I remember having a conversation with my former senior pastor where I had brought him in on a situation that was going on in our church. He looked at me with confusion as I poured out my thought process on the issue at hand. After conveying the message, he said, “Dan, you don’t need to bring everything to me. Just make a decision on this, and I am behind you.” I was so relieved that he spoke those words, so I marched off, made a decision, and felt supported and good about my decision.
A few weeks later, as is usually the case in ministry, I was faced with another daunting decision that was taking a fair bit of mental and spiritual fortitude to get through. Rather than bother my senior pastor with it, I remember his instruction that I didn’t need to bring everything to him. So, I didn’t bother him with this one, but instead prayed through the issue and made the decision.
To my surprise, I was called into his office the next day, where he said, “Dan, why didn’t you run that decision past me? I should have been in the loop on that one.” I looked at him with shock and bewilderment as I reminded him of what he had told me just a few weeks earlier. He acknowledged speaking those words, but was sure I should have known the difference between what to bring and what not to bring to him.
It was a typical case of darned if you do, darned if you don’t.
Making decisions is a significant part of our daily lives. In fact, a recent study conducted by researchers at Cornell University estimated that we make about 35,000 decisions per day with 226.7 of them about food alone!
Obviously, some of these decisions are trivial and don’t have a significant impact on our lives or the lives of others. Deciding if you want sour cream on your burrito isn’t going to have many lasting consequences (unless you are lactose intolerant). On the other hand, there are other decisions that we make throughout the day that have a profound effect on our daily lives. Decisions like, “Should I get up and go to work or just sleep in?” Or, a decision to Google your symptoms on the internet can have a profound effect on your day, week, or even your whole life.
There are some of us who make more decisions and some who make less, but the fact of the matter is we all make decisions every day. The question I want to answer is this: how do we make the best, wisest, and most informed decisions as disciples of Jesus? I have found that by filtering our decisions through these three steps, we will move toward better and more disciple-based decisions in our lives.
1. LOOK TO THE WORD OF GOD FIRST
This first one should be the most straightforward and most obvious. When in doubt about any decision, look to the Word of God.
2 Timothy 3:16-17 tells us, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching (instruction), for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”
The Bible is a fantastic book of instruction. From Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount to the armor of God. From Paul’s instruction to Titus and Timothy to Peter’s instruction on faithful endurance. The scriptures give us a vast array of practical truths and insights for how we are to live holy and pleasing lives before God and how to navigate the decision-making process on a daily basis.
2. IF IT’S NOT IN SCRIPTURE, PRAY AND USE WISDOM
Let’s face it, not every decision we face has a clear-cut answer in Scripture. There are tons of nuanced situations that don’t have a clear yes, or no, from the Lord. There are also vast cultural differences that give us a limited “how-to guide” in every situation. So, what do we do when we have a decision to make and don’t have a clear direction? What do we do when the decision before us isn’t clearly articulated in Scripture? We need to use wisdom.
Let me give you an example. Recently, a group of new people at our church came over to my house for a time of fellowship and to answer any questions they may have about our church, Jesus, or whatever came to mind. A young couple asked a question that was quite intense for the usual light-hearted “What’s your favorite meal?” type of question that we often get. She began to ask a nuanced and complicated question about abortion. You could feel the tension rise in the room. I knew they were new believers, and I didn’t have a frame of reference for the answer I wanted to give them. I knew there wouldn’t be enough time to answer their question adequately in the time we had left, so I decided to give them an answer that addressed their question but also asked them to meet afterward so that I could hear more of their story and the background to the question.
I could have just clobbered them with some verses, but instead, I chose to address and then ask them for more context so we could get to the root of the question. This response would give me time to pray and ask God for some much needed wisdom. The decision to do that wasn’t just for their sake but also for everyone else listening in the room. Had I just busted them over the head with some verses or rebuked them publicly for what they had genuinely asked, I would have lost them and showed everyone else how not to handle difficult questions with grace and deference.
There isn’t a day when I don’t have to employ this tactic. Daily there will be some situation that doesn’t fit neatly into my binary “yes or no” boxes. In these types of situations, we need to pray and seek wisdom. But this begs the question, “What if I don’t have time to pray?” What if we need an answer now, and I don’t have time to get on my knees and ask God?
I can remember a time about a decade ago when our church staff went to play “broom hockey” at a local ice skating rink. One of the pastors took a nasty fall and knocked his head pretty hard on the ice. To my surprise, many of the staff came around to pray for him, and I wondered why no one was calling 911. I pulled my phone out and called 911 because wisdom tells me that while I want the prayer to work and for him to spring to his feet, practical wisdom told me it is better to call 911 and have to tell them all was well rather than not to call, and he has a brain hemorrhage while we are praying. We can both pray and move; they are not mutually exclusive.
In the end, Scripture, prayer, and wisdom all work hand-in-hand to lead us to make the right and wise decisions.
3. SEEK WISE COUNSEL
I always tell my staff and our church that they need to have a spiritual authority in their lives. Proverbs 11:14 says, “Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.”
This answer dovetails nicely into the last one because seeking wise counsel is one of the wisest things we could do. I have several men (and my wife) who I go to when there isn’t a clear-cut answer to my quandary. I also want to be abundantly clear that when I say wise counsel, I mean WISE COUNSEL. Far too often, we just go to people who are a sounding board for our feelings, not people we know will tell us the truth, challenge our thinking and presuppositions, and call us out if we exercise poor wisdom and judgment. Proverbs 12:15 says, “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.”
Ultimately, when it comes to decision making, we must be able to employ all three of these steps. My prayer for you is that using these tactics will increase your faith and press you into seeking the Lord more. I want you to rest knowing that you did all you could and you can give everything else to God for the outcome.
“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you. Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding, which must be curbed with bit and bridle, or it will not stay near you. Many are the sorrows of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the Lord.”
This post originally appeared at: Biblical Decision Making — The Bonhoeffer Project