Five Steps to Making Godly Decisions
Matt Dirks is Pastor for Bible Teaching & Leadership at Harbor Church in Honolulu, Hawaii.
Every Christian wants to know God's will. Especially when we're facing big decisions. We'd like to know which college he wants us to attend, which career he wants us to pursue, which spouse he wants us to marry, which house he wants us to buy.
And so sometimes we get a little wacky trying to figure out what God's will is. I know people who come up with ridiculous games they want God to play. They'll pray, "If you want me to take this job, then please make the phone ring right now. ... Ohhkaayyy .... right now?" I know one guy whose parents try to find God's will by closing their eyes, flipping the Bible open to a random page, pointing their finger down on a random verse, and doing whatever that verse says. It's a good thing they've never hit Matthew 27:5, "And Judas went and hanged himself."
Why do we do all these spiritual gymnastics, when God has promised that he'll tell us everything we need to know? That's what James said in his letter to people who had experienced persecution as Christians from their families, neighbors, employers, and authorities, but weren't sure how God wanted them to respond. James gave them this encouragement:
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. (James 1:2-5)
In James' letter, there are five simple steps we can take to receive God's guidance and make godly decisions. Here's the first:
1. Ask for God's wisdom.
In the words James uses, itâs clear that he isnât talking about some wispy, theoretical wisdom. Heâs talking about the kind of wisdom that guides you in your everyday life. The kind of wisdom that dictates how youâll reflect Christ in the hectic stress of the office, or in the chaotic mess of a house with young kids. It
determines how you respond to your precious child after he throws his bottle on the floor for the 10th time. It controls what youâll do when youâre flipping through TV channels, and a show catches your eye that will be destructive to your soul.
James is more interested in this everyday wisdom because he realizes that the big decisions we make in life are crucially affected by the little choices we make every day. God promises to give you his wisdom when you ask for it. But thereâs a condition:
Let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. (James 1:6)
Heâs talking about someone who asks for Godâs wisdom, but then doesnât follow it once they get it! So the next step in gaining Godâs guidance is:
2. Commit to follow Godâs wisdom when you get it.
If you ask for Godâs wisdom, then ignore it and do you own thing when he answers, James says youâre like a wave tossed in the ocean. I know what this feels like. On the windward side of Oahu, there's a tiny island with on the back side. This cove has steep cliffs on all sides and a steep protrusion of rock in the middle. There are waves coming in from all
directions, and waves bouncing off the cliffs in every direction.
Itâs fun to jump off the cliff into that cove, but when you land in the water itâs extremely difficult to swim out. You may start going in one direction, but then five seconds later youâre going in the opposite direction. There are sharp rocks all around you, and sometimes there are sharks hanging out on the bottom, looking for an afternoon
Itâs a dangerous place to be! And James says if youâre going back and forth like that, asking for Godâs help and then rejecting it when he gives it to you, youâd be better off just not asking. So follow his guidance when he gives it in the little decisions you make every day.
James has some advice for the big decisions too. He gives an example of businessmen planning a trip. This was just as common in his day as it is in ours. Through James, weâre listening in on their conversation:
You who say, âToday or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profitââ yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. (James 4:13-14)
Is James condemning their plans? No, not exactly. Is he saying itâs useless to prepare for the future? No, not really.
Heâs not criticizing the act of making plans, heâs telling us to make our plans with humility. Thatâs the next principle of receiving Godâs guidance:
3. Make plans with humility
Weâre free to set 5-year plans or 30-year plans, as long as weâre following Jamesâ first bit of advice, and truly relying on the wisdom of the Holy Spirit as we do so.
James isnât rebuking these businessmen for their actions as much as their attitudes. Heâs condemning their arrogance and their self-confident planning that doesnât recognize God or his sovereignty. âWhat is your life?â James says, âYou are a mist!â
When I first bought a house, we started getting all kinds of phone calls from loan companies and insurance salesmen. One guy was trying as hard as he could to sell me life-insurance.
He had all the right things to say: âDo you really want your wife to be paying a huge mortgage all by herself, Mr. Dirks? How will she survive?â I told him I would talk to my wife and if we were interested, I would call him back the next day.
âThatâs fine, Mr. Dirks,â he said, âYou go ahead and call me back tomorrow. â¦ If you wake up.â â¦Click.
I donât think the guy had ever read James 4, but he was absolutely right. We can make all the plans we want, but we need to make them with a big âIF.â
Thatâs exactly what James says in the next verse:
Instead you ought to say, âIf the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.â (James 4:15).
Is James establishing some kind of ritual incantation that we should recite before every statement we ever make? Thatâs what my dear grandmother thought. âIf itâs the Lordâs will, Iâll make it to Bobâs Big Boy for lunch.â â¦ âIf
itâs the Lordâs will, Iâll watch Lawrence Welk before I go to bed.â
Itâs not the words so much as the principle behind the words. That isâ¦ as you're making your plans with humility, you need to:
4. Live your life with dependence
We all make choices in life. What career to pursue, who to marry, where to live, how many kids to have, where to send them to school. James says, âGod has given you wisdom, so go ahead and make those plans.
Just recognize that Godâs sovereign will is the final authority, and that any human plan works only âif the Lord wills.â
I can hear the question in your head: âSo what if our godly plans, made with humble dependence on God, fail?â What if you spend four or five years and tens of thousands of dollars pursuing a college degree that youâre never able to use? What if you decide to invest your retirement savings in Palm, and it all vanishes? What if you decide to
marry a wonderful Christian woman or man, but the marriage soon falls apart? Does that mean you werenât following the will of God?
James answers these questions as he concludes his letter:
Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the
door. As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful. (James 5:7-11)
Here he returns to the issue of suffering, and how it relates to the will of God. When youâve relied on Godâs wisdom, but your plans seem to be failing, then God doesnât always call you to give up on our plans. He calls us to be like the prophets andâ¦
5. Endure trying times with patience
We might not what Godâs ultimate plan might be, but we can know his guidance day by day. And, just like Job, that guidance might lead us straight into suffering. But when it does, we know weâre in good company because Jesus is the best example of suffering for Godâs greater purpose.
Following Godâs guidance doesnât mean life will be easier. It almost always means life will get harder. But the promise of Christ is that he will guide us, empower us, and even carry us through those times: âI am with you always, to the end of the ageâ (Matthew 28:20)
Â© Matt Dirks is Pastor for Bible Teaching & Leadership at Harbor Church in Honolulu, Hawaii.