We are shaped by our choices, and some have life-or-death consequences. This Christian decision-making process can help us make wise decisions.
7 steps for Christian decision-making
- Direction from God.
- Define the problem or opportunity.
- Dig out the relevant information.
- Determine the alternatives.
Making wise decisions
Decisions come in all shapes and sizes.
Every day we face decisions about what to eat, whether to exercise, how to use our time. Over the years these regular decisions generally become habits, and we don’t think much about them. If we have guided these small decisions well from the start, we don’t really have to worry about them.
When we haven’t been making wise decisions, however, even these seemingly small choices can blossom into serious bad habits like procrastination or an unhealthy lifestyle.
We also fairly regularly run into larger decisions that may have even bigger immediate and long-term consequences. What will we study? Where will we live? Who will we marry? What church will we go to?
Then there are the moral choices we are faced with. Will we cheat on our taxes? Will we turn down the drugs we are offered? Will we allow ourselves to be pulled in by the soft porn we stumble across?
How will we deal with the issues that involve ethical decision-making?
Steps for making good decisions
Whatever type of decision we face, there are biblical principles that can help us make better decisions.
For example, when a Christian recognizes a bad habit or faces a moral choice, he or she can apply God’s command to always choose His way:
“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; that you may love the LORD your God, that you may obey His voice, and that you may cling to Him” (Deuteronomy 30:19-20).
The steps below can help with these decisions, and also with so many other decisions that don’t have an easy, right-or-wrong answer.
So, where does the Christian decision-making process start?
1. Direction from God.
As Christians, our overall direction in life is determined by our commitment to God, and we must remember to ask Him to direct our lives.
“Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6).
How does God direct us? Through the wisdom He gives us in the Bible and through wise biblical counsel from His servants.
All of our decisions are to be in harmony with God’s laws and His plan (these major subjects are discussed in more detail in our free booklets God’s 10 Commandments and From Holidays to Holy Days: God’s Plan for You).
We should pray for God’s guidance and study the Bible to see what it says about the decision we are facing. Many helpful principles are presented in the book of Proverbs, for example; it’s a book designed to teach us prudence and understanding and the wisdom to make good decisions (Proverbs 1:1-4). It all starts with understanding how much greater God is than we are. This reverence for God is known as the fear of the LORD (verse 7).
As we study the Bible, we should act on what we learn. We should discard any choices that we discover would compromise with God’s laws.
Sometimes it is a simple matter to know what decision to make—simply because only one choice would allow us to obey God.
But most of our decisions are not that clear-cut. Sometimes there are several good choices, and sometimes none of the choices are morally wrong. The following biblical decision-making steps can help us make wise decisions in these cases.
2. Define the problem or opportunity.
When our problem seems fuzzy, it can be very difficult to come up with a solid solution. Sometimes it can be helpful to look at the problem from many angles in order to clearly define it.
What caused the problem to erupt at this time and in this way? Who is affected by it? If other people are involved in causing the problem, why? What do they get out of it?
If your decision is an opportunity, what exactly do you get by choosing it? What do you lose if you don’t choose it?
3. Dig out the relevant information.
We have already discussed looking for the related passages in the Bible. We also need to search out the pertinent facts about the specific problem or opportunity.
Many search tools are available in our information age, and it can be helpful to explore everything from the library to the Internet. Look for reputable sources with relevant expertise. Be sure to put all the information you gather through the filters of fact checking and biblical truth.
Art Markman, in his book Smart Thinking, writes, “It is important to know what you know and to know what you don’t know. As it turns out, it is also important to know who knows what you don’t know” (2012, p. 103).
The Bible advises, “Where there is no counsel, the people fall; but in the multitude of counselors there is safety” (Proverbs 11:14). Different people will likely have different information and different perspectives that can give you a broader understanding of the situation.
To learn more about how to seek wise counsel when facing decisions, read our blog post “In a Multitude of Counselors There Is Safety.”
With all the facts in hand, you can begin brainstorming various options that could solve the problem or best deal with the opportunity.As Dr. Markman also writes, “It is not always easy to see the hidden assumptions that you are making when solving difficult problems. For this reason, it is helpful to engage other people to help you during problem solving … to help you evaluate it” (p. 201).
4. Determine the alternatives.
With all the facts in hand, you can begin brainstorming various options that could solve the problem or best deal with the opportunity.
Combining and concentrating on all the information gained from the previous steps should give us several possible choices.
Depending on the situation, it can be valuable to explore some outside-the-box solutions. This is especially true when none of the obvious options seem that good. Throwing around creative ideas and trying to see possible connections to seemingly unrelated fields can help you generate additional options.
How long should we spend on this step? That depends on our deadline and on understanding our own personality.
Some of us might be tempted to cut short this stage in the interest of reaching closure as soon as possible. This can be a problem if we don’t have enough options to pick a good one.
