Many people have spoiled their Christian lives because of bad decisions made apart from God’s will (e.g., wrong job, wrong friends, wrong marriage partner, mistakes in the pursuit of education, mistakes made in moving to another place). And it is not only young people who make unwise decisions; many older and even elderly people have committed this grave mistake.
Following are some foundational Bible principles for making wise decisions in God’s will:
1. Don’t trust your own understanding; trust in the Lord.
See Proverbs 3:5; 28:26; Jeremiah 17:9.
The individual that trusts his own understanding will make wrong decisions, because of the fallen nature. We must seek God and trust Him explicitly. Even though the believer has a new nature called the “new man,” the “old man” is still there and can still lead us astray.
We acknowledge God in all our ways through prayer. Instead of trusting in our own understanding, we beseech the Lord for wisdom and guidance in every major decision. He has promised to lead His people, but we must seek His guidance and not presume upon it. We must “acknowledge him” in all of our ways. It is tempting to think, “Well, the Lord already knows that I need His wisdom and help; surely He will automatically give it.” In fact, God has taught us in His Word to pray specifically and earnestly about all matters. To fail to do so is a recipe for making unwise decisions.
We acknowledge God in all our ways through consulting the Bible. If we want to make wise decisions, we must be diligent Bible students, because it is through the Bible that we know God’s mind (1 Corinthians 2:16), learn God’s will (Psalm 119:105), and obtain faith (Romans 10:17). We must learn how to have an effective daily Bible study. We must be faithful to the preaching and teaching ministry of a strong Bible-believing church. We must take every opportunity to grow in our knowledge of God’s holy Word, so we can know His will and make wise decisions.
2. Walk in the light (1 John 1:5-10).
To walk in sin is to walk in darkness, and it hinders spiritual living and thinking (1 Peter 2:11). The Bible warns that the backslider will be filled with his own ways rather than with the ways of the Lord (Prov. 14:14).
If a believer is disobedient or sassy to his parents, stubborn or critical or bitter toward authority, not loving his wife, not showing honor to her husband, gossiping, lying, stealing, loving the evil things of the world, his prayers are hindered and he will not have wisdom to make good decisions.
To make important decisions in a backslidden spiritual state is a recipe for disaster. Many believers who were far from the Lord in their hearts contracted a marriage or a job or pursued a field of education or chosen a Bible College or developed a friendship that they later came to regret deeply. Beware!
3. Delight in the Lord (Psalm 37:4).
The way to know God’s will is to put Him at the center of one’s affections. The will of God is not found by those who approach the Christian life as a mere list of do’s and don’ts. It is found by those who know Christ personally and delight in Him. When I do this, He puts the right desires in my heart and then fulfills those desires. The worldly or nominal Christian, on the other hand, is filled with desires that are contrary to God’s will and lives in frustration because they are not fulfilled.
4. Do not make any decision that would cause you to disobey the Bible (John 8:31-32).
We have touched on this under every point, but by way of emphasis we will deal with it more carefully in its own section.
Making wise decisions, very simply, is making decisions according to the Bible. Jesus described it as to “continue in my Word.” Any decision that causes you to disobey the Bible is contrary to God’s will. There are no exceptions.
This is what it means to live by faith. Living by faith is simply to believe God and obey His Word. See Romans 10:17. It means to learn to make decisions based on the Bible rather than on one’s feelings and human thinking and circumstances, and then to trust God to open the right doors and provide the needs. It is that simple.
Consider some examples of this and how it relates to making wise decisions in God’s will:
The Bible says do not associate with evil or with idolatry (1 Corinthians 15:33; Romans 12:2; 2 Corinthians 6:14-18; Ephesians 5:11), so living by faith means I will not associate with such things. Thus, it is not God’s will for His people to attend worldly parties, to attend a pagan school, to get a job at a place that would require participation in wickedness (such as selling liquor or wearing immodest clothing or showing wicked movies or playing wicked music or sensual dancing), to participate in pagan religious rituals, to participate in worldly music or fashions, etc. I recall a teenager at one church who got a job working in a movie theater. He was concerned about the unwholesome films and was thinking about quitting, but he was advised not to quit by the church’s worldly youth pastor! The result was severe backsliding. I recall another man who had a job at a restaurant-bar and was responsible to supervise worldly parties that included drinking and dancing. He did not grow very much spiritually or learn how to make wise decisions in his life until he quit that job.
The Bible says do not neglect the church (Hebrews 10:25). It is the house of God (1 Timothy 3:15). Thus, it is wrong to make any decision that would cause you to forsake the assembly, such as moving to a place where there is no good church or taking a job that would keep you out of the services. I recall a young man in our church that was saved out of a druggie lifestyle. He showed promise and was growing in the Lord, and then his father asked him to return to his village. In spite of our counsel against it, he went, and from that point he backslid in his Christian life. We have seen this happen many times.
