By Tyler David | Article from Vergenetwork.org 23 June 2015
When making decisions, there are situations in life where morality is not enough and we need wisdom.
Wisdom is not a teaching, but rather a person named Jesus. When God calls everyone to pursue wisdom, it’s a call to know Him through the Lord Jesus. He is the wisdom of God.
How are you wise in making decisions? When you have multiple options in front of you, how do you determine which is the best choice? How do you not make a bad choice?
For those of us who love Jesus we want to know how to make a choice that honors God.
We could not be in more desperate need for wisdom in decision making than now, both as a society and as a church. We’re in an unprecedented time where we have more options than ever. When you look at anything in our lives, there are multiple choices.
At the grocery store, every single product has thousands of variations. I feel this every time I buy deodorant. There are thirty different brands with different features, scents, and incredible technology. I don’t know what the best choice it. It can be debilitating sometimes.
With all these options, how do you know what the best choice is?
In some ways, it’s a blessing. But some psychologists are finding that for all the options we have and the promises that having more choices make you happier, this isn’t the case. Actually, the more options you have, the less happy you are in making a decision. There was a study done in 2000 where they saw the paralyzing effects of having too many options.
“In an experiment examining the effects of choice on happiness, Iyengar and Lepper randomized individuals to either a group in which they could choose from 30 types of chocolate or a group in which they could choose from six types of chocolate. While subjects initially reported liking having the choice of 30 chocolates, they ended up being more dissatisfied and regretful of the choices they made than those who only had the choice of six.” –Frederick Muench, Ph. D
One group got thirty options of chocolates while the other group only got six. At first the group with thirty options thought it was awesome. But when they were asked which they liked best, they didn’t know. There were too many. For them, having all those options made it harder to choose. They were less happy in making a decision than those who only had to choose from six.
It was counter-intuitive.
The more choices you have the more difficult it is to know you’re making the best choice. Am I missing out on something? Did I remember that rightly? Is that really the best option? You make a choice, but you’re dissatisfied and regretful.
1. We get paralyzed because we think there’s a “godliest” option
For us as the church, we are also paralyzed to make decisions sometimes. The reasons we’re paralyzed are different than those for the world around us. We’re paralyzed to make decisions because we have this prevalent assumption that in the gray areas of life with multiple options in front us there’s a “godliest” option.
There are three choices in front of you and though none of them are sin, you have the assumption one of them will make God most happy with you. If we don’t pick that one God won’t be as happy with us as He could be.
2. We get paralyzed because we put too much pressure on ourselves
We’re also paralyzed because we put way too much pressure on our decisions. We begin to think our decisions will define the rest of our lives. Everything you’re hoping to do depends on this one decision.
3. We get paralyzed because we’re waiting for a sign from God
Lastly, we’re paralyzed in our decisions because we’re waiting for a sign from God. We have a decision to make from many options which none are sin. We think how other people have said God told them to do something so we just wait for Him to tell us what to do. You begin to overanalyze every intuition, every conversation, and every gust of wind. Every upset stomach becomes, “Could that be God or just the bad burrito?”
We’re so paralyzed we don’t know how to make a wise decision. We don’t have a good process to filter through all the different data points that go into making a wise decision. What we need is a process with steps to put things through to help us make better decisions, especially in those areas of your life where God has not spoken directly to you through His word.
I’m going to give you a four-step process to make wise decisions. I didn’t just make these up. They’re from the Book of Proverbs. I want us to pursue wisdom practically and follow Proverbs 3:5-6.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. 6 In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Proverbs 3:5-6 (ESV)
This process is meant to help us trust the Lord and His Word, not ourselves.
Here’s the four-step process to making a wise decision:
- Believe God’s Word.
- Listen to Godly counsel.
- Do what you want.
- Ask for faith.
Before I get into them I want to emphasize two things. First, the order of this process is vital. If you skip the order it won’t be as effective. In fact, it could be very unhelpful. Secondly, this can’t guarantee always making a wise decision. You can go through this whole process and still find yourself making a terrible choice. This process does is like bumpers on a bowling lane. It doesn’t guarantee a strike, but it keeps you from falling into the gutter.
