And so it is that the current decade is coming to a close. For many of us, 2019 leaves with a mix of joys and sorrows, goals achieved and opportunities missed, friendships gained and relationships lost. Though not a Christian holiday, New Year’s Eve is an opportune time to pause for reflection, repentance, and renewal.
The Bible reminds us of reflection’s importance: So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom, from Psalm 90:12. Before posing new ideas and resolutions, we would do well to consider how we use our days. Reflecting past and present realities gives clarity and wisdom for the future.
Beyond reflection, may we evaluate our shortcomings as we bring them to the foot of the cross. By confession and repentance we gain strength from the Giver’s fresh grace. 2 Corinthians 12:9 reminds us, But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. We can begin anew with confidence that in our weakness we rely continuously on the strength of our Lord.
Godly living focuses on Christ. In doing so, we become evidence of the one who made us. The blood sacrifice of Jesus was not that we might be a people serving ourselves but to become His people, saved out of this world. As followers of Jesus, we are to make distinctions between ourselves and those of this world. C.S. Lewis penned, “Glory is an all pervasive reality that surrounds us every day and beckons us to belief and delight.”
Renewing commitments, love, friendships, and faith creates new possibilities. Our God himself provides new experiences and opportunities in his steadfast love. Isaiah 43:19 reads, Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. But are you sincerely setting God highest in your thoughts? Do you hold him in the highest possible position? And asking, Do my resolutions match my priorities? is a tool in determining sincerity in your new year’s commitments. Keep in mind, if we desire to know God more, to experience an intimate relationship with him in 2020, we must learn from him and about Him.
As Christians, it is appropriate for us to establish and keep certain priorities and principles as we strive to love and follow Christ. Jonathan Edwards remarked, “Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God’s help, I do humbly entreat Him by His grace to enable me to keep these resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to His will, for Christ’s sake.” When our resolutions align with scripture our efforts glorify God and that time will be redeemed.
Each year’s passing serves as a reminder of the frailty of life with the breath of a new year – a miracle, a gift given to us. Closing 2019 with reflection, repentance, and renewal offers promise and potential for 2020. May we approach the Lord in humble reliance on His grace as we seek not merely the blessings but the One who blesses.
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.
1 Thessalonians 4:3
1 Peter 2:15
Ephesians 5:22 & 25
2 Corinthians 9:6-7
2 Corinthians 6:14
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.”
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.
1 Thessalonians 4:1
2 Corinthians 5:17
2 Timothy 3:16-17
1 Corinthians 6:20
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.
1 Thessalonians 3:10
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.
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.
1 Thessalonians 4:3
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.
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.”
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?
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.
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.
1 Thessalonians 4:3-5
2 Timothy 2:22
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
2 Timothy 1:7
1 Peter 1:13
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?
1 Timothy 5:1-2
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:
In this informational age, we are inundated with choices and decisions. Whether we admit it or not, it is simply fact that we are highly swayed by those around us. Almost subtly, we even take on ambient attitudes and characteristics. There are several important factors influencing decision-making, including (but not limited to) past experiences, a variety of cognitive biases, previous commitments and outcomes, personal values, individual differences, and belief systems. Yet “influencers” affect our decision-making on a daily basis. Who are your life-influencers? Parents? Social media profiles? Friends and coworkers? Counselors? Is their message pointing you back to the word of God, and asking you to do what is biblically consistent?
Oftentimes, God provides people who can help us when we don’t know what to do. But we must be cautious, because not all advice is beneficial. Biblical influencers offer conversation that stays in line with scripture. The Bible itself is the means by which God speaks to His Bride. Life’s decisions require discernment, but we are not left to figure all this out by ourselves. God has given us instructions in the Scriptures for wise decision making, and promises guidance if we will listen.
Scripture is clear that Christians should have the power to influence. Before Christ ascended, he told his disciples to go, and encouraged them to be influencers. His own teachings emphasized the importance of leading others to a life of love and obedience. Nevertheless, fewer and fewer who call themselves Christian have a biblical understanding of Jesus. We can become so invested in personalities and positions that we do not address blind spots in our discernment. Discernment is not a matter of simply telling the difference between right and wrong; rather it is telling the difference between right and almost right, penned Charles Spurgeon.
2 Timothy 3:5; Proverbs 14:12; John 14:15; James 1:25; Titus 2; Romans 16:17-18
Everyone is a theologian. We all have ideas affecting how we relate to other people. Wrong ideas about life matter; bad theologians make for bad influencers. Good theologians make good counselors. The difference in good or bad theologians is how biblically grounded these theologians are. Our goal should always be to seek godly counsel. We should be ever-mindful that if someone is not living in God’s will, it is doubtful they will be able to give advice according to His will. The apostles recognized authenticity with rich discernment. The person and/or people who influence the decision-making process will ultimately impact the outcomes.
It is important to note that the Bible warns about the possibility of influencers addressing the hurts and concerns of others in ways that can do harm. Influence without manipulation is a process. Questions to ask might be, “What makes this person credible in this particular subject?” “What have they seen and who have they been around?” or “How have their experiences informed their faith?” There is a fine line between influence and manipulation. This border often comes down to intent. Those influencers who truly care for us and seek to do what’s best for us are without regard for what they get in return. To the contrary of ill advice, godly counsel recognizes that God’s Word transforms and makes those who would be simple wise.
