Decision making can be difficult at times. For those of us who put our trust and hope in Jesus Christ, we know that God has plans for our lives, we know that we are supposed to pray to seek His guidance, but knowing which path to take can sometimes be difficult to discern. My small group was discussing last night how exactly we are supposed to ascertain God’s will in a decision between two good options. God gives us very clear outlines in Scripture about right and wrong, and defines parameters for us when it comes to decisions like who to marry, ethics and morality. But what about when doors 1 and 2 have no moral implication?
My dad used to tell me that as long as we are abiding in Christ, if we are one with Him and seeking Him, then we can rest confidently that God is molding our hearts to be like His, He is making our hearts desire what He desires, so when it comes to this kind of a decision, we can do what we want! We can trust that God has affected our hearts and one decision will not lead us down a path of destruction since it is not sinful. We should not over-spiritualize the good/good decisions.
“Delight yourself in the Lord;
And He will give you the desires of your heart.”
– Ps 37.4
This verse is often misunderstood and misapplied to lead people to believe that God will give us whatever we want. Rather, it is teaching that when we delight ourselves in the Lord, He will transform our hearts to desire what He wants us to desire.
That being said, we are often advised – or we just think – that God will give us a “peace” about the right decision. Peace. We contemplate minor and major life decisions, pray about them and wait for peace.
Where in Scripture does it say, “God will tell you which path to take by giving you peace”? Let us consider the last great journey of Paul. After he had completed his missionary journies, the Spirit led him to go to Jerusalem to report to the Apostles everything that had happened amongst the Gentiles.
“Now after these things were finished, Paul purposed in the Spirit to go to Jerusalem after he had passed through Macedonia and Achaia, saying, ‘After I have been there, I must also see Rome.'”
– Acts 19.21
“And now, behold, bound by the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me.”
– Acts 20.22-23
Paul knew that the Spirit was taking him to Jerusalem. He said that he was “bound by the Spirit”. He had no other option but to go. And he was unsure of what would happen, other than that it was probably going to be bad. It was a long trip to Jerusalem and Luke records the stops along the way.
When we came in sight of Cyprus, leaving it on the left, we kept sailing to Syria and landed at Tyre; for there the ship was to unload its cargo. After looking up the disciples, we stayed there seven days; and they kept telling Paul through the Spirit not to set foot in Jerusalem.
– Acts 21.3-4
While Paul and his crew were staying in Tyre, the Holy Spirit told the disciples to urge Paul to not go to Jerusalem. The Spirit was telling Paul one thing, and telling others to tell Paul the opposite. Paul knew the voice of the Spirit and was unwavering in His decision, but consider what your level of peace would be heading out on a journey when the Spirit was compelling people to tell you to not go! Later they came to Caesarea and stayed with disciples there.
“As we were staying there for some days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. And coming to us, he took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands, and said, ‘This is what the Holy Spirit says: “In this way the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.”’ When we had heard this, we as well as the local residents began begging him not to go up to Jerusalem.”
– Acts 21.10-12
Each step closer Paul got to Jerusalem, the Spirit’s warning grew stronger. Agabus prophesied that Paul would be bound and turned over to the Gentiles if he went on to Jerusalem. And what was Paul’s response?
“Then Paul answered, ‘What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but even to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.’”
– Acts 21.13
Now, one might argue that Paul had peace from God and had made peace with himself that he would be obedient no matter what happened. And the only true knowledge of Paul’s heart condition that we have is that he himself said that the disciples were breaking his heart by pleading with him to not go. But my point is simply this: it is possible that God will give us convictions and callings and will Himself test us by telling other Christians to oppose us. Will peace be the driving factor when someone opposes us?
But let us now examine the example of Jesus.
“Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to His disciples, ‘Sit here while I go over there and pray.’ And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and distressed. Then He said to them, ‘My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; remain here and keep watch with Me.’ And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.’ And He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, ‘So, you men could not keep watch with Me for one hour? Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ He went away again a second time and prayed, saying, ‘My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done.’ Again He came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. And He left them again, and went away and prayed a third time, saying the same thing once more.”
– Matt 26.36-44
Jesus, as He neared the end of His life on Earth, as He approached the very reason He had come to Earth, was grieved and distressed in His spirit. He spent the last few hours before it all began begging God to find another way, to let him avoid the cross. Three times He prayed, for at least an hour, pleading with God for another way. He submitted Himself to the ultimate plan of redemption and salvation by dying on the cross, but Jesus most certainly did not have that peace we often require in making our decisions. He even told the disciples that His Spirit was willing to obey, but His flesh was fighting against it; His flesh was weak. He did not will for it to be, but He was willing to submit to God’s will.
Jesus Himself, before the single most important event in history, did not have peace from God, but rather was distressed and grieved, with weak flesh fighting against the decision that had to be made to assure salvation for everyone who would believe. Why, then, would we expect God to work differently for us?
Let us consider our decision-making tactics. God has given us extremely clear instructions for life on Earth through His written word. We understand morality, ethics; we even understand His heart for us (our sanctification, 1 Thess 4.3) and His heart for the Church and the world (to make disciples of all nations, Matt 28.18-20). We can test every decision before us by those standards: does it glorify God? Are we making disciples? Are we growing in maturity and Christ-likeness? If those three things are met, then we can and should trust that God is making our hearts to be like His – desiring what he desires. But we must also recognize that there are times when He will test us by placing roadblocks in our way. Sometimes He will straight up refute our decision to test our obedience and determination. And there are times that our flesh will fight against that to which He is calling us. Peace is not the standard. Calling is. Obedience is. Let us ask God for wisdom, because He promises to give it freely to anyone who asks, and let us rest on His word, regardless of our emotions.
“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.”
– James 1.5