How Should Christians Make Decisions?
Something I have come across over and over and over in the body of Christ, at least in America and the West where I am called, is that many Christians do not make decisions well or know how to make decisions at all. As a counselor and pastor, I often do mop-up, disaster response, or rebuilding projects because of those wrong or non-best decisions. As a person, I have occasionally suffered because of someone else's non-God or non-best decisions. As a learning human being, I, too, have made decisions that were non-God or non-best. Life is an endless decision-making school. If we do not get really, really good at decision-making, our life, our spirituality, our mental health, our relationships, our money--everything--will reveal it so, so clearly.
How Should Christians Make Decisions?
How should born-again Christians make decisions? A Pentecostal-Charismatic sibling might tell you, "Just get a revelation!" or "What do you sense in the Spirit?" A Baptist or Presbyterian sibling might tell you to make the decision that best reflects and bundles Biblical principles. Another Christian might tell you to "follow your heart" or "follow your instincts". Another might tell you to follow the wisdom and counsel of those ahead of you spiritually or in life. Another might tell you to follow prophecies spoken to you by prophetic people. Another might tell you, with a tone of impatient simplicity, "If you have peace about it do it, if not, do not do it."
See why Christians struggle so much with decision-making? Depending on who you ask (or read or listen to), and their level in God and in life, you will hear a baffling assortment of decision-making philosophies and techniques. Thank you Father for unchanging Biblical truth! God's Word gives us several cogs that synchronize to form a decision-making machinery that manufactures best decisions and God decisions. We need to begin by dismantling pet myths and rookie errors Christians tend to believe about making decisions.
Myths, Rookie Errors
The #1 decision-making error is reducing the entire decision-making process to one procedural component only. Has the Lord illuminated something to you? That is only one component. Does it reflect and bundle several Biblical principles? That is only one component. Do you have peace about it? That is only one component. Has there been a consistent theme across several prophetic words? Still only one component. Has there been a consistent theme across more than one wise counselor? Still only one component. Does it match the deepest, truest values of your heart? Still only one component.
See how slippery and misleading, even immensely dangerous, it can be to reduce decisions to one component only? Even if your interpretation of that one component is correct, it still has to synchronize with the other components for a balanced understanding and next steps. Here are the three most common errors I come across. I call these, and all one-dimensional decisional errors, "one-trick pony decision-making".
"If you have peace, do it, if you do not have peace, do not do it."
It may shock you to hear that there is not one scripture in God's Word that tells us to make a decision based solely on peace or the lack of peace. There are a few verses often quoted, but they are poorly exegeted or amputated from their context.
For example, Colossians 3:15 says (NIV), Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. I sometimes hear teaching on decision-making that appeals to this verse, saying, God's peace should be the ruler or referee in our decision-making. The problem with that interpretation of Colossian 3:15 is, Paul is referring here to relational peace within the church, which begins with peace ruling in my own heart towards others. How do so many Bible readers and communicators miss Paul's clarifying second phrase? The second half of Colossians 3:15 clarifies the first half: ...since as members of one body you were called to peace. Colossians 3:15 is not at all about decision-making, but relationships in the church!
Another passage sometimes used is Philippians 4:6,7 (NKJV, underline mine): Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
This passage is sometimes used to teach that the peace of God will guard our hearts and minds in decision-making, i.e., we should make only those decisions that come with this unusual peace. The hermeneutical problem with this line of logic is that it does not agree with the larger context. After verse 7, Paul continues teaching about this supernatural peace, adding more and more detail as he goes. In verses 8 and 9, the very next verses, he says "the God of peace will be with you" only if you cultivate godly thinking, learning, receiving, and practicing over time. In verses 11 and 12, he repeats himself but nuances even more, telling us God's peace comes by learning to be content no matter what the circumstances. Verses 8-11 shine new light on the heart-mind peace guard of verse 7. If, therefore, we read the entire context together as one thought-flow, we realize the peace that guards our heart and mind begins with a diligent prayer life (v6,7) but fully materializes through godly thinking, learning, receiving, and practicing (v8,9) until we reach mature levels of contentment inside (v11-13). The full context, verses 6-13, presents the peace guard as something we grow into over time, not a feeling we look for at decision-making time.
