Yesterday we attended Evan’s graduation and celebrated this milestone in his life. Young people from a variety of backgrounds were all full of hope and plans for the future. It’s usually a time preceded by searching as students try to choose a path. The choices they make will shape a large part of their future. But students aren’t the only ones who have to make important decisions. How do you make decisions about where you’ll live, what car you’ll buy, or how you’ll spend your summer? Some decisions are easy; other far more difficult. Over the years, four questions have guided my decision making and helped me to try to discern what to do when I’ve felt stuck. But the questions need to be asked and considered in order because different issues are more important and more clear than others.
1. How does this relate to God’s will? The starting point in making any decision has to be God’s Word. If a certain path leads me to break God’s commands, it won’t be accompanied by God’s blessing. 1 Thessalonians 4:3 describes God’s will in terms that we don’t usually speak of it. It says, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality.” God’s will is our sanctification – our growth in godliness. God urges us to make decisions that help us to honour His commands and avoid sin.
2. How does this relate to God’s glory? Even once we’re confident that we’ve narrowed down our options to those that don’t violate God’s commands or hinder our obedience, there is often still plenty of room. Ultimately, we want to know that we’ve not just avoided wrong, but that we’ve lived our lives for God’s glory. 1 Corinthians 10:31 says, So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. At the judgment, many people will not so much be ashamed of desperately disobedient lives, as they are of squandered lives and lives lived for second best. Asking questions of God’s glory is to ask whether we will feel confidence or shame in God’s presence as we answer to Him for the decision we’ve made.
3. How does this relate to God’s design? Some decisions leave us with options that seem morally equal. It’s here that the conviction that God has created us and orchestrated the circumstances of our lives is extremely helpful. Ephesians 2:10 says, For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. If we believe God designed us to do something “good” in the world, we should be able to discern how our strengths, passions and experiences are pointing somewhere.
4. How is this informed by God’s guidance? God’s subjective guidance is a real thing, but people get into trouble when they start here or restrict their pursuit of God’s will to ‘how God moves them.’ God can impress a thought or ‘answer’ on someone, but so can Satan. And we often confuse ‘the leading of the Holy Spirit’ for our own instincts and wishful thinking. Matthew 4:1 says, Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. Jesus experienced the leading of the Holy Spirit in His life, but that leading never contradicted the Bible and so it’s important to always start with the Bible, and the clearest expressions of God’s will for us.
While some people really struggle to try and discern God’s will for a particular decision, I think the bigger challenge we usually face, is not that we miss one or two of these steps, but that we want our own will more than God’s. Our tendency is to cut God out of many of our day-to-day decisions and instead give Him a narrow realm of influence over the ‘religious part of our lives.’ The result is that while we call Jesus, “Lord,” it’s really our comfort and convenience that end up steering most of the decisions of our lives. But the fear of the Lord really is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 9:10)! May we live like those who believe that God knows better than we do and really does desire our best.
In awe of Him,