Saturday, November 29, 2014

How to Make the Right Decision

            This weekend, I was struggling with a decision I made, wondering if I made the right one.  I do this a lot.  I always doubt myself and then have to re-evaluate my choice before I can feel confident that I made the right one (unless, of course, God lets me know that I was wrong.)  In this post, I want to look at ways we can evaluate our decisions and do our best to figure out which one God wants us to pick. 
            How can we know that we are making the “right decision”?

            First of all, we need to pray about it, of course.  This should be the first step in every important decision we make.  I used to think that God would always do whatever God wanted to do and that if He wanted us to do something in particular, He would get our attention somehow.  But as I read the Old Testament, it was intriguing to me how many times something bad happened all because someone failed to “inquire of the Lord.”  The responsibility lies with us to seek God’s guidance. 
            In Joshua 7, the Israelites were badly defeated in a battle all because of one person’s sin.  But what we never see in this passage is that Joshua “inquires of the Lord” before going into battle.  Joshua went ahead in his own wisdom and bad things happened.  I believe that God would have revealed the man’s sin and guided them in the right path had they inquired first. 
            In Joshua 9:14, we read again about Joshua failing to inquire of the Lord, this time with the Gibeonite deception.  This led to breaking a rule that God set, a path that God never intended. 
            In Genesis 13, Lot never asked God before picking the land he wanted to live in.  And look where that led him. 
            In 1 Chronicles 10:13-14, we read that Saul died, in part, because he “did not inquire of the Lord.” 
            These are not the only examples of ways people failed to seek God’s wisdom, but they are some of the passages that opened my eyes to the need to “inquire of the Lord.” 

Our Responsibilities:
            Numerous passages make clear our need to inquire, as well as making clear what is required of us:

            James 1:5 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” 
            James 4:2-3:  “. . . You do not have, because you do not ask God.  When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.”
            Psalm 25:9, 12:  “He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way. . . . Who, then, is the man that fears the Lord?  He will instruct him in the way chosen for him.”
            Proverbs 2:1-2, 9, 11:  “My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding . . .  Then you will understand what is right and just and fair - every good path . . . Discretion will protect you, and understanding will guard you.”
            Proverbs 11:3:  “The integrity of the upright guides them . . .”
            Jeremiah 6:16:  “This is what the Lord says: ‘Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. . . .”  
            Jeremiah 7:23:  “but I gave them this command:  Obey me, and I will be your God and you will be my people.  Walk in all the ways I command you, that it may go well with you.”
            Psalm 37:7:  “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him . . .” 
            1 Peter 5:6-7:  “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.  Cast all your anxieties on him because he cares for you.”
            Psalm 139:23-24:  “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.  See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
            Matthew 6:33:  “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”   
            John 15:5:  “I am the vine; you are the branches.  If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”     
            2 Corinthians 5:7:  “We live by faith, not by sight.”
            1 Corinthians 10:31:  “ . . . whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”  
            Romans 12:1-2:  “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God - this is your spiritual act of worship.  Do not conform any longer to the pattern of the 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.”

            God promises to guide us if we ask.  But we are also to . . .
            - seek His wisdom with humble, upright hearts,
            - live with integrity,
            - be willing to wait for His timing,
            - obey when He does point the way,
            - seek His kingdom and righteousness, first and foremost,
            - remain in Him,
            - seek to do His Will above ours,
            - let Him search our hearts for anything that is blocking Him,
            - seek to live as living, holy sacrifices,
            - live and make decisions by faith (try asking yourself, “Which of these decisions would I make if I let my faith lead me?”)
            - and do our best to glorify Him instead of seeking our own pleasures.

            This should drive every decision we have to make and be behind every request for wisdom and guidance.  And it involves so much more than just saying, “God, help me know the right thing to do.”  While this is good and necessary to do, the more seriously we take the verses above, the more pleasing our lives will be to Him, the deeper we will go in our spiritual lives, and the more clear the paths will become.  (However, the more seriously we take the above verses, the more we will anger the devil and find ourselves in his crosshairs.  Therefore, be aware that the spiritual attacks will come and take seriously the need to keep your spiritual armor on.  Look up May's “Supernatural Stuff and the Armor of God” post for more on this.)   

