How God Guides Us
December 1, 2011 - Once upon a time, I thought I needed guidance only for the big decisions in life: marriage, career, major purchases. Rent or mortgage? Ford or Honda? Mac or PC?
By Marshall Shelley
But guidance is important in more than just those situations. We all make countless decisions each day in our jobs. A teacher must decide what to include and what not to include in a lesson plan. An editor must discern which facts to verify and which ones can be trusted. A doctor must decide whether to order additional expensive tests for a patient or to proceed on the basis of a less-certain diagnosis.
In our careers, success is largely determined by the quality of our daily judgments. Decisions matter—even when we’re not aware we’re making them: what to eat, what to wear, how to spend money, what relationships to develop, what relations to avoid, how much to work and how much to rest. Those decisions reveal much about us.
How do we make good decisions? Fortunately, God offers guidance, and the quality of our decision-making, whether in small or life-defining situations, can improve if we’re willing to listen.
Check Your Direction
It’s hard to make good decisions if you don’t know where you’re going or haven’t thought about what kind of person you want to become. For many people, the only criterion for deciding an issue is “What’s easiest?” or “What do I feel like at the moment?”
That’s a sure recipe for bad decisions. After all, as the old saying goes, “Following the path of least resistance is what makes rivers crooked.”
The Bible offers solid guidance: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6).
If our overall direction is to follow Jesus, then we have a better basis for making decisions that aren’t just short-term, short-lived and eventually disappointing or even disastrous. If I know, for example, that I want to become someone who exhibits the fruit of God’s Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control), I need to ask myself which decisions will help me accomplish that.
Knowing our overall direction makes many of our difficult daily decisions more clear. A few years ago, a friend made some very poor choices, and I had to decide how I was going to respond. I was tempted to say: “You messed up big time. After you suffer for awhile and undo all the damage you’ve done, then maybe I will associate with you again.”
But because Jesus is my Savior and Lord, and my overall direction is to follow Him and to develop the fruit of the Spirit, my decision was clear. The question became: What does it mean to demonstrate faith in Jesus, right here, right now? What do love and patience and kindness look like, right here and now?
I couldn’t give in to the temptation to distance myself. I needed to walk closely with my friend through the uncertainties and awkwardness of restoring what had been damaged.
Not an easy decision, or one I felt like making at the moment, but now, years later, it’s clear that it was the right one.
Discern What will Last
Good decisions are made when we’re clear about what’s most important and what’s less important. Jesus told His followers, for instance, not to obsess over temporary things like food, drink and clothing. “Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?” He asked in Matthew 6:25. He instructed His followers not to worry about those things. “Your heavenly Father knows that you need them,” He said in Matthew 6:32. “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).
In making daily decisions, the key is to develop our discernment of what will last and what will decay. What’s going to increase in value over time, and what’s going to lose value over time?
Jesus said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).
This means that our daily decisions should be influenced by the question: “What’s going to last?” I’ve tried to apply this, for example, by consciously telling myself to “love people and use things,” rather than “use people and love things.” People are eternal—they’re going to last. Stuff won’t.
One small way our family has applied this is in the way we spend money. We pay the least we can for material things and housing. We spend more on things that develop us as people: education, ministry and other experiences that help us learn from others and that carry long-term or eternal implications.
Ask for Wisdom
I’m impressed that the one time in Scripture when God praised a human being for a prayer request was when young Solomon became king and prayed for wisdom: “So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?” (1 Kings 3:9).
God was so pleased with this request that He told Solomon: “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for—both wealth and honor—so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings” (1 Kings 3:11-13).
Solomon asked for wisdom with his daily decisions, and God was pleased to give it, and much more, to him. We, too, are invited to ask for wisdom, and God has promised to give it to us (James 1:5), especially when we don’t seek it selfishly, but for the good of others (James 4:3).
God provides wisdom through a variety of sources. The primary source is His Word: “I gain understanding from your precepts; therefore I hate every wrong path. Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path” (Psalm 119:104-105).
As we read and reflect on Scripture, God’s wisdom seeps into our soul, and we are able to see situations more clearly and decide with greater discernment.
Wisdom also comes from the maturity and experiences of others. The Bible says, “Listen to advice and accept discipline, and at the end you will be counted among the wise” (Proverbs 19:20).
Recently I was asked to travel to India to teach Christian editors about crafting magazines and websites. I knew very little about the culture of India or the challenges faced by Christians in that country, so I asked for wisdom from those I knew who were familiar with the situation. Their advice proved valuable.
We all have much to learn about making wise decisions, and sometimes the decisions will be difficult. But one decision is always easy: “Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). ?©2011 Marshall Shelley
Marshall Shelley is editor in chief of Leadership Journal and vice president of Christianity Today, Inc.
Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version.