Step 1: BELIEVE GOD’S WORD
We start with His Word because all wisdom starts with God.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. Proverbs 1:7 (ESV)
Wisdom starts with a proper relationship and knowing of God. This is where you take time to consider who God is, what has He said in His word, what has He said about Himself, about you, the circumstance, and our relationships, and His expectations on us. You start with the Bible because if it speaks to something, it is the truest data you could have.
In decision-making we tend to start with things we don’t know and work through to the things we do know. That’s not helpful. The best way to do it is to start with the things you do know and then work toward the things you don’t. What we know in the Word is that it’s always true; it’s breathed out by an infinite eternal God. It’s going to be true to whatever it speaks to.
First, you have to ask if what you’re considering is sin? Does God’s Word forbid you to do the thing you’re thinking about doing? If the answer is yes, then this process is over. This process is not to help you to think through whether should you sin or not. It’s not meant to help you justify thinking or feeling or acting contrary to God’s Word.
If God says it’s sin, our response is to trust Him. We are to say, “God, you alone know where life is and you’re leading me towards life through your Word. I’m going to trust you.”
God has set clear standards in the Bible. This is not a process to think through how far is too far with your boyfriend or girlfriend. That isn’t a wisdom issue. This isn’t a process to think through whether you should forgive someone or not.
God commands His people to forgive as you have been forgiven. This isn’t a process to consider if you should give anything away. The Bible says to be generous, where your treasure is, there you heart will be also. That’s a command. The Bible says repent and believe the gospel. This isn’t a process to determine if that’s really for you.
If it’s not sin, then there are three truths that are narratives of the scriptures that can help you think through how you believe in God’s Word in particular.
To believe in God’s Word for decision-making in the gray areas of life, you go to God’s gospel, God’s sovereignty, and God’s mission. These three truths help you remember who you are. We don’t like things that don’t tell us immediately what to do, but working through these help you see things more clearly and in practical ways.
Let us never be a people who assume we totally believe the gospel.
God made the world to work in perfect harmony for us to know Him in joy forever and we chose His stuff over Him. We lost everything because of those decisions. We lost relationships with one another and now they’re fractured and torn. We lost God and had no way back to knowing Him. The only thing we had to look forward to was His wrath for our sin.
But then God sent Jesus to come after us. Jesus came and lived the life we should have lived. Think about all the places you failed and remember that Jesus was perfect in them. Then He went to the cross and died the death we should have died. Then He rose from the dead as a guarantee that if you trust in Him, His death counts as your death.
Remember this gospel before you make any decision. It tells you Jesus has secured all the benefits and blessings of God, not you. It’s secured by His work, not our work. Remember this because it reminds you that the things that are most true about you can never be taken away regardless of the decisions you make. That’s what the gospel says.
Through the gospel God has given you an identity, a hope, and a joy that no unwise decision can take away. He’s made you a child of God. A citizen of heaven. One loved by God. Those can never be taken from you. You can’t add to them either, no matter how wise your decisions are.
This takes pressure off of your decision. Now you’re decision doesn’t determine who you’ll be and the joy you’ll have. Sometimes we think our choices are going to determine who we and the joy we’ll have in the future, which puts a lot of pressure on us to make the right decision. All that pressure is going to make it hard to think rationally. There’s too much at stake. You can’t think clearly. But the gospel removes that pressure, so you can think through your situation clearly.
Over all of our decisions is a God who is working all things for our good. He is a God who is moving all things according to His plan and purpose. He is in complete control over both your wise and unwise decisions.
Now, the truth of God’s sovereignty does not justify unwise decisions. You can’t think God is going to take care of you so you can do whatever you want. You are still responsible for your actions. Here at the Austin Stone we like to say, “God’s kids are going to learn one way or another, whether through discipline or wisdom, but they’ll learn.” You can make unwise decisions, but you may experience discipline for them.
Just like the gospel does, God’s sovereignty takes pressure off your shoulders. Your decisions don’t dictate what ultimately happens in your life.
