Decisions Under Uncertainty

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Simple FaithBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

Decisions that we make are often assumed to be made in a context of certainty about outcomes. We use language like, if I do A, then B will follow, as if we knew the outcome with absolute certainty. This is an unrealistic assumption, but we assume it anyway to keep things easy, at least for purposes of explaining our decisions to ourselves or others.

Why Do We Assume Certainty?

Part of the reason for this simplistic assumption is that decision making creates anxiety. The future is never known for sure and important decisions can affect outcomes, our state of mind, and how others view our competency. Our anxiety levels go down when we are confident of our ability to make decisions and have experience showing that our competency is justified.

Experience with Decision Making

In my own experience, my decision skills improved greatly when I traded commodities, stocks, and options. Timely decision making was important as a trader and my decisions had previously been marked by “analysis paralysis,” a condition where the decision maker keeps procrastinating in the hope of gathering more information. In trading, analysis paralysis proved costly because buying opportunities quickly disappear in a competitive market. My training as a trader proved costly, but I learned how to assess information requirements quickly and to limit the markets that I traded so I could act quickly without a high level of uncertainty. I also learned to cut my losses when the market did not perform as expected.

Cutting one’s losses quickly is important in other contexts. Suppose that I worked in a particular field for a number of years only to find that my chosen field was no longer “hot”. If I continued to work in that field and to deny the lack of interest of my employers, my career would suffer even if I retained my position. Suppose that I reached a certain age and no longer needed to work to earn a living in a stressful job. If I continued to work anyway because the money was good and ignored the effect of the stress on my health and on my family.

Uncertainty Affects All Aspects of Decisions

Going back to our original example of a decision—if A, then B—we have at least three sources of uncertainty in this simple equation.

First, what if condition A is only partially met or if we are mistaken in our ability to trigger this condition? If I want to purchase a car, I need to have the money necessary for the purchase. What if I do not have the cash and do not know if a lender to make me a loan?

Second, what if the relationship between A and B changes? Suppose I raise the money to buy the car, but it is no longer available for sale?

Third, what if I raise the money for my car and it is still available for sale, but the dealer package does not include the features that I really wanted, like perhaps a car radio or guidance system or air conditioning, at the price originally quoted?

Uncertainty is Especially a Problem with Investment Decisions

While buying a car can raise a number of issues in itself, the uncertainty level rises when the car is needed to make an investment decision or needs to be paid out of future earnings. What if I am starting a new job as a traveling salesman, what car is most suitable for my new position? Suitability might take the form of having seats that remain comfortable after a six hour drive so that I can meet with customers in a relaxed manner. Or it might take the form of safety features that prevent accidents in the case of narcolepsy.

If my investment in a new car needs to be paid out of my earnings as a salesman and my future earnings are in question, my ability to repay my automobile loan needs to be estimated and may depend on events that I have no control over.
The same problem arises in making decisions about education. In college when I decided to study economics, I had no idea what an economist could expect to earn and whether studying economics posed a profitable investment decision, but I knew that my father had studied economics and was able to earn a living. I took it on faith that if I followed my father into the economics profession, I would earn a similar income and be able to support a family. In a formal sense, however, I did not (and perhaps could not) make a rational decision based on current expected earnings in the economics profession.

Focus on the Assurance of Salvation and Doubt

The defining characteristic of the postmodern era is uncertainty, precisely the oppose of tradition society. In traditional societies, tradition informs every important decision in one’s life—what gender roles we follow, who our friends are, who we marry, what profession we take up, and who we worship and how. Life has meaning in a traditional society because when we accept this guidance, we are rewarded with status and honor. All of this guidance has been abandoned in postmodern culture where we are responsible for every imaginable decision with little or no guidance and, in any case, given no rewards of status honor. If we succeed, we are fully employed, have a medical plan, and can buy stuff. The defining characteristic of the individual in the postmodern era is anxiety.
The church responds to the postmodern dilemma primarily by over-emphasis of the assurance of salvation in Christ and, in effect, denial of any form of uncertainty. We all know this is a highly problematic theological stance because it leaves little or no room for doubt. Jesus did not take this position. Listen to the words of Jesus spoken to the father of a boy possessed by an evil spirit:

“But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us. And Jesus said to him, If you can! All things are possible for one who believes. Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:22-24)

The father recognizes that his faith is not sufficient for healing; Jesus accepts his prayer and heals the child notwithstanding. The father’s prayer is effectively our prayer.
God’s mercy through Christ is the only assurance of salvation that we have and Jesus knows that the uncertainty in this life, which wells up in us as doubt day to day, cannot snatch us from his hand (John 10:28).

