Be sober-minded; be watchful. your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.

1 Peter 5:8, ESV

It's hard to understate how much we rely on stories. We use them to make sense of the world around us as it is now, and we use them when we look to the future and make decisions. Our minds are skilled at fitting facts together quickly and coming up with a narrative which makes those facts make sense. 

It's an incredibly useful tool which we use effortlessly, but it does have its flaws. 

Once we have this narrative in our minds, it can become the standard we use to evaluate new information - even when our story is not entirely true. Narratives ring true to us, first and foremost, when they make sense to us. We only pause to evaluate the veracity of a narrative later, if we do it at all. 

Our mental stories can be intoxicating 

Further, we tend to leave out things which don't fit the narrative we write in our minds. This means we can miss or overlook things we should have seen, and we can forget there are things we can't see coming at all.

Life never moves in a straight line. It's ups followed by downs, and it moves back and forth and side to side. A might eventually leads to B, but you also might have to go through several other stages and endure outcomes you couldn't have possibly anticipated first. 

Because our narrative impulse works this way, there are several implications we have to contend with. One in particular we should be mindful of is this: we're terrible at assessing risks. 

The Jews in the ancient city of Susa found themselves in dire straits. King Ahasuerus, also know as King Xerxes, had been manipulated into issuing a decree which targeted the Jewish people for genocide. Haman, the one behind the manipulation, is called in the book of Esther the "enemy of the Jews," (Esther 3:10).

Little does Haman know, but Queen Esther is a Jew. And so is Mordecai, Esther's uncle, a man who is favored by the king for uncovering and preventing a would-be assassination attempt on the king's life. 

Mordecai begins to give Queen Esther some counsel. She seems to be the only person who has  enough standing to intervene on behalf of her people. Doing so, though, puts her own life at risk. 

Here is Mordecai's assessment of the situation:

“Do not think to yourself that in the king's palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father's house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” 

Esther 4: 13-14, ESV

We know the end of the story, and that knowledge undermines the impact of Mordecai's statement. Here he is, not glossing over reality, not trying to explain away what is starring them all in the face. He understands this is life or death, and he has a clear-eyed view of what is unfolding, of what he knows, and of what he doesn't know. 

In Christian circles, we hear often the second part of verse 14, that Esther may have been placed there for "such a time as this." We should give equal weight to the first part of Mordecai's statement as well: "who knows?" What could me a more accurate or sober-minded statement?

When we have decisions to make or an outcome is uncertain, we have to learn to pause and think through what we may be missing. How could our story be wrong? 

This isn't about being cynical or pessimistic. Sometimes things work out,  they just don't work out all of the time. Nor should we be judgmental or dismissive of people when their choices don't work the way they thought they would. This includes how we view ourselves and our own choices. 

No, what's necessary isn't cynicism, pessimism, judgment, nor is it shame. What is necessary is honesty. We have to be honest with ourselves, even when the potential outcomes may be daunting. We have to acknowledge the truth of what we know and what we don't know in any given situation.

This is the essence of being sober-minded.