As humans we are constantly making decisions — paper or plastic, tea or coffee, follow or lead, shoes or sandals, In-N-Out or Chipotle, and ‘should I be an engineer or an artist’? Obviously some decision are easier to make than others and just about every decision carries a different amount of ‘weight.’ Below is the flow-chart process I give to people I disciple as a starting point for how to think through decision making and discerning the will of God. The chart is explained below.
Most of the decisions we make are non-moral decisions. For example: should I wear a red shirt or a white shirt? Most decisions we make in life fall into the non-moral category. People who struggle with indecisiveness tend to misunderstand that God gives us an incredible amount of freedom to “just choose” when it comes to non-moral decisions.
Weighty or Non-Weighty?
Even if a decision is “non-moral” it can still be incredibly weighty and have major implications on life. For example: should I go to college in New York or in Los Angeles? People who struggle with indecisiveness tend to give non-weighty decisions too much thought. People who tend to be hyper-decisive may need to give more weight to decisions they make very rapidly. The weight of a decision can be assessed by discerning what amount of long-term impact the decision will have on you and the people around you.
Has God already spoken authoritatively regarding the matter at hand in his Word? If so, this question falls into the category of God’s Revealed will. For example, “should I be faithful to my spouse,” “should I love my neighbor,” “should I cheat on my taxes, ”and “should I give thanks” are all issues that do not need to pray about, but rather need to obey (cf 1 Thess 4:3, Matt 22:39, Lev 19:11, 1 Thess 5:18). I remember hearing someone say, “I prayed about watching pornography and God didn’t tell me to stop!” This is a category error. We can pray for the Spirit to give us the supernatural ability to obey, but it is arrogant to to ignore what God has already given us in his word and make our obedience conditional upon him re-revealing his already revealed will.
The more familiar we are with God’s Word, the better we will be able to discern God’s revealed will. Yet, there are many areas of life where God’s Word is either silent or not totally clear. With regards to these issues, we should not be dogmatic; a key factor in legalism is adding to God’s law! In these grey area situations, I counsel people to pursue God’s concealed will using a three-strand-perspectival model.
Seeking out Godly counsel is an important theme in the book of proverbs: “let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance” (Proverbs 1:5 ESV); “Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety” (Proverbs 11:14 ESV). The goal of this godly counsel is to add perspective and wisdom to our otherwise limited experience. In seeking out Godly counsel, don’t simply seek out people who are extremely similar to you; a 25 year old white male pastor shouldn’t just ask other 25 year old white male pastors for advice. Start now to intentionally place yourself around friends and mentors who will provide balanced godly counsel.
James is clear — “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (James 1:5 ESV). This prayer usually ends up being a matter of endurance and discipline—we must patiently and fervently seek to see the face of God. In His presence we can have our selfish motives exposed and gain a fresh perspective regarding the significance of what it means to make decisions as a child of The King. We must be consistently reminded that he is “Our Father” (Matt 6:9) and we therefore lack nothing (Ps 23:1). Start now to wrestle with what it means to “pray unceasingly” (1 Thess 5:16).
What are the opportunities that God has placed in front of you? What are the open doors? “Find out where God is at work and join him there” (Blackaby). Over the course of our lifetime, we will say “no” to far more opportunities than we say “yes” to and this is a good thing. Our consumer culture of designed and perceived obsolescence leads to an overwhelming lack of “long obedience in the same direction” (Peterson). Live-in-the- moment-ism often is simply an excuse for poor stewardship and derails us from working towards what God has called us to ultimately become. If through Godly counsel and prayer discern that God is calling me to be a preacher, then I will say “yes” to opportunities that help me work towards that goal (i.e. seminary) and “no” to opportunities that distract from that goal (i.e. dental school).
Not only is this true of our large, vocational decisions, but it is is also true of our daily, small opportunities. If scripture has clearly called me to “be holy” (1 Pet 1:16) then I will say “yes” to disciplines that form my character and “no” to self-indulgent carelessness. Our daily stewardship of our behavior has the power to shape us further into Christlikeness.
At the end of the day, we each must seek to live in obedience to scripture and the promptings of the Holy Spirit as we interpret and discern through prayer rand community to the best of our ability. Overconfidence is a symptom of naivety; “pride goes before destruction” (Prov 16:18 ESV).
The model I have given above is just meant to be a starting point. Life is more messy than we like to assume and decisions that have to do with God’s concealed will are often less black and white than we like to admit. What tweaks would you make to the flow chart? What other ways have you learned to discern God’s will?
Seth Troutt is a graduate of Phoenix Seminary (MDiv), a doctoral student at Covenant Seminary, and a pastor at Redemption Gateway in Mesa, AZ.