 

Decisions Under Uncertainty

Also see:

A Roadmap of Simple Faith

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

A Place for Authoritative Prayer 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter: http://bit.ly/2BKihbl

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Ten Most Popular Reviews over Last 12 Months

James Plueddemann, Leadership Across Cultures
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

It is helpful from time to time to review the most popular postings. Notice how many older postings continue to attract readers even now. The James Plueddemann book, Leading Across Cultures, is consistently the single most popular posting on T2Pneuma. This highly theological textbook is of most interest to missionaries, foreign and domestic.

Review Title (Click to Read)

 Date Posted Views
Plueddemann Demystified Leadership Across Culture 3/31/2014 65
Stone and Duke Encourage Theological Reflection 7/19/2016 30
Nouwen: Make Space for Self, Others, and God 5/3/2016 21
Murrow Invites Churches to be Man-friendly 4/29/2015 19
Teague Gives MailChimp a Spin 12/26/2017 17
Nouwen Describes Leadership Challenges 10/3/2017 14
Meeks Explains Amazon Ads (2) 11/7/2017 12
Heifetz and Linsky Lead through Adversity 6/4/2014 12
Tim Keller Makes Sense, Part 1 10/10/2017 12
Rice Reclaims Reformed Spirituality  12/2/2013 11

Ten Most Popular Reviews over Last 12 Months

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Books, Films, and Ministry

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Prayer for the Silent People

Art by M. Naris Hiemstra

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Almighty Father,

All praise and honor be yours, Lord, for bringing caring people into my life.

For I am not an island, much as I would like to be.

For my freedom in Christ is to live within your healthy boundaries,

not to do everything that my sinful nature might desire.

I confess, Lord,

that I forget to raise my concerns up in prayer and to pray over the many decisions that I face each day;

that my desires would destroy me, were I to yield to them;

that I am totally dependent on your goodness and mercy every day of my life.

But I give thanks for your Holy Spirit’s guidance, provision, and placing of many saints in my life.

Help me to remember the silent people–

those forgotten because their social status,

those unseen because their work masquerades in products and services that I barely understand,

those that I am simply too busy or proud to recognize and honor.

Bless them. May I learn to honor them daily.

In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

Prayer for the Silent People

Also see:

Giving Thanks 

A Place for Authoritative Prayer 

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The Immaturity Problem

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Simple FaithBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

Decisions in a society focused on youth culture pose a special problem because of the refusal of many to shoulder responsibility for their actions. As mentioned previously, in an ideal world we would approach important decisions as well-informed adults who understand our own weaknesses and consider carefully the options presented to us, taking our time to consult with our mentors, friends, and family and being devoid of dysfunctions, like mental illness or drug use. Even in the absence of external manipulation, youth culture undermines decision-making out of ignorance, impatience, and unwillingness to rectify obvious dysfunction.

The Designated Adult

Families and organizations manage to survive in this environment, not by encouraging greater rationality, but by weakly tolerating a few designated adults who tirelessly attempt to hold things together while many others simply party on. Family systems theory refers to this phenomena as overfunctioning (Friedman 1985, 210-212). Gilbert (2006, 17) notes that the overfunctioning individual usually pairs up with an underfunctioning individual to form one functioning person out of two.

In a church context, a pastor may be hired to rescue the congregation from a decline in membership only to find that members refuse to accept the new members that the pastor welcomes into the church. Churches of this sort may go through a series of pastors and eventually close their doors because the members refuse to adapt to and accept the changing demographics of their community. Parents unwilling or unable to practice “tough love” may find themselves saddled with caring for children that fail to launch and for grandchildren engendered by the same.

The One-off Solution

Postmodern culture encourages this behavior by refusing to insist that participants hold an internally consistent set of values and preferring one-off solutions.

Probably the most obvious example of this problem arises with the American drug culture that arises, in part, as the dark side of the propensity of Americans to place too high a value of an unsustainable work ethic. When attempts to compete in this unsustainable work culture fail, recreational drug use spirals into addiction and destroys any possibility of further advance in one’s career. At the heart of the problem is the attempt to live a licentious lifestyle alongside of a career that requires exacting personal discipline.

