I once heard a Christian woman I know say, ‘From now on, I am not going to make any big decision in my life until I am 100 per cent sure of what God wants me to do.’
I have huge respect for this woman. She is a very devout follower of Jesus and a great example to others.
What is more, when she said this, there was a lot about her attitude that was absolutely right. She was determined to do the will of God in her life. And in faith she was expecting Him to speak to her and guide her.
God certainly can and does speak to His children clearly at times, sometimes extremely clearly. It is not uncommon for Christians who have earnestly sought God about something to become sure of His will.
Nevertheless, I do believe that what my friend said on this occasion was unrealistic. Even the most sincere Christians find themselves at times having to make big decisions without being certain of God’s will. And that is not usually a sign that anything has gone wrong.
What Paul says in 1 Corinthians
In 1 Corinthians 13:9-12 the apostle Paul tells the church in
‘For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when what is complete comes, what is partial will be done away with.
When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child. When I became a man, I did away with childish things. For now we see indistinctly in a mirror, but then we will see face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I have also been fully known.’
Paul talks here about the reality of the Christian life on this earth. He says that we only know things in part. He also likens our insight at the present time to that of a child, who doesn’t understand things very well. The Greek word he uses, nepios, refers to a very young child. Paul also says that we see indistinctly as if we are looking in a mirror. In his day mirrors were made of polished metal and gave a rather hazy image.
In this passage Paul seems to be making two overlapping points about Christian experience.
First, he is saying that we only see part of the picture of what God does.
And second, he appears to be saying that even in some of the bits we can see, we will have uncertainty about what we are actually seeing. This fits well with the image of seeing indistinctly in a mirror.
What Paul says here would seem to apply in part to the ways in which God leads individual Christians. When seeking His will on things, it is normal Christian experience for us often to feel that we have gaps in our understanding. And it is also normal for us often to be uncertain about things. When we die or Jesus returns, we will see the whole picture clearly, but we cannot do that yet.
I am not saying that we should resign ourselves to always being uncertain of God’s will. That would be to take an extreme position. But to think that we should always be able to reach a place where we are 100 per cent sure of His will about important decisions we make is to go to the other extreme. This idea fits very poorly with what Paul says in this passage.
So, it is normal experience for devout Christian people to make big decisions at times without being certain that they are doing God’s will. But how do we deal with this? How do we cope with the prospect of making a big decision that could possibly be outside His will?
Well, firstly, we need to know that we have done everything we can to hear what He is saying. So we must take every possible step to discover His will. This will involve the following:
It should be obvious that when we are confronted with a big decision, we need to soak it in a lot of prayer.
And we should certainly not be praying alone. It is important that we ask other Christians to pray for us too.
Asking others for help
No Christian has a monopoly on wisdom. Therefore, it makes sense to get the advice of some trusted fellow believers. This will normally involve asking the leaders of the church we belong to for their input. And it is usually better to hear what several others have to say rather than going to just one person.
Examining our consciences
When faced with a big decision, we must also examine our consciences to the best of our ability.
You will often hear Christian teachers talking about the dangers of introspection, i.e., looking inside ourselves. Many almost seem to treat any introspection at all as a kind of sin.
It is true that some Christians spend too much time looking inside themselves, and this can cause problems. But it is perfectly healthy to look inside ourselves now and again to see what is going on.
And when we are confronted with an important decision that we have to make, looking inside ourselves is really necessary. We should be trying to assess our motivations and listen to what our consciences are telling us.
In decision-making, the biggest dangers occur when we have a strong desire to take one course of action instead of another. If we don’t have much of a preference, then we are not in great danger of letting our desires cloud our judgment. But this can be a real danger when we really want or don’t want to do something.
As we consider making the decision we are faced with, we must do our best to be as honest as possible about our desires and motivations. And we must choose to accept God’s will to the best of our ability. We should be looking Him in the eye and asking, ‘Lord, what do you want me to do here? What do you really want me to do?’
Not making the decision too soon
We should also be careful not to make the decision any sooner than we have to. If a decision does not have to be made immediately, then we should make use of the time remaining to continue praying for insight into God’s will.
For example, suppose a Christian has to decide whether to accept a job offer but they are unsure of God’s will. In this case there will probably be a date by which the offer needs to be accepted. And it is wise to delay making a decision until the time for making it runs out. That will give as much time as possible for things to become clear.
