The Types of Decisions
In the first post of this series I introduced the idea that we have many opportunities every day to make decisions. Many are made without thinking. That is probably our default for far too many of our decisions. Sometimes it doesn’t matter. But we all have to make decisions regarding righteousness. These are decisions where God has clearly said “you shall not” or “you must.” Then there are decisions of judgment. Some decisions aren’t black-and-white. There are shades of gray. Some might not matter, and others do. Finally, there are decisions of triviality. These are the ones where we think “this is no big deal” when, indeed, it might be. However, many of them are trivial. We don’t need to get mired into inaction because we want “God’s will” for thousands of little decisions.
Get the Foundation Right
If it is true that God guides us by wisdom and truth, then we have a problem. But there is hope. God reveals himself and he reveals his will. It is doubtful that any decision God makes is trivial. Even the things we see using a microscope or a telescope have amazing impacts on our world and our universe. This presents no difficulty for God, as he is omniscient and omnipotent. He is not limited by location or circumstances. But we are not all-knowing, all powerful and we have limits regarding location and circumstances. We need help. But let’s be thoughtful about how and when we seek help.
The Best SUV within God’s Will
Last time I mentioned that Kevin DeYoung recognized that many do not have a framework for making decisions. He wrote a helpful book titled, Just Do Something. He focuses on finding and knowing God’s will and where that fits in our decision-making process. We need to think carefully about moral decisions. But many decisions are not ethical decisions. Motives do matter, but many choices we need to make are not a question of right or wrong. For example, we have many different SUV brands available in Madison, Wisconsin. I could buy Toyota, Honda, Ford, Chevrolet, or some other brand that builds SUV’s. Do I buy a new car, or one that is one year old or one that has 60,000 miles?
Assuming I need an SUV, have the funds to purchase it, and am not neglecting something else that is more important, the choice of the model and age of the SUV is not a decision that requires a lot of hand-wringing about “God’s will.” I am to be responsible, disciplined, and thoughtful when I buy an SUV, but I don’t have to wait until God tells me which one to buy. In fact, that is rather presumptuous on my part.
A Framework For Wise Decision-Making
For those decisions that matter it is wise to seek the answers with a framework. Don’t think of this as a step-by-step recipe or an unbending rulebook. We should not get tangled up in a complicated process. Godly living requires godly disciplines. It helps to have a framework. Here are seven and why they are important. The list first: consecration, information, supplication, consultation, meditation, decision, and expectation. Note that this list doesn’t include worry or anxiety.
Consecration: We need to understand ourselves. That requires thinking: examination and honesty. We also are to know God, and how our lives relate to his divine working. Romans 12:1-2 gives us a helpful starting place. We are to see our lives as a sacrificial gift to God. We are to stop conforming to what everyone else does and be transformed in our thinking. God says these result in us knowing God’s will. He calls his will good, pleasing, and perfect. This will is revealed in his written word. It is not hidden. The real question, I suggest, is “do I really want to do what God wants me to do?” He wants me to be holy, to be more like Jesus and to bring him glory. That doesn’t subtract from my happiness. It multiplies it.
Information: The first informational question is “does God command or prohibit my course of action?” If so, then the decision is simple. Do what God says. God says, “do not be drunk with wine.” To get drunk is disobedience. It is also dangerous for relationships, driving and even walking. It also compromises other decisions I might make. For many decisions, when there are no direct commandments, a wise person seeks information. While God’s directions regarding the person I might marry, he doesn’t tell me which person to marry. Therefore, wisdom says we should get to know a potential spouse to see if they have similar views of God and his purposes for our lives. Sometimes that includes hearing what others have to say about that person’s character.
Supplication: God tells us in James that if anyone lacks wisdom (required for important decisions) he should ask God. God wants to give us wisdom. The young King Solomon pleased God by asking for wisdom. Jesus said God is ready to provide what we need. In Luke 11:13, Jesus said, “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” God doesn’t delight in seeing us get hurt by our decisions. He won’t hide things from us that we need prior to making a decision. Therefore, we should ask God for wisdom, and for understanding about our own hearts because our mind’s desires and motives can be the problem. We should pray expecting help.
Consultation: God tells us to get advice from others. Paul needed Barnabas. Peter needed John. The book of Proverbs is full of this reminder. “The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice. “ (12:15) “Pride only breeds quarrels, but wisdom is found in those who take advice.” (13:10) “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.” (15:22) “The ear that listens to life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise.” (15:31) “Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future.” (19:20) Sadly, many ask for advice after they have created a mess. When we are making decisions that may impact our church, our family, our community, or our work, we would do well to consult with others. If we are married, then we would be wise to ask our spouse for their ideas, concerns, and insights.
Of course, it matters who you ask. Don’t ask someone for financial or investment advice if they have no experience or have made a mess in their own lives. This, therefore, requires some time to build relationships. Don’t assume someone will give good advice just because of their title or skills. Someone might be wealthy but have acquired their wealth in ways that are not moral or ethical. On the other hand, I can receive good advice from someone even if they are not a Christian. It really depends on the nature of the decision to be made.
Meditation: Biblical meditation is nothing more than the process of thoughtfully and deliberately applying God’s word to our lives. This means we aren’t hasty. Meditation isn’t worrying or fantasizing. However, don’t get stuck here. You can’t stay on meditation indefinitely. Think and mull over the possible choices in the light of what God has already shown you from his word.
Decision: As Kevin DeYoung says, “Just Do Something.” Avoiding a decision isn’t necessarily less risky. Some decisions are reversible. A single decision isn’t likely to bring your life to great difficulty or ruin unless it is related to what has already been said about God’s good commandments. (Obviously, killing someone can bring consequences that are far-reaching. Stealing from your employer can ruin your opportunities for providing for your family.) Make your decision, but don’t stop there.
Expectation: We should have faith in the goodness and sovereignty of God. My decisions cannot ruin God’s good plan for me and for my life. He cares for me. Jesus said, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.” But it didn’t end there. Jesus said everything else would be cared for by God. Matthew 6:25-34 reminds us of our priority, that worry is unnecessary, and that God is well-aware of and capable of meeting our needs. Read Romans 8:28 and return back to “consecration” as you see how God works as a result of your decision.
When we’re anxious in our decision-making, we’re telling God that He is not present, available, and prepared to guide us according to His perfect will. We’re saying God is not fully trustworthy to lead us where we need to go and provide for us what we need. If we say God doesn’t exist, then all of this is immaterial. Be careful before you jump to that conclusion.