(This is the sixth article in a series. To read the other articles, click: Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5)
What are some of the unreliable methods that believers use to make decisions?
1) Misusing the Bible. While it has been the contention of this series that God’s Word is sufficient to help us make every decision in life, that does not mean that we may use the Bible however we choose. Some people treat the Bible as if it were a ouija board, taking random verses out of order and considering them to be a “word from the Lord.”
There is an old joke about a man doing this and getting some pretty bad advice. He closed his eyes opened the Bible, and dropped his finger on the page. Opening his eyes, he found he was pointing to Matt 27:5b: and he went and hanged himself. To get a clarifying “word from the Lord,” he repeated the process and this time ended up on Luke 10:37b:“You go, and do likewise.” With his heart pounding, he did it one more time and arrived at John 13:27b: “What you are going to do, do quickly.” It’s an absurd illustration, but demonstrates a good point. When we use the Bible to help us make a decision, we need to study to find the intended point of a given passage, not taking words, phrases, or thoughts out of context.
2) Relying on personal advice. This is not to say we shouldn’t get advice—there is safety in an abundance of counselors (Prov11:14). But all counsel should be weighed against Scripture. Even godly people can advise you wrongly. The best advice is biblically informed. The only way to know whether the advice you are getting is biblical is to study the Scriptures.
3) Reading the circumstances/results. Some people make decisions based upon interpreting their circumstances, saying things like “look how things are coming together.” Or they may decide based upon the results of a certain decision: “Look at how the Lord is blessing this.” Or they may rely on “opened doors” and “closed doors”. Circumstances should not be our guide when we make decisions; commands and principles should. Paul used the phrase “door” four times and it always referred to opportunities to share the gospel. Yet he even refused one of these open door, and the text mentions nothing about God being mad at him (2 Cor2:12).
It is a dangerous thing to try to read Providence in order to make a decision. When Paul asks the question, “Who has known the mind of the Lord?” in Romans 11:34, the implied answer is, “no one.” Remember that God does not routinely reveal His sovereign will, so we should not try to discern what it is based upon how it looks like things are shaping up.
4) Setting up conditions or “putting out a fleece.” We may be tempted to use Gideon’s method for making a decision, however, Judges 6:36-40 is not intended to teach us how to make decisions. That passage is about the patience of God in the face of Gideon’s unbelief. You see, God had already told Gideon explicitly what to do: “Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian…I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man” (Jdg 6:14-16). Putting out the fleece was Gideon’s fleshly way of delaying obedience and of reassuring himself that God would keep him safe. Gideon is not the model for biblical decision-making.
Rather than setting up hoops for God to jump through to guide us in our decisions, we should trust that He has already given us in His Word everything we need for life and godliness (2 Pet 1:3-4).
5) Misusing prayer. Some people think of prayer as a two-way conversation with God. They pray and then wait for the Lord to speak to them through inner impressions. However, in Scripture prayer is always people talking to God, not listening to Him. The Word is how God talks to believers, so that is where we should look for His guidance.
6) Relying on ideas, inner feelings, desires, and impressions. These are not given in Scripture as ways that God infallibly leads His people. If we have an impression, we have no way of knowing where it came from. There is also the popular advice that you should “follow your heart.” But that’s about the worst counsel possible. Jer 17:9 reads, The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? Don’t trust your heart; trust Scripture.
7) Relying on reason. Sometimes we make a list of pro’s and con’s and just go with whatever side outweighs the other. But Scripture warns us not to lean on our own understanding (Prov 3:5). There is nothing wrong with engage our reasoning, but we shouldn’t rest on it. Search the Scriptures.
There are certainly other faulty ways of making decisions, but there is one good rule of thumb that will help us to evaluate them all. Any decision-making method that removes from us the responsibility to search and follow the Scriptures should be avoided.
Next time, in the final article of the series, we'll address some of the common objections to the decision-making method we've proposed here.