Discernment, Goal Setting & Decision Making, Topical Study

Seeking God’s Will in Decision Making – A Topical Study

In a previous post, Do You Listen Wisely?, we considered the discernment and importance of life influencers who impact our daily decisions. Many times, we get distracted and confused in decision-making because we lose sight of the overarching agenda of our lives. Achieving worthwhile goals requires clear decision-making, rather than floundering aimlessly like a fish out of water. So, it is appropriate that wise decision-making must begin with our eyes firmly fixed on the goal. How do we ensure that life’s tough decisions draw us closer to God, instead of creating distance? 

Greater intentionality could alleviate some unpleasant outcomes, but it’s sometimes hard to determine what level of decision-making warrants a process. We don’t always have the time for extensive research and study before making every decision. Nevertheless, there are practical elements in seeking God’s will in decision making. 

Reminder: the studies are more than a devotional but less than a Bible study. However, the reader will need to read through the indicated scriptures to fully grasp the content.

It’s important to remember that before we began thinking biblically, all of us were making daily decisions. Early on, decision-making reveals a personality which continues to have effect. For instance, if we have a tendency toward analytical, we look at principles. If we are experiential, we rely on feelings. The different elements of personality are apt to guide our decisions, even when we consult Scripture. The precedence of how we made decisions (before becoming a Christian) especially affects our snap-decisions. 

Whether we focus on past, present, or future in our decision-making, we should still consider executing, deciding, and preparing for the future. Each personality is likely to prefer one over the other – for instance, anger over the past, anxiety for the future. It is important to remember misinterpretation of the present can easily be caused by our past hurts and future fears. Emotions tend to inform our decisions as much as decisions inform our emotions.

Something else we fail to recognize is that generally big decisions are fed by little decisions with a cumulative effect. For example, we rarely think of time and energy as commodities we must steward. We can say “yes” to so many little things, affecting our availability to say “yes” to the big things. 

Oftentimes, the decisions we struggle the most with are when saying “yes” to one good desire means saying “no” to another; our desires compete with each other. Nonetheless, the most basic form of learning good decision-making is trial-and-error. In our times of wavering, we have a tendency to entertain hypothetical questions we can never know the answer to: The “What-ifs”. 

Despite all of our own aforementioned efforts, there are some specific areas in which the Bible provides guidance. This reference list is by no means exhaustive. 

  • Psalm 37:23
  • Proverbs 16:3
  • Isaiah 48:17
  • Acts 16:6-10
  • 1 Thessalonians 4:3
  • 1 Peter 2:15
  • Genesis 24:40-45
  • Ephesians 5:22 & 25
  • Ephesians 6:4
  • Ephesians 5:3-4
  • Titus 2:9-10
  • 2 Corinthians 9:6-7
  • 2 Corinthians 6:14
  • Hebrews 13:4
  • James 4:13-16

John MacArthur explains that God’s personal guidance is for the believer, “…in the sense that the Apostle Paul meant when he told the pagan Athenians that it is ‘in Him we live, and move, and have our being.’ Christ is the sustainer of the entire universe, and nobody would be where he is today without Him. But as to God personally leading those who have not received Jesus Christ as personal Savior, there is not a line of Scripture to indicate that this ordinarily happens. Instead we read, ‘And when He putteth forth His own sheep, He goeth before them, and the sheep follow Him, for they know His voice.’ Without Christ, man is a stranger to God. He is a rebel against God, a foreigner to God’s universe.” 

  • Acts 17:28
  • John 10:4
  • Proverbs 3:5-6
  • Psalm 32:8
  • Psalm 23:1-3
  • Isaiah 58:11

From what I have learned, our personal decision making becomes the battleground on which the vast majority of spiritual warfare is fought. If we prayerfully address our weak tendencies in decision-making, it prepares us to stand firm. What we believe about God and what He reveals in our lives determines how we make decisions. Even with right beliefs about God, decision-making still requires a process, especially when there is no clear right or wrong answer. God’s primary concern in our personal decision-making is our character. Remember, finding God’s will involves thankfulness as God leads.

  • Ephesians 6:13
  • 1 Thessalonians 4:1
  • Psalm 32:1-7
  • Psalm 25:7
  • 2 Corinthians 5:17
  • 2 Timothy 3:16-17
  • Psalm 119:105
  • Psalm 119:24
  • Psalm 37:31
  • Romans 12:1-2
  • Matthew 6:33
  • 1 Corinthians 6:20
  • Colossians 3:17
  • Romans 8:9
  • Romans 8:14

God’s Word is nourishment for the soul, sustaining us in the day-to-day. Cumulatively, our time in the Bible provides wisdom for daily decision-making. There are over 600 commands in the Bible. However, Scripture’s warnings of consequences and promises of reward become ever the clearer as we proceed to obey Christ’s commands, but not before. In seeking God’s will, the Bible is always the best set of guidelines to follow. Ask yourself if your decision will bring glory to God. 

