Making Good Decisions
Every day, we are called upon to make decisions. They come in all shapes and sizes--whether big or small, momentous or insignificant. Every decision has an impact whether we realize it or not. Which is why our ability to make good decisions is so crucial. If we fail to make good decisions we will fail to do the will of God.
Having made a case against the use of providential circumstance and other "signs" that are often relied upon by Christians in their decision-making process, you may feel as though I have taken away much and given back little. But living a life of "faith" hardly means that we need stumble in darkness when it comes to making decisions in our daily life. As we discussed earlier, our focus should not be on the signs of a "good" or "bad" decision, but rather, on the signs of a "good" or "bad" decision-making process.
This week's study will focus on four aspects of good decision-making: Godly counsel, prudence, objectivity, and prayer.
Seeking Godly counsel is a key aspect to making wise decisions where there is no clear biblical mandate. Its importance cannot be underestimated. Solomon recognized its value when he wrote:
For lack of guidance a nation falls, but many advisers make victory sure. (Proverbs 11:14)
The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice. (Proverbs 12:15)
Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed. (Proverbs 15:22)
Whoever gives heed to instruction prospers, and blessed is he who trusts in the LORD. (Proverbs 16:20)
Listen to advice and accept instruction, and in the end you will be wise. (Proverbs 19:20)
Where most people fail in decision-making isn't in seeking the counsel of others but in how they seek it and what they do with the advice they are given.
It's important to understand that more often than not we will receive the kind of counsel we want to hear, and not necessarily the kind of counsel we need to hear. It's not that we intend to seek out such advice, but it should naturally be expected. Why? Because when we seek advice we often turn to friends and family who will generally agree with whatever we say and will be hesitant to bring up an opposing view for fear of upsetting us. When we do seek advice from more impartial individuals, our natural tendency is to describe our situation in such a way that there is only one rational response--to agree! We tell others how things appear from our perspective and that is exactly the problem! Our reason for seeking Godly counsel should not be to merely validate our own inclinations, but rather, to hear the opposite perspective of our own. When we fail to seek out an opposing view, we fail in our decision-making process. Remember, it is impossible to make a balanced decision without having heard convincing arguments for both sides.
Of course, having heard arguments for both sides does no good if you fail to correctly discern which advice is best. The story of Rehoboam serves as a painful example of this (1 Kings 12:1-20). By choosing the reckless advice of his peers over the wise counsel of his elders, Rehoboam foolishly caused the division of the nation of Israel. Rehoboam's experience reminds us that we must choose carefully who we allow to advise us, and even more carefully, what we do with the advice we are given.
We've all made our share of impulsive decisions--some wise, and some foolish. Life sometimes gives us little time to make up our minds and so there are times when the potential reward outweighs the potential risk. But while we may choose to be impulsive at times, this should certainly not be true of major decisions in our life. At such times, the path of wisdom is the path of careful consideration:
The wisdom of the prudent is to give thought to their ways, but the folly of fools is deception. (Proverbs 14:8)
A simple man believes anything, but a prudent man gives thought to his steps. (Proverbs 14:15)
The simple inherit folly, but the prudent are crowned with knowledge. (Proverbs 14:18)
It is not good to have zeal without knowledge, nor to be hasty and miss the way. (Proverbs 19:2)
It's interesting to note that the Hebrew word translated "prudent" here is used elsewhere in scripture to mean "crafty" or "cunning." Indeed, prudence and cunning are both result of wisdom, and can be used for either good or evil. In the hands of the unrighteous, prudence degenerates to become shrewd, scheming, and manipulative--as in the case of the serpent (Genesis 3:1). But in the hands of the righteous, prudence uses the same skills to ferret out evil and exercise discernment, as when Jesus sent out the disciples instructing them to be "shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves" (Matthew 10:16).
So how do we exercise prudence when it comes to decision-making? First of all, we must slow down! The lack of a clear biblical mandate is not a license to impetuous decision-making. Important decisions require time and careful consideration and necessitate taking a methodical approach to the decision-making process. It means refusing to be satisfied with anything less than all of the facts before reaching a decision. This often goes against our own inclinations because doing so generally makes decisions more difficult than they would otherwise be.
A friend of mine told me of a wealthy woman he knew who had recently purchased a sport-utility vehicle. When asked why she decided on the particular make and model, she replied, "I liked the color." How strange to think that someone could make a decision of such magnitude based on so little information. But are we really any different? We are all prone to the same kind of impulsiveness that leads us to make decisions and judgements based on inadequate or inaccurate information.
