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
In the words James uses, itâ€™s clear that he isnâ€™t talking
about some wispy, theoretical wisdom. Heâ€™s talking about the kind of wisdom
that guides you in your everyday life. The kind of wisdom that dictates how
youâ€™ll 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 youâ€™ll do when youâ€™re 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 thereâ€™s 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
Heâ€™s talking about someone who asks for Godâ€™s wisdom, but
then doesnâ€™t follow it once they get it! So the next step in gaining Godâ€™s
2. Commit to follow
Godâ€™s wisdom when you get it.
If you ask for Godâ€™s wisdom, then ignore it and do you own
thing when he answers, James says youâ€™re 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.
Itâ€™s fun to jump off the cliff into that cove, but when you
land in the water itâ€™s extremely difficult to swim out. You may start going in
one direction, but then five seconds later youâ€™re 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 snack.
Itâ€™s a dangerous place to be! And James says if youâ€™re going
back and forth like that, asking for Godâ€™s help and then rejecting it when he
gives it to you, youâ€™d 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, weâ€™re listening in on their conversation:
You who say, â€œToday or tomorrow we will go into such and
such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profitâ€â€” 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 itâ€™s useless to prepare for the future? No, not really.
Heâ€™s not criticizing the act of making plans, heâ€™s telling
us to make our plans with humility. Thatâ€™s the next principle of receiving
3. Make plans with
Weâ€™re free to set 5-year plans or 30-year plans, as long as
weâ€™re following Jamesâ€™ first bit of advice, and truly relying on the wisdom of
the Holy Spirit as we do so.
James isnâ€™t rebuking these businessmen for their actions as
much as their attitudes. Heâ€™s condemning their arrogance and their
self-confident planning that doesnâ€™t recognize God or his sovereignty. â€œWhat is
your life?â€ James says, â€œYou 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: â€œDo 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.
â€œThatâ€™s fine, Mr. Dirks,â€ he said, â€œYou go ahead and call me
back tomorrow. â€¦ If you wake up.â€
I donâ€™t 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 â€œIF.â€
Thatâ€™s exactly what James says in the next verse:
Instead you ought to say, â€œIf 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? Thatâ€™s what my dear
grandmother thought. â€œIf itâ€™s the Lordâ€™s will, Iâ€™ll make it to Bobâ€™s Big Boy
for lunch.â€ â€¦ â€œIf itâ€™s the Lordâ€™s will, Iâ€™ll watch Lawrence Welk before I go to
Itâ€™s 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
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, â€œGod has given you wisdom, so go ahead and make those plans.
Just recognize that Godâ€™s sovereign will is the final
authority, and that any human plan works only â€œif the Lord wills.â€
I can hear the question in your head: â€œSo 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
youâ€™re 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 werenâ€™t
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 youâ€™ve relied on Godâ€™s wisdom, but your plans
seem to be failing, then God doesnâ€™t always call you to give up on our plans.
He calls us to be like the prophets andâ€¦
5. Endure trying times
We might not what Godâ€™s 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 weâ€™re in good company
because Jesus is the best example of suffering for Godâ€™s greater purpose.
Following Godâ€™s guidance doesnâ€™t 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: â€œI 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,