When we start our decision-making process by fearing the Lord, we put ourselves in the positions of humility before God. It is at this point that our hearts are ready to acknowledge our utter dependence upon the Lord for his guidance, counsel and wisdom in how to proceed forward.
God wants to guide our lives and decision making and promises such guidance in His Word. (Psalms 32:8) Therefore anyone who desires to make wise choices and know God’s will must regularly pray for guidance. (Psalms 31:3) As we pray, we need to also look for ways in which He is guiding us. Along with prayers for guidance, we can pray for other important virtures like wisdom, clarity and courage when making decisions.
Praying to God does not mean we speak without listening. Learning to know and recognized God’s voice is one of the most important aspects of the Christian life. After all, what kind of relationship can you have with God, or anyone else for that matter, if you are the only one who speaks? God is not silent. He has an opinion and wants it to be known. “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27) God’s people, his sheep can know his voice and are able to follow his leading.
The problem is not whether God still speaks; it’s whether or not we are listening with a heart that’s fully surrendered to do the will of God regardless of how we personally feel on the matter. “And (Jesus) went a little farther, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, ‘O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as you will.’” (Matthew 26:39)
George Mueller, a man of great faith and prayer, said in regard to seeking God’s will, “I seek at the beginning to get my heart into such a state that it has no will of its own in regard to a given matter. Nine-tenths of the difficulties are overcome when our hearts are ready to do the Lord's will, whatever it may be. When one is truly in this state, it is usually but a little way to the knowledge of what His will is.”
If you need to grow in your ability to hear and discern God’s voice, I would highly recommend Mark Virkler’s book, Dialogue with God. This one book revolutionized my Christian life and relationship with God and I’m confident it can yours as well.
When hearing God’s voice in a time of decision seems difficult, it is helpful to refer to our priorities. Knowing your priorities can help to weed out certain options and assist you in making one choice over another. It has been said that in a multiple choice test you can usually eliminate at least two of the answers right off the bat. Having your priorities in order works the same.
So what are your priorities as a believer? Well, according to Jesus, the greatest commandment is to love God and to love others. (Mark 12:29-31) I’d say that’s a pretty good start in understanding your priorities. Loving God comes first, period. (Matthew 6:33) Next comes loving people (neighbors). It is essential to determine what relationships are in the highest order of priority in your life. If you’re married, your spouse must come first. After all, could there be any closer a neighbor? Prioritizing the people in your life will not make every decision for you, but it can easily eliminate and weed out some selfish decisions you may be tempted to make that would hurt the people closest to you.
After we have spent time on our own with God to seek His will, it is helpful and wise to run our decisions and thought process by other godly people. Godly and wise counsel can help us to avoid any shortsightedness or naivety and help us to consider alternative options that may exist. As I write for this website, I have found that it’s of immeasurable help to allow a good and godly friend in the Lord to review my writings before publishing. Not only does my friend often catch spelling and grammatical errors, he also helps me in communicating more effectively and bringing greater clarity to my work.
If we are afraid or unwilling to hear anyone else’s opinion on a matter, it could be that our motives are impure. “A man who isolates himself seeks his own desire; He rages against all wise judgment.” (Proverbs 18:1) If you’re hesitant to ask the opinion of others, search your heart to understand your motives. For additional guidance on receiving counsel from others, read: Receiving Wise and Godly Counsel.
When evaluating choices, it’s a good practice to see if any of our options are contrary to the Bible’s description of wisdom. “But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceful, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.” (James 3:17) Comparing our decisions to the description of wisdom, we can ask ourselves, “Is this choice pure?” “Is it peaceful?” Anytime we can’t answer “Yes” to one of these characteristics we need to raise a red flag.
We can do a similar evaluation using any other list of Bible qualities. For example, we can decipher if our decision is loving by reviewing it against the description of love found in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. We can evaluate whether our decision is in harmony with the Holy Spirit by analyzing it against the fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22-23. When we come to a place where our decision is not aligned with Scripture, we need to stop, pray and ask God to clarify how we need to proceed forward.
Our Western, rationally-minded culture highly values logic and reason. While both logic and reason have their place in making decisions, they are not to the exclusion of intuition and inclination. What may make some uncomfortable about suggesting that we use intuition or sensitivity in decision making is the fear that we will live our lives based on the fickle nature of our emotions. I am not suggesting that we do whatever we feel whenever we feel like doing it. Nor am I in any way promoting hedonism or carnality! What I am saying is that we have been wired by God with feelings and sensitivity that when guided by the Spirit of God can be a great asset in one’s decision making process.
