I have often been asked by people how to make decisions. They have reached a particular cross-roads and they've almost become paralysed by a paranoia that they will make the wrong decision or a decision that is "not what God wants" for them. Maybe that's you right now.
We'd all like a burning bush experience like Moses had, where God told him very plainly what He wanted him to do. Exodus 3: 4 But we're not Moses, so we look to God's Word for a general theology of decision making.
To help give some framework for the decision making process, what I generally do is talk through five questions designed to coalesce a person's thinking into an obvious way forward. Here are the questions:
1. Is what you are considering sinful?
At first glance this might sound a bit simple or even patronising. However, I think there are a number of good reasons to start with this admittedly basic question.
Firstly, it can actually be helpful to realise that what is being considered is NOT sinful. In other words, recognising that a good thing is actually a good thing and not a bad thing.
Secondly, while something might be a good thing in and of itself, your decision to do that thing may have a detrimental effect on someone else (maybe a spouse or children), and it may indeed be a sin for you to do that thing because it would transgress responsibilities you may have as a husband, wife, parent, child, fellow-christian and so forth.
If something is not sinful, then we have great liberty to exercise our minds and use Godly prudence to determine a way forward.
Here's an example of how to work through this question:
Question: Should I rob a bank? Answer: No, that would be a sin. Exodus 20: 15
Question: Should I donate my wage this week to an orphanage in a third world country? Answer: Maybe. Further Questions: Have I responsibilities to a spouse and children that I need to take care of first? Do I have a loan repayment due this week that I will default on if I give this money away to this good cause?
2. Do you really want to do it?
When faced with their God-given assignments I'm sure Moses, Jonah and probably most of the prophets would have answered "no" to this question. Exodus 3: 11 But the reason for asking this question is to investigate the issue of conviction. Ultimately Moses, Jonah and the prophets reached a point where they were convicted about the task they were assigned to do. This sort of conviction leads to a passion for the task that will carry you through when times get hard (as they inevtiably will). If you approach something with half-heartedness, then it may not be the thing for you.
So, are you really convicted that this is something you must do, or are you just feeling pressured into it (by someone other than God)?
You need to reach a point where your longing to do (whatever it is) is born out of a firm conviction that this is what you truly believe God would have you do. One way of determining this is to consider whether you would feel like you were being disobedient if you didn't do it?
3. Can you do it?
Do you have the gifting, training and possibly the experience to do that which you are considering doing? Are you qualified? Ephesians 4: 7 You just can't wake up one morning and decide "I think I'll do some brain surgery today." Remember, you're not Moses. God may choose to supernaturally gift you for a task, but He ususally works through ordinary, natural means. So, you must humbly ask yourself, "Am I competent to do this?"
4. What is the counsel of others?
It is always good to seek out the advice of others. Family, friends, godly people you admire and respect. What do they think? Galatians 2: 9 Do they think this would be a good decision for you? Do they think that this thing being considered is right for you? Do they believe you have the gift, capacity, availability (insert whatever is relevant to the decision in question) to do this? Proverbs 20: 18
5. Are the doors opening?
Usually, if the decision you are having to make is one of those 'big life decisions' then another factor to consider is whether the opportunities and circumstances exist to allow you to do what you are considering. Is God providing the resources? Is the way blocked somehow? Romans 1: 13 Usually, this is the toughest question to answer, because often, things don't happen according to the time plan we've mapped out in our heads. And then when our plan doesn't run to schedule we interpret that as God saying "no" rather than God saying "not yet." Let's be clear, sometimes a shut door is God's way of saying "no." The correct attitude, I believe, is to move forward when the doors open, and in the meantime be patient, be ready, and abide in God's timing for when to proceed.
A word of caution
Don't just use one of the above questions as justification to race off and do whatever. You need a positive answer to each of these questions (not just one) before you finalise your decision and move forward. I have seen a number of people move forward because they have felt convicted that that is what God wanted them to do, and yet the counsel from godly people was either "no" or "wait," and the doors certainly were not opening in a favourable way. And the result was failure, disappointment, and, in some cases, a crisis of faith.
Of course there are always exceptions to the rule - people who have stood against all kinds of odds and prevailed. And there are those who found favourable outcomes to all the above questions and things still did not go the way they wanted or envisioned. This is where we submit to the sovereignty of God in our lives and to humbly glorify Him in our successes and failures.
What if you make the wrong decision?
We can, and often do, make the wrong decision. Gladly, I can reassure you that God does not. He is in control and He will use even your poor choices to mould, shape and transform you into the likeness of His Son. When it becomes obvious that you have made a poor decision, call it for what it is. Be humble. Be repentant. Confess to any person you have wronged (starting with the Lord) and seek their forgiveness. Learn from your mistake and use it to help others to avoid doing the same thing. Ultimately, trust in God to work things out for good. Romans 8: 28
Before, during and after considering these five questions - be in prayer. Philippians 4: 6 Commit the decision you are making to God and ask Him to guide you in your deliberations, to reveal what you cannot see, to keep you humble, and to help you trust in Him for outcomes that will bring glory to Him.
May God bless you as you seek to make wise decisions about your future.