In my last post, I discussed four principles the Bible reveals about God's will for your life. In this post, my goal is to provide some specific guidelines for biblical decision making. If you want to probe further, I develop these principles more fully in my book Ethix: Being Bold in A Whatever World.
When I tell my students that I know God's will for their lives, they often think this means I’ve received a special word from God, and that I’m about to tell them where they should go to college or who they will someday marry. But their eyes sometimes convey their disappointment when I tell them God’s will for their lives is that they be holy. “But what about my life?” they often say. “How can I know specifically what God wants me to do with my life?”
As a high school senior, this question was at the forefront of my wife’s mind. She greatly desired to go to Biola University where I was attending, but the finances were overwhelming. While some in her family encouraged her to attend a state school, her hearts desire was to be at a Christian university. She prayed eagerly that God would direct her to a place that she could afford. Although disappointed that the doors were closed to attend Biola (because of finances), she decided to go to Vanguard University. There she received both an academic and basketball scholarship. Stephanie’s desire was to go in one direction, but the Lord directed her steps somewhere else. And in the end, she loved every aspect of being at Vanguard. Would she have been out of God’s will to still attend Biola or a state school? No, because what we learned last month is that God’s will involves who she is more than what she does. God would have been with her no matter where she chose to attend college.
So, how does God give guidance for decision making? Before I share with you principles on how to make specific decisions for your life, let me share with you two important biblical concepts about how God gives guidance.
1. The Spirit leads us with the strength to make right choices.
It is amazing to me how often I hear people say, “I am feeling lead by God to do such and such.” I can’t help but wonder how they know this. As far as I know, there is not a single instance in the Bible where it is taught that God speaks to us through our feelings. Within the Christian subculture it is common for people to claim that God leads them through their feelings. I would be cautious in using this particular language because I find such a claim difficult to support with Scripture.
Romans 8:12-14 says, “So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh—for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God.” Being lead by the Spirit refers not to individual guidance, but strength to live a righteous life—to stand up for what is right. The Spirit leads us by convicting us of sin and empowering us to make right choices.
2. God opens doors, yet gives us the freedom to walk through them.
The Apostle Paul was given some open doors for ministry: “But I will remain in Ephesus until Pentecost; for a wide door for effective service has opened to me, and there are many adversaries” (1 Corinthians 16:8-9). In this instance Paul was given an open door and he decided to follow it.
Yet in other instances Paul actually ignores open doors. “Now when I [Paul] came to Troas for the gospel of Christ and when a door was opened for me in the Lord, I had no rest for my spirit, not finding Titus my brother; but taking my leave of them, I went on to Macedonia” (2 Corinthians 2:12-13). Paul viewed open doors as opportunities that he had the choice to act on or ignore rather than some secret revelation of God’s will.
Making Choices Through Wisdom
We have seen that God is far more concerned with how we live our lives than the specific path we take. So, the question still remains “How are we to make choices about an important decision in life?” The Bible teaches that we are to seek wisdom. In fact, we are commanded to seek wisdom with all we have: “How much better it is to get wisdom than gold! And to get understanding is to be chosen above silver” (Proverbs 16:16).
So, how do we get wisdom, and in turn, know God’s will?
1. Prayer—James 1:5 tells us to ask God for wisdom, “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” If we are willing to ask, God will give us wisdom to guide our choices.
2. Reading God’s Word—God has already revealed the majority of his will in the Bible. Before we consider any other way of knowing God’s will, we should first determine if the Bible has already provided guidance in a particular area. For example, a young person doesn’t have to ask if he/she should get drunk because the Bible has already addressed that issue (Ephesians 5:18). Nor does a couple need to ask if they should live together before marriage for the Bible has already made the answer clear (1 Corinthians 6:18).
3. Seek Godly Counsel—Seeking godly advice from our elders is one of the wisest things we can do! Proverbs 13:10 says, “But wisdom is with those who receive counsel.” If you are willing to seek godly wisdom, then God will shape your desires and ultimately guide your steps. Our job is not to try and find God’ secret will for our lives, but to be holy and to make decisions based on wisdom. When we are faithfully obedient to God we can trust that He will be with us no matter where the path we take leads.
Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is an assistant professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 15 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog at seanmcdowell.org.