The Three Types of ChoicesBy Dan Vis
September 17, 2017
Note: This is a repost from just a few months back, but it's so relevant to the goal setting process we're studying in ROCKET 2018, I couldn't resist sharing it again. If you haven't yet signed up for ROCKET, it's a FREE 10-day course on how to discover and achieve your most important goals. Enrollment closes at the end of the month.
Many Christians struggle with decision making. And it's not just young people that seem to have difficulty with this. Through the years, I've seen many believers, both young and old, make poor choices: They become confused, act rashly, and end up following some deception of the enemy. I could tell you several sad stories.
But it leads to a vitally important question: how can we know the will of God?
The first step in the process is to recognize that there are three different categories of choices:
- Those about which God has clearly said yes or no
- Those He leaves to our discretion within certain guidelines
- Those few matters which require special guidance
Clearly Revealed Will
In the first category of decision, the best approach is simply to obey. Questioning God about the right course of action, when His will is clearly revealed, is actually dangerous.
I've seen it many times: You share some Bible topic with someone. Give them compelling evidence. And even secure consent that it is indeed what the Bible seems to teach. Then the dreaded words: "Let me pray about it, and see if God wants me to accept this". Almost invariably, they come back confirmed in their prior belief. The decision to pray was in fact stalling for time to come up with excuses to reject Bible truth.
Praying when we should be obeying, sets us for self deception! The only safe course when facing this first type of decision, is to obey promptly.
Areas of Discretion
The second category of decision deals more with the countless small choices we have to make every day. What clothes to wear, what food to eat, how to spend our time throughout the day. In these situations, we should be open to impressions from God, but not agonize about discerning His will.
As long as our clothing, food, and activities fall within biblical guidelines, we don't need to set aside special prayer about every decision. We should always be open to impressions from God, but to require an impression for every choice will leave us paralyzed in indecision, and ultimately stunt our ability to choose well.
Suppose a friend were to give you a nice, high-quality wristwatch. Which would be more appropriate: to ask your friend the time every few minutes or to glance at your watch? To use the watch, right? In the same way, God has given us a powerful brain with an amazing capacity for reason, intelligence, and judgment. God gave us these gifts to use freely within the parameters He has established within His Word.
Again, we should always remain open to impressions from God in these types of decision. Perhaps you'll be impressed to wear a certain outfit that makes a positive impact on some person you meet that day. Perhaps you'll be impressed to skip out on some food and avoid getting a bad tummy ache. Perhaps some word or act prompted by God will result in some great blessing to another person. You never know--but God does. So it is important to always be listening for these impressions.
In this category, we make the best decisions we can, trusting God to intervene with impressions when needed, and leave the results of our choices to Him.
The Tough Choices
The final category of decisions, includes the big, tough ones that have important consequences for our lives. These are the major life choices with so much potential for loss or reward. In these areas especially we need to learn how to seek and discern the will of God.
And by the way, there is a reason these decisions are so difficult. In many situations the Bible is not perfectly clear about which path to take. Either we are torn between two equally good choices, or between two that are equally problematic. It is when the options are most evenly balanced in the mind, and the consequences most significant, that we need the finest and most delicate discernment.
Going through my files a few weeks back I found an old scrap of paper attributed to George Mueller describing his process for making decisions. Here's what it says:
First, I seek to get my heart into such a state that it has no will of its own in a given matter. When we are ready to do the Lord's will--whatever it may be--nine-tenths of the difficulties are overcome. Having done this, I do not leave the results to feeling or simple impression. If I do so, I make myself liable to great delusions. I seek the will of the Spirit of God through or in connection with, God's Word. The Spirit and the Word must be combined. If the Holy Spirit guides us, He will do it according to the Scriptures, never contrary to them. Next I take into account providential circumstances. These often plainly indicate God's will in connection with His Word and Spirit. Finally, I ask God in prayer to reveal His will to me. Thus through prayer, the study of the Word and reflection, I come to a deliberate judgment according to the best of my ability and knowledge. If my mind is thus at peace and continues so after two or three more petitions, I proceed accordingly. I have found this method always effective in trivial or important issues.