In fact, one of the chief reasons why people quit church is that they disobey God and get a job that keeps them out of the services and they then backslide. Consider the following two warnings:
“We lose about 20% of the young sometime after the seventh grade, and generally we lose them because they get jobs that make them work on Sundays. Once they get those jobs, it becomes easy for them to justify staying out of services and they generally do.”
“We have noticed that many who leave get the idea that if God gives them a job that requires them to work during services, then it is O.K. to miss services. If God gives them a job that requires wearing immodest clothes then it must be O.K. to wear immodest clothes. If God gives them a job that plays rock-n-roll music on the PA then that is O.K. They think they are strong enough to take that and keep coming to church unaffected. Usually though, within six months of getting the job they are missing 50% or more of the services and within a year, they are out of the services completely. As the Singles Director, I have stressed the fact that God has His perfect job for us and Satan has his perfect job for us. However, most of the kids won’t wait upon God to provide that perfect job.”
If a person lives by faith, he will not take a job that causes him to disobey God’s Word by neglecting church.
The Bible says do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers (2 Corinthians 6:14). Therefore, it is never God’s will for a believer to marry an unbeliever or to go into business with an unbeliever, or any such thing. I recall a man who was one of the first converts in a new church. He did well and grew, but eventually he went into business with an unbeliever and because of his partner’s crooked ways he ended up in jail and his testimony was corrupted.
The Bible says do not associate with false doctrine (Romans 16:17; 2 John 10-11). This means that it is not God’s will for a believer to attend a Bible study or a church where false doctrine is taught or to read books by or listen to sermons by false teachers or to develop a close relationship with someone who holds to false doctrine. I recall two young men who were in our church that showed much promise and seemed to be growing in the Lord, but they started attending a Bible study led by a false teacher and ended up leaving our church.
Making wise decisions simply means the child of God will not do anything contrary to God’s Word.
If we disobey the Bible, we cannot expect God’s blessing. What many Christians do is to make their own plans and then ask God to bless them, but that is backwards. We must first make certain that our plans are in accordance with God’s will, then we can reasonably ask for and expect God’s blessing.
5. Seek good counsel (Proverbs 12:15; 19:20).
One of the important parts of making wise decisions in God’s will is to seek godly counsel. It is mentioned 13 times in Proverbs, the book of practical wisdom. Before making a major decision--such as marriage, education, a job, or a move--a person should seek godly counsel. But it just as important to know where to get the right counsel and how to weigh it.
The classic case in Scripture of someone who listened to unwise counsel is Solomon’s son Rehoboam (1 Kings 12:1-16). Soon after he ascended the throne, he was confronted by his subjects who beseeched him to treat them compassionately. In making his decision, he first consulted the old men that had counseled his father, and they wisely advised him to heed the people’s request. He then consulted his own peers, and they advised him to treat the people as he wished and to ignore their feelings. He followed this foolish advice and lost the majority of his kingdom. This doesn’t mean that young people always give bad counsel, while older people always give good counsel. A younger person that walks with the Lord and knows God’s Word will give better counsel than an older person who lacks these things. In 1 Kings 13 we have the sad case of a man of God who got out of God’s will by listening to a backslidden, lying older prophet.
Seek counsel from wise people (“by wise counsel,” Prov. 24:6).
Wise counselors know God’s Word. When seeking counsel in a biblical fashion, we don’t need human opinions; we need biblically-informed wisdom. We are not seeking a word from man, but a word from God. Thus, we need to seek counsel from believers who have studied the Bible diligently. Wise counselors are spiritually mature and biblically knowledgeable.
Wise counselors are doctrinally sound and likeminded. Many people in fundamentalist homes have made bad decisions by seeking counsel from New Evangelicals or Charismatics or Calvinists or even liberals and Roman Catholics or others who are not likeminded theologically. We think of the sad case of Norma McCorvey, who was the plaintiff in the Roe v. Wade case that legalized abortion in America. She rejected abortion and was baptized by an “evangelical” minister, but later joined the Roman Catholic Church through close associations with Catholic priests in the Right to Life movement.
Wise counselors have made good decisions in their own lives and have good character (“confidence in an unfaithful man,” Prov. 25:19). People who are lazy, don’t pay their bills, lie, cheat, etc., will not give wise counsel. Young people must especially keep this in mind. God tells the young person to honor his parents, but if they are not people of good character they are not wise counselors.