Evaluating the Options:
            And so, the question becomes, How can I recognize His guidance when He is revealing the next step?  (This section is from my 2013 “Understanding God’s Will” posts.)   
            When we were house hunting, I had really wanted the next step to show up in neon lights.  But that obviously wouldn’t happen.  And the weight of that decision was crushing me.  I didn’t trust myself to make the right one.  But then I found a book that gave me some really good advice on how to know when God shows “the next step.”  And I really have to thank Gigi Tchividjian here.  Through her book, A Woman’s Quest for Serenity, she helped me understand how to discern God’s guidance, when so many other things were making it hard to hear His leading.  (If you can find her book, it is well worth reading.) 
            Though He won’t give us a neon sign, I’m learning that He has given us other “keys” to help us find the right path.  (Gigi calls them “lights,” and they are what I based these “keys” on.)  To boil it all down, God guides us in three different ways: guidance from the inside, indications from the outside, and confirmation from God’s Word. 
            1.  Guidance from the inside would be what our conscience tells us, what our heart tells us, and, most importantly, what the Holy Spirit tells us.  This would be the impressions or convictions that we have from the Holy Spirit about what He wants us to do or what the next step is.  Sometimes it coincides with what we want to do, sometimes it doesn’t.  Sometimes it makes sense, and sometimes it confuses us even more.  Sometimes it speaks to the current concern or situation that we are praying about, and sometimes it hits us out of the blue, completely unrelated to anything we were thinking about.  But we need to be deliberate about being receptive to the Holy Spirit, about actively listening for Him to speak to us.  And we need to expect that He will. 
            2.  Indications from the outside would be open doors or circumstances falling into place that seem to be saying “this is the way you should walk.”  Maybe it’s about an issue you are praying about, or maybe it’s God interrupting your plans with something new that He wants you to do.  It could be a need that comes to your attention or a fork-in-the-road that calls you to make a choice.  It could be a call to move forward, or it could be a call to take a step backward.  And these indications could also come from other people.  It could be impressions that they have had about you, or it could be wise advice from godly people.   
            (But as we consider “open doors” here, remember that not all open doors are from God.  Satan would love nothing more than to get us out of God’s perfect Will for us by dangling enticing offers before us.  With every open door, we need to seek God’s wisdom, be discerning, and be willing to obey whatever God calls us to do in that situation.  Maybe it is an open door from God, or maybe it’s just a test or an opportunity to practice doing those things.)   
            3.  And confirmation from God’s Word is just what it sounds like.  It’s when God leads us, through His Word, in the right path.  Sometimes, after praying for guidance, the Spirit leads us to a passage that speaks directly to our problems.  And sometimes, we find God’s message to us as we go about our normal Bible reading.  We should be regularly reading God’s Word - immersing ourselves in it - so that we can know it as a whole, and not just pulling out the verses that we want when we want them. 
            While we do our regular reading, we should always be alert for any passage that speaks to us, because there is so much more to glean from Scripture than just the answer to a particular problem or prayer request.  In the course of reading God’s Word (even if we are looking for specific guidance in something else), we may be led to passages that speak to us about something we weren’t even considering.  Such as about forgiveness or how we use our tongue or how we treat others, etc.  It may be that God wants us to settle these areas before He guides us to the answer that we are looking for.    
            Guidance from God’s Word also means that we check the steps we want to take against His Word.  He will never, NEVER, ask or tell us to do anything that violates a Biblical command that He has already revealed to us in His Word, no matter how strongly we feel that He wants us to do it. 
            Therefore, things like affairs, cheating, lying, harshness, premarital sex, jealousy, idol worship, running after wealth, gossiping, dabbling with the occult, contacting the dead, taking an ungodly job, spousal abuse, homosexuality, taking a life, etc., can never be God’s Will for us.  Even if our inner convictions and the outside circumstances are telling us to do it, God’s Word says, “Don’t do these things!”  And His Word is the Truth, The Measuring Stick.  So to try to find permission in His Word to do these kinds of things would mean that we would have to twist what He has already clearly revealed as His Will in these (and many other) areas.  (Hey, I’m just the messenger here.  Read the Word for yourself and take it up with God if you think I am wrong.)    
            Those are the keys to discover God’s Will for us, the next step.  And when all three of these “keys” say the same thing, we can confidently take the next step as it has been revealed.  But if any one of them says something different, we need to wait.  Wait and recheck Scriptures and pray some more until all the keys match.  And then, if we are right, the doors will open smoothly in time.  We are just responsible to do the next step as we best believe that God is leading us. 
            (But we need to be careful to resist the urge to be hasty, or to interpret subtle or ambiguous signs as saying what we want them to say.  We should be cautious about interpreting any guidance that we get.  And even more so when the decision is a significant one.  Proceeding cautiously and wisely also involves asking God to and trusting God to close the door if we are not on the right path.  And then, if He does shut the door or change our direction, we need to just trust Him and be willing to follow.)      

