We’ve all been there—in the midst of all the pressures of your life, a situation arises that calls for you to make a decision. Is it time for a career change? Which school should my child go to? Or is that person “the one” I’ve been waiting for?
Making decisions under pressure is tough; the dangers and long-term consequences of making the wrong choice can be huge. Fear of being wrong can force us into not making a decision at all, while desperation can lead us into decisions we’ll live to regret. It’s good news that the Bible provides some revealing examples of people having to make decisions under pressure, and also gives some practical advice.
Three Scriptural Cases
Mary was a very young single girl when she was presented with the shocking news that she was going to have a baby. We may say that the fact that she heard about it from an angel, not a pregnancy test, puts this on a different level, but nevertheless … in the age she lived in, the simple fact of pregnancy without a husband was enough to paralyse her with fear. The penalty could have been stoning to death, since the man she was promised to was not the father and could denounce her. Mary had the toughest decision of her life to make—would she trust God with her life, and accept this situation, or would she give way to total panic? We know what she decided. “I am the Lord’s servant,” said Mary to the angel, “may it happen to me as you have said” (Luke 1:38).
In Acts 15 we read about a fierce argument between believers (the Bible doesn’t gloss over this). A decision had to be made about which side of the argument was right. Some were claiming that new believers must be circumcised, but Paul and Barnabas disagreed. Instead of continuing with this stressful dispute, Paul and Barnabas withdrew, and went to Jerusalem to consult with the apostles and elders of the church. After meeting to seek God and consider together, the apostles made a firm decision that, since God was giving the Holy Spirit to Gentile believers just the same as circumcised believers, then circumcision was not necessary.
The apostle Peter had to make a quick decision one dark night when he saw Jesus walking on water towards the fishing boat he was in. Full of faith, he called out, “Lord, if it is really you, order me to come out on the water to you” (Matthew 14:28). When Jesus did, Peter stepped out of the boat. We look to this as a great example of courage even though “when he noticed the strong wind, he was afraid and started to sink down in the water” (Matthew 14:30-32). The great thing is that, for a while, Peter’s bold decision to trust Jesus enabled him to walk on water! How many of us would love to do that!
Peter had Jesus there right in front of him, calling him to come. For us, deciding what to do generally is not so clear-cut. We can, however, draw out five key principles to guide us.
How to Make Decisions
- Keep God involved.
It sounds almost too obvious, but when we are in frightening circumstances it’s tempting to fall back on purely rational thinking to solve our problem and inform our decision-making. God has given us our minds to think things through sensibly, but there’s a danger that, at the time we most need to rely on God for guidance, we can behave like nonbelievers. As Mary discovered, the impossible can become possible with God, if we will keep him in the center of our thought-process, laying our situation honestly before him and asking him to show us the next step.
- Seek guidance from Scripture.
“All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching the truth, rebuking error, correcting faults, and giving instruction for right living” (2 Timothy 3:16). God will speak to us through his Word, often leading us to a particular Scripture that will bring fresh light to our situation.
- Be open to the Holy Spirit’s guidance.
Jesus promised us he wouldn’t leave us without guidance, but that the Holy Spirit would come and guide us into the truth (John 16:13).
- Seek the advice of other wise and experienced believers.
Even Paul and Barnabas, both successful senior leaders, needed to do this. People around us may give useful advice in their areas of expertise, and friends may try to tell you what to do, but the “counsel of the saints” has a different level of advice, and shouldn’t be neglected.
- Let God’s peace rule in your heart.
After all the above, the final test is this—look for an internal and communal sense of God’s peace about your decision. “The peace that Christ gives is to guide you in the decisions you make…” Colossians 3:15-17. This is the peace that “is far beyond human understanding” (Philippians 4:7), a peace that is not determined by circumstances, but reassures you that you are walking close to God and have found his guidance.
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