Nate was wrestling with God again.
He wanted to choose the path God had for him. He wanted to exercise good decision making in God’s will.
The problem was he didn’t know what God wanted him to do.
Oh sure, he knew God didn’t want him murdering someone or stealing their stuff. But, the situation he faced was not so clear cut.
How could Nate be sure the decision he was making would be pleasing to God and turn out well?
The Difficulty Of Decision Making
Let’s face it. Consistently making good decisions that you don’t need to regret and that lead to the best outcomes is not easy.
Research indicates we humans are about 50-50. Think flipping a coin.
We make choices and decisions we later conclude were not the best about as often as we make decisions with which we are happy.
Adding the God factor in your quest for good decision making in God’s will often seems to make it more complicated, not less.
How can you increase the percentage of “good” decisions you make while keeping God at the center of the process?
For starters, you can eliminate two common, yet overlooked mistakes in how you approach your decision making.
Two Common Errors In How We Approach Decision Making
There are two prevalent mistakes in American society when it comes to making decisions. Both will hinder you in making good decisions in God’s will.
- Making a decision with no consideration for what God wants or where he might be leading you.
Now, before you quickly move on because “this doesn’t apply to me” — the people who make this mistake are not just professing atheists. This is a major problem among people of faith, too.
Find that hard to believe?
Well, think about it. We have become conditioned in our society to setting goals, making our plans and then working our plans. We make decisions all day, every day. We sometimes forget to consult with God because we have an “I’ve got this” attitude.
Let’s face it… all of us believers at times behave like functional atheists. Maybe we are too busy or distracted but in our actions, we act as if there is no God and it all depends on us and our resources.
How many decisions do you face that you forget to seek God’s input until you find yourself stuck? Or not sure how to proceed?
Yep, I’m guilty.
The problem is that often we are on auto pilot in the decisions we make unless it is so significant or difficult that we need to pull in the big guns.
We are also shaped in another way by our culture. We are told, “You can do whatever you set your mind to do. You control your destiny!”
Umm… that’s not completely true.
In the Bible, we are reminded not to assume the choices, decisions and plans we make are completely in our control. Instead, we need to factor God in and put ALL things into his hands (see James 1:22).
For this article, however, I’d like to focus on a second decision-making problem among believers.
- Seeking God’s will without also actively exercising wisdom.
Another problematic approach is seeking God’s guidance in prayer without also seeking to be wise.
Let say, for example, someone is trying to decide on a college major. They pray, “O Lord, I need to know if you want me to major in Engineering, Accounting, or Photography?
Now, seeking to hear from God is an excellent idea. That is always the first place to start. He might have a particular direction he wants you to go because he wants to equip you to use that in the future.
The problem comes in when you don’t also apply wisdom as you face a decision.
What is wisdom?
Wisdom is the ability to evaluate and apply information in the best possible way to accomplish the best possible outcome.
Wisdom And God’s Will
God tells us in Proverbs (see chapters 2-4, 16) to seek after wisdom. Having it is worth more than wealth itself. If we pursue and exercise wisdom, it will richly reward us. God is encouraging us to exercise wisdom in the situations we face and the decisions we must make.
One traditional source for wisdom is called “common grace insights.” These are truths built into the world by God that have been discovered by mankind and can be used for our good and God’s glory.
Proverbs 25:2 teaches us that these insights built into the created order (but not easily seen) give God honor (as the creator), while it is an honor for mankind to discover and use these insights.
For example, most would now agree that the understanding by Joseph Lister of the value of antiseptically treated surgical instruments or the discovery of the polio vaccine by Jonas Salk are both an occasion of great honor to these men and a blessing to mankind.
It would be unwise not to use these revealed truths.
The Wisdom Of Understanding Ourselves
There is much wisdom that has been learned about ourselves over the last 50 years that can help us in the area of decision making.
One insight that has been discovered is that our perception and understanding of “the facts” of a situation are often distorted.
It is hard to make a good decision if what you are seeing is not the real situation.
Imagine making the decision not to stop for gas on a 1,000 mile trip because every time you glance at the gas gauge, it appears to be on “full” (but you have already driven 500 miles).
Good decisions are based on the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
What The Research Reveals About Us
Numerous research studies have verified the human tendency to operate in accordance with what is called confirmation bias.
Confirmation bias means we notice and rely on information that confirms or supports our current bias and ignores or doesn’t even notice information that contradicts our preexisting attitudes, beliefs and values.
In perhaps my favorite experiment, when subjects were presented actual statements made by political candidates they favored or did not favor…
- They easily recalled all the evidence that presented their favored candidate in a positive light AND all the evidence that presented their unfavorable candidates in a bad light.
- They had selective recall when it came to the contradictory statements made by their favored candidate that exposed their wishy-washiness and hypocrisy. They also seemed to have a hard time recalling statements made by their least popular candidate that would put them in a favorable light.
- Information blindness. Brain tests conducted on the subjects while being exposed to the above information showed this latter information not completely registering in their brains. It is as though they were blind to information that didn’t fit their tidy worldview.
Here’s the problem: Confirmation bias in the context of decision making causes us to unconsciously spend our time building a case in our mind for a particular direction instead of openly seeking to go in the (unbiased) direction, wherever the truth leads.
As a result, we confidently embrace a decision that is just flat wrong.
Jer 17:9 actually confirms the deceptive propensity of our own hearts. We may think we are being objective… but often we are not.
How To Battle Our Blindness
If we know we are prone to deceive ourselves, we are wise to take that into account and not rely only on the inner voice when making decisions. Instead, we must also use a process that counteracts foolish self-deception and maximizes wisdom.
For example, let’s go back to the earlier decision about which major to pursue in college (Engineering, Accounting, or Photography). The person is leaning toward accounting but because they understand they might not see the situation objectively, they discuss these options with a trusted (wise) friend.
Friend: Are you good with numbers? Uh, no not really.
Friend: Have you taken any accounting classes yet? If so, how’d you do? Did you like it? No, I haven’t taken a class yet so I really don’t know if I would be any good at it.
Friend: What sounds appealing about an accounting career? Well, the accountants our family knows are very respected, live in nice houses, and drive nice cars. I would like that, too.
Obviously, these are not the best reasons to choose a career path. However, it is very easy to be blinded to your hidden bias.
The objective truth is that God normally leads one in a direction that align with how he has made them. If you are terrible with numbers, then becoming an accountant, a statistician or an actuary is probably not the wise direction you need to go.
Not to mention you’d end up hating your career.
A Great Example: Prayer + Wisdom
One of my favorite passages in the Bible brings together the two dimensions of decision making– seeking input from God and from wisdom.
When the Apostles in the early church were faced with a difficult decision, how did they handle it?
They wrestled through the decision with God and with the collective wisdom of the group. When they finally came to a decision, they announced:
“It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us”
… then they explained their decision [See Acts 15:28].
It was not “seek God” or “seek wisdom.” It was both.
Increasing Wisdom, Reducing Regrets In Your Decisions
Being wise in your decision making is greatly enhanced by:
- Understanding why and how people make poor, shortsighted decisions (and how to counteract those influences)
- Understanding how people go about making wise decisions with fewer regrets.
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5 scientifically proven steps to making better, more successful decisions.
It is packed full of verified insights that reveal how you can significantly increase the odds of making a wise decision.
Once you read it, you’ll wish you knew all these techniques years ago that could have helped you avoid regrettable choices in school, at work, at home… everywhere decisions are made.
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