable a relationship between mentor and mentee.

Without a relationship, the mentoring won’t have any real power or any real transformation.

But, you should be desiring the change as a result of the relationship. Here’s a story I heard from a pastor, John Bevere.3

Early in his career, he took over a youth ministry. And one of the students came and said that he missed the prior pastor. When asked why, the student said that the prior pastor was like a buddy, a friend, who did stuff with him, kept him company, but didn’t challenge him like Bevere seemed to want to do.

The pastor looked at the young man and asked him, “Do you want a buddy, or do you want a pastor?”

The young man paused as he weighed his answer.

Then he answered that he wanted a pastor. Not a buddy.

Our goal is to build more than relationships.

It’s to build a quiver full of arrows.

Given distinctions are the key to living different and making good decisions, what are the distinctions we believe matter most?

What are the distinctions we want to help make?

Each of the three areas in the Life of an Arrow — Purpose, Power, Presence — have distinctions to help you get there.

To build Purpose, we’ll spend time exploring three distinctions:

  • Fickle vs Foundational
  • Busy vs Building
  • Driven vs Called

The goal of the mentoring isn’t to tell you what to do. It’s to help you probe in “self-examination” and upon your own accord, find the area to “confess” or to make a choice.

FICKLE VS FOUNDATION

One of the distinctions to keep you on target is to explore whether you are “fickle” or are “foundational” in the area of life.

Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the stream broke against it, immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great.” (Luke 6:47-49)

BUSY VS BUILDING

Some people are so busy focusing what they have set forth in their life as the people the prophet Haggai is chastising; but they aren’t doing the contrast found in the passage: building God’s home.

This is more nuanced that serving at church. This section isn’t about asking more people to serve in more ministries with longer hours. It’s a deeper discussion into whether you desire is to build your own, or God’s home, and what that means.

“You have sown much, and bring in little;
You eat, but do not have enough;
You drink, but you are not filled with drink;
You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm;
And he who earns wages,
Earns wages to put into a bag with holes.” (Haggai 1:6)
  • Are there parts of your life fill with more “activity” than building something in the Kingdom?
  • How do you make the distinction between the busyness of the world and focus on God’s work?

DRIVEN VS DRAWN (CALLED)

The distinction between driven or called is similar to busy or building. When exploring this distinction, we will look more deeply at your motivations.

For this, we’ll look at Saul, and the convergence upon this key verse from 1 Samuel 15-16, which we will study in more depth:

So when Samuel rose early in the morning to meet Saul, it was told Samuel, saying, “Saul went to Carmel, and indeed, he set up a monument for himself; and he has gone on around, passed by, and gone down to Gilgal.” (1 Samuel 15:12)

Especially for men in high-performance industries and roles, persistence and relentlessness are praised. Yet, how do we determine whether we are just acting with “grit” or being “stubborn” in rebellion? Consider this verse about Saul’s downfall:

For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft,
And stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the Lord,
He also has rejected you from being king.” (1 Samuel 15:23)

What was the source of Saul’s behavior, and how can it begin to shed light on whether you are called or driven?

Then Saul said to Samuel, “I have sinned, for I have transgressed the commandment of the Lord and your words, because I feared the people and obeyed their voice. Now therefore, please pardon my sin, and return with me, that I may worship the Lord.” (1 Samuel 15:24-25)

Contrast Saul’s behavior with his counterpart, Samuel. Long before Samuel was confronting Saul, he had the following encounter as a child:

The LORD came and stood there, calling as at the other times, "Samuel! Samuel!" Then Samuel said, "Speak, for your servant is listening." (1 Samuel 3:10)
  • Where on the spectrum do you feel you are, more driven or more called?
  • What are ways you can reduce driven and increase an understanding of your calling?
  • What do you feel you need to give up by following your calling that you believe you driven gives you instead?

Power

Recall, for us Power is like the draw on your bow. It’s what will give the arrow the force, persistence, and strength to hit the mark, resist headwinds, and stay true to the mark instead of being buffeted to and fro45.

God desires us to live a Powerful life, one filled with love and discipline instead of fear and timidity.6

Here are the three primary distinctions:

  • Famished vs Filled
  • Cowardly (Fearful) vs Courageous
  • Haughty (Prideful) vs. Humble

FAMISHED VS FILLED

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. (John 6:35)
  • Are you acting out of a place filled with Christ’s sufficiency?
  • Or are your decisions based on an emptiness?

COWARDLY (FEARFUL) VS COURAGEOUS

Do not be afraid; you will not be put to shame. Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated. You will forget the shame of your youth and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood. (Isaiah 54:4)
  • Are you holding on, pulling back, or acting out because you fear?
  • Or do you have a courage that comes from trusting God?

HAUGHTY (PRIDEFUL) VS. HUMBLE

Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. (James 4:14-16)
  • Are you resting in your own knowledge, capability, intelligence?
  • Or are you yielding to God’s sovereignty?

Presence

Lastly, Presence was truly hitting the mark, sinking deeply within your target, rather than shattering or bouncing upon impact.

The level of intimacy and dependency can be found in Jesus’ words:

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
  • Distracted vs Deep
  • Regretful vs Redeemed
  • Resentful vs Restored

DISTRACTED VS DEEP

Deep calls to deep
in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers
have swept over me. (Psalm 42:7)

REGRETFUL VS REDEEMED

For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death. (2 Corinthians 7:10)

RESENTFUL VS RESTORED

Look after each other so that none of you fails to receive the grace of God. Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many. (Hebrew 12:5)
  1. “For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory” (1 Thess. 2:11-12). ↩︎
  2. He answered, "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'" (Luke 10:27) ↩︎
  3. The Bait of Satan, 20th Anniversary Edition: Living Free from the Deadly Trap of Offense by John Bevere ↩︎
  4. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. (James 1:6) ↩︎
  5. So that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes (Ephesians 4:14 ESV) ↩︎
  6. For God gave us not a spirit of fearfulness; but of power and love and discipline. (2 Timothy 1:7) ↩︎