By Dr. Donald E. Phillips
We need life direction. Baseball catcher and philosopher Yogi Berra said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you might wind up someplace else!”
For years I’ve kept a book in my library titled Overcoming Indecisiveness (Harper & Row, 1985), by Theodore Rubin, M.D. I bought it while shopping for a close friend’s wedding gift. I was in a hurry and having a terrible time deciding. I wanted desperately to pull the “decision making trigger,” get the gift, and go. I had decided to purchase the wedding gift in the store I had entered, narrowing it down to whatever thousands of items they had. I saw the book on indecisiveness, thinking, I need that. I need help in decision making. So I bought Rubin’s book—for me. After encouraging myself about decisiveness (versus paralyzing indecision), I found a wedding gift for my friend. I was on my way. I knew where I was going because I had made a decision.
Decisions Release Power
The right decisions can help to strengthen our faith, placing our future in God’s hands. Paul and Blanche, a highly respected Christian couple, humorously illustrate this. When younger, Blanche said, she equally loved two young men she admired greatly. They loved her deeply. Blanche had two goldfish named Paul and Sam, after her suitors. Eventually pressure to decide which young man was first in her life became unbearable. One evening she pleaded with God to help resolve her indecision. Next morning she found Sam the goldfish belly up, dead in the water—which she interpreted as a clear sign to her from God to marry Paul! Their marriage turned out to be undeniably successful and was a great Christian witness. Paul had been a gifted tenor in the Metropolitan Opera. He and Blanche were excellent teachers, touching many lives with their faith.
God Helps Us
God assists us in decision making in many ways. Genesis 24 records how Abraham sent a servant to his home country to find a wife for his son Isaac.
Abraham, who was blessed by God “in every way” (v. 1), made effective faith decisions throughout his life. Abraham’s servant received specific instructions but was also given latitude to make choices of his own. He asked God for signs to verify his choice in selecting Isaac’s wife to be. He asked God to bring the right woman to the public well, one who would offer him a drink of water and say, “Drink, and I’ll water your camels too” (v. 14). Rebekah, the right woman, acted according to his request.
Watering 10 camels (v. 10) must have required some effort. Rebekah responded in faith and hard work. When everyone returned to Abraham, the servant praised and worshipped God, saying, “As for me, the Lord has led me on the journey to the house of my master’s relatives” (v. 27).
We’re on a journey too. God will be with us in all the details if we look to him in faith, willingly following where he leads.
Action, Faith, and Courage
Consider the following ways to apply biblical guidelines when making decisions.
Make choices. Elijah challenged Israel and its false prophets, asking, “How long will you waver between two opinions?” (1 Kings 18:19-21). Indecision displeases God and can lead to unpleasant consequences. God calls us to make timely decisions. Life can become freer and more fulfilling the more decisive we become. Procrastination and unnecessary delay in our decision making may cause us to miss important opportunities.
Basketball coach Pat Riley said, “Don’t let someone else tell you what you want.” One person’s choice may not be right for another. Peter asked Jesus about John: “What about him?” Jesus replied, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me” (John 21:21, 22).
Take risks. When I struggled over an important job change, I asked the school’s president if he thought I was doing the right thing. He said, “I think God will bless you if you stay or if you go.” God did. Author Frederick B. Wilcox said, “You can’t steal second and keep your foot on first.” Are you willing to risk change? Legendary basketball coach John Wooden said, “Don’t let what you can’t do stop you from doing what you can do.”
Seek counsel. Some decisions have to be lived out, played out, and worked out in our minds and in our interaction with family, friends, coworkers, managers, and others. Seek responsible counsel. Proverbs 15:22 says, “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.”
Pursue process. Some decisions must be worked out in counsel. This is often the case with churches and other organizations. We’re on a spiritual journey with Christ, who is “the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6). His Spirit also leads us, for “those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God” (Romans 8:14). Jesus was led by the Spirit and he has given us his Spirit to lead us. Seek and yield to the Holy Spirit’s direction.
The Spirit may prompt us to do something and at other times prevent us from doing something (Acts 16:7-10), but we can be sure he will lead if we are willing to follow.
Watch signs. Consider inner and outer signs. What thoughts or impressions do you feel within? What do you see happening outside? Proverbs 1:20, 21 says, “Out in the open wisdom calls aloud, she raises her voice in the public square; on top of the wall she cries out, at the city gate she makes her speech.”
God is at work every day in the world around and within us. Bob Hodges, a minister to street people in a large city, says, “Anxieties imply we need to make a choice.” If we’re tense and unsettled about something, it may be that God or our conscience is nudging us to decide.
Listen quietly. Listen to God’s gentle promptings. The prophet Elijah faced a powerful wind, an earthquake, and then fire. But “after the fire came a gentle whisper” (1 Kings 19:11, 12). Jesus, his disciples, and others of strong faith had quiet times apart with God, listening, hearing, and learning from him (Luke 5:16; compare Isaiah 50:4).
Grow character. Decisions make us who we are. Our choices affect our lives, work, vocations, and relationships. Sacrifice, study, serve, suffer, and work as hard as you must to follow through with your important decisions. Effective decision making includes doing what it takes to own and put into practice what we decide.
Decide and do. We all face defining moments in decision making. What’s most important to us? Do we aim for the best or only the good? Dr. Leo Eddlemann said, “I learned early in my ministry that I could spend every day doing many good things and still leave the best undone.” Are we choosing the best for ourselves and our families? Deciders make a greater impact in the world than procrastinators. The committee chairperson who says, “What we have here is a definite maybe” and the politician who straddles the fence inspire little confidence. James 2:17 says, “Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”
As Jonathan prepared to go into battle his armor bearer said, “Do all that you have in mind . . . .
Go ahead; I am with you heart and soul” (1 Samuel 14:7). If we’re going to be free we need to decide and do. We can do that with the confidence that God and those God uses are with us “heart and soul.” The wisdom of God, those we trust, and our own thought processes will bring us through each situation and lead us to honor God in the decisions we make.
Dr. Donald E. Phillips, a former hospice chaplain and university professor, lives in Lawrence, Kansas.
Just for Fun!
Having trouble making a silly decision? You can flip a virtual coin online:
• Flip one, three, or five buffalo nickels:
• Flip a quarter and chart your percentages of heads and tails:
Or find a free coin toss application for your smartphone!
* Disclaimer: Obviously, this is just for fun and no spiritual significance should be attached to a coin flip!