Should I buy organic milk or stick to our budget? Which preschool should my toddler attend? Should we be open to foster care? Should I skip my kids’ naps to join the service project? Do I need to move closer to my aging parents to care for them?
Our lives are littered with decisions. So many, in fact, that we often don’t realize how ubiquitous they have become. Along with the rise in decisions that we make daily, the volume of voices seeking to advise us on making such decisions has risen. Would-be sages shout at us from radio programs, magazines, Instagram feeds, and dinner parties. As believers in Christ, the cacophony of well-intended voices can sometimes become louder than the Word of God and the Spirit of God.
Follow any or all of the following pieces of common advice, and you can be sure to miss the beauty and intimacy God intends for the decision-making process.
Bad Decision-Making Advice #1:
Follow your heart.
God wired humans with complex systems allowing for emotions (Gen. 1:27–28). The spectrum of human emotion was not a mistake but an intentional design for us as the unique image-bearers of God (Ps. 139:13–14; Ps. 62:8). If the Enlightenment ushered in the Age of Reason and put rationality as the control center of life, our present age has swung far in the opposite direction. Postmodern Western cultures tend to enthrone feeling and emotion, allowing them to take center stage in decision-making. Phrases like “Follow your heart,” “Dare to desire,” and “If you can dream it, you can be it” are not only plastered on journals, decorative signs, and t-shirts, but also on the walls of our minds.
While we shouldn't fully ignore desires in decision-making, they are also not to be the dictators of our decisions. The Lord soberly warned his people, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9). This is not to say that all our emotions are pure evil all the time. However, it helps us to see that in our fallen human condition, our sin taints our emotions and our hearts are sin-sick, so our desires must come under the rule of God’s Word.
Thankfully, God does not leave his people with only a sober warning against the deceitfulness of their desires and the sickness of their sentiments. He gives us the Scriptures and the illuminating help of the Holy Spirit. He offers to search our hearts, helping to sift through mixed desires with the scalpel of his Word (Jer. 17:10; Ps. 139:23–24; Heb. 4:12–13).
Emotions have a part to play in our decision-making. They don’t need to be stuffed in the trunk, but they also shouldn’t be driving the car.
Bad Decision-Making Advice #2:
Seek to please everyone.
When facing a significant decision, it’s tempting to gather consensus from your friends and family. While most of us don’t gather all the influential people in our lives, call a formal council meeting, and take a vote, we tend to rely on consensus of opinion. To be certain, counsel is a wise choice. The Scriptures are replete with advice to seek counselors (Prov. 11:14; Prov. 15:22; Prov. 24:6).
However, we must be wise in our selection of counselors. It is all too easy to, even subconsciously, seek the advice of those who will tell you want to hear and avoid the hard questions of others. When seeking advice, we should seek trusted counselors who know and live the gospel, who know and love us, and who are not afraid to poke and prod in hard places.
And even then, we have to fight the desire to please people rather than God (Gal. 1:10). Consensus is not always right (just ask Aaron how that went for him while Moses was on Mount Sinai). After seeking godly counsel, we lay out all advice before the Lord and ask him and his Word to be our ultimate advisor.
Bad Decision-Making Advice #3:
Wait until you have perfect clarity.
A lingering effect of the Age of Reason is the idea that a purely rational decision is the perfect one. So when we’re facing a major decision (or even a minor decision that, in the moment, feels like a major one), we often run to research and reason. We make pro and con lists, pull out our spreadsheets, and read all the pertinent books. While these are all helpful in making decisions, we cannot put our trust in them (Ps. 20:7).
God loves when his people walk by faith. In fact, the Scriptures tell us plainly, “And without faith it is impossible to please him” (Heb. 11:6). As such, God will not give us the perfect clarity we crave. Rather, he gives us a reasonable faith in a perfect God. As limited, finite human beings, we will never be able to fully foreshadow or understand what God does in his unlimited, infinite wisdom (Rom. 11:33–36; Isa. 40:12–14). God tells us clearly, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways” (Isa. 55:8).
When making decisions, we can use our rational capabilities, but we’re commanded not to trust in them. The Lord calls us to trust in him with all our hearts rather than leaning on our own understanding (Prov. 3:5).
Bad Decision-Making Advice #4:
Do what you have always done.
As humans, it’s easy to slip into the comfort of habit and routine. We crave order and stability as beings created by an orderly God and placed in a lovingly ordered world. However, this craving can sometimes become so strong that we begin to trust in sameness and routine. Such tendencies can put God in a box or limit the choices we consider. God sometimes stirs up our comfortable nests and invites us to join him in a new thing. Imagine if Moses had chosen to stay comfortable with his sheep in Midian rather than choosing to follow God’s invitation at the burning bush (Ex. 3). What would have happened if Peter, James, and John had stayed with the nets they knew so well rather than obediently following Jesus in his work to make them fishers of men (Luke 5:1–11)?
God invites us to have open hands, willing hearts, and faithfully following feet rather than clenched fists, entrenched hearts, and cemented feet. The new things God might have for us may move us across the world or across the street to meet a new neighbor.
If we always do what we have always done, we will always be who we have always been.
Bad Decision-Making Advice #5:
Think only of tangible rewards.
Our flesh loves to trust in things we can measure, see, and grab. The surrounding culture only exacerbates our obsession with the tangible and feeds our desire for instant gratification. However, God is constantly calling us to live in light of eternity rather than the present moment (Col. 3:1–4; 2 Cor. 4:16–18). He invites us, as he did his early disciples, to stockpile treasures in heaven rather than here on earth (Matt. 6:19–21). As we make decisions, God constantly seeks to lift our eyes to the eternal consequences of those decisions. If we think only of tangible, instant rewards, our joy will be as short as our eyesight.
Some Good Advice
By following these five pieces of common advice, you will miss out on the deep dependence and sweet intimacy that God offers his children in making godly decisions. If, however, you learn to listen to the Holy Spirit and his Word, your decisions are sure to take you on an adventure that will surprise you and satisfy you with more of him!
Meet the Author
Aimee Joseph has spent many years directing women’s discipleship and ministry at Redeemer Presbyterian Church and in Campus Outreach San Diego. She and her husband are currently in the process of planting Center City Church in their neighborhood. She is the author of Demystifying Decision-Making and you can read more of her writing at aimeejoseph.blog.