  • Psalm 25:4-5
  • Psalm 27:11
  • Psalm 5:8
  • Genesis 24:12-14
  • Colossians 4:23
  • 1 Thessalonians 3:10
  • Ephesians 6:18-20
  • Mark 11:24
  • James 1:5
  • Acts 10:1-20
  • Psalm 20:4-5
  • 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

One thing we can know for certain: We should never make a decision that goes against the Word of God. Write down decisions you must make, and evaluate them according to Scripture.

  • Deuteronomy 5:29
  • Psalm 25:4-5
  • Proverbs 4:25-27
  • Isaiah 55:8
  • James 3:17

Often, we can fixate on finding the right answer. In most decision making, we are really looking for God’s will of direction (God’s individual will). We are looking for His guidance. This action is admirable, but it is also important to understand our liberties in choices that are not moral decisions. A superstitious approach to decision making is not helpful and has the ability to make a Christian feel paralyzed by God’s silence. One of the primary responsibilities in decision making is dividing the moral from the non-moral. Failing to make this distinction, we can unmistakably attribute God’s leading

Pastor and author Kevin DeYoung makes an interesting observation: “I’m convinced that previous generations did not struggle like we do trying to discover God’s will because they didn’t have as many choices. In many ways, our preoccupation with the will of God is a Western, middle-class phenomenon of the last fifty years.”

In biblical decision making, what does the revealed will of God say? (The will of God that belongs to us is found in the Scriptures, and we are to obey.) Determining God’s will includes seeking the advice of mature believers. Following sound advice and divine counsel, spend time in fasting, prayer, and biblical meditation.

  • Deuteronomy 29:29
  • 1 Thessalonians 4:3
  • Ephesians 5:15-21
  • Colossians 3:15-16
  • Romans 12:1-2
  • Matthew 6:33
  • Proverbs 12:15
  • Proverbs 15:22
  • Proverbs 19:20
  • James 1:5-8
  • Proverbs 1:7
  • Proverbs 2:1-6

Determining God’s will for our lives not only requires us to pray personally, but to also recruit others to pray on our behalf. In addition, we should remember God’s past faithfulness. Take time and do not rush. 

  • Proverbs 11:14
  • Proverbs 15:22
  • Proverbs 14:15
  • Isaiah 14:24
  • Isaiah 14:27
  • Isaiah 43:13
  • Colossians 1:9-11
  • James 1:5

Dr. James Petty, a counselor and former Pastor, writes, “When we need guidance; it usually involves a situation in which the basic alternatives are all legitimate – legally and biblically…In other words, in this area [Christian liberty] God has revealed no preference about our choices between this and that, but he is not indifferent to our motives about which one we choose…Our motives for everything we do are always deeply and spiritually relevant to our relationship to God.”

  • Ephesians 1:5
  • Ephesians 1:11
  • James 4:15 
  • Romans 15:32
  • 1 Peter 3:17

When seeking God’s will in decision making, it is important to have clear understanding of the three uses of the phrase “God’s will”. Professor Brad Hambrick, from the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, explains, “God’s sovereign will is what we refer to when we say ‘God is the author of history’ or ‘Nothing happens without God’s permission.’ There is nothing in our decisions that can interrupt God’s sovereign will. We are never out of God’s sovereign will. God does not make a Plan B for anyone’s life. God’s moral will refers to God’s commandments and God’s character. God’s moral will is the ideal that defines how things should be on earth and how they will be in heaven. God’s individual will is what most people want to know when they ask questions about God’s will. This arena of God’s will seeks to answer the questions, ‘What does God want me to do through the experiences, passions, and talents he has given me?”

DeYoung’s book, Just Do Something, approaches our perplexity: “The will of God is one of the most confusing phrases in the Christian vocabulary. Sometimes we speak of all things happening according to God’s will. Other times we talk about being obedient and doing the will of God. And still other times we talk about finding the will of God. The confusion is due to our using the phrase ‘the will of God’ in at least three different ways, typified in the previous three sentences…One the first side is God’s will of decree…The other side of the coin is God’s will of desire.“

How do we know that our decisions will fit with God’s plan? It’s best said that God’s plan and our actions work in concert. “We tend to think that while God has a best plan for our life, he also has some other, cheaper plans for people who miss the best. We remember certain foolish or sinful decisions we’ve made and, because of the consequences, see ourselves on a permanent Plan B regarding God’s will for our lives. Each time we make another bad decision, we drop down a notch to Plan C, Plan D, and – being the sinners that we are – we soon run out of letters in the alphabet. We think of what could have been if we hadn’t married so-and-so, hadn’t gotten pregnant before marriage, had not turned down the job that would have made our career, or had not blown up at our teenage son,” explains Petty. With all the decisions we face, and despite the mistakes we make, God works in all things for the good, transforming us into the image of Christ.