Others might be tempted to continue in this stage for too long, out of fear that the perfect solution will be missed. This, too, can be a problem if we put off a decision too long and perhaps miss the deadline.
At some point, we have to decide we have enough options and move on to step 5 in the decision-making process.
Weigh the options, including the option of doing nothing. One often-overlooked factor to weigh is how much each option will help you grow in knowledge, skill or character. Make lists of pros and cons for each option. Weed out the worst ideas and carefully examine the best ones.
This is a principle that Jesus Christ advised His followers to apply:
“For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it” (Luke 14:28). Whether deciding to commit our lives to God in baptism or to remodel our kitchen, we need to count the cost and weigh the options.
Wise King Solomon also pointed out the importance of looking ahead to foresee the possible results of our decisions: “A prudent man foresees evil and hides himself, but the simple pass on and are punished” (Proverbs 22:3).
This process of deliberating the pros and cons, counting costs and foreseeing future dangers and opportunities should prepare us for the next step in the Christian decision-making process.
With all the research and preparation, this part should be easier. Another prayer for guidance and additional consultation with advisers can give us the confidence to make a wise decision.
When facing hard decisions between two options that seem equally good, here are some additional factors to consider:
- Trust your gut. If you pick the option you feel best about, you are less likely to second guess yourself. If your gut doesn’t give you the answer, then:
- Trust your closest adviser/cheerleader. He or she will be there to support the choice you made. If your closest adviser is also unsure, then:
- Choose the option that leaves you the most options. If you’re not sure, don’t burn bridges. Though it’s good to be committed to your decision so you don’t sabotage yourself, there will be times when it’s okay to reexamine your decision and change course.
Take action. Don’t dillydally, but implement your decision decisively.
If we have followed these steps carefully and put the decision into practice diligently, we will likely be happy with the results.
God gives this encouragement to those who seek His will and follow His way: “‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we may boldly say: ‘The LORD is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?’” (Hebrews 13:5-6).
When we make a decision to follow God’s way and His law, we don’t have to look back.
But with a physical decision that isn’t a matter of right and wrong, it is not bad to reassess the choice when necessary and adjust course.
Doing so can be a wise decision too.
Examples of decision-making in the Bible
There are many examples of people making wise or foolish decisions in the Bible. Here are a select few that can inspire us to make wise decisions today.
Joshua’s farewell address highlights an important decision he had made and wanted his fellow Israelites to make:
“Now therefore, fear the LORD, serve Him in sincerity and in truth, and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the River and in Egypt. Serve the LORD!
“And if it seems evil to you to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD” (Joshua 24:14-15, emphasis added).
Solomon made both wise and foolish decisions in his own life, and the wisdom God inspired him to record in Proverbs and Ecclesiastes make a helpful decision-making Bible study. For example, he wrote:
“The righteous should choose his friends carefully, for the way of the wicked leads them astray” (Proverbs 12:26).
Solomon started out well, humbly asking God for wisdom, which God gave him (1 Kings 3:11-12). But later Solomon ignored God’s commands (Deuteronomy 17:17) and his own advice and loved many women who worshipped pagan gods, and they pulled him away from God (1 Kings 11:4).
Prophecies of the Messiah also point to the importance of decision-making guided by God.
“The Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon Him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD.
“His delight is in the fear of the LORD, and He shall not judge by the sight of His eyes, nor decide by the hearing of His ears; but with righteousness He shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth” (Isaiah 11:2-4).
Jesus Christ also used examples of wise decision-making in His parables. He praised the “wise man who built his house on the rock” (Matthew 7:24). This shows the importance of a firm foundation in construction—and in our Christian lives.
In the parable of the 10 virgins, Jesus also praised the wise young women who planned ahead and took extra oil along so they could refill their lamps (Matthew 25:4). They didn’t run out like the foolish ones who hadn’t prepared for the long night.
Christians must be prepared for whatever might come in their physical lives—and especially in their spiritual lives.
More Bible verses for guidance in decision making
“The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple” (Psalm 19:7).
“So teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12).
“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105).
“Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom. And in all your getting, get understanding” (Proverbs 4:7).
“The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but he who heeds counsel is wise” (Proverbs 12:15).
“By pride comes nothing but strife, but with the well-advised is wisdom” (Proverbs 13:10).
“He who answers a matter before he hears it, it is folly and shame to him” (Proverbs 18:13).
“Wine is a mocker, strong drink is a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise” (Proverbs 20:1).
“If the ax is dull, and one does not sharpen the edge, then he must use more strength; but wisdom brings success” (Ecclesiastes 10:10).
“But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:33).
“Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment” (John 7:24).
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).
“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5).
For more about gaining the godly wisdom necessary for good decision-making, see our article on the book of “How to Be Wise.”