Ponder 1Corinthians 2:3 (NIV): I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. If Paul told you this in a private conversation and prayer time, would you have advised him not to go to Corinth? Would you have said to him, "Brother Paul, it does not sound like you have peace about going to Corinth, you should not go. If it were God you would have peace and feel good about it. Fear comes from Satan, not God."
Would that have been your advice? We have the amazing gift of 1 and 2Corinthians in our Bible today because Paul did not ask, "Do I have peace about going to Corinth and planting a church?" He went "in weakness with great fear and trembling". Obviously his decision-making system was much more profound and multidimensional than, "Do I have peace about it?"
Be honest: how many times have you thought you had peace--even swore you had peace!--but the decision turned out to be non-God or non-best? I cannot tell you how many mop-ups, disaster responses, or rebuilding projects I have been a part of that began with a Christian declaring confidently, "Yes, I have peace about it." And, I cannot tell you how many gifts from Heaven and promise lands were missed because a Christian one-trick ponied their decision with, "No, I do not have peace about it."
Scripture tells us a misleading sense of peace is possible; two verses stand out poignantly. In Psalm 73:3 (Young's Literal Translation), Asaph said he was envious of the wicked because, The peace of the wicked I see... The word "peace" here is shalom, the preeminent Hebrew word for peace. This seeming peace of the wicked is mentioned all over Scripture (Lk 12:19, Job 12:5,6, 21:7-13). In Jeremiah 17:9, regarding our total emotional realm, God says, "The heart is deceitful above all things." It can deceive even a born-again Christian with a misleading feeling of peace. This is why James said the heart must be rigorously, diligently purified (Jas 4:8).
"If you have peace, do it, if you do not have peace, do not do it" is a simplistic and impatient pill. It is not as Biblically precise as it sounds.
How, then, does supernatural peace fit into the decision-making process? I will discuss that in the second half of this article.
"What is God telling you? What prophetic words have been spoken to you?"
Oh the many lives that have been shattered by this one component!
Does our Maker speak to us individually? Of course He does. Does He occasionally speak through human middlemen, our spiritual siblings and kingdom leaders? Of course. These are not the issue. The issue is our lack of context, perspective, and education on the subject of revelation. Memorize that last sentence.
She, a ministry friend of mine, was a certified Christian counselor for fifteen years. She had a thriving ministry with endorsements and referrals from respected leaders with large spheres. An unmarried man close to her age began coming to church. She was unmarried too.
Then the "revelations" and "God told me's" began. The women around her prophesied to her that this man was her husband-to-be. She herself had alleged dreams and alleged revelations of marrying this man. After three months they were married. Within a few days of marrying she discovered he was addicted to crack-cocaine and pills. Not wanting to be embarrassed or alone, she ignored the Spirit's cognitive dissonance within her and tolerated this for almost ten years. The nightmare ended when he tied her to a chair and set the house on fire. She cried out to God and managed to wiggle free and throw herself out of a window to save her life. Her relationship with God, her ministry, her mental health, her physical health, her finances, literally everything, became an unrecognizable wasteland. She had to move in with her daughter and somehow start over.
This is an extreme example of a common decision-making error that tends to happen among Pentecostal-Charismatic Christians, who sometimes become obsessed with "hearing" and "seeing" and "sensing" and "feeling" and "dreaming" and "prophesying". If you make revelations and prophecies the only (or the main) component of your decision-making, you will, sooner or later, end up in a ditch. God intended the revelatory dimension to be only one cog in a decision-making machine of multiple interdependent parts.
How does personal and prophetic revelation fit into the decision-making process? I will discuss that below.
"Make the decision that best reflects and bundles Biblical principles."
This one is the trickiest to explain because, it is most certainly true, but incomplete. For example, what if, in a given situation, multiple decisions reflect Biblical values? What if choice #1 reflects Biblical values A,B, and C, while choice #2 reflects Biblical values T, U, and V? Both decisions are greenlighted by Scripture, albeit different parts or dimensions of Scripture. What is the best decision then?
This paradox leads some Christians to suggest God has a perfect will (the best choice) and a permissive will (the lesser choice or Plan B, but not wrong). I cannot delve into the nuances of that theological construct right now, but I will say this: at some point God's direct illumination must enter the decision-making process. It is true that many decisions have a best choice (scriptures coming), and when Biblical principles greenlight more than one choice, God Himself has to speak and be the final judge of the very best one.
