This article is part of the 5 Myths series.
Honoring God in Decision-Making
Researchers at Cornell University estimate that we make 226.7 decisions about food in one day.1 That’s a staggering number of decisions attached to the stomach. But what about the decisions that affect our souls rather than merely our stomachs? In the daily-ness of our decisions, we tend to forget God’s good design for us as decision-makers. Our familiarity with making decisions and the sheer frequency of decisions we make each hour can blunt us to the shocking invitation to intimacy with God underneath decisions. As we seek to grow in our understanding and application of a biblical approach to making decisions, let us address five common myths that hamper a God-honoring decision-making process.
Myth #1: Decision-making is an acute condition to be endured.
Many of us approach decisions with an inaccurate, idolatrous mindset. We think, Once I get past this decision, it will be smooth sailing or On the other side of this decision, there will be peace and rest. When we think this way, even if we don’t verbalize such thought processes, we dishonor God and the invitation into decisions he has given us as those who bear his image. We won’t emerge from decision-making this side of glory. As such, we would do well to embrace decision-making rather than merely endure it. We are daily entrusted with decisions, and we are constantly shaped by the steady stream of decisions we make.
While there are acute seasons in which we wrestle with larger decisions on the forefront, decision-making is the wonderful, chronic condition of human beings made in the image of God with rational capacity. Decisions are gifts to be stewarded, not burdens to be endured. Through the decision-making process, we are invited into deeper intimacy with God and deeper dependence upon God. We learn to say with King Jehoshaphat, “We do not know what to do, but our eyes on you” (2 Chron. 20:12). As we search through the possibilities of decisions, God searches our hearts, exposing fears and idols, and invites us into the freedom of his truth (1 Cor. 2:10–11; Ps. 139:23–24). The sooner we learn to see decisions as a blessing rather than a burden, the more we will begin to experience the God-intended delight that comes with the decision-making process.
Myth #2: Pain or suffering is a sign of a poor decision.
Our culture of comfort has so bled into our thinking that we tend to be shocked when we experience pain, hardship, or resistance. When we meet obstacles on the other side of a decision, we begin to wrongly assume that these are signs that we have made a wrong decision. Contrary to popular belief, suffering does not always signal a poor decision. In fact, we often experience testing and trials because we have made a decision that honors Christ’s words and ways in this world (1 Pet. 4:13–16). Christ and his earliest followers shared honestly that suffering is the norm for life on a broken globe in the already/not yet of the kingdom of God (John 16:33; 1 Pet. 4:12). Suffering on the other side of a decision is a sovereign checkpoint. It provides a chance to stop and reflect, but it is not intended to be a foothold for regret. If, after prayerful consideration and counsel, we do realize that a poor choice is the cause of the present pain, we are invited to repent and rest rather than fret and fume (Isa. 30:15).
The word of God is to be the standard and plumb line for both our reason and our emotion.
Myth #3: Decision-making is meant to be a merely factual process.
Ancient philosophy has trained us to think that the best decision is one made on sheer reason; however, this ignores the way God has wired his people as those knit together with body, mind, and soul. As believers, we ought not be surprised by the recent scientific studies which conclude that emotions play a critical part in the decision-making process.2 God cares about the desires of our hearts, but he also teaches us to be wary of them as our master (Jer. 17:5–10). When we isolate and heighten either reason or emotion over and against the other, we strive to pull apart what God has wisely joined together. The word of God is to be the standard and plumb line for both our reason and our emotion. Through the living and active word of God, our minds are instructed while our emotions are shaped and renewed (Heb. 4:12; Rom. 12:2, 9; Ps. 97:10). When it comes to making decisions, I often tell my children, Your emotions don’t belong in the trunk, nor should they be allowed in the driver’s seat. They make excellent passengers when you are submitted to the word of God.
Myth #4: God’s love for us ebbs and flows based on our decisions.
While many of us quickly recognize this wildly erroneously theology as wrong, our hearts must be reminded constantly of the unmerited and unchanging love of God for his children. As Tim Keller has consistently pointed out, performance in the default setting of every fallen human heart3. Long before Martin Luther dusted the cobwebs off the central doctrines of the solas, Moses continually reminded God’s people of the reason for God’s love: God loved them because he loved him. He chose them because he chose them (Deut. 7:6–10; 9: 6). Such an undeserved and unshakeable love provides the necessary security and foundation to make wise decisions that honor God. Without the realization that covenant love precedes and will follow all our decisions as children of God, we would be easily crippled with fear and anxiety. The gospel daily instructs us that we are loved on the basis of Christ’s perfect decisions. Thanks to the imputed righteousness of Christ, God’s favor does not wax and wane like the phased moon, but is steady like the sun.
Myth #5: My decisions are my decisions; they only affect me.
Whether we choose to admit it or not, the Western church has been deeply dyed by the stain of individualism. We tend to read the Scriptures through an individualistic lens. We read the singular “you” into commands that were written to the plural “y’all.” We think our decisions and their consequences can be contained to our own lives. This could not be further from the truth. Our lives are far more porous than we care to admit. What we do in private very much reverberates into the lives of those around us. When God gave the commands, he gave them to his communal, covenant people. When Achan disobeyed God by taking some of the spoils at Ai, all of God’s people were affected by his disobedience and disaffection with God’s commands (Joshua 7). As the leaders of the early church were quick to remind the believers, a little leaven affects the whole lump (Gal. 5:9), whether for good or ill.
When we begin to realize that the consequences of our decision will certainly color the lives of those around us, we approach decision-making with more sobriety. We invite those who would be most affected by our decision on the backend to speak into our decision on the frontend (Prov. 15:22). We seek wise counsel and invite others into our questions and concerns, rather than merely coming to them with a conclusion.
In a world littered by decisions and exhausted by decision-making fatigue, believers are invited to do decision-making differently. We need not cower in fear or press forward in unthinking, brazen self-assurance. Rather, we walk with the triune God until the day when our decisions will always, only honor the Lord.
- These studies are detailed in two books: Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath and The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt.
Aimee Joseph is the author of Demystifying Decision-Making: A Practical Guide.
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