Another popular writer from around the same time period described the same process in these words:
There are three ways in which the Lord reveals His will to us, to guide us, and to fit us to guide others. God reveals His will to us in His word, the Holy scriptures. His voice is also revealed in His providential workings; and it will be recognized if we do not separate our souls from Him by walking in our own ways, doing according to our own wills. Another way in which God's voice is heard is through the appeals of His Holy Spirit, making impressions upon the heart. If you are in doubt upon any subject you must first consult the Scriptures. Guidance comes to those that earnestly desire it. You should have an earnest desire to be pliable in His hands and to follow withersoever He may lead you. (Ellen White, 5T p 512).
If you compare the two, you will find the same basic steps in both: submission to the will of God, Bible study, a consideration of providence, and earnest prayer. Different words, but the exact same process.
The next time you find yourself facing a decision, first determine which category of choice it is. If God's will is clearly revealed in His Word, simply obey. If it is an area of discretion, make the best choice you can within the parameters you know, trusting God to send impressions when needed. And if it is one of those big, life decisions where the options are closely balanced, and the consequences significant, learn how to seek God. Through surrendering the will, Bible study, a consideration of providence, and earnest personal prayer, trust God to give you a clear understanding of His will, and then to confirm it with an inner peace, conviction, or assurance.
Following these basic guidelines can help us to fulfill God's best will for our life, and avoid the poor choices that so often frustrate His plans for us.
CommentsWhat about you? Can you think of examples of choices you make that fall into each category? What best helps you discern God's will when facing the toughest decisions? Share a thought or two in the comments below.
|Posted by Shanthi Solomon on 01/16/18|
|This class has helped me understand some things I have been wrestling with. Thank you for Rocket 2018|
|Posted by Dan Vis on 01/12/18|
|Georgia, glad to hear you enjoyed ROCKET! And also about your exciting job/ministry opportunity. Praise God. Sounds like a great chance to grow!
Thanks Fiona for giving Georgia the link and directions. I should add, we will be doing a major revamp in the near future, so those instructions will likely need to be updated at that time... :)
You are so right Carole about the power of prayer. I think sometimes we don't value it enough as a very real and valid 2-way communication channel.
Thanks for sharing about us Arlene Webb! Hopefully we can see some of your friends from church here at FAST!
Thanks Janice, great to see you here! Say hi to everyone for us.
You are so right Christine! We can definitely use that answer as an excuse. That's why it is so important to understand the three types. We shouldn't use method #2 or #3 on a type #1 question. If God commands/forbids something clearly the answer should be a prompt yes/no. And the quicker the better! :)
|Posted by Fiona van Wyk on 01/12/18|
|Dan has suggested I post my one comment from the Rocket 2018 class, to do with decision-making, here in the comment section of his Monday Memo on decision-making. Here it is:
"It is true, that God does not always make decisions for us - He leaves us with the power of choice. What we need to ask is if it is the right choice, if there is a better option, and whether the timing is right for the choice. I have found God answers these simple prayers promptly. It is very helpful. We need God's wisdom as His wisdom is much greater than ours - Isaiah 55:8,9For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. . . . For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.."
It is an excellent reading, Dan. Thank you. :-) It is very helpful.
|Posted by Arlene Webb on 01/08/18|
|I,too, was blessed by this message. Wednesday our church begins the 10 Days of Prayer, and I am a group leader and will share parts of this article with them.Thank you for these wonderful readings. Arlene|
|Posted by Dan Vis on 01/08/18|
|Thank you everyone for sharing, and for your testimonies. Appreciate everyone's involvement in our community.|
|Posted by Margaret Major on 01/08/18|
|Dan this is so thrilling. I have forwarded the invitation regarding Rocket to my Pastor Dan who is a pastor of two churches, one a church plant where I attend. I believe he is a man after your own heart.|
|Posted by James on 01/08/18|
|Knowing God's will is also knowing his heart and comes from a daily walk with him, thanks for this wonderful site. God bless. James Bradley|
|Posted by David Jeffrey Grabe on 01/08/18|
|Greetings to all my FAST friends in Christ!
What a privilege(& responsibility)to be living in these times! Thank you so much, Pastor Dan, for this inspiring & insightful post! I have struggled at times with making some discretionary decisions-and obviously the major ones! But this post has really helped me to simplify by sorting them into the 3 areas mentioned(revealed will, discretionary, & life-altering). Your statement,"Through surrendering the will, Bible study, a consideration of providence, and earnest personal prayer, trust God to give you a clear understanding of His will, and then to confirm it with an inner peace, conviction, or assurance." So powerful! As I thought on this, the passage, "Trust in the LORD with all your heart; and lean not to your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths." Proverbs 3:5,6Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. . . . In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.