Wise counselors are found in good Bible-believing churches. The first place to find such counsel is my own church, assuming I am in a good Bible-believing church. The church is the pillar and ground of the truth (1 Tim. 3:15). God has given pastors and teachers for the purpose of training and protecting His people (Eph. 4:11-12), and they should always be at the top of the list when it comes to spiritual counsel.
Wise counselors have wisdom pertaining to your particular situation. If you need advice about automotive repair, you don’t go to an accountant. Likewise, if you need counsel pertaining to preaching, go to a preacher, or if you need counsel about married life, go to someone who is successfully married, or if you need counsel about a missionary calling, go to an experienced missionary. Charles Spurgeon told how that he was discouraged from preaching by a godly woman. The fact is that a woman does not understand such things, no matter how godly she is. He said, “I remember well how earnestly I was dissuaded from preaching by as godly a Christian matron as ever breathed; the value of her opinion I endeavoured to estimate with candour and patience--but it was outweighed by the judgment of persons of wider experience” (C.H. Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students).
Seek counsel from more than one person (“multitude of counselors,” Prov. 11:14; 24:6). This is repeated twice in the Proverbs by way of emphasis. One way that God confirms His will is by the agreement of godly counselors. If a young person is seeking wisdom about marriage, for example, and he or she approaches his parents and his pastor and teachers and other mature spiritual authority figures, there should be agreement.
Again, the best place to find the “multitude of counsellors” is a God-fearing, Bible-believing church. What Charles Spurgeon said of a Bible College is even truer of a godly church: “Meeting as you do in class, in prayer-meeting, in conversation, and in various religious engagements, you gauge each other; and a wise man will be slow to set aside the verdict of the house” (C.H. Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students).
This does not mean that I should never decide against something unless the authority figures in my life are agreed, because men can be wrong; but it does mean that I should only make such a decision if I have a clear Bible support for it and absolute confidence that it is God’s will.
To obtain counsel from a variety of people protects the believer from becoming a slave to the will of one person. This is the mistake that was made in the 1970s by the Pentecostal Shepherding Movement. They taught that each believer should submit to a “shepherd” who was someone appointed by the church. No decision was to be made without consulting this “shepherd.” The result was widespread abuse. Pastors and teachers and disciplers are important helpers, but the believer is to have only one Master, which is Christ.
I follow the principle of “multitude of counselors” when I am writing books, and it has been a tremendous help. If I depended on my own puny thinking and experience, my teaching would be very shallow! For example, when I wrote on the emerging church, I read about 60 books on the subject. In the multitude of counselors I find safety from misinterpretation and from mistakes of fact. Oftentimes, I go beyond this and seek counsel from my readers themselves. For example, for the books Dressing for the Lord and Keeping the Kids I obtained feedback from hundreds of people that enabled me to expand the scope and practicality of the books far beyond what I could have written on my own.
I follow this principle in Bible study. When I am interpreting a passage, I first determine the meaning and application on my own by means of the basic rules of interpretation (e.g., context, comparing Scripture with Scripture), then I consult a wide variety of commentators. Invariably I find help in this way and my understanding of the passage is expanded, though it goes without saying that the commentators must be weighed by Scripture and not blindly followed.
I must warn that “a multitude of counselors” can result in confusion if those counselors are not godly, biblically wise, and doctrinally likeminded!
Seek counsel from near people (Prov. 27:10). Many times people seek counsel from those who are far off rather than those who are near, and though this is not always wrong, it is often done for the wrong reason. A lot of strangers have written to me through the years to ask my opinion about situations in their family or church, and I have always thought this to be strange, since I know nothing about them and have no way of knowing the full picture. People sometimes want to seek counsel from those afar off for the very reason that they don’t know them and their situation, but it is for this very reason that we should usually seek counsel from those who are near.
For a young person, the first line of counsel should be his or her own parents, particularly if they are believers (Eph. 6:1-3). The next line of counsel would be one’s church leaders. God gives leaders to the churches to watch over His people and to help them, like a shepherd with sheep. Godly church leaders “watch for your souls” (Hebrews 13:17). They think about the church members and pray for them and desire the best for each of them, and God gives them particular wisdom.
In our church we urge the young people who are thinking about marriage to talk with their parents and then to discuss the matter with their church leaders. If a boy is interested in a certain girl, we urge him not to pursue the matter until he has talked it over with the leaders. They know things that the young people don’t know, and they can give good advice about whether it is wise to pursue a certain relationship. Invariably, those who have ignored this procedure have made a mess of things!
