We are shaped by our decisions. Some have life-or-death consequences, while others are less important. How can Christians make better 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 made good choices, however, even these seemingly small decisions 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?
(Our bimonthly Discern magazine covers issues like this regularly. We’d be happy to give you a free subscription to Discern. Digital subscriptions are available worldwide; print subscriptions are currently available in the United States, Canada and much of Europe.)
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 steps can help us make wise decisions in these cases.
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.
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.
5. Deliberate. Weigh the options. Make lists of pros and cons for each one. 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, counting costs and foreseeing future dangers and opportunities should prepare us for the next step.
6. Decide. 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 choice.
7. Do. 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 good decision too.
For more about gaining the godly wisdom necessary for good decision making, see our article on the book of “Proverbs.”