Indeed, decisions are always easier to make when made out of ignorance--but they are also the most costly at times. This is true of many things, but especially when it comes to our interactions with people. We are quick to label others and are easily satisfied by our own cursory assessment of their character and motives. In so doing we happily make some of the biggest mistakes of our lives, oblivious to the consequences of our capriciousness.
Difficult decisions are often fraught with emotion. To urge that one should "not be emotional," when it comes to such situations is to oversimplify the problem. One might as well advise a person not to blink for the next hour. Our emotions are an integral part of our character that cannot simply be "turned off" when we so desire.
The problem, of course, is that our emotions can be so easily fooled. A loss of as little as two hours of sleep per night is enough to make most people feel ill at ease over just about any decision they might face. As we discussed previously, the Bible offers no assurance that we will feel good (or to use the catch-phrase, "be at peace,") with every decision we make. Sometimes God calls us into situations that may be very uncomfortable for us. When this happens, our emotions can easily be manipulated by our adversary. This is why relying on the so-called "gut" feeling can be so dangerous. It is our adversary's time honored tradition to stir up doubt in our minds and hearts. Why? Because it is both easy and effective. The serpent's first words to Eve began with the words "Did God really say . . ." (Genesis 3:1). After the serpent had planted the seeds of doubt in Eve, both she and Adam became vulnerable to deception. But it's not just negative emotions that we need be wary of. Our emotions can be manipulated by pride as well as doubt. At the height of his power and prestige, King David did evil in the eyes of the Lord, first with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11-12) and later by commissioning a census (2 Samuel 24:1-15). This latter sin would prove very costly, as some 70,000 Israelites lost their lives to the plague that followed.
Solomon spoke to those who were quick to react to their emotions:
A quick-tempered man does foolish things, and a crafty man is hated. (Proverbs 14:17)
A patient man has great understanding, but a quick-tempered man displays folly. (Proverbs 14:29)
A man of knowledge uses words with restraint, and a man of understanding is even-tempered. (Proverbs 17:27)
An angry man stirs up dissension, and a hot-tempered one commits many sins. (Proverbs 29:22)
Solomon reminds us that the prerequisite for understanding is an "even temper." This is more than just being able to control your anger--it has to do with one's character in both prosperity and adversity. Remaining objective in either case can be difficult. It's not that we should be without emotion, but rather, that we should not allow our emotions to run roughshod over our decision-making process. The goal should not be to squelch our feelings, but to understand them. When we understand how our emotions can be manipulated we are then in a position to compensate for them as part of our decision-making process.
Nowhere is this more true than when it comes to a decision that involves a major life change of some kind. When we are faced with a decision of this sort, we will naturally feel a strong inclination to take as little risk as possible--to stick with the "status quo." In such situations, we often lack the perspective and objectivity to make good decisions. There are few emotions more deceptive and powerfully effective in crippling our objectivity than the fear of change and the fear of the unknown. This is why we must be especially careful to question any decision we make in favor of the status quo. Such decisions should only be made after we have sought Godly counsel from individuals who are strongly in favor of the "risky" alternative.
I know a man who used to counsel college-aged students many years back. "Back then," he told me, "people would ask me for advice about some major decision in their life and I would tell them to 'just pray about it.'" Having lived through many long and difficult decisions since then, he confessed, "I don't say that anymore."
It's not that we shouldn't pray--indeed, we should "pray without ceasing" (1 Thessalonians 5:17, NKJV). But we shouldn't pray with wrong expectations. We "test" God (Deuteronomy 6:16) with any prayer that says, "God if this is [or isn't] your will, then . . ." We have the freedom in Christ to present God with all of our troubles and worries (1 Peter 5:7). But we abuse this freedom when we impose on God our own agenda. So where do we draw the line between a test and a request? A "request" is a plea for God's help and intervention. A "request" becomes a "test" when it places God in the position where He must intervene--either to cause us, or to keep us, from some action on our part. The Bible encourages us to request, but it warns us not to test.
We should never neglect to pray about our needs and worries. But in the end, our prayers should always be that God's will be done, not ours. This is what it means to pray "in Jesus' name" (John 14:13-14, cf. John 15:7). Our hope and expectation should be that God will accomplish what He has set out to do, period. No strings attached. Next week, we will focus on this in more detail as we study the impact of seeking God's will in our everyday lives.
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There's no secret to making good decisions. When we utilize good decision-making skills we tend to make good decisions; when we exercise a bad decision-making strategy, we tend to make bad decisions. Making good decisions has more to do with discipline than it does with intellect. Seeking Godly counsel, exercising prudence, remaining objective, and utilizing prayer are key to a healthy decision-making process.
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Copyright © 1998 Tim A. Krell. All rights reserved. Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version (NIV), Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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