Seek counsel from caring people. It is wise to seek counsel from those who not only know you but who care about you and are interested in your spiritual welfare. A young person, for example, will get better counsel from a spiritual leader who is praying for him rather than from a parent or someone else who is not interested in his spiritual well-being and who is uninvolved in his life in this way.
Seek counsel in fellowship with God and in the light of His Word. It is idolatry to put one’s trust in man rather than God (Jer. 17:5-8) or to submit to a man blindly as if he were God. God gives human authorities and teachers to help us, and they are very important. But ultimately our confidence must be in God and we must get wisdom directly from Him. The Bill Gothard “chain of authority” approach is to obey the authority no matter what, but the Bible doesn’t support that. Jesus said that if we love even mother or father more than Him we are not worthy to be His disciples (Mat. 10:37). Obviously, then, there is a time when we must go against what our authority figures demand. And when is that? It is when they are leading us contrary to God’s will as supported by His Word. The apostles taught that we must obey God rather than man (Acts 5:29). One of the first converts in our church in Nepal was a teenage girl. Her Hindu parents and her older sisters forbade her to attend church, but she put Christ first and obeyed God’s Word and attended every chance she got. As a result, her entire family has been saved. We must honor early authorities, but Christ must be our first and only Master. As we noted earlier, the bottom line is that we must be Bereans and test everything by God’s Word (Acts 17:11).
Let us hasten to emphasize that we must not test counsel by our personal opinions, by the thinking of society, by our peers, by the pop culture, by human psychology, or by any other thing other than God’s Word.
6. Do not fear man (Proverbs 29:25).
Jesus warned that we must love Him even more than our dearest relatives. See Luke 14:26. What did Jesus mean when He demanded that we “hate” our nearest and dearest loved ones? We understand this by comparing Scripture with Scripture. Consider a companion passage in Matthew 10:37. When Jesus said we must hate our father, mother, wife, children, brethren, and sisters, he was saying that we must love Him far more than we love others. The Lord requires that we put Him absolutely first in our affections and that we live to please Him above all else. Family relationships are important and God’s Word instructs us to care for our loved ones (1 Timothy 5:8; Colossians 3:18-21). At the same time, the call and work of God takes precedence over any human relationship.
If a person wants to make wise decisions in God’s will he must fear and serve God more than man. If it comes to a choice of obeying and pleasing his friends or relatives and obeying and pleasing God, he must choose God. It is a great sin to fear relatives and friends more than God.
Many unbelievers commit this sin and end up in hell because of it (“the fearful,” Revelation 21:8). Many who are in hell would say they are there because they were afraid of what other people thought.
Many believers have committed this sin, as well. Down through the centuries many have made unwise decisions because of family ties. There are powerful forces at work here. Some have married unbelievers or attended a liberal Bible College or Seminary or pursued a certain career because of their families. Some have said no to the call of God because of resistance by family members. I am reminded of the man who led me to Christ. When God called him to preach, his wife gave him an ultimatum that she would leave him if he did not stop preaching. He pleaded with her to stay, but he refused to stop preaching. Eventually she did leave him and took their young son with her. The man was brokenhearted, but he refused to stop obeying God’s command to preach the Word of God. Many, faced with such a choice, have turned their backs on God’s call.
Young people often commit the sin of fearing man. They know that God is calling them to a life of holiness and service, but they don’t want to stand out in the crowd so they draw back from doing God’s will. I had to face this as a new Christian, when I knew that God wanted me to cut my long hair but I was hesitant to do so, knowing that I would no longer look “cool.” Many Christian girls refuse to dress in a modest and feminine manner because they fear man more than God. This is very foolish. Jesus warned that if we are ashamed of Him in this present world, He will be ashamed of us in the next (Mark 8:38).
7. Honor authorities
Another important principle in making wise decisions is to honor God-given authority. The Bible makes much of this. See Romans 13:1; 1 Corinthians 11:3; Ephesians 5:22; 6:1-3; 1 Timothy 5:17; Titus 3:1; Hebrews 13:17; 1 Peter 2:13-15, 18.
I have seen many believers make unwise decisions that took them out of God’s will when they failed to honor and obey the authorities that God put over them.
Many young people have committed this error by not honoring their parents, and by this means they have entered unwise marriages, developed unwise friendships, attended the wrong schools, joined the wrong church, moved to the wrong place, and made many other unwise decisions that could have been avoided had they simply honored their parents.
The same error has been committed by wives who have disobeyed and dishonored their husbands. Our mother Eve is the classic example of this!
