Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Decision Making Guidelines

It seems like it is a rare person who isn’t being confronted right now with a tough decision, whether it is about college, marriage, parenting, career, or finances.

Awhile back when I was trying to make an important decision, I prepared the following "Decision Making Guidelines" with suggestions gleaned from Steve Deal (a missionary to the Phillipines), Elmer Towns (Biblical scholar and teacher), Matt Gregory (a local pastor), Rick Warren (author of The Purpose Driven Life), and Oswald Chambers (author of "My Utmost for His Highest").

Understand Who the decision-maker really is. The Bible tells us, “A man's steps are of the Lord,” (Proverbs 20:24) so: “Commit your works to the LORD, And your thoughts will be established.” (Proverbs 16:3)

Commit the decision to a time of fasting and prayer. For me it usually is a forty-day time period. The fast I try to do is to refrain from all drinks other than juice and water; from all sweets, snacks and desserts; from any food during the day other than an oatmeal breakfast; and then to enjoy whatever meal Nancy has prepared for dinner, but have no snacks after that meal, other than juice or more oatmeal if I am still hungry.

The purpose of a fast is not for any health reason, it is so that when you have a desire for whatever it is you are fasting from, you use that as a prompt -- a cue -- to pray. (Ezra 8:23 “So we fasted and entreated our God for this, and He answered our prayer.”) Being a donut junkie and a coffee-holic, I have lots of prompts to pray during my fasts.

Search the Scriptures. During this forty-day decision making period, every morning I review the "Decision Making Guidelines" and the Bible verses that might be applicable to each one and pray through the process, being careful not to pre-decide the issue before the end of the forty-day decision making period. (Psalm 119:105 “Your word is a lamp to my feet And a light to my path.”)

Look at the pros, cons and alternatives on paper. This step was also a favorite decision-making tool of Benjamin Franklin and Abraham Lincoln. It helps us to think through choices to see them in black and white. Each morning I would move a little bit farther through the decision making process, pray over what the alternatives of the decision might be and as they are revealed, write them down across the top of a chart. Not all the alternatives may be revealed at one time. Just write them down as the Lord reveals them to you. (Luke 14:28 “For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it-”)

Seek Godly counsel. Write down the responses which the Lord reveals to you directly during prayer or indirectly through the counsel of others. (Prov. 11:14 “Where there is no counsel, the people fall; But in the multitude of counselors there is safety.”)

Compare your alternative decisions with the gifts of service God has given you. How do the various alternatives fit with your gifts? Do you have a heart or a passion for the alternative(s)? How does each alternative fit with your abilities? Your personality? (I Cor. 7:7(b) “…each one has his own gift from God, one in this manner and another in that.”)

Look at the connection between your alternative decisions and your life experiences. We may think our heart or our commonsense is driving our decision, but God has been directing our steps through our life experiences, both good and bad. Keep in mind that God prepared Moses and Joseph for their life's work through their bad experiences. (Prov. 16:9 “A man's heart plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps.”)

Seriously consider how the alternatives fit with the Golden Rule. Would a particular alternative be for the good of others? Would the alternative hurt anyone? (Matt. 7:12 “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”)

Total up the decision each column adds up to. At the end of the forty-day decision making period --and not before—the final decision is the column that has all positives and no negatives. Since you first identified God as the decision-maker, and you then saturated the decision making process with prayer and fasting, accept the fact that God HAS made the decision for you and He then showed it to you when you totaled up each column.

Trust in God and take the NEXT step. After that, you are ready to follow Oswald Chambers' advice to now trust in God and take the NEXT step. Don't let concerns about the second, third or twelfth step deter you, all God asks you to do is to take the next step. He will be waiting for you there.

Throughout it all, don’t forget Hudson Taylor’s line, “God always gives the best to those who leave the choice to Him.”

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