Decision Making and the Will of God is one of my all-time favorite lessons to teach. This is such a crucial topic, because we make big and small decisions all the time and are constantly living with the consequences of past decisions.
Does God speak to you about specific decisions when you are reading the Bible, such as whether you should pay off your mortgage, whom you should marry, what job you should take, etc.? I think this is about how you apply the Bible to decision making and not about whether God sends individual messages through his word.
For example, if you want to know whether paying off your mortgage is the right thing to do, you have a couple options:
1. Ask God for a supernatural sign for the answer, whether it is a yes or a no (a la Gideon). My guess is that He won’t decide for you that way, but it is always his option. One thing we know about God is that if He wants to tell you something directly He isn’t very subtle. There are zero examples of him trying to tell someone something in the Bible and not getting through.
2. Use the wisdom model of decision making. You don’t have access to God’s sovereign knowledge (Will I lose my job? Will interest rates go up or down? Etc.). You do have unrestricted access to his moral will via the Bible. Example: Is it immoral to pay off your mortgage early? No, unless that means you won’t have enough money to feed your kids. After moral considerations, look to the wisdom angle. Ask God for wisdom, as He promises to deliver. But as with Solomon, He doesn’t promise to decide everything for you. Read the Proverbs (and more). Seek the counsel of others. Consider the pros and cons. That’s how to make wise decisions. Finally, provided the options are moral and wise, consider your personal preferences. We have tremendous freedom in Christ to do many things with our time and money. Will paying off your mortgage make you happy? If so, then do it.
Here’s a picture of what is looks like:
Really short version: Aside from direct and clear personal revelation from God, you don’t have access to his sovereign will when making decisions. Therefore you must look at other factors. If it isn’t moral, don’t do it. If it is moral but not wise, don’t do it. If it is moral and wise, then use your personal preferences.
Using this model you can end up with a wise and biblical decision, but you have avoided the traps of the “God told me to ____” routine. People who run around saying that God told them this and that convey a super-spirituality that can leave less mature believers wondering if they really have a relationship with God (i.e., “God doesn’t tell me every little thing to do, so maybe I don’t really know him.”).
The “God told me ___” routine can also be outright blasphemy, as when “Christians” claim that God is moving in a new direction counter to what He revealed in the Bible. The United Church of Christ “God is still speaking;” theme is a good example of that. They didn’t believe what He said the first time around, so why trust them on allegedly new revelations?
Saturating yourself in the word is a key success factor in making good decisions. If we focus on worldly wisdom things go badly:
Jeremiah 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?
But if we repent and do everything we can to see things from God’s point of view we will make better decisions.
Psalm 37:4 Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Romans 12:2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
This model will help you make good decisions in all areas of life. You can also use it to help friends, children, etc. make good decisions. I even use it at work as a “faith flag” at times. If people ask career advice, for example, I pull out this diagram and share it with them (i.e., “At the risk of getting all religious on you, here’s the method I use to make decisions like that.”)
Click here to download a set of PowerPoint slides to read or to use yourself to teach others.
P.S. A kid came into my wife’s elementary school library yesterday and asked if she had any books on how to make good choices. She thought of the diagram above and laughed. Let’s just say I refer to this model now and then. She thinks I should write a children’s book on decision making. I think she is kidding.
Hat tip to Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason for much of this, including the diagram.