Even Jesus’ teaching did not establish an abstract principle to be applied in any direction we might imagine. He gave principles to minister to fear, death, and suffering. Providence is never used to discourage prayer or human effort, but rather the exact opposite. Because God can intervene, we should pray and work. It is important to note that it is never used to establish God’s authorship of evil. “But for those who are in Christ, there is only one plan, Plan A. This plan holds despite all our stupid mistakes and sins. It reveals the wonder of God’s shepherding care, the detail of his love through his decreed plan for our lives. It is a truth that is awe-inspiring, deeply comforting, and yet sometimes intimidating for us, God’s proud creatures,” concludes Petty. But does God control all circumstances, in all situations?

  • Matthew 10:29-31
  • James 1:13
  • Romans 9:20
  • Ephesians 1:11
  • Romans 8:28
  • Psalms 2:9-10
  • Psalm 139:13-16

Positive outcomes are not the only verification of wisdom. When executed poorly, good decisions can wind up looking bad. Hence, we must consider how many good decisions get derailed by poor follow-through. In addition, we tend to gravitate toward decisions warranting no risk. We can become immobilized in decision making, even when our genuine desire is godly decision making. Desiring a risk-free life, we think making decisions within God’s will should be safe. Faith makes informed decisions in real moments, not knowing for sure what God would do.

Is hardship evidence of poor decision-making? Sometimes. However, God does not promise to protect us from life’s trials, and godly decision-making should not be viewed as assurance against hardships. Life’s storms following the best of decision making often causes Christians to question what they know to be true.

  • Job 3:11
  • Job 9:3
  • Job 14:14
  • Job 34:32

It is important to note that decision-making that is Word-focused and gospel-centered does not simply excuse bad decisions. Yet God is patient, and as He makes us wise, His goal for our decision-making is refinement of our character to become more like Christ’s. From what I have witnessed, even our failures can become avenues for Him to work if we trust God with them. In some instances, however, repentance becomes necessary if our decisions are sinful. Choosing not to sin is always the will of God. To maintain a clean conscience through the decision-making process, seek to trust God in each small step. A yielded heart is required to determine the will of God.

  • Genesis 13-14
  • Genesis 18-19
  • 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5
  • Ephesians 5:15-17
  • 2 Timothy 2:22
  • Joshua 24:14-15
  • Psalm 40:8
  • Proverbs 3:5-6
  • Psalm 34:4-5
  • Jeremiah 6:16
  • James 4:13-15
  • Romans 12:1-2

When posed with a decision, we should first consider the facts and which biblical principles should inform the decision. ACBC Counselor and adjunct Professor of Biblical Counseling at The Master’s University, Dr. Wayne Mack, advises that “Circumstances are not an infallible guide in determining the will of God for your particular situation. However, circumstances may be used to buttress the inward persuasion of the Holy Spirit and to solidify the specific biblical principles relating to the situation…While it is true that God providentially arranges circumstances in our lives in order to direct us according to His will, circumstances may be misinterpreted. That is why it is of utmost importance to wait upon God and have biblical confirmation of your course of action. God has given us His Word as an authoritative guide to evaluate circumstantial evidence.” God is sovereign. He has a plan, in which we can have full confidence.

  • Proverbs 16:3 & 9
  • 1 Corinthians 2:12 & 14
  • Romans 12:2
  • Ephesians 5:17
  • 2 Timothy 1:7
  • 1 Peter 1:13
  • Luke 15:17
  • Psalm 119:59
  • Job 42:2
  • Isaiah 25:1
  • Isaiah 42:16
  • Jeremiah 29:11
  • Psalm 138:8
  • Jeremiah 10:23-24

We are wise to weigh motives and past experiences that might warrant caution to most snap-decision-making. When time allows, consider all possible outcomes and options: As Christians, we need not check our brains at the door. Three standard questions in biblical decision making would be: 1) What does the Bible say about this decision? 2) Who can help me better understand what God’s Word says about this decision? 3) How does my decision impact God’s Kingdom? 

  • Proverbs 3:5-6
  • Proverbs 18:13
  • Proverbs 16:2
  • Hebrews 4:12
  • 1 Timothy 5:1-2
  • Proverbs 2:6
  • 1 Corinthians 10:31

DeYoung proposes, “God does have a specific plan for our lives, but it is not one that He expects us to figure out before we make a decision…What I am saying is that we should stop thinking of God’s will like a corn maze, or a tight-rope, or a bull’s eye, or a choose-your-own-adventure novel…Many of us fear we’ll take the wrong job, or buy the wrong house, or declare the wrong major, or marry the wrong person, and suddenly our lives will blow up. We’ll be out of God’s will, doomed to spiritual, relational, and physical failure.”

May God bless you through this process of biblical decision making. For further study:

Review the previous post. https://debbieswindell.com/2019/05/20/do-you-listen-wisely/

Just Do Something – A Liberating Approach To Finding God’s Will by Kevin Deyoung

Biblical Decision Making by Stuart Scott

Step by Step: Divine Guidance for Ordinary Christians by James Petty

Found: God’s Will by John MacArthur

God’s Guidance: A Slow and Certain Light by Elizabeth Elliot

God’s Will: Guidance for Everyday Decisions by J.I. Packer

Read the book of Joshua.

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