Philippians 1:9 (NIV, underline mine): And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best...
1Corinthians 10:23 (NKJV): All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify.
1Corinthians 6:12 (NKJV): All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.
In yet another scenario, there are times when we have several equal options within the boundary lines of our inheritance (Ps 16:6). In these situations God may not command one option over another, instead, David said He "counsels" us (v7, the first half) and lets our heart instruct us (v7, the second half). Do not miss the crucial world of difference separating command versus counsel.
New Testament Decision-Making
I title this section New Testament Decision-Making because there are components of Old Testament decision-making that we must not do or cannot do. Like casting lots. Like Urim and Thummim. Like going to Samuel's house and paying $30 for a word (shame on you prophesiers doing this today; repent before God schedules your day of reckoning).
New Testament decision-making derives from New Covenant realities, which are categorically different from many Old Covenant realities. I will reference Old Testament decision-making only if and when the New Testament continues and reiterates that procedural component.
(1) The decision must reflect and bundle Biblical principles.
This is Ground Zero of New Testament decision-making. Our Lord will never greenlight or bless a decision that violates the Holy Scriptures, which He Himself breathed into forty authors that the man/woman of God would be thoroughly equipped for every good work (decision). This is why many second and third marriages are so cursed--they violated Scripture in how they ended the first one. This is why many churches/ministries stagnate or die--they violated Biblical values in how they started or how they subsist. This is why some of your money is cursed with holes and rot--you are saving or spending in a way that violates Biblical values. For New Covenant scriptures on New Covenant curses, read 1Corinthians 16:22, Hebrews 6:7,8, and Galatians 6:7,8. Any decision we make must reflect and bundle multiple scriptures.
I so love the phrase "bundle Biblical principles" the Spirit illuminated to me. This refers to not taking a scripture out of context and isolating it, but "bundling" or synchronizing or coordinating it with multiple other scriptures to puzzle-piece together the fullest meaning (this is why I use so many verses in my articles, books, and ministry in general). If the only verses you read and quote are about love, love, love, how will that affect you at decision-making time if those verses are not bundled with verses about obedience, holiness, accountability, occasional suffering, God's discipline, and the threat of painful consequences? The decision must reflect and bundle Biblical principles.
(2) The decision must survive the crucible of a naked, honest, diligent, patient prayer life, with occasional fasting.
I do not like to ask Christians, "Have you prayed about it?" They usually say Yes, but what they really mean is they sent up a halfhearted popcorn prayer while waiting in traffic, and because an angel did not show up in the passenger seat within five seconds they are going ahead with the decision their best friend or mom or mentor or intercessor friend suggested. Again, this is why our decisions wind up being so regretful and cursed.
The bigger the decision, the greater the investment in God's presence and fasting must be. If you are deciding what color socks to buy at TJ Max, sure, send up a quick popcorn prayer and choose black. But if you have to decide something more consequential to your life, you should be spending long stretches of time hidden away at Mount Horeb, bonding with God's very being in nakedness, honesty, diligence, and patience.
It surprises me that some well-known Christians say fasting is not for the New Covenant. This betrays a comical, but devastatingly depressing, ignorance of basic New Testament verses. This is why the American church is so spiritually adolescent, at best. We have famous leaders who do not know elementary Sunday School truth. Oh Lord our God.
Jesus said His disciples would fast after His ascension (Mt 9:15, Mk 2:19,20, Lk 5:34,35). The church at Antioch fasted alongside worship and prophesying (Ac 13:2), and fasted with prayer at Paul and Barnabas' commission (v3). The churches at Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch fasted with prayer alongside the installation of the presbytery (14:23). Paul said he engaged "in fastings often" (2Co 11:27 NKJV), probably inspired by his three day fast that resulted in the miraculous healing of his blindness (Ac 9:9-19). He told married couples to refrain from sexual activity for brief seasons "that ye may be free for fasting and prayer" (1Co 7:5, Young's Literal Translation), a practice he transported from Sinai (Ex 19:15).
Think of the regretful, cursed decisions we have made that we never would have made if we had a daily crucible of naked, honest, diligent, patient prayer, with occasional fasting. We would be much further along today. Much happier and more dancing. Character well-defined and polished. High on promise lands. We would know our Creator in rare and unique ways. All this can be true for you from now on.
