“All your life long you are slowly turning this central thing into a heavenly creature or a hellish creature” through the decisions you make, wrote CS Lewis. If the choices we make really have such an impact, how can Christians make sure they make the right decisions?
The phrase, “Your will be done,” is found in the model of prayer offered by Jesus to His disciples. It expresses obedience to divine plans, contrasting divine omniscience with our human limits.
As a matter of fact, the life of Jesus exuded obedience at every step: “The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him” (John 8:29). Even in Gethsemane, while “the sins of the world were upon Him, also the sense of His Father’s wrath as He suffered the penalty of the law transgressed…” “[going] a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will'”(Matthew 26:39). The hope of salvation for all mankind was, in fact, linked to Jesus’ unparalleled submission to God’s will.
Although they did not always show consistent obedience to God’s will, many biblical characters sought divine inspiration before making decisions that had major implications either for the nation, or themselves.
Balaam, the fallen prophet, asked God what to say to the king of Moab’s messengers. King David would consult with God before battles with the enemies of the Jewish people. Gideon called for clear and supernatural signs to confirm his success in his mission to spiritually reform the people.
In a world that’s very different from that of the characters in the Bible, modern Christians don’t have a better means of detecting God’s guidance. Some even believe that divine guidance is much less evident today than in the past. Or maybe the pace of our lives makes us less willing to give God a chance to say something about our choices.
Between our decisions and God’s will
An average American makes about 70 conscious decisions a day, which means more than 25,000 decisions in a year, says researcher Sheena Iyengar. A study showed that executives are involved in solving 139 tasks per week, and over 50% of the decisions involved in their work are made in 9 minutes or less.
How can we be sure that we are making the right decision in 9 minutes, 9 hours or even 9 days? How do we differentiate between the decisions that will not have a significant impact on our lives and those that will affect us in the long run? What are the methods we can use to check whether our choices are in line with God’s will?
There aren’t many topics as shrouded in uncertainty as that of divine guidance in the day-to-day and special decisions in a Christian’s life.
A first perspective on this subject is related to the flexibility and freedom to decide what a true Christian enjoys. There are two ways to live our lives: in God’s will and apart from Him, says Christian Professor Jerry Sittser. For those who have chosen God, His will is already revealed: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).
Therefore, if we put God first in our lives, the decisions we make daily cannot be “outside” God’s will, because we are already “inside” that will. On the one hand, this perspective gives us confidence, security and freedom in decision-making, and on the other hand, we will only know that we are where God intends us to be by looking at our lives in retrospect, Sittser explains.
Another perspective on God’s guidance is that when we have been endowed with the ability to reason, we have already received all the guidance we need. This was also the philosophy of the Sadducees from the time of Jesus, who believed that after bringing people into existence, Divinity let them handle everything by themselves.
Such a perspective puts the IQ in the spotlight rather than the spiritual orientation, believes Pastor Morris Venden. He analyzes the steps of knowledge of the divine will that George Mueller used, illustrating them with personal or biblical examples. While emphasizing the need to know God beyond times of crisis or difficult decisions, just like Sittser, Venden believes that we can benefit from divine guidance in the issues of daily life, adapted to our needs, that aims for the best choices for our present and future.
Steps to wise decisions
God’s plan for our lives never comes in the form of an elaborate letter that is mailed to us. Christians who want to be and receive the greatest blessing need an active relationship with God.
The Bible promises special guidance for those who seek to live in obedience. “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you” (Psalm 32:8).
Knowing the One who controls the future
God does not want us to wander in the dark when we have to make choices in life, especially since the future is an open book for Him. At the same time, we cannot seek Him only when we are facing an important decision, says Venden, piecing together a few tests to verify our relationship with Him: Are we familiar with His way of communicating and interacting? Do we usually talk to Him in prayer, even when we have nothing to ask for, just for the sake of being together? Do we know what it means to set aside the best time of the day for prayer and Bible study?
When the answer to all these questions is affirmative, we can go one step further to discern His will in the details of our lives.
