For most people, life doesn’t always go according to plan. Things come up that dramatically change what we had previously pictured for our futures, sometimes for the good and sometimes for the bad. Even the bad things, though, can turn out to be good. Well, “good” may not be the exact right word, but I do believe that God uses all bad things for the good. So even though the bad things aren’t good, they do result in good things. For example, the death of a loved one is never a good thing. However, it can bring people closer to God, give them a wake up call about how they are living their lives, or end the suffering of the loved one who died. So while bad things are still bad, God does use them for the good.
There are other things that can change the path of our lives besides the significant good or bad things that happen to us. Often, our lives change because of a realization we make, a calling that we feel, or a roadblock that gets in our way. All of these things are out of our control! Of course, our reactions to these things are under our control for the most part, but overall the reality is that life is not something we can control.
For some people, that prospect may be scary. For me, though, it’s comforting. That’s because I know that while I’m not in control, God is. And to be honest about myself, I think that’s a much better deal than I would get if I were in control. Why? Because I’m human. My perspective on life is unbelievably limited compared to God’s. The decisions I make are often flawed. My desires and dreams and goals are changeable, and as I often find out later, they are many times not the best path for me after all. If I were in charge of my life and everything that happened to me, things would certainly be a mess.
Fortunately, the one who controls my life is all-knowing, all-powerful, and unchangeable. He is perfect, and he knows what is best for me. That makes me feel pretty confident!
However, that doesn’t mean that everything will go perfectly according to plan. In fact, it probably means the exact opposite. Trusting God with your life means exchanging your plan for his plan, which in turn means that you won’t always know what’s going to happen next. And even though I’ve surrendered control over my life to God, I still have to make decisions and act on them in order to get where I’m going. Unfortunately, there is no magical GPS device that you automatically receive when you start a relationship with Jesus, telling you what to do at every turn. All you know is where you are and where you think you’re supposed to be headed.
So how do we know what the “right” decision is in any given situation throughout our lives? Well, there are several components of making decisions that honor God.
First of all, pray. Pray, pray, pray! Ask God to help guide you to make the right decision, and spend a lot of time listening. In fact, in these situations I think it is best to spend much more time listening to God than you do talking to Him. And don’t expect Him to answer you in a booming voice from the heavens! Although God is perfectly capable of that, for some reason beyond my human understanding, He seems to prefer more subtle ways of speaking. It can come as a thought he puts in your head, another person he speaks through, a circumstance, a Bible verse, or some other way entirely. No matter what though, if you earnestly and patiently seek His guidance, He will answer.
After praying and listening to God, you should test the answer that you think He gave you. Is it contrary to God’s nature? If you think he told you to divorce your spouse, for example, then it’s not God. That’s because we know from the Bible that God intends marriage to be permanent. Another example is if you think God is telling you to do something illegal; in most cases, this is definitely not God speaking. God only condones breaking the law when the law forces you to disobey Him. So keep that in mind if you are considering doing something like that.
If you aren’t sure if your answer is contrary to God’s nature, then do some research! Look it up in the Bible. One easy way to do this is searching it in Google. Just type in “Bible verses about ______” and then double check the verses that come up in your Bible for accuracy. Find out what God says about the decision you are considering, and make sure He approves.
You should also test your answer by seeking the counsel of Christian brothers/sisters you can trust. This one is not necessarily as black and white as God’s opinion of course, but in most cases it has some merit. For example, if all of your Christian friends and mentors strongly advise against something you are thinking about doing, then it’s probably not a good idea. On the other hand, if just a few of them advise against it or if they advise against it based solely on personal biases, then that doesn’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t do it. There are many cases when people are simply misled and give you advice that may not be the best, no matter how good their intentions. So definitely seek guidance from your church, but remember that you are trying to make a decision that pleases God, not necessarily people.
On that note though, you shouldn’t do anything that is harmful to others. As a Christian, I am a servant to Jesus and a servant to others. If my decision selfishly disregards the needs of others in favor of my own desires, then it is not a Godly decision. It is important to distinguish between the needs of others and the desires of others, of course. Just because your friend or family member wants you to do something doesn’t mean you should immediately disregard your own desire to the contrary. However, if your desire is something that will keep you from serving others or disregards the needs of others, then you shouldn’t act on it. Finally, there is the certain importance of your own needs. Taking care of your needs is not selfish; instead, it allows you to be a better servant to others and enables you to love others more. What it all comes down to is this; when you’re trying to make a decision, 1) don’t feel guilty for taking care of your own needs, and 2) make sure that your decision is loving and considerate of others.
There is one last thing that I feel needs to be addressed. It’s a question that I’ve asked myself many times before; “What if I make the wrong decision?” Well, the good news is that it doesn’t matter. Ok, that’s a bit of an overstatement. All of our actions have consequences (whether good or bad, minor or major). What I mean by “it doesn’t matter” is that in the long run, God will get us to where we’re supposed to be. Us making a wrong decision is simply not enough to ruin God’s entire plan for our lives. He’s way too powerful for that! Instead, He allows us to choose the path that we will take (all the while knowing what path we will choose), and He bends it to make sure that it goes where He wants us. So don’t make decisions lightly, because it can make your path much more difficult than it needs to be (although, of course, He’ll use even those struggles for the good). But that being said, don’t worry too much about making the wrong decision. God is big enough and strong enough to cover for all of our bad decisions, and He promised to do so when He sent His son to die for us.
Although I’ve already said a lot about God-honoring decision-making, there is still more to say about determining whether or not a decision even needs to be made in the first place. I’ll be writing about that next week, but for now, I encourage you to focus on how your decisions can be more God-centered.