I’ve had so many conversations over God’s gospel and sovereignty, but I rarely hear anyone consider God’s mission when making a decision.
When Jesus rose from the dead, before He ascended into heaven, He got His disciples together and said, “Hey, I’m leaving you here. Take the gospel to the ends of the earth.” In Matthew, Luke, John, and the beginning of Acts, they all emphasize the same thing. Jesus told His disciples to take His gospel to every type of person and people all over the planet.
So when you’re thinking about the decision to make, you have to consider how it affects your ability to make disciples of Jesus. It’s a command from Jesus; we have to consider it. Every relationship, every job, and every opportunity in your life has to be filtered through the question of how you can make more disciples of Jesus through this opportunity?
Your job matters to God. Marriage, your kids, and your friendships, they all matter to Him. They’re not just cogs in a machine; you have to know the reason for them being in your life is for the gospel to go deeper into the hearts of believers and preached to non-believers so they will come to know Christ. That is why you have all these opportunities and relationships.
Believing in God’s Word is the first step in making wise decisions. It’s not enough just to know these things. You have to believe them. If you have anxiety, I will put money on you not believing one of these truths, you’re probably not believing God is in control. So take time to believe God’s word. If you don’t pursue Him, you’ll have a very difficult time getting the wisdom you need.
Step 2: LISTEN TO GODLY COUNSEL
One of the greatest gifts God has given His people is His people. So often we neglect or ignore the collective wisdom God has given in this room.
Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety. Proverbs 11:14 (ESV)
When people speak into your life and decisions, there is safety.
Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment. 2 A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion. Proverbs 18:1-2 (ESV)
When you isolate yourself and don’t let people speak into your life, you break out against all sound judgment to your own harm.
God distributes wisdom to His people in such a way that it typically comes through consulting other Christians. Whatever decision you have, you need to bring it before others who know and love Jesus. I’m emphasizing Christians, not because non-believers can’t give good counsel, but you want to hear from somebody who prizes Jesus over everything.
So when you think about godly counsel, there are three different spheres of people to think about.
- Family and those around you most.
These people have the most knowledge about you. They know you the best. They can tell you an honest perspective of yourself and let you know how your personality and tendencies are affecting your decision-making.
- People in the church at large who have demonstrated wisdom in the area you’re struggling with.
Go to people who have handled what you’re dealing with in a wise way. We have people in our lives that we love and want to bring our decisions before them, but sometimes those people have the least amount of wisdom in the area you’re struggling in.
Ask somebody else, there are people in this church that have walked through the season you’re in that you can benefit from. Seek them out. Ask around for someone who has been wise in parenting, investment, dating, career. Benefit from the larger church.
- Seek out your pastors and elders.
Every pastor and elder here has been placed over this church to serve you. We love getting to be your pastors. It’s a privilege that you would entrust your souls to us and listen to the teachings of God from us. Don’t ever think you can’t reach out to us.
You don’t need to go through all three spheres with every decision. Some decisions are easy; you can go to your immediate community and figure it out. But the bigger the decision and the more life changing it is, the more you probably need to go through all three spheres of people. If you are going to change jobs and move your family across the country, you need to go through all three spheres. If you’re going to marry someone and you’re unsure about it, go through all three spheres. You have nothing to lose.
If you really want wisdom, you need to listen most carefully when the people in these spheres disagree with you. Listen when people push back on what you want to do. Listen when people give you truth that’s hard for you to hear. Godly counsel is useless if you only want to hear people agree with you.
This is one of the things that as a generation we struggle with, listening to counsel when it hurts and people push back on us. People can be wrong in their pushing back and not be considering something or have their own agenda. But if someone says something you don’t agree with, don’t dismiss it. Take it to somebody else and ask him or her what they think about it.
The people who don’t get wisdom in this process are those who refuse to take advice that goes contrary to their own opinion.
The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice. Proverbs 12:15 (ESV)
Step 3: DO WHAT YOU WANT
Now, I know this feels incredibly unspiritual. If you haven’t done the first two steps it is unspiritual. But if you go to God’s Word and His people then the question becomes what do you want to do? You want to take that job? Do you want to move? Do you want to marry that person? Do you want to invest there?
