Here’s a wonderful post on decision making and the will of God posted on Neil’s blog. In his post, Neil explains the Biblical model for making good decisions.
Really short version: Aside from direct and clear personal revelation from God, you don’t have access to his sovereign will when making decisions. Therefore you must look at other factors. If it isn’t moral, don’t do it. If it is moral but not wise, don’t do it. If it is moral and wise, then use your personal preferences.
Using this model you can end up with a wise and biblical decision, but you have avoided the traps of the “God told me to ____” routine. People who run around saying that God told them this and that convey a super-spirituality that can leave less mature believers wondering if they really have a relationship with God (i.e., “God doesn’t tell me every little thing to do, so maybe I don’t really know him.”).
He has a helpful picture posted as well:
This is actually a very important topic for me, because I like making plans and making good decisions. I like being the quarterback or squad leader of my own life. I like to pick objectives and then make plans to achieve them. (Nothing too exotic, just simple stuff like saving money or reading more books)
Actually, I really oppose the idea that God has a magical fairy tale will for each person that will make them happy and fulfilled. For me, life isn’t like that. I don’t expect God to lead me along like a child at a scavenger hunt. I expect to survey the battlefield where I am and then do something to make a difference. There are lots of things you can do that will please God. Should you focus on your career and sponsor apologetics conferences? Or should you use your spare time preparing Sunday school lessons? There are lots of good things you could do to please God. Your job is to pick the one that will be the most effective. It doesn’t matter if it makes you happy, it only matters if it’s effective and if you are good at it.
Who is Rifleman Dodd?
A while back, I was busily working my way through the U.S. Marine Corps Official Reading List, and I came across a book by C.S. Forester called Rifleman Dodd, or alternatively titled Death to the French. It’s a work of historical fiction that takes place during the Napoleonic wars. The story is about a British marksman named Dodd, who is cut off from his own lines during a withdrawal maneuver. He is subsequently left to fend for himself behind enemy lines. An ordinary man might be full of despair and forget about his mission entirely. But Dodd is no ordinary man. Not only does he find a way to survive by finding food to eat, water to drink and places to sleep, but he also tries to remember his orders and to think about what he can do to advance the cause of his General, the Duke of Wellington.
Here’s an excerpt from a gritty book review:
It’s about a green-coated British infantry rifleman in the Napoleonic Wars, an age when rifles were a novelty and most of the army was red-coated and carried muskets. Private Matthew Dodd gets separated from his regiment during a retreat and finds himself stranded behind enemy (French) lines in Portugal. With the occasional aid of some natives, but mostly on his own, he harasses the French with his rifle and tries to prevent them from building a bridge across the Tagus River. It’s a remarkable tale of survival and solitary achievement, of a rank-and-file soldier who lives by his wits and slowly learns to make plans without orders, and shows leadership qualities and a knowledge of warfare.
I think we’re in the same situation as Dodd.
There is no point in us looking for breadcrumb trails to happiness at this point. That’s not the point of Christianity. The point of Christianity is friendship with God, imitation of Christ, honoring moral obligations, self-sacrificial love for your neighbor (and even your enemies!), and dedication to the truth – whether anyone else likes you or not. It’s not supposed to make you happy, and it’s not necessarily going to be a normal life like everyone else has. Things may not work out the way you’d like them to.
We seem to be making such a big deal about compassion and forgiveness in the Christian life these days – such a big emphasis on our feelings. Almost like we have forgotten that we have obligations to our friend. A relationship doesn’t mean that one person does whatever they feel like, completely disregarding the character and goals of the other person and then is automatically granted forgiveness whenever they want it. That’s not a friendship – that’s using someone else for your own ends.
For a lot of people today, Christianity only comes into play after you’ve made a mistake and you’re feeling guilty. For example, suppose you decide to go to a party with your secular friends, then you drink too much, and you do something sexual that you shouldn’t have done. Or maybe you watched some prosperity gospel preacher on TV, then made irresponsible business decisions thinking that God would bail you out and make you rich, and you went bankrupt. Most people think Christianity is for this situation: you’re a Christian so that you don’t have to feel guilty about sin. And so that you can tell people that God forgives you, so that they can’t think anything bad about you, either. You sort of get your idea about what you should be doing in order to feel good from the culture, and God is just there to forgive it all when it blows up in your face.
But in my case, putting myself in a situation like that is not even possible. I’m more likely to try to plan to do something for God. Like, I might try to mentor a young Christian by sending them books. Or, I might try to teach a class in apologetics at my church. These are things that are for God, not for me. I’m not just being dragged along by the culture, and trying to find happiness by feeling good (e.g. – with alcohol) or being liked by non-Christians. And if my plans fail because the mentoree doesn’t grow up into anything, or nobody comes to my apologetics class, that’s when I go to God and say “I screwed up. but can I still be in your army?” And God always says yes to that. You don’t have to be the best player on the team for the Coach to like you. He already likes you.
One of the great things about being a Christian is that you can never lose your identity as a Christian by failing to do something for him that you planned to do. That’s what forgiveness is for. If you set out to do something for God’s glory, and you mess it all up, that’s OK. But I do think that, like Dodd, our ambition should not be about just making ourselves happy, or making non-Christians like us. We should be trying to make plans and carry them out for God.
That’s how I understand forgiveness. It’s not just something that’s there for you to use to fix your feelings when you’ve been irresponsible while seeking your own happiness in secular ways. It’s also there when you’re trying to do something good for God, and you fail. A lot of times in life you try your best, but you fail, and then you lose something that you really wanted. With God, when you try your best for his glory, and fail, you don’t lose your identity as a member of his team. I think that not losing your identity in Christ is even more important than not feeling guilty about selfish decision making.
So, have you got a plan to serve your General? Let’s focus more on what operations we’re planning for God than on being happy and being popular with non-Christians. Your life should not be all about you, with God just there to make your bad feelings go away. Your life should be about God’s goals and God’s interests.