Do not even try to make a major decision if you are not investing serious time in #1 and #2 (get help on these if you need it). Why? These are the two deepest foundations that prepare all decision-making. #3 onward takes us into the more subjective realms of decision-making, where Christians tend to rush to first. And this is precisely why we keep making wrong or partially wrong or ill-timed decisions. We are floating off into highly subjective realms without objective anchors to hold us in place with absolutes, context, perspective.
(3) The decision must be indicated by a variety of personal revelations that are credible.
First, a quick sample of scriptures on personal revelation at decision-making time. Paul went to Jerusalem "because of a revelation" (Gal 2:2 NASB). He went to Macedonia because of a night vision (Ac 16:9,10). Peter went to Caesarea because of a trance vision (10:9-24). Ananias sought out and ministered to Paul because the Lord spoke directly to him (9:10-19).
These passages indicate God is willing to give personal revelation in our decisional process, however, the silent pieces are context and perspective. A universal spiritual law is that a minimum of two or three is required for a matter to be established: Deuteronomy 17:6, 19:15, Ecclesiastes 4:12, Matthew 18:16, John 8:13-18, 2Corinthians 13:1, 1Timothy 5:19. On major consequential decisions, I have personally experienced (and observed in others' journeys) God granting upwards of six, eight, even twelve or more, personal revelations indicating the same message in a variety of ways. The same message across a variety of revelatory moments. The parallels and confirmations were almost impossible to miss.
Let me be very, very, very clear: God will not speak with this type of clarity and repetition if you are not heavily invested in #1 and #2. Do not think church attendance, worship concerts, or listening to your favorite leader on YouTube equal #1 and #2. There is no substitute for spirit-to-spirit intercourse with God, i.e., daily time digging into God's Word and its concepts (#1) and losing yourself in deep prayer bonding with Him (#2).
One more point, on the issue of credibility of alleged personal revelations. Sometimes Christians share with me things God supposedly showed them, but as I am listening, the intrinsic credibility of what they are saying is iffy. In other words, it sounds more like emotion, or imagination, or unmet needs, or fears, or even simply a great idea. Sweet friends, we have to be more self-aware and honest about how feelings, imagination, unmet needs, fears, even good ideas, can masquerade as God's voice. At decision-making time we need to be more brutally introspective with ourselves than at any other time. Remember my Christian counselor friend in the story above? She had several alleged revelations about marrying this man, but because she was not more brutally introspective about her inner world, her emotions and needs were able to masquerade as revelation and lead her to a near-death experience with a horrifyingly dangerous man.
The decision must be indicated by a variety of personal revelations that are credible.
(4) The role of wise counsel and prophetic words, i.e., the Holy Spirit in others.
Have you realized other Christians also have the Holy Spirit? We sometimes lose sight of that simple reality the closer we get to Him and the more He possesses our personality. Even though I am always in close relationship with a handful of Christians who walk closely with God everyday, at decision-making time I burrow into deeper conversations and prayer times with them. Most of the time they say something--a single word, a phrase, a sentence, a Bible verse, a theme--that adds a puzzle piece to my decision-making process. I rarely tell them beforehand what I am processing so whatever they say is purely authentic and more credible. At decision-making time, we need to burrow more deeply into the most credible and most mature Christians we have access to. There are two extremes, though, we need to curb and manage on this component.
The first extreme is believing and accepting too easily what other Christians say to us. The wise counselors and prophetic people around you might be totally wrong in what they counsel or prophesy, or, their words might have a percentage of accuracy that has to be sifted through and pinpointed (and the rest thrown out). It is such sweet honey when those close to us counsel or prophesy at 90-100% accuracy, but still, we have to be independent enough to properly test and verify what our spiritual confidants say to us in counsel or prophetically. 1Corinthians 14:29 (YLT): And prophets--let two or three speak, and let the others discern. 1Thessalonians 5:20,21 (NIV): Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all...
The second extreme is being so individualistic and suspicious that we cannot recognize when the Holy Spirit is using someone around us. To make matters even more transformational, the Spirit sometimes uses Christians we wished He wouldn't, forcing us to humble ourselves and let go of biases, arrogance, or fake discernment (better known as unfair suspicion).
