We just completed a two part series on Christian decision making that I pray is helpful to my local church. If you are not a part of our community, let me recap what I taught as a Biblical way to think about decision making.
We often make decision making into a process of divining a plan A roadmap that God has determined as the best course. We can become befuddled at the means to decipher this plan A, often looking at events, hunches, liver shivers, seemingly prophetic conversations, dreams, and the like as a decoder ring of sorts. This is the hyper-sensitive end of the spectrum of making decisions. The other end of the spectrum is the “leave God out of it and do what seems most expedient” method. That is not good either. On one hand, we make decisions a little too big or at least out of proportion, and on the other we make decisions into parcels of personal real estate that God does not factor into. Then there is the whole question of: are there some decisions so small that God doesn’t really care about them (like what socks to wear or who wins the Super Bowl) and other decisions that God does want to be in the wheel house on (like who to marry, what job to take, should we adopt a child?)?
I think God cares about every decision we make. I think God is sovereign over every decision. And I do think some decisions require more focus and intentionality than others by their nature. But, I think every decision, at a pre-conscious level or uber-conscious level, basically comes down to three ingredients: desire, ability, and opportunity. When those three things converge, we make a decision.
However, and this was my big idea of the series, the most important decision we make, and the most clear call of God on our lives, is this: to trust Jesus to begin with (conversion) and then to keep believing him, loving him, trusting him, serving him, and glorifying him (sanctification). That is how the Bible addresses this. God’s will or God’s call in the Bible is not so focused on the diverse decisions we face, but rather the one big decision to follow Christ and to live a gospel based life. Out of that BIG decision come the various decisions of our life. Of course part of that big decision is to train our minds to think Biblically, to desire what God desires as described in the Bible, and to want to serve the glory of Christ in all we do. In this way, our desires are to be Biblically wrought, our abilities are to be submitted to the service of Christ, and our opportunities are always measured by how they might serve the gospel the most.
Now, that seems simple and straightforward enough. But, isn’t it all still messy, complex, and mystifying? Well…yes. And, that is why I argued a lot of decisions, especially the big ones are more about us depending on God and coming to the end of ourselves in the process so God can not only get us to where he wants us, but to grow us in the process.
So, questions still abound? There are a bunch of “what ifs”; “and yets”; “what about this’s” still out there. I tried address some in the services, but not every one, and I said I would blog on them, so here is the first installment, from Florida, during a typical summer thunderstorm that took us from the white sands.
Question 1: Your teaching seems nice and neat and, yes, not contrary to any Biblical texts, but doesn’t the Bible itself describe ways God led his people in miraculous and mysterious ways: like through donkeys, audible messages from God, angels?
Yes, of course God can lead and does lead in unusual ways. The Holy Spirit can do as He pleases and continues, in this post-canonical day, to order our circumstances, use extra-Biblical means, and even miraculous events to shape our lives – never in contradiction to the Word. If you feel like God is calling you to do something and that something is clearly forbidden by God’s revealed Word, then it is not God. It is your sinfulness and/or the evil one. OK, there are some ethical grey areas, but we can talk about those later.
My pastoral suggestion, though, is to focus on what is clear in Scripture and to order your desires around those. God often can use things to confirm his will, breathed into us by desire, ability, and opportunity, but I would not make those the crux of your leading. A good test is that you can give clear and wisdom-laden reasons for your decisions. If all you can produce is a mystical liver shiver, presumably from the Holy Spirit, I am not sure I would feel great about that. If you can give some strong, defendable reasons, along with that liver shiver, and godly counsel seems supportive, and there seems to be some missional value or at least no significant stumbling stones for your character, then go for it.
Be open to God using unusual means. Just don’t hunger for them or think they are better than the Spirit using Scripture and regular wisdom. You know, God had to use audible and unusual means to speak to a lot of Biblical characters simply because they did not have the full canon of revelation, the Bible. They did not have the weekly course of Biblical teaching, or the fellowship of gathered congregations. Friends, we are in a better place than they. Scripture tells us so (1 Peter 1). We have the advantage in hearing from God and knowing his will by the Bible.
I say all this not to poo-poo the miraculous or the unusual. I am not a cessationist. I am what is often called “open but cautious”, or a charismatic with a seatbelt, when it comes to the work of the Spirit. The Spirit is alive and at work, but I believe, from years of Biblical meditation and study, and the testimony of God’s word, that God wants us to focus on the regular means of the Bible, prayer, and the life of the local church.
Having said all that, I come from a family where my dad decided to follow Jesus after a village palm-reader looked at his palm, when he was 18 years old and wondering what he was supposed to do with his life. The palm-reader, a servant of satan, a Hindu mystic, looked at my dad and told him to follow the God of his father. My father’s father was a devout Christian. My dad took that as an all too clear message from God. My uncle was converted as a grad student in CA when he was visiting our family in the late 70’s. He was taking a nap in our guest bedroom when he was awoken by a glorious spectrum of light in which the Lord Jesus appeared. He revealed Himself to my uncle, who summarily fell off the bed, spoke in tongues for a lengthy amount of time, and bent his knee to the Savior-Lord. Raju has been a pastor in Pune, India for about 30 years now. My mother was told she would never have children. My parents decided to adopt. A friend of my father’s asked if my dad would be willing to meet with a man with a gift of prayer. My parents thought there was nothing to lose. The man was a bank president. Upon calling this man, the banker said he was told by God that my father would call. He invited my parents to his bank where he had a special room for prayer. He took my parents to this chamber, anointed them with oil, never asked what their need was, and began praying. He prayed for things that my father had never spoken to the air and yet had needs in and then he prayed, again without any prompting, for my mother to conceive and deliver a healthy child. He concluded and wished them well. My parents left, having felt like they met with God. One month later, in utero, I showed up on the scene. 9 months later I was born.
God works in wonderful ways that give him glory. But, his most wonderful work is to shape our lives by means of the regular means of grace – the Bible, prayer, and the local church. Our passion should not be to experience a rock n roll concert of the Holy Spirit everyday. Our passion should be a long obedience in the same direction until we die or Jesus returns. OK, more questions throughout the week.