How do I know God’s will in a particular situation? How does discernment work? This is the second to last post in our series on Christian decision making – and yes, there is something very particular about decision making for Christians!
We start with the Christian commitment to Scriptural saturation. Is our mind filled with the truth and priorities of Scripture? That is the most important part of decision making. Then we moved onto the three necessary aspects of the decision-making rubric – desires, abilities, and now opportunity or what we might call open and closed doors. *In our final post, we will discuss wisdom dispensed through means like advice from others, interpreting providence, and gut feelings.
Every decision requires a prevailing desire (or at least a collection of related desires), the ability to perform the decision, and also an open door. Let me illustrate. You may want to go to Harvard, and you may have the grades and intellect to do well at Harvard, but if the admission committee at Harvard does not invite you to study there, it is totally moot. Or, you may want to marry a particular person of the opposite sex, and you may have the ability to marry them (both of you are not already married, both of you are Christians, and you are not biologically related), but if said person does not want to marry you, then it’s a bust. No go. Every decision requires an open door, otherwise you are dealing with dreams and not reality.
Now, this ordeal of waiting on a door is perhaps the most emotionally complex part of decision making. Often, we have strong desires, we have clear abilities, but doors just do not open. We can feel rejected. We can question what God is up to by giving us desires and abilities but no open doors. We can question ourselves, whether we actually have godly desires and if we do in fact have a certain gift set. Think about someone who wants to be a cross-cultural missionary. This person has a godly desire. The gospel going forth to unreached peoples is a Biblical value. This person trains theologically, in spiritual formation, and lays the groundwork to be a missionary in proper ways. But then the mission group they applied to rejects their application! This has happened many times over, particularly in former generations when mission agencies were quite selective in whom they would take on. I have a friend who thought God was calling him to pastoral ministry. My friend is godly. He is smart. He fits the Biblical qualifications of an elder. He went to a good seminary. He trained at a healthy local church as an intern. He had a very strong network of pastors, theologians, and Christian leaders who could, from a human perspective, set him up. But application after application came up empty. My friend had a strong pastoral call, but no church wanted to call him. So now what?
OK, first, I want you to see that an open or closed door is the most objective part of this decision-making transaction. A door is either open or closed.
If Harvard says no, the young woman says no, the missions society says no, and the churches say no, then that is God saying – I love you and that is not where I want you, at least now. Try and praise God in those moments! And be reminded that desires are good and God’s way of leading you, but we also must be careful not to let a desire turn into an expectation or even an idol. I don’t know about you, but I often let a desire turn into an ungodly expectation – God owes me something vs. I desire something and I put it before God and trust Him.
My friend who did not get invited by any churches to be their pastor ended up having a very important Christian media group contact him about leading part of their start up ministry. He started there, he did well, his leadership expanded, and now he is one of the executive leaders of The Gospel Coalition media group. He now looks back and can thank the Lord for the right closed doors so that the right open door could swing free.
Now, what if you have a desire, ability, and several doors open? Then what? I think the next step is prayerfully going back to desires and general wisdom.
- Which option do I want the most?
- Which option has the best context for my desires and abilities?
- What factors are involved that I can measure Biblically: will this opportunity allow for a robust local church commitment, a location where I can thrive as a Christian, are there hobbies and avocations that will thrive in this opportunity, does it allow for a healthy rhythm of life? Etc.
On top of these types of questions, there are other ways God will lead us, like the counsel of other Christians, and we will take that up in our final post next week.
In summary, in order to make a godly decision I need a Biblically saturated mind, and then I need to ask the questions:
What do I desire?
Am I able to do this?
Is there an open door to proceed through?