In my previous article, God’s Will (Part 1): Theologically & Practically, we discussed the Biblical view of God’s will. However, in this article, I want us to have a game plan for those decisions that aren’t as easy. What do we do when there isn’t a chapter and verse that explicitly explains what to do? As Christians, including myself, we often wonder what God wants us to do: what degree should I get, who should I marry, when should I say no, who do I trust, how do I make financial decisions, etc.? These are all good questions. What we are trying to understand is God’s will for our lives (i.e. His wish, desire, and intention for our decision making and outcomes). Here are five helpful steps that can serve as your game plan for the next difficult decision:
- Is it Biblical? In other words, does the action or desire that we have go against God’s Word? You will want to ask yourself the following questions: is there a verse that speaks directly against what I desire to do; or is there a principle in the Bible that goes against my desire? Are there stories of others in the Bible that made the same decision and what was their outcome? This first step helps us clear out any decision in the direction of obvious sins (i.e. immorality, malice, revenge, jealousy, large amounts of unpayable debt, etc.). For example, if you desire to marry a non-believe because they love you…you should know that this decision is not God’s will and in fact offensive to God (2 Cor. 6:14). Also, ministries have to be careful to not turn their worship into business for their own agenda (John 2:16-17). These are only a few Biblical examples. If there is no verse, principle, or story against your desire, then move on in your game plan to step 2.
- Do I have a Personal Conviction? Sometimes others are not so helpful in their advice, because they don’t have the same conviction as you do. For instance, if you are the first believer in your family of medical doctors and you want to drop out of med school for seminary, I’m not sure your family will agree. However, we know in 1 Tim. 3:1 that there is an internal desire for anyone who ‘aspires to the office of overseer.’ This is also true when deciding whether to go on a mission trip overseas, or give money to a good Biblical Church, or adopt a child with a handicap, etc. The personal convictions are endless, but you must consider what God has laid on your heart personally. If you are personally convicted about a decision, it will not go away over time. Instead we will be ‘steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord’ (1 Cor. 15:58). Our conviction will not be swayed through trial (1 Pet. 2:12), and we will labor hard to get financially ready (2 Cor 8:8-24). God works for you through personal convictions, so long as they are not sinful. You must consider whether this is a short-term feeling or a conviction that stands the test of time. If the personal conviction grows, move on to step 3.
- Pray & Practice Discernment! Consider Col. 1:9-10 ‘9 For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord.’ If you have ceased to pray about it, it may very well be a temporary feeling, and not a long-term conviction. Ideas and passions are not enough if they move forward without pleading to God. Remember, the heart is deceitful and desperately wicked, who can understand it (Jer. 17:9-10)? Discernment is not to be like eastern mysticism, where you empty your mind and wait for a response; instead, it must be the filling of your mind with God’s Word and responding faithfully. For example, take a look at the Apostles and Elders in Acts 15:16, where they use a quote from Amos 9:11 to discern if Gentiles can be Christians without being circumcised. We must practice discernment through spiritual worship and sacrifice. Consider Rom. 12:2, ‘And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.’ We learn that God’s will may be found by being ‘transformed by the renewing of your mind’. It is easy to be swayed by worldly desires; however, renewing our mind is an active process in which the believer purposely replaces his worldly wishes for God’s desires. Practicing discernment also includes asking others for wisdom (Prov. 11:14). If you are praying and practicing discernment, continue to step 4.
- Is there an Open Door? I find it interesting that people make decisions solely based on ‘an opening’, because we sometimes fail to realize that ‘an opening’ may include persecution. Look with me at 1 Cor. 16:8-9, ‘But I will remain in Ephesus until Pentecost; for a wide door for effective service has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.’ Paul was acutely aware that staying in Ephesus meant persecution, but he was also aware that the door for evangelism was worth it (1 Pet. 2:12). If you think that an opportunity comes without pressure, think again. At the same time, realize that an opportunity may increase God’s will and not yours. As John the Baptist said in Jn. 3:30, ‘He must increase, but I must decrease.’ If God is increasing because of your decision, move on to step 5.
- Apply Common Sense & Make a Decision! Step 5 is important and sadly many times we forget to be practical. Also, we can avoid commitment by never making a decision at all. Make a pros and cons chart and weigh out your options to see if you can practically make it happen. If the financial situation is foreseeable, it may mean you need to wait. If you are not ready spiritually, it may mean spending more time in discipleship with a leader. If you have no peace, it may mean you should not do it until there is clarity in your soul. Will the decision mean more glory to God (pro) or you (con)? Will it mean being in debt (con) or will you be able to provide for basic means (pro). Will it mean compromise (con) or strengthening your faith (pro)? Will it mean neglecting those whom God has entrusted (con) to you or taking responsibility (pro)? Will it mean less time for leisure (con) or more time for service and family (pro)? Weigh the options and make sure that God is the beneficiary. Remember, God is a God of order, not confusion (1 Cor. 14:39). God doesn’t want you to sit around never making plans (James 4:15). Instead we should make decisions based on God’s benefit. Make a plan and work the plan, not boasting in your plans, but rather constantly being open and looking for God’s direction amidst the decisions.
David J. Lupinetti is the Associate Pastor at San Tan Bible Church in Arizona. He has a passion for Expository Preaching, Biblical Counseling, Discipleship, and Evangelism.