When influencers bring the Word of God to bear, it must represent the Truth rightfully. In the way of counsel, scripture is both ours to study and ours to present for comfort, care, and decision-making. Everything we need about salvation, life, and godliness is sufficiently addressed in the Bible. The matter at hand is whether one receives the needed counsel. If we want to know God’s will, what He desires, we must go to his Word, or to someone who knows it well and lives in obedience to it. Theologian B.B. Warfield puts it this way:
Let us cultivate an attitude of courage as over against the investigations of the day. None should be more zealous in them than we. None should be more quick to discern truth in every field, more hospitable to receive it, more loyal to follow it wherever it leads.
Jeremiah 6:14; Psalm 19
Do you listen wisely? We live in a world of competing messages. Merely experiential advice is neither helpful or healthy, and many times comes with ulterior motive. Consider who influences your personal decision making. Remember, someone who doesn’t know God or his Word will never be able to give godly advice. Be careful who you listen to.
I’m often asked, “What’s the end-game?” Viewing life in light of 2 Timothy 1, Colossians 1:28, Titus 2, Matthew 28:18-20, and Acts 1:8, my “end-game” is to finish well. It is for the glory of God I live this life, and all things I do in His name I commit to Him. To do all things well and to represent Him rightly is my desire. Redeeming this time for eternity will be the laurels I lay at the feet of my Savior. Albeit, my attempts are feeble and at the mercy of His completion. Wisdom calls me to consider the brevity of life in long-term goal setting and decision making.
It’s not how we start; it’s how we finish that is of most value. There is no greater example of finishing well than the life of Paul. Paul endured beatings, imprisonment, false accusation, and difficulties most of us can only imagine. Yet at life’s end, he passed the torch to Timothy and spurred him on. Finishing strong requires courage; Paul’s bravery was intentional and God-supplied. No matter life’s hardships and circumstances, we become our best selves when we are aligning direction with God, resting in his grace, delighting in his mercy, and keeping hope for life eternal.
2 Corinthians 11:16-33
1 Corinthians 9:24-25
2 Timothy 4:6-8
1 Corinthians 15:58
I will let you know that my phase of goal-setting and decision-making has proved profitable. Through prayer, Bible study, reading, and receiving counsel, I have gained better understanding of where and how many good things before me come together. David Gibson’s book, Living Life Backward, I have found to be helpful as an exposition of the book of Ecclesiastes. I can’t say it was my favorite book, but it was timely. I enjoyed the questions asked in the book for personal reflection. Here are a few quotes from the book. Stick with me because the last is best.
Death can radically enable us to enjoy life. By relativizing all that we do in our days under the sun, death can change us from people who want to control life for gain into people who find deep joy in receiving life as a gift…life in God’s world is gift, not gain.
If you haven’t ever wondered why it matters what you do, given that one day you will be a forgotten nobody, then you haven’t thought much about the reality of death.
The very limitation that death introduces into our life can instruct us about life. Think of it as death’s helping hand.
But the wise person sits at the funeral home and stares at the coffin and realizes that one day it will be his turn. The wise person asks himself, “When it is my turn, what will my life have been worth? What will they be saying about me?” He loved his bowling and his partying and his holidays. Is that it?
The sermons death preaches can tell us more about the way we love and the way we live than we ever realize is actually going on while we love and live.
To die well means I realize death is not simply something that happens to me; it happens to me because I am a sinner.
Preparing to die means thinking about how to live.
The path of wisdom along life’s road is to enjoy the gifts God has given you, the simple things that give you pleasure…God takes pleasure in your pleasure.
Ecclesiastes urges us to think about life under the sun from the perspective of life above the sun…Think about time from the standpoint of eternity. What you do, and how you do it, matters because God will bring everything and everyone to the day of judgment.
Your friendships aren’t there to bolster your confidence or your security or self-image so that you can now go and do something with your life. Don’t use people like that; your friendships are themselves the gift.
Putting one foot in the grave is the way to plant the other on the path of life.
Human destiny rests on a word of divine promise.
We can labor for Christ while we live, and we can live with Christ when we die. Your death and the judgment to follow – the great fixed points of your life – are the very things that can reach back from the future into today and transform the life God has given you to live.
In a recent Facebook post, I shared with friends that I’m in a goal-setting and decision-making phase. This is something I take seriously: for all of us, time is fleeting. I’m considering long-term goals and how God might be best honored in my personal decision making. Obedience to my God, for his own kingdom purposes, is my ultimate goal.
To say I have a few things going on is an understatement, evidenced by what is on my desk this morning. God is good to allow me to participate in what He is doing in the lives of women. I pulled a folder from my drawer and found study notes dated back to 2014. I believe they are worthy of sharing:
“As we are obedient to the commands of His Word we are blessed by a closer walk with Him. To walk in the Word means we’ll have to deny our selfish desires and do the will of the Father, regardless of the cost. Our attitudes must reflect the will of our Lord and not our own, which is contrary to all fleshly desires. To sense His direction for our lives, we must walk in the Word where we can draw strength daily. Following God’s direction requires intimacy and obedience. It means we will live with one purpose alone and that will be to accomplish God’s sovereign plan.”