The same error has been committed by church members who have disobeyed and dishonored their leaders. If you get angry and bitter at your leaders, you will not make good decisions. It is not wrong to question them, but it is wrong to have a bad attitude toward them. I have seen many people leave good churches and backslide because they got bitter at the church leaders and refused to repent. We must remember that church leaders are just men, and they are far from perfect. That is not an excuse; it is a fact! Church leaders are not above God’s Word, and if they sin they should be disciplined after a biblical fashion (1 Timothy 5:19-20), but the leaders should always be given the benefit of the doubt. There is a time to leave a church, when it is not committed to God’s Word, but we must be careful to leave in the right way, with the right attitude, and we should always move to a stronger church, not a weaker one.
Authorities must be tested by God’s Word. We don’t give blind obedience to authority figures, because we live in a fallen world, and the highest authority is God. Every authority must therefore be tested by God’s Word. Compare Acts 5:29; 17:11. Moses rejected Pharaoh’s authority to follow a higher authority, which was God!
Authorities should be given the benefit of the doubt. Most of the time when people disagree with authority figures, they don’t do so on the basis of clear Scripture but on the basis of their own feelings and opinions. If I don’t think an authority figure is right, I must ask myself this question: Do I have clear Scripture showing me that this leader is wrong and that my thinking in this matter is right? In light of the many commandments in Scripture to obey those who have the rule over us, it is dangerous to reject authority figures on the basis of anything other than Scripture rightly divided.
8. Look to the future (Hebrews 11:24-27).
Moses made a major decision sometime in his youth “when he was come to years.” He was the adopted son of Pharaoh, who was the wealthiest and most powerful king of his day. Moses could have chosen to cast his lot with the wealthy and powerful, with the pleasure seekers, but instead he cast his lot with the despised, enslaved Jews. He made this wise decision by looking at the future through God’s Word. He looked ahead to the next life and saw that if he followed Christ he would have trouble in this world and riches in Christ’s eternal kingdom, but if he followed Pharaoh he would have “the pleasures of sin for a season” and then an eternity of regret.
Every Christian young person needs to follow Moses’ wise example. He needs to ask himself, “If I make this decision what will happen down the road? What are its eternal consequences? If I marry this person; if I take that job; if I pursue that particular education; if I go to that country; if I go to that party; if I develop that friendship; if I buy that television; if I listen to that music; if I am careless about what I see on the Internet; if I let my heart become captured with the love of the world?
Unbelievers can’t see the future because they walk in darkness and do not believe the Bible. They base their decisions entirely upon what they see with their eyes. They only take into account such things as money, pleasure, and prestige.
The believer has a light the unbeliever does not have, and he can make wise decisions based on the eternal Word of God.
The believer particularly needs to look at the judgment seat of Christ and make his decisions based on what he will hear on that solemn occasion (1 Corinthians 3:11-15).
9. Don’t make decisions when tired or discouraged (Job 3:1-2; 17:11).
When we are tired and discouraged and going through a heavy trial, this is not a good time to make major decisions or to change decisions that have already been made. Consider Job. He did not curse God during his trial, but he did doubt God and sometimes lost his faith in future comfort and blessing. He temporarily lost his way spiritually and emotionally. It has been said, “Do not doubt in the dark that which God has shown you in the light,” and I have often found this to be wise counsel. Many people have made foolish decisions, even changing their doctrine, during times of discouragement. James Robinson, who was once a bold Baptist preacher, adopted heretical doctrine in such a condition when he allowed a Charismatic to lay hands on him and “cast out devils.” It is best to wait until the light is shining again and one’s thinking is clear.
10. Wait on God (Psalm 27:14).
When endeavoring to make a wise decision in God’s will, it is very important to avoid haste. When we are hasty, it is easy to make the wrong decision. We must wait until we are certain that we know the mind of the Lord, and then He will take care of us.
Joshua and Israel were hasty when they agreed to an alliance with the men of Gibeon; they trusted their eyes and did not seek God’s face in the matter (Joshua 9:14-15).
There are two biblical principles that we need to heed when waiting for the Lord: the principle of abiding peace and the principle of no confusion. We find these two principles in 1 Corinthians 14:33. When there is a lack of peace and when there is confusion, we must be cautious and not rush forward in that particular decision.
The wisdom that is from God is always peaceable (James 3:17). God gives peace always by all means (2 Thessalonians 3:16).
When I am seeking God’s will, I look for this peace. If I have a certain inclination to do something, I want to see if there is growing peace or growing doubt. If something is of God, the peace will grow and the faith will increase, but if it is not His will there will be confusion and doubt and a lack of peace.
God’s will is worth waiting for! Many decisions have consequences that last throughout one’s lifetime, and if an individual gets those decisions wrong, he will not only live to regret it but he will have to bear the consequences until he dies. Marriage is one of these decisions, of course, but there are many others.