Asking the questions that matter
Christian writer Ruth Haley Barton presents a series of practical questions that Christian leaders (and others) can use to find their way to the best decisions.
- Does the choice I want to make correspond to the pattern or model that God has so far interlaced with my life? Does the decision I want to make resemble this model? Usually, the new stages will add, expand and enrich a model that can be distinguished more and more clearly, but sometimes God’s plans can lead us to another level, seemingly unrelated to the experience lived up until then (as in the case of the story of Joseph).
- What option gives me a sense of inner peace and freedom? As I reflect on a certain choice, am I becoming more certain that I will remain honest, authentic and congruent with my values if I choose this path?
- How does this choice match the skills and mission that my Christian friends, church members, or spiritual mentors believe to have been entrusted to me by God?
Deliberating in an atmosphere of prayer
“Prayer is the incubator of the best ideas and source of our freshest creativity. Prayer is our lifeline to finding and fulfilling God’s perfect will in all we say and do,” writes Pastor David Jeremiah, emphasizing the need to make prayer a way of life.
Regardless of the fact that the choices we have to make are discouragingly complex, if we only have little known data, or if our experience is too limited to rely on it, the promise of Scripture is that we will receive the wisdom to handle any situation we face: “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you” (James 1:5).
Verses like these are a window into the heart of a loving God who will “give good gifts to those who ask him!” (see Matthew 7:11).
Morris Venden believes that if you only have time to go through one of the decision-making steps, it should be prayer. In fact, God is eager to guide us through the obstacles of life, but He does it step by step. He does not overwhelm us today with details we will need tomorrow, nor does He offer us a crystal ball; He is much more interested in building a daily, close relationship.
Listening to the teachings of Scripture
Christians believe that the Bible is a valuable source of information, “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). However, we will not find texts specific to helping us decide who to marry, where to buy a house, or what profession would suit us best.
Still, the Bible provides principles that can be applied to particular situations. Having said that, we often find ourselves in front of several good options, each with its own advantages. If we want special guidance in this situation, just as vital as prayer is the understanding that, beyond information, Scripture also has the role of facilitating communication and fellowship with God.
Watch for open or closed doors
It can be difficult to understand how God governs circumstances, especially when they don’t seem to be the missing piece of our puzzle of reasoning, writes April Motl. The fact that God opens a door does not mean that the road will be smooth and unobstructed; David’s path to the throne was marked by loss and danger, and he needed patience and faith until he saw God’s promises come true.
It’s not prudent to rely on only one step when we want to make decisions in accordance with God’s will, and when it comes to open or closed doors, this cannot be stressed enough.
While we may be absorbed in our immediate choices, no matter how important they may seem, we must remember that God has both our present and our future in mind and is more interested in how we develop our character—that is, in what we become in this process.
Lessons we can learn about ourselves and our decisions
Life is a string of choices, the most important of which for a Christian is to accept the gift of salvation.
A first lesson in the process of including God in decision-making is that of strengthening faith, writes journalist and author Pam Palagyi. We need to believe that God is interested in communicating with us, and His will will become clearer and clearer as we seek His presence.
God does not work in a void, but uses both circumstances and people to guide us in life. Christian missionary and author Elisabeth Elliot says that the prayers and advice of Christian friends helped her a lot in the crises and crossroads of her life.
To make the best decisions, we need God’s peace in our hearts, points out writer John Ortberg. Growth does not mean letting ourselves become drained by the indecision caused by multiple options, or living with the fear that we will miss the best outcome because of an uninspired choice. In fact, in Jesus Christ “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3) and, as His sons, we can live with confidence in His guidance.
After all, God is not interested in protecting us from any difficulty or failure, and He is not even concerned that our decisions are perfect, but only perfectly inspired by Him, Ortberg concludes.
If our past is corrupted by unsuccessful choices we can no longer correct, plunging into guilt and discouragement is by no means a solution. We have the firm promise of forgiveness and the gift of today. We can make a much better present out of them than ever before.
Carmen Lăiu is a writer for ST Network and Semnele timpului.