If the answer is yes, then do it. If the answer is no, then don’t do it. It really can be that simple to follow Jesus in the gray areas of life.
You can make a wise decision without a vision or sign from God. So many of us don’t want to make a decision until God tells us exactly what to do. You can go to God’s Word and people and still be completely paralyzed in making a decision, because you’re waiting for some mystical moment when God whispers in your ear what to do. We sit there waiting and waiting for that and some of us never actually make a decision, because we think it’s not godly.
You may have times in your life where God makes it abundantly clear which direction you need to go and if you don’t you’re not following Jesus. Becoming a pastor was this circumstance for me. If I didn’t, I knew I wouldn’t be following Jesus. But that was six years ago and I haven’t had a moment like that since. Moments like this happen, but it’s not the rule. It’s the exception.
The normal way God leads His people is as we pursue wisdom. The whole concept of wisdom in the Scriptures is that there are normal and ordinary ways God leads His people. It’s unhelpful if you think God will show up in some powerful vision every time you need to make a decision.
You have the freedom in Christ to do what you want. Once you’ve brought your decision under the authority of His word and people, do what you want to do.
Once you make a decision, you have to know this means you will miss out on something else. We all have FOMO, the fear of missing out. If you go one direction, you’re necessarily not going other directions. You have to be okay with that. You’re only going to experience so many things. You can’t experience everything in this life.
But that doesn’t diminish the choices you make. The quicker you can accept this, the more confident you’ll be in going a particular direction. Don’t let fear of missing out lead you to do nothing. You have to make a decision. Go with it and see what happens.
Step 4: ASK FOR FAITH
You’ve made your decision. You’re going in a particular direction. Now you need faith to trust God, because you have no idea what’s going to happen. You can be the wisest person on the planet; you still don’t know the future. You can look at trajectories and trends, but no matter how confident someone may be, you don’t know what God is going to bring.
What you and I need is faith to trust Him, His decisions, and what He decides to bring in to our life.
The plans of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord. Proverbs 16:1 (ESV)
He is directing our life.
The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps. Proverbs 16:9 (ESV)
The sobering truth is that you can make only wise decisions and still find yourself in dire circumstances. Don’t think wise decisions will bring only blessing. You can make only wise decisions and still wind up in suffering and have all your greatest fears come true. You don’t need to look any further than to the King of the universe, Jesus Himself to know this.
The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here. Matthew 12:42 (ESV)
Solomon wrote Proverbs. The queen of the South came from Ethiopia, traveling great distances to hear Solomon’s wisdom. But Jesus said something greater than Solomon was here; He was saying He had wisdom that Solomon knew nothing about. He knows more than the Proverbs. He is the wisdom of God. He never made one unwise choice, but He still ended up on the cross.
We need faith to trust Him no matter what He brings. He will bring us into circumstances we never wanted to be in or experience. We get it when we make unwise decisions, but it’s harder when you make a wise decision and things still go bad. It’s in these moments where we have to ask God for faith.
“God is too good to be unkind. He is too wise to be confused. If I cannot trace His hand, I can always trust His heart.” – Charles Spurgeon
When you don’t understand what is happening and you can’t see God’s hand that is when you need faith to trust Him.
Pursue God and Wisdom
When we make decisions, we believe in God’s Word, listen to godly counsel, do what we want, and then ask for faith. We go through this process so we can make the wisest decisions we can. But this process is not our God. Our God is in the heavens and He does what He pleases.
No wisdom, no understanding, no counsel can avail against the Lord. 31 The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the Lord. Proverbs 21:30-31 (ESV)
Our job is to get the horse ready for battle and make the best decision you can, but you have to know whatever happens on that field, God is over it. That’s the best news in the world, because He is the God who sent His Son to die for us, raised Him from the dead for us, who now reigns for us and is promised to return for us.
We can make wise decisions, but God is better than anything we can get out of those decisions. He is leading us as we pursue this wisdom. May He make us a wise people, but may He makes us a people who want for Him more than anything else.