Google the expression “How to make good decisions?” and you’ll find a long list of articles offering three to twenty-three steps to help you out. Martin G. Moore, writing for Harvard Business Review, lists eight recommended steps. For example, this consultant to corporate executives suggests avoiding consensus decisions but favors input from persons closest to activities most impacted.
What he doesn’t cover in his article, however, are situations where information isn’t available that adds clarity to the likely outcomes. And prayer is missing altogether from the consultant’s list. This leads me to wonder whether prayer is also missing from how he makes decisions he faces that impact him personally.
How about you? Do you pray to receive God’s input on which choice to make?
Prayer requires at least some belief. And belief is a delicate balance of emotion, logic, and experiences occurring within a personal context. Nevertheless, our beliefs impact our daily decisions. And depending on the perceived impact of a particular decision, emotions usually way heavier than other factors.
Barnabas Piper argues that the most common form of unbelief involves lifestyle conflicts. We express doubt through our thoughts, words, and actions because we choose to believe that God is okay with our choices. He writes that while our questions and doubts matter, they often hide a deeper problem. That is, “a lack of trust in God as God describes himself.”
This makes sense. Trust is tough without hard evidence. And trust, faith, and belief are closely related and used interchangeably. So, for instance, I might say that I trust in God because I have faith that God’s way is best, and I believe that God is good. Or something like that.
The story of Abraham is one of my favorites. While he is difficult to relate to, overall, who doesn’t have reason to admire a man credited with fathering three of the major world religions. And scripture claims that this was all God’s doing as part of a divine plan. So all Abraham had to do was trust God to come through.
We’re told that Abraham trusted God and that his faith was credited as righteousness (Genesis 15:6). Abraham’s adventures in trying to be faithful to God begin with Abraham choosing to leave his homeland to move to some other place that God would disclose later. “Trust me,” God said, “It’s going to be great!” (Genesis 12:1).
Admittedly, I tend to interpret scripture with great flexibility. While I’m trained to notice the details and nuances, I’m willing to admit that my interpretation may be flawed. And this keeps me from passionate arguments over whether a particular translation best nails the intent of God based on how and which words appear in whichever translation I’m reading. More important, given the infiniteness of God, I’m suspicious of all finite conclusions we draw from scripture.
The Lord said to Abram, “Leave your country, your relatives, and your father’s home, and go to a land that I am going to show you.”
In the case of Abraham, we can read the text as it’s translated and presume that God spoke plainly with audible instruct ions. And Abraham heard and believed that it was God speaking to him, and he packed up and headed out. No questions, no arguments, no proof of authenticity. Except that life doesn’t usually work that way for the rest of us.
What if, instead, Abraham grew restless over time as feelings of emptiness hovered over him. Perhaps he and Sarah dreamed of raising children, but as their senior years loomed over the near horizon, they wondered if there chances for a meaningful life were better elsewhere. What if Abraham believed it was God’s idea to leave despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, and God proved him right?
I’m not saying this is how it happened. I’m just saying that this may have occurred for Abraham because I wonder if this is how it happened to my family. My parents chose to leave their home in Arkansas for a better life. My dad shared with me that they concluded there was no way for them to support a family as sharecroppers. But Memphis was unproven potential and eventually we moved to Ohio. Did they follow God’s guidance or hope that God would be with them regardless?
And most important, this is how God’s directions work for me. In my experience, I’m left to determine which of the numerous voices in my head represents God. So instead of crystal clarity, I see the way toward a better future through blurred vision. And when I choose to do what I argue God led me to do, I do so based on my faith in God and my own, often flawed, ability to interpret God’s will for me and the people affected.
And everyone is affected by our choices.
In another Abraham story, we read that God speaks to Abraham in the presence of three strangers he welcomed into his home. First, the men tell Abraham that Sarah will have a child despite her age. Later, as Abraham is walking with them, God tells Abraham about two cities where the people are collectively bad news. And God is considering an intervention that won’t end well for anyone living there.
After the men left, Abraham continued his conversation with God. “What if there are 50 people who aren’t like the rest? What if there are 50 who, instead of going along with the crowd, try to do good?” God responds, “If there are 50 good people then the city will be spared”. Whew!
“Okay, but 50 is a lot to expect. What about 45?” “Sure, why not. If there are 45 innocent people, then everyone is spared.” Abraham kept up the negotiation in the form of questions until he got the number down to ten. Indeed, there must be at least ten innocent persons even in the worst city.
This story is fascinating. Did the writer really intend for us to believe that this exchange took place between God and Abraham to illustrate how conversations with God play out? It’s possible. But this isn’t how it has worked for me. Instead, I have debates within my own head. And if there are any audible words, they come from me. Nevertheless, I’m willing to conclude that God participates with us in similar conversations. The challenge is to figure out when it’s God’s voice you’re hearing.
What do you believe?
Jesus tells us that belief is a divine gift whereby we’re assured by the Holy Spirit of God’s presence in Him. I believe this to be true. On my better days, I feel confident that God guides me. But honestly, when problems are piling up, I wonder and worry. Was this really God’s idea or my own?
In those times, I believe that God’s Spirit brings assurance. Perhaps not the certainty that my choices align with God’s will for me because I suspect they’re often not. Instead, I feel assured that God is with me, even after I make not-so-good choices. And while God allows me to suffer the consequences, He is with me always, even to the end of time.
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Content for this series is based in part on:
Barnabas Piper. Help My Unbelief: Why doubt is not the enemy of faith © Barnabas Piper, 2020. Charlotte : The Good Book Company.
Martin G. Moore. “How to Make Great Decisions, Quickly.” © Harvard Business Review, March 22, 2022. Retrieved from: link