Asking Yourself “Why”:
            For me, when I struggle with wondering if I really did make (or am making) the right decision, it also helps to ask myself “Why am I making this particular decision?”  Am I choosing (or not choosing) a particular option . . .
            - for my own selfish or self-glorifying reasons?
            - because I am seeking my own happiness or trying to make myself feel better, as opposed to seeking holiness and joy and contenment in the Lord?
            - because it seems wise to me, although I haven't inquired of God?
            - just because I want to or don't know what else to do?
            - because it’s easiest or most convenient?
            - because it’s more glamorous or public?
            - because I feel guilted into choosing it?
            - because I am angry, seeking revenge, jealous, or wanting to set myself above someone else?
            - because I cannot wait and am being hasty or impatient?
            - to distract myself from a different decision I need to make or issue I need to face?
            - for the money or status or possessions?
            - because I am chasing after an idol?
            - because I don’t have enough faith in God to handle it?
            - because I am afraid of something?  Afraid of failing?  Of letting others down?  Of hard work?  Of not being able to see the whole picture?  Of not knowing how it will all work out?  Of embarrassing myself?  Of not having my needs met or my “needs” (those great big wants that we call needs) met?  Of letting go of the control?  Of having to rely on Someone else?    

            Those are all wrong reasons for any decision.  And if I find that one of those reasons is driving a decision that I want to make then it might just be the wrong decision.  Or at least the wrong timing. 
            (Another question to ask yourself which may make it clearer . . . "Who does this choice glorify more or benefit more: Satan or God?"  Sometimes it's as easy as that.  And sometimes it's not.  So take everything into consideration.)

            After running through the “Why” question for the decision that I was struggling with this weekend, I realized that I doubted it not because I felt God was saying it was wrong but because I was afraid that I would fail.  I really do believe that I made the right choice, but I questioned it because I fear failing. 
            But no matter how I feel or how afraid or confused I am, I can trust that the decision is the right one when I can honestly say that . . .
            - I believe it’s what God wants me to do,
            - I believe it is the most God-glorifying option, 
            - I have humbled myself before Him and prayed about it and waited on Him for His guidance and timing,
            - the “three keys” line up – inner confirmation, outside confirmation, and God’s Word,
            - I have a deep conviction that it’s right for us,
            - and that I am doing it out of faith.

            And so I can go forward in confidence that I am making the right decision (even though I know I will always struggle with fear that I am making the wrong one), believing that God has called me down this path and that He has His purposes for it and that He will work it all out for good, even my mistakes.

When You Struggle With a Decision:
            If you find yourself struggling with a decision, consider the “three keys” and ask yourself “Why” you would make a certain choice (or not make one).  If your reasons fall into the “Afraid, self-glorifying, impatient, etc.” group of answers then maybe it’s the wrong decision or the wrong timing.  But if the three keys all line up and you can honestly say the things that I said about my decision then you (most likely) have figured out the right option.  No matter how terrifying it may be or inadequate you may feel.     
            The right path is not always the easy path.  The right path is not always the most comfortable.  The right path is not always the one that makes the most sense or that makes us feel the most confident in ourselves.  The right path is not always the one that will get us the most attention, the most friends, the most “success,” the most money, or the most appreciation.  But the right path is whichever one God calls us down.  And He will be with us on that path.  And even when we can’t have confidence in ourselves, we can have confidence in Him. 
            When He looks down on us, He doesn’t look for those with brilliant skills or talents, wonderful accomplishments, tons of possessions, or massive human wisdom.  He looks for those with humble, seeking, willing-to-obey hearts.  Those are the people He works through! 

            Psalm 14:2:  “The Lord looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God.”  
            2 Chronicles 16:9:  “For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.”

            If your heart is in the right place, He can and will guide and use you, no matter how much you doubt your own abilities.  In fact, when we stop putting confidence in ourselves and our own wisdom and abilities, we begin to truly find our confidence in Him.  And He can lead us down paths we never imagined. 
            “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout the generations, for ever and ever!  Amen.”  (Eph. 3:20-21)