Take for example a husband who finds a great deal on a used car and goes to his wife to ask her opinion. She meets the guy selling the vehicle, sees the car and afterwards says, “I don’t know, there is something about this guy I don’t trust. I don’t think you should buy the car.” The husband asks, “What do you mean? It’s a perfectly good car.” She responds, “I just don’t feel right about it.”
Any man who’s been married long enough knows how this story can sadly end. He goes against his wife’s intuition, buys the car and a week later it breaks down. Okay, so you want a biblical reference to support this phenomenon? Consider Pilate’s wife. She has a dream (more likely a nightmare) and tries to convince her husband to have nothing to do with Jesus. (Matthew 27:19) You know the rest of the story. We’d be foolish to rely solely on intuition, but just as foolish to ignore it.
God desires His people to walk by faith in Him and His promises. While God is able to provide us the guidance we need to make wise decisions, it is then our responsibility to carry out those actions. We may not have all the facts, figures and evidence when we move forward. Peter didn’t crack open a science book before stepping out on the water. He obeyed what the Lord told him to do by faith.
"Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1) Faith decisions require us to rely on the faithfulness of God. When we step out to do something we’re not sure will work out, we are in essence saying, “God, I trust you no matter what happens.” God is honored by such courage. “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that comes to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6)
Knowing what to do is good, knowing when and how to do it is better. At times the Lord reveals his will for us, but we either move too slowly in response or too hastily. Ideally, we do God’s will in His timing (otherwise we may indeed miss His will!). In fact, doing what God wants prematurely or too late can be disastrous. (For reference see: Getting Ahead of God and Getting Behind God.)
So how do we know we’re in God’s timing? The first thing to do is pray. “God help me to do (whatever the activity or venture) in your perfect timing.” Secondly, ask yourself and God what the next right step should be. Then simply do the next right thing. Most big decisions are made up of many other small ones on the way. If you’re planning a short-terms mission trip, the first thing to do may be to write a support letter. If you’re planning to stay overseas for a considerable time, the first thing to do might be to research the country or places that you could potentially go.
Also be sensitive to how God may lead you to do what He’s called you to do. At times when we sense God telling us what to do, we too quickly start acting based on how we think it should come about instead of waiting on the Lord for his provision and plan to unfold. Again, start by praying. “God show me the way you want to accomplish this through me.” Doing things God’s way will save us time, money and energy, not to mention the avoidance of many hastles.
The wisest decisions you will ever make are those done in obedience to God. Abraham obeyed God in bringing his only son as a sacrifice offering. God faithfully brought him a sacrifice and then promised to bless Abraham’s socks off. (Genesis 22:16-18) In fact, obedience and blessings are so closely knit together they might as well be Siamese twins. You can’t obey God and not be blessed! (Deut 28:1-2)
While the idea of blessing is appealing to most, the risk and fear factor many of us face when looking to obey God seems overwhelming. After all, who wants to put their son on the chopping block? For this reason, obedience to God can only truly take place when we trust the Lord with all our hearts. The more we trust God, the easier it becomes to obey Him. The reverse also works. The more we are willing to obey God, the more we learn to trust Him. It reminds me of the refrain of the famous hymn Trust and Obey, “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way, To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”
Even when it’s our hearts desire to make wise choices and do God’s will, we will inevitably fail from time to time. Instead of beating ourselves up for our mistakes, since Jesus already took our punishment for us, we need to learn from our mistakes and failures. In order to become wise decision makers, it’s imperative to be of a moldable, teachable spirit. Any form of stubbornness or pride will prove to be the downfall of those who seek to make wise choices. When we do make mistakes, we need to confess them to the Lord asking His forgiveness and not allow the enemy to condemn us. (1 John 1:9, 1 John 3:20, Romans 8:1)
Let’s not forget to learn from our successes as well! A good friend and supporter of this ministry recently told me, “God gets the glory, you get the encouragement.” That one statement really provided me with a lot of freedom. Of course, only God deserves the credit and glory (Romans 16:27), but each of us needs to humbly receive the encouragement of others, of God and even ourselves. (1 Samuel 30:6)
And why limit our learning to our own life experiences when there are so many others to learn from, including the hundreds of Bible characters who either blew it, made it, or both. (Hebrews 12:1) (Romans 15:4) As we study the Word of God, we can prayerfully ask the Lord to give us wisdom (James 1: 5) and understanding from the lives of God’s people who have gone before us. Someday, let’s hope others will look upon the story of our lives and also learn how to make wise choices that glorify God. Amen.