There is a temptation in situations like these to make the decision sooner than is necessary. Once the decision has been made, agonising over it can cease. And none of us wants to be in any more agony than we have to be!
But we should resist this temptation. It is much more important that we do our best to get the decision right. And that will mean taking as much time over it as we can.
In some big decisions we make, there will not be a specific date by which the decision must be made. In cases like these it is more difficult to know exactly how long we should keep seeking God’s will. But usually I think we can get a sense of when enough is enough. If we feel in our spirits that we have really got as far as we can, and our consciences are clear, then it is time for us to make our decision.
Trusting God even when we are uncertain
Sometimes taking the above steps will be enough for us to become sure of God’s will. At other times, however, these things will not be enough, and we will still find that we are unsure.
In such cases, we simply need to take the course of action that we think is most likely to be God’s will. And then we must trust Him for the future.
If we have fought hard to find God’s will about a decision we need to make, He will not be angry if we get it wrong. That is not His nature at all. And this means that He will be with us as we move into the future. And, because He is with us, we need not fear.
In the Bible we find promises that God will remain with His children as they step into the future. Here are a few Old Testament examples:
In Genesis 28:15 God promises Jacob:
‘Listen! I am with you, and I will keep you wherever you go. And I will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.’
In Deuteronomy 31:6 Moses tells
‘Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or tremble because of them, for the LORD your God is the one who is going with you. He will not fail you or abandon you.’
In Joshua 1:5, shortly after the death of Moses, God says to Joshua:
‘Just as I have been with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not fail you or abandon you.’
Importantly, none of these promises was conditional on the recipients never making a mistake of any kind. As long as those who received the promises tried hard to do the will of God, He remained with them and overcame mistakes that they made.
The New Testament continues the theme of God being with His children.
In Matthew 28:20 Jesus promises the 11 disciples and, by implication, all later Christians:
‘Mark My words. I am with you always, until the end of the age.’
And in Hebrews 13:5 the author reminds his Christian readers:
‘He [God] has said, ‘I will never desert you and I will never abandon you.’’
Like the Old Testament promises that I cited, these promises are not conditional on us making no mistakes of any kind. If we make an honest mistake in an important decision, then God will be with us just as much as He was before.
The key point I am trying to make is that we should not fear making wrong decisions about things. If we try hard to make the right decision but still get it wrong, God will not distance Himself from us. We need to trust Him to take us forward from where we find ourselves.
God is the master rerouter
Those who have used a sat nav system when driving, will probably have found that there are times when they have left the prescribed route. When this happens, the sat nav reroutes the driver so that they can get to their destination by another route.
This rerouting by sat nav is very similar to what God often does when Christians make wrong decisions in their lives. He leads us back on to the right track by another route. The short term future will be different from what it would have been if we had not made the bad decision. But God can arrange things so that we are soon more or less back to where we would have been if we had made the right decision instead.
Times when we should always expect to hear God clearly
So far I have been saying that it is normal for devout Christians to make big decisions at times without being completely sure that they are doing the right thing.
I do think, however, that some decisions are so huge that we should always expect God to warn us clearly about a course of action that is going to cause real problems.
I am thinking especially about decisions to get married to someone. In this case, of course, if a mistake is made, it is not so simple to think that God can just do some rerouting. Marriage is for life.
If a Christian is trying hard to do God’s will, I find it difficult to believe that He would allow them to enter into a bad marriage. Perhaps if a marriage is not God’s perfect will for someone but a close second best, we might expect honest mistakes occasionally to be made. But even that seems questionable to me. However, if a Christian ends up in a truly bad marriage, I find it hard to believe that they tried their best to do God’s will.
I am not saying that God will abandon a Christian who has chosen to enter into a bad marriage. When we repent of sins, He will forgive us and take us forward from where we are. I am just saying that we should expect Him to speak to Christians clearly to warn against what would be a bad marriage.
And the same goes for any similar decisions. When making an enormous, irreversible decision, we should always expect God to warn us clearly about a course of action that is going to lead to real problems.
Nevertheless, as regards decisions that are somewhat less important, but still significant, I believe it is normal for Christians sometimes to have uncertainty when making them. And if this is our experience, we need not fear. He will be with us as we step into the future.
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