In decision-making times we need to stay in the balanced middle zone: humbly and wisely considering what Christians around us are saying in conversation, direct ministry, or joint prayer times. While they might not always be right or entirely accurate, at times they will be right, at times they will add important pieces to our decision-making puzzle, at times they will even counsel or prophesy with astonishing accuracy.
(5) The role of providential happenings.
This component is wonderfully simple to understand. Providential happenings refers to when God organizes practical variables in your environment to "funnel" you towards the best decision. He indirectly permits or directly ordains certain happenings to you and around you. Read the following scriptures with providential happenings in mind: Deuteronomy 32:39, 1Samuel 2:6-8, Job 33:14,19, Psalm 75:6,7, Isaiah 45:7, Daniel 4:35, Matthew 10:34, Luke 12:56, Acts 16:6-10, 1John 2:19, Revelation 3:7.
He opens a window, a door, a gate. He closes a window, a door, a gate. Eerily perfect coincidences. Serendipities directly relevant to the decision you have to make. Having more than enough money to do it. Not having enough money to do it. Plenty of people to do it. Not enough people to do it. The right person likes you. The right person dislikes you. Get the idea?
In decision-making times, what providential happenings to you or around you are funneling you towards a certain decision?
(6) The mysterious and complicated role of peace.
Honesty gut-check: how many times have you thought you had peace, swore you had peace, but the decision turned out to be non-God or non-best? Many mop-ups, disaster responses, or rebuilding projects I have been a part of began with a Christian saying, "Yes, I have peace about it." And, many gifts from Heaven and promise lands have been missed because a Christian misinterpreted their inner world with, "No, I do not have peace about it."
There is no passage in God's Word that tells us to make a decision based solely on peace or the lack of peace (see the explanation above in the Myths, Rookie Errors section). What Scripture teaches about peace is that it is the character eventuality ("fruit") of walking obediently with God longterm. The New Testament says this in diverse ways.
Paul said peace is a fruit (Gal 5:22). Fruits are cultivated on trees over time, they do not appear instantly right after a seed is planted. The writer of Hebrews continues the imagery, saying God's discipline "produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it" (Heb 12:11 NIV). In other words, we are farmed and trained into peace over time.
With different wording but the same concept, Paul said "the God of peace will be with you" only as you practice godly thinking, learning, receiving, and applying, all of which take time (Php 4:8,9).
Again with different wording but still the same concept, Peter said, "...be diligent to be found spotless and blameless by Him, at peace" (2Pet 3:14 NIV).
A lovely Old Testament scripture says the same with perfect simplicity, Isaiah 32:17 (NIV): The fruit of that righteousness will be peace; its effect will be quietness and confidence forever.
These scriptures repeatedly present peace as a character eventuality--a fruit, a harvest, a result of spiritual diligence, an eventuality--of walking obediently with God over time. We do not find, in the Old Testament or New, any scripture that says, "If you have peace, do it, if you do not have peace, do not do it." Actually, we find the opposite. We find many examples of Old and New Testament saints making God-decisions and best-decisions that scared the peaceful poo right out of them. The clearest of these is 1Corinthians 2:3, when Paul wrote (NIV): I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling.
If Paul told you this in a private conversation and prayer time, would you have advised him not to go to Corinth? Would you have said to him, "Brother Paul, it does not sound like you have peace about going to Corinth, you should not go. If it were God you would have peace and feel great about it. Fear comes from Satan, not God."
Would that have been your advice? We have 1 and 2Corinthians in our Bible today because Paul did not ask, "Do I have peace about going to Corinth and planting a church?" Nope. He went in weakness with great fear and trembling. Obviously his decision-making system was much more profound and multidimensional than, "Do I have peace about it?"
There are exceptions for unusual situations. Sometimes God will grant a Christian an incredibly strong anointing of peace to make a certain decision, and that is because that particular Christian really, really needs it for some reason and God agrees with that reason. I have experienced this. I have been close to loved ones or ministered to Christians who experienced this. God is smart and benevolent; He knows when a Christian needs an unusual baptism of peace to make a specific decision. When He deems it wise to pour out that unusual decision-making peace, He will. However, you must get the theology right or you will expect Him to do that every single time. He will not. Sometimes, like Paul going to Corinth, you will have to make the God-decision "in weakness with great fear and trembling".