And another in Proverbs, "A man's heart devises his way; but the LORD directs his steps." Proverbs 16:9A man's heart deviseth his way: but the LORD directeth his steps.
GOD'S richest blessings in this new year to all as we "seek His kingdom & His righteousness" Matthew 6:33But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
|Posted by Dan Vis on 01/08/18|
|Consider keeping a notebook on your nightstand, just in case you get some great insight Lynn! :)|
|Posted by Valerie Wise Burrell on 01/08/18|
Thanks for your question. It prompted me to share it on FB. You are right about this one needing to be read by as many people as possible.
|Posted by Lynn Badger on 01/08/18|
|Many times I wake up with God "talking" to me about something I've been praying about. In the stillness I am able to hear His voice and direction.|
|Posted by Dan Vis on 01/08/18|
|Sure Linda, you should see facebook and twitter icons on the side menu (on the bottom ??? on your phone). If you scroll all the way down, you'll see a personal link you can share as well. When someone clicks that url, you will be notified when they sign up in your invites area. That way you can give them a warm welcome! They do not have to be a member to read these posts.
And glad you enjoyed today's reading! :)
Thanks for sharing Valerie. Hope this is helpful to her...
By they way, for those doing ROCKET 2018, I encourage you to consider this reading when following the goal setting process there. Esp the third section. It adds helpful insights in choosing, selecting goals, priorities, etc.
|Posted by Linda Gerace on 01/08/18|
|Dan, are these Monday Memos shareable on social media? Can people who have no FAST Missions account read them by clicking on a shared link? I'd like to share this one.|
|Posted by Dan Vis on 10/04/17|
|Glad this was helpful Liza! I think you emphasized just the right points. All the best as you go through the coming changes in your life. Praise God we can always trust Him to help lead us...|
|Posted by Qing Ling on 09/28/17|
|Amen sis Valerie .it is my privilege to come to God's throne of mercy for our FAST family.
Thanks for tag Dan :)
|Posted by Valerie Wise Burrell on 09/28/17|
Thank you for your prayers for the group. John 3:30He must increase, but I must decrease. is the key to complete surrender.
|Posted by Valerie Wise Burrell on 09/24/17|
|Thank you Dan for this memo. I find that when I am most perplexed or troubled, that is definitely the time to go to the Lord with the issue. I have learned that God is always near and ready to help. I have peace as I rest in Him and wait upon Him. He never disappoints.
Thank you Qing for your prayers and that scripture John 3:30He must increase, but I must decrease.. It is the key to complete surrender to God's will.
|Posted by Dan Vis on 09/20/17|
|I'll second that too Merilyn! We do have a great prayer team. So thankful for that...
And thank you for joining in!
|Posted by Qing Ling on 09/19/17|
|Absolutely, Merilyn ...I have no doubt there are many regular prayer warriors for our FAST family amongst us, even if we don't see each one pipe up in comments. :)|
|Posted by Merilyn Aveling-Rowe on 09/19/17|
|Qing thanks, it's good to know someone prays for the entire FAST community. I hadn't thought to! ... FAST folk are now in my prayer list too.|
|Posted by Nicole Walker on 09/18/17|
|This is an excellent outline to make decisions. I will be sure to simplify instead of worrying about the second types of choices.|
|Posted by Qing Ling on 09/18/17|
|Am praying for our FAST family...God surely hears our sincere prayers :)
I really connect with the statement:
First, I seek to get my heart into such a state that it has no will of its own in a given matter. When we are ready to do the Lord's will--whatever it may be--nine-tenths of the difficulties are overcome.
John 3:30He must increase, but I must decrease. :)
|Posted by Art Chew on 09/18/17|
|Thank you for such a timely and great article. I am in the middle of a big decision. Would need prayers|
|Posted by Marion Coppock on 09/18/17|
|I want prayers for my son Brent who desperately needs a full time job. He has been with out one for two years.|
|Posted by Dan Vis on 09/18/17|
|Definitely a big decision John! Will pray God gives you clear direction...|
|Posted by John Gilmore on 09/18/17|
|I now face a choice that fits the third category; I need a change of employment. Please pray for me.|
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