Some life choices are made after careful thought. Others are spur-of-the-moment, but can have lasting impact. What about your most important life choice?
It’s impossible to count the number of decisions we make each day—estimates range from 600 to 35,000. We constantly sort and analyze matters as simple as selecting a pair of socks for the day or as complicated as deciding whether to take that new job and move to Phoenix.
We select what kind of car to purchase, what college to attend, what neighborhood to live in or whether to buy the blue suit or the gray one. We determine whom to marry, what kind of entertainment to enjoy and what to have for lunch.
In fact, we make the vast majority of our selections while we’re on autopilot—as a matter of habit or superficial awareness.
We base our serious and careful decisions on knowledge and wisdom we gain through experience, education or personal advice. But there is an underlying determination that is much more fundamental—one that establishes a firm foundation that leads to sensible choices in everything we do. And, as important as it is, it isn’t based on knowledge or wisdom that we can acquire on our own.
The most important life choice we can make is to choose life. In other words, to decide on core beliefs that will shape our character and define our purpose—the standards and values that determine how we live from day to day, what we believe, where we will be at the end of our life and, most importantly, what will happen after that.
A way that seems right
No one sets out to make a bad decision. But sometimes our decisions don’t turn out the way we hoped. How many times have we all said, “If I had only known then what I know now”?
When you consider it objectively, you have to admit that a lot of people just don’t seem to be very good at life. They consistently opt for patterns of behavior that are harmful and painful to themselves and others.
What’s the underlying basis for the best decisions?
Proverbs 14:12 reveals a profound principle we should consider: “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.”
That’s a startling thought. At first, we might reject such a notion, not willing to accept that our best, most careful and reasonable choices will still lead to death. But if this scripture is true, then there’s something very important we need to learn about making choices. Is there a better way? If there’s a way that leads to death, is there also a way that leads to life? And if there is a way that leads to life, how can we pursue it?
The prophet Jeremiah put it this way: “O LORD, I know the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man who walks to direct his own steps. O LORD, correct me, but with justice; not in Your anger, lest You bring me to nothing” (Jeremiah 10:23-24). He also concludes that we do not have it within ourselves to determine the best way to live. And he takes that thought one step further—it is God who can give us the correction and direction that we need.
Another of the proverbs puts these two thoughts together, encouraging us to set aside human reasoning and apply God’s instruction: “In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil. It will be a healing for your flesh and a refreshment for your body” (Proverbs 3:6-8, New Revised Standard Version).
These scriptures make it clear that the most basic and most important life choice we can make is to resolve to look to God for His instruction and correction. When we make that choice, we can establish a solid foundation upon which we can build our lives.
The starting point
We find some fundamental keys to making the best choices for our lives by considering the definitions of “wisdom” and “understanding” as they are used in the Old Testament. Proverbs 3:13-14 says, “Happy is the man who finds wisdom, and the man who gains understanding; for her proceeds are better than the profits of silver, and her gain than fine gold.”
One definition of the Hebrew word translated “wisdom” is to be skillful and practical. That is, a person with wisdom demonstrates practical decision-making skills. The word “understanding” means to have insight and perception.
Those who become wealthy exercise a level of human wisdom—they make sound financial decisions. “Silver and gold” represent one way to measure accomplishment, but physical prosperity doesn’t guarantee happiness or genuine success. This passage claims that there is treasure more valuable than anything physical. Godly wisdom and understanding give a person insight and perception to make practical decisions and be skilled at life—in other words, to make good life choices.
But how can we acquire this kind of wisdom and understanding?
We associate wisdom with age and experience—we grow through our achievements and failures—we “live and learn.” But there is an even better source of wisdom than our own or others’ experiences: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom” (Psalm 111:10). To fear the Lord means to revere, respect and be in awe of God; to appreciate, acknowledge and worship Him. The fear of the Lord is the starting point for being skilled at life.
The bottom line is, when we follow God’s way instead of choosing our own, we will be in a position to make meaningful choices that impact our whole lives.The first verse in the next psalm continues the thought: “Praise the LORD! Blessed is the man who fears the LORD, who delights greatly in His commandments” (Psalm 112:1).
Understanding can also come through the practical experience of applying information and knowledge. But just as wisdom comes through properly fearing God, understanding is the result of obedience to God. Psalm 111:10 goes on to say that “a good understanding have all those who do His commandments.” Those who obey God will have insight and perception—the ability to recognize, process or grasp a situation, coming to the best conclusion.
Psalm 119:105 assures us, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Life can sometimes seem like a dark and confusing maze, filled with obstacles and hazards. Often we just aren’t sure which way to turn. God promises to give us wisdom and light our path of life when we respect and honor Him by obeying His instructions.
The point is that this level of wisdom and understanding is the result of a fundamental life choice: obedience to God. The bottom line is, when we follow God’s way instead of choosing our own, we will be in a position to make meaningful choices that impact our whole lives.
The choice is ours
We don’t need the depths of Solomon’s wisdom to choose a loaf of bread or a wallpaper for a cell phone screen. But life isn’t always that simple. We often face challenges in which we need to exercise wisdom and understanding. To do so successfully, we must start with the first and most basic choice—choosing the way that leads to life.
Long ago, God challenged His people Israel to make the ultimate life choice. We read His words in Deuteronomy 30:15-16: “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil, in that I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments, His statutes, and His judgments, that you may live and multiply; and the LORD your God will bless you in the land which you go to possess.”
He concludes the thought in verse 19: “I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live.”
In Psalm 19:7 King David says, “The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple.” These scriptures show us that God’s law is complete and certain and that He wants us to be blessed. Through His law God renews and restores our lives and gives wisdom to the inexperienced.
Of the thousands of decisions we constantly make, there is one conscious and determined choice we need to make every day—to choose life, to learn to fear and obey God, through whom we can receive wisdom and understanding.
For more insight on establishing a foundation and making the most important choice of your life, read the articles in this section: “Christian Living: Living the Way Jesus Wants.”