The Will of God and Making Decisions

"If God has a wonderful plan for my life...why doesn't he tell me what it is?"    

"If God has a wonderful plan for my life...why doesn't he tell me what it is?" So begins the second chapter in Kevin DeYoung's book on decision making, Just Do Something. In a simple sentence, he captures an experience that is familiar to many of us. At our best, we want to do God's will in every area of our lives. Almost all the time, we want to avoid bad decisions. But how in the world do we do it?

This has been a perennial problem. Ancient monks would fret over which side of the garden God wanted them to weed first. But today's overabundance of options (at least in the West) has made things even harder. Studies have shown that the sheer amount of options we have today—not only choosing one major out of hundreds, but choosing one toothpaste out of fifty—have paralyzed our ability to make quick, confident decisions in the grocery store and in life.

When there is only one option, we rarely fret over it. But when there are multiple options, we immediately begin to sift to find the best possible choice. We use various criteria: will this bring me the maximum amount of fulfillment? The maximum amount of comfort? The minimum amount of discomfort? As we weigh our options, we quickly realize that the moment we make a choice, we are locked in to whatever comes next. The power we had in choosing is gone. Once we make a decision, that decision holds all the cards.

This makes "knowing the will of God" all the more appealing. If we have access to an all-knowing, all-loving God who has a vested interest in our lives, we have access to the perfect choice every time. All our problems in decision making come from the fact that we don't know everything—if we did, we wouldn't have to pore over Amazon reviews. Or so we think.

Whether it's which car to buy, which person to marry, or which job to take, we are usually focused on outcomes. We want outcomes that are guaranteed, with God's stamp on the box and a return label in case we aren't satisfied. These outcomes are typically about our circumstances: will this decision lead to the circumstances I want? But God's take on decision making is different. God, too, is focused on outcomes. But the outcomes he is concerned with are typically relational: will this decision lead to the kind of faith He wants?

1 Thessalonians 4:3 says, "This is the will of God: your sanctification." Paul means the the will of God, in any given moment, is that you grow in holiness (sanctification). As his child, he values more than your comfort. He values your character. In Colossians 1:9-10, Paul prays that the church in Colossae "may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God." In other words, Paul wants these believers to know the will of God—so that they might live mature Christian lives and know God better. And Jesus himself in Matthew 7 says that we shouldn't worry about food, drink, or clothing (which includes the outcomes we typically focus on when making decisions). Instead, disciples should "seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you."

The pressure of making the "right" decisions is compounded when we think that—if we only try hard enough—we can access the will of God, which will lead to the best possible circumstances. All of a sudden, all the options become even heavier. After all, you don't want to miss out on the will of God and mess up your life! But before you can ever make decisions as a Christian, you have to understand what God wants for you: he wants to make you more faithful. More loving. More sacrificial, like Jesus. More reliant on him.

To know God's will isn't to thread the needle and find the "perfect" circumstances on the other side of your decisions. God is a loving father, not the perfect Amazon review. And his concern—his will—in your decisions is that each one grows you into the image of His Son.

When we are paralyzed by decisions, this will free us. If we are seeking God's kingdom, looking to be faithful children in our decisions, we can give up the illusion that the perfect circumstances are out there (if only we are smart enough). We can consult the Bible, get wise counsel, and make a choice that we think will honor God. (More on this in our next post.) All the while, we know that our Father is at work to accomplish his will in our life: our sanctification.