If I had to sum up what has occupied most of my thoughts lately in one word, it would be the word “decisions.” For international teachers like myself, winter is typically the time to either accept a contract renewal for next year or pursue other teaching opportunities abroad. Since choosing an international school also means choosing the country, culture, language, and community in which it’s embedded, it’s no easy decision.
As is the case when making any major decision in my life, my mind has been on overdrive as of late. My thoughts have circled around a rather long pros and cons list, several conversations, some serious over-analyzing, and whole lot of prayer about what to do next. Somewhere between the pros and cons list and the prayer, I found myself reflecting not on my decision, but on decision-making itself.
More specifically, I began reflecting on how I approach decision-making in my life. I’ve been thinking about how I see myself and God in the whole decision-making process. As it turns out, God cares about how we make choices. He cares a whole lot. So much so that while I was weighing my options for next year, He was weighing my heart, gently showing me areas where my beliefs about making choices didn’t line up with His.
Through several conversations, scriptures, and a much-needed reminder or two, my decision-making paradigm has started to shift. Here are the lessons I’m learning – or in some cases, relearning – about making decisions.
Don't Be Afraid
When faced with a decision, especially a major one, it’s easy to get stuck in freeze-mode. Why do we sometimes freeze instead of being decisive? I think that oftentimes, it comes down to plain, old-fashioned fear. Fear of not being able to choose well. Fear of choosing “wrong.” Fear is a paralyzing force that can keep us from making decisions and moving forward with them.
When I’m tempted to doubt my ability to make a difficult choice, I now remind myself of what God says about me. I remind myself that God has given me not only the freedom, but also the ability to make good choices. He has created me to make powerful decisions about what brings me life.
I go back to verses like 1 Corinthians 2:15-16, which tells me that I can choose well because I don’t choose alone; I have been given the mind of Christ and have access to what God thinks about my situation. The truth is, I have everything I need to choose well, even if I don’t feel like I do.
When the fear of making a wrong choice rears its head, I remind myself of two truths.
First, a lot of times there isn’t a clear right and wrong direction to choose – especially when deciding on things like where to live or what job to take. Second, regardless of what I choose, I know God makes everything work out for my good (Romans 8:28).
I love what Carla Harris says about not being afraid to make decisions. In one of her talks at last year’s Global Leadership Summit, she says that “either way, [we] get a blessing, or a lesson” from our choices. While the former might be more enjoyable then the latter, we benefit from both. There’s nothing to fear, really, because either way, we win.
God’s Plan is Bigger Than Me and My Choices.
This one isn’t so much a new lesson as it is a reminder:
I cannot make choices that will somehow delay or derail the plan of God for my life.
Because I’m simply not that big.
While God does, indeed, have good plans for my life (Jer. 29:11), He also has an infinite number of ways to realize them. Why? Because He’s God. He’s so much bigger and so much more powerful than you or I could comprehend. There’s no choice I could make, no path I could choose, that He hasn’t already anticipated and preemptively provided for. No choice of mine, large or small, could make him throw his hands in the air and say, “Oh well, there goes that plan.”
There’s also no verse, as far as I know, that says there's only one string of choices that leads to “God’s ultimate plan for my life.” If there was, freedom of choice wouldn’t be true freedom at all. While I think there are definitely those special times where we are called to be in a specific place at a specific time, I would argue that we have more freedom than we think we do. There’s a great deal of room for our own choices regarding how we use the specific giftings, passions