In this example, recreational drug use is proffered as a one-off solution to the problem of stress. Instead, of living a balanced lifestyle with time devoted both to work and self-care, the worker self-medicates and skips the trip to the gym or the family outing. Drug use starts out as the solution to the problem of stress through self-medication, not perceived as a problem in itself.[1] This confusion between problem and solution can lead to addiction, but—more to the point—it began by trying to find a one-off solution to the problem of stress, rather than mitigating the stress itself.

When the usual pattern of problem solving is to seek a one-off solution—looking for a pill to solve our health problem—we are less likely to perceive the spiritual problem that may be behind many of life’s challenges.

More than the Usual Background Noise

Every age has had its distractions. The postmodern era stands out because the volume of the background noise has been turned up significantly while the usual institutions—family, church, community—for dealing with it have been seriously weakened. It is now up to the individual to turn off the cell phone, computer, and other media or, alternatively, screen the massive amount of information available for specific information of use in making decisions. Meanwhile, the pace of life and work has accelerated rendering this filtering process for the conscientious decision maker more difficult.

But not everyone steps up to this challenge.

Presented with an overstimulating environment, many people opt simply to check out, self-medicate, or insulate themselves with white noise—the omnipresent headset, the television never turned off, or refusing to leave their rooms or other comforting environments. This latter option functions much like rumination that keeps the individual from reflecting on their daily challenges as they obsess about events in the past, especially past trauma. The individual who ruminates (or employs white noise) essentially refuses to think about current decisions and, as a consequence, frustrates their own maturing process becoming developmentally impaired.

Decisions in a Sub-Optimal Decision Environment

The problem of relying on designated adults, rather than aspiring to maturity, and habit of seeking one-off solutions both undermine the decision environment that many people face in the postmodern era. Many people reach the age of consent or of legal maturity well before they are able to function as self-reliant adults leaving them unable to make good decisions, vulnerable to manipulation, and unable to advance spiritually.

References

Clinebell Jr, Howard J. 1978. Understanding and Counseling the Alcoholic Through Religion and Psychology (Orig. Pub. 1956) Nashville: Abingdon.

Friedman, Edwin H. 1985. Generation to Generation: Family Process in Church and Synagogue. New York: Guilford Press.

Gilbert, Roberta M. 2006. The Eight Concepts of Bowen Theory: A New Way of Thinking about the Individual and the Group. Front Royal (VA): Leading Systems Press.

Footnotes

[1] Clinebell (1978, 19) observes: “Does the person’s drinking frequently or continuously interfere with his social relations, his role in the family, his job, his finances, or his health? If so, the changes are that that person is an alcoholic or on the verge of becoming one.”

The Immaturity Problem

Also see:

A Roadmap of Simple Faith

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

A Place for Authoritative Prayer 

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Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

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Dayton Explores Evangelical History

Donald Dayton: Discovering An Evangelical HeritageDonald W. Dayton. 2005.  Discovering An Evangelical Heritage (Orig. Pub. 1976). Peabody: Hendrickson.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

I heard Dayton speak in September 2006 at Wesley Theology Seminary here in Washington DC. Dayton was the guest speaker at chapel (something about a 30-year anniversary of the book and an award from the seminary). His address focused on the many faces of John Wesley—something new and interesting to me. His talk prompted me to buy the book, Discovering an Evangelical Heritage, and another of his books, The Theological Roots of Pentecostalism.

The book is interested me because he dials back to the period of Charles Finney during the second Great Awakening. Finney was the Billy Graham of his day. Unlike Graham, Finney was both a great revivalist and a social reformer. Apparently, early evangelicals were at the forefront of the campaigns to abolish slavery, promote woman’s rights, and advocating temperance. While I knew some of the history of this reforms, I did not specifically associate these reforms with 19th-century evangelicals and the Second Great Awakening until reading Dayton.

Dayton’s historical review includes chapters on abolition of slavery, women’s rights, and temperance. Key personalities and financial supporters of these movements were discussed. The roles of Oberlin College and different seminaries (Princeton, Gordon-Conwell, and others) in social reforms (or not) of the 19th century were especially interesting to me.

So why did American Evangelicals come to focus on evangelism and less on social reform? Dayton explains the difference in evangelical attitudes about social reform to a number of things. Among these were disillusionment following the Civil War, a less optimistic view of the impact of sin, and a switch from post-millennial to pre-millennial eschatological views. According to Dayton, if you believe that Christians will be raptured the moment Christ returns rather than after a thousand years of Christ’s rule, then evangelism takes a higher priority and social reform goes down in priority.

I found Dayton’s analyses of these events credible, informative, and insightful—much like his talk. I can see why Wesley Theological Seminary presented him with an award.

References

Donald W. Dayton.  2004.  Theological Roots of Pentecostalism. Metuchen NJ:  Hendrickson Publishers (Review: https://wp.me/p8RkfV-xO).

Dayton Explores Evangelical History

Also see:

Dayton: Remembering the Story of Pentecostalism

Tennant Highlights Five Gifts 

Books, Films, and Ministry

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Prayer for Presence and to be Present

Route 28, Manassas, Virginia
Route 28, Manassas, Virgina

 

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Heavenly Father,

I praise you for your quiet presence,

sustaining all creation and provisioning it with your love.

Though darkness cover us and we fear the death that is ever-near,

you cover us with the blood of Christ, your hedge of everlasting protection.

Cover my sin–the times that my judgment lapses,

and I cannot even admit my transgressions to myself.

Thankfully, you do not share my weaknesses and we can rejoice in your goodness,

even when we are alone and walk in the dark night of the soul.

In the power of your Holy Spirit,

grant us the strength to model your presence to those around us,

the grace to model your goodness,

and the peace that passes all understanding.

In Jesus’ precious name, Amen

Prayer for Presence and to be Present

Also see:

Giving Thanks 

A Place for Authoritative Prayer 

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Why Do We Care About Learning Processes?

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Simple FaithBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

The process of learning affects the quality of our decisions, especially when it comes to faith decisions, and how we respond to external manipulation. While reflecting on the learning process may sound academic and perhaps boring, the learning process plays a critical role in our faith journey.

In an ideal world, we would approach important decisions as well-informed adults who understand our own weaknesses and consider carefully the options presented to us, taking our time to consult with our mentors, friends, and family and being devoid of dysfunctions, like mental illness or drug use.[1] In the postmodern world, advertisers encourage us to behave like kids, who deny that bad habits are bad and rush to make decisions based on the latest fad rather than careful reflection, discounting any advice offered by friends and family. The youth culture that dominates postmodern life offers an advertiser’s paradise.

If you believe that modern media is irrelevant to your religious life, then ask yourself a couple of questions. For example, why are most sermons about 20 minutes? and where do you go when you get upset? Twenty minute is about the amount of time remaining in a 30 minutes television show after the time devoted to advertising is subtracted out. If you go shopping when you are anxious, then consider what your grandmother might have done—50 years ago it was common to go to a chapel and pray on stressful occasions.[2] Today, if someone wanted to pray in a chapel, the door would likely be locked.

In his book, Winning the Story Wars, Jonah Sacks talks about the contribution of dark art of marketing to cultural changes that we have seen. Borrowing from the work of Joseph Campbell, Sacks describes the purpose of myth (story-telling) is to help us grow up because we yearn for maturation. But mature adults (self-responsible, free agents) threaten marketers who typically prefer us to remain adolescents where we suspended in an immature state dwelling on emotions like greed, vanity, and insecurity—the bottom rung in Abraham Maslow’s pyramid of needs.[3] In this immature state, we are encouraged to feel inadequate and incomplete where consumption of product X, Y, Z can presumably make us complete again (Sacks 2012, 85-86).

Inadequacy marketing directly assaults the spirit of most religious teaching, irrespective of theology, because most religions aid our maturation and help us to contribute to society. Hence, the phrase—the dark art of marketing—is truly dark because the advertiser works explicitly to undermine rational decision processes, stroke anxieties, and tell us stories that sell their products at the expense of undermining our own self-worth.

Through unconscious and voluminous repetition, this advertising entertains us daily like the air that we breathe and it shapes our perceptions, leaving us impatient for catchy phrases, tunes, and images. When our children say that church is boring, they simply observe that the pastor cannot offer the same catchy phrases, tunes, and images that they see on their cell phones every day. As parents, pastors, and teachers, postmodern culture outguns us on daily basis, unless we focus on the learning process and how decisions really get made.

References

Maslow, Abraham H. (1943). “A theory of human motivation”. Psychological Review. 50 (4): 370–96.

Plantinga, Alvin. 2000. Warranted Christian Belief. New York: Oxford University Press.

Sacks, Jonah. 2012. Winning the Story Wars: Why Those Who Tell—and Live—the Best Stories Will Rule the Future. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

Footnotes

[1] Plantinga (2000, 108-134) wrote at length about the proper function of decision making and defining rationality with philosophical precision.

[2] In Hispanic films, people still consult a priest and/or visit a chapel to pray, but not in English language films. The last example of a chapel visit in film that I remember was in Home Alone (1990) starring Macaulay Culkin, Joe Pesci, and Daniel Stern.

[3] Maslow pictured a pyramid of needs in which the foundational needs were physiological, followed by safety, love and belonging, self-esteem, and self-actualization at the top of the pyramid (Sacks 2012, 130).

Why Do We Care About Learning Processes?

Also see:

A Roadmap of Simple Faith

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

A Place for Authoritative Prayer 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2jaUhI7

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Chesterton Explains His Faith Journey

G.K. Chesterton, OrthodoxyG.K. Chesterton. 2017. Orthodoxy (Orig. Pub. 1908). Satya Books.[1]

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

For those that are curious and think for themselves, many of the best known critics of the Christian faith come up short. The heart of atheism is not a philosophical critique of faith; it is a willful disrespect for all forms of authority, especially divine authority. The reasons for disbelief often border on mere slander of the faith, which becomes obvious as inconsistent criticisms morph over time and show themselves in conflict. Apologetics accordingly begins to resemble the case of the parent trying to reason with tired child when a good nap (or firm discipline) is needed.

Introduction

In his book, Orthodoxy, Gilbert Keith (better known as G.K.) Chesterton sets out to explain how he came to faith in his own words, the words and arguments that ultimately convinced him. In a puckish response to a question posed by his publisher, Chesterton recounts:

“‘Well, if a man is not to believe in himself, in what is he to believe?’ After a long pause, I replied, ‘I will go home and write a book in answer to that question.’ This is the book that I have written in answer to it.” (7)

When is the last time that you wrote a book to win an argument? Obviously, Chesterton (1874-1936) lived at a time when a “lettered” (“English writer, poet, philosopher, dramatist, journalist, orator, lay theologian, biographer, and literary and art critic”[2]) man took his arguments seriously.

Orthodoxy Defined

Chesterton defines orthodoxy in these words:

“When the word ‘orthodoxy’ is used here it means the Apostles’ Creed, as understood by everybody calling himself Christian until a very short time ago and the general historic conduct of those who held such a creed.” (5)

Belief in the Apostles’ Creed, summarized in five fundamentals of the faith:

  1.  The inerrancy of scripture;
  2. The virgin birth of Jesus;
  3. The doctrine of substitutionary atonement (Christ died for our sins);
  4. The bodily resurrection of Christ; and
  5. The miracle-working power of Christ (Longfield 1991, 9, 78)

were required for ordination as a Presbyterian pastor between 1910 and 1925. After 1925, one could be ordained without believing the Apostles’ Creed (the liberal view) and, if you persisted in believing the creed, you would be described pejoratively as a “fundamentalist.” Thus, Chesterton’s simple definition anticipated a crisis that had not yet divided the American church, but even today lies at the heart of the culture wars.

Lampoon Champ

Chesterton spends considerable time in his book lampooning his critics for their inconsistencies. He writes:

“certain sceptics wrote that the great crime of Christianity had been its attack on the family; it dragged women to the loneliness and contemplation of the cloister, away from their homes and their children. But, then, other sceptics (slightly more advanced) said that the great crime of Christianity was the family and marriage upon us; that it doomed women to the drudgery of their homes and children, and forbade them loneliness and contemplation.” (79-80)

Clearly, this argument is dated, but the inconsistencies persist. Who, for example, remembers that the first co-educational college in America, Oberlin College, was started by two Presbyterian pastors and that the famous evangelist, Charles Finney, served as its president from 1850 to 1866? The feminist movement started as evangelical Christian movement (see Gal 3:28) and it is only after the Civil War that the woman’s movement took a secular turn (Dayton 1976, 121-135). Hopefully, Chesterton will be forgiven for his candid (and dated) comments on this issue.

Coming To Faith

So why did Chesterton adopt the Christian faith? He writes:

“my reason for accepting the religion and not merely the scattered and secular truths out of the religion. I do it because the thing has not merely told this truth or that truth, but has revealed itself as a truth-telling thing.” (146)

In my own experience, I have found critics quite willing to pick at this or that doctrine that they do not understand or accept without substituting an equally valuable replacement. Christianity as a faith fits the whole person and the entirety of life’s experiences better than competing religions and philosophies which is why it is found throughout the entire world, unlike other faiths that favor one or another ethnic group and region. Mere critics normally do not accept responsibility for their partial criticisms—they steal a person’s hope and faith, and leave their victims in despair. Such actions clearly troubled Chesterton as he weighed his options.

Assessment

G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy is a challenging but interesting read. He is challenging to read because he is better versed in philosophy and apologetics than most readers and his arguments often hinge on subtle word-play and knowledge of events and readings. Still, Chesterton is interesting to read because he writes roughly a hundred years ago and yet speaks directly to our own context. Read and enjoy!

References

Bradley J. Longfield. 1991. The Presbyterian Controversy:  Fundamentalists, Modernists, and Moderates. New York:  Oxford University Press. (Review: https://wp.me/p8RkfV-11c).

Dayton, Donald W. 1976. Discovering an Evangelical Heritage. Peabody: Hendrickson.

Footnotes

[1] Satya is the Sanskrit word for truth (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Satya).

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G._K._Chesterton#Other.

Chesterton Explains His Faith Journey

Also see:

Longfield Chronicles the Fundamentalist/Liberal Divide in the PCUSA, Part 1 

Books, Films, and Ministry

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Prayer for Elderly Parents

Four Doctor Hiemstra
The Four Doctor Hiemstras

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Holy Father,

All praise and glory be to you for providing us faithful parents,

role models to guide us through the wilds of life

before we could tell our left hand from the right.

Thank you for their care, sacrifice, and wisdom—

may we be so caring, so willing to sacrifice, and so wise,

and forgive us when we are not!

Be with them when we are unable that they would never be alone.

Protect them from those that prey on the elderly, from unexpected accidents, and from needless worry.

In the power of your Holy Spirit, grant us the strength and wisdom to be worthy children and loving caregivers—

that we might enjoy our remaining times together and provide a role model to the young.

In Jesus precious name, Amen.

Prayer for Elderly Parents

Also see:

Family Prayer 

Giving Thanks 

A Place for Authoritative Prayer 

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Teachers, Mentors, Friends, and Family

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Simple FaithBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding,
will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:7)

We seldom learn alone. From a young age, we learn to take advice and our teachers, mentors, friends, and family guide and instruct us. We read: “Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future.” (Prov 19:20) While such advice may seem obvious, it frequently ignored. Many articles and studies cite few sources and give little evidence that they consulted anyone. A long list of references at the end of a report signals that the author has done his homework and can likely be trusted.

The first step in any research project is to consult the literature on the subject being studied. Few topics are truly new and, even when they are, prior research may have answered a similar question. Many academic fields of study invent entirely new terminology for what may be an ancient topic. This problem of new terminology may make a trip to the library (or to Google) seem pointless, but it points to the need to consult with advisers who can frame the proper terminology.

Resistance to consulting others frequently starts with pride or shame or the desire to take credit for the work. We may be too proud to ask for advice or be ashamed that we are not already experts on the subject. The desire to take credit for an innovation often motivates the keeping of secrets, but it also limits our productivity. A simple word of advice can eliminate many hours of searching and reduce the number of errors committed in the process. Working as a professional researcher, I often discovered in the final stages of a project a book or report that I wish that I had started with.

Of course, not all advisers can be trusted and ideas are frequently stolen. One reason for this problem arises because the hardest step in the scientific method is the problem definition. One of my most helpful professors used to add an additional step to the method before the problem definition: felt need.[1] A felt need reflects a concern without a clear idea of how usefully to frame the discussion. Once the problem is defined, the remainder of the research is a matter of filling in the blank. Thus, an adviser or a reviewer must be trusted enough to know that they will not steal an idea or, in an administrative context, take over (or kill)  your research project.

This problem is no different in a personal context. Sharing with a friend that you like someone entails the risk that they will realize that your relationship is uncertain and they could be emboldened to step in and initiate their own relationship. Talking about a job that you have applied for could invite competition or, alternatively, poisoning the well—your boss or co-workers may not want to see you advance or leave them.

Still, good friends and supportive colleagues will want you to be successful—to do your best work, to advance your career, and to find happiness. Working together and offering helpful advice speeds the learning process making life much more interesting. In fact, I frequently find prayer does exactly the same thing. When I take time to pray, often the first thing that happens is that God reminds me of something that I neglected to do—call a family member or take care of some unfinished business. With such insights revealed, I often sleep much better after evening prayers.

References

Johnson, Glenn L. 1986. Research Methodology for Economists: Philosophy and Practice. New York: MacMillan Publishing Company.

Footnotes

[1] Johnson lectured on felt needs but had not formulated the approach when he published his formal work (Johnson 1986, 15).

Teachers, Mentors, Friends, and Family

Also see:

A Roadmap of Simple Faith

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

A Place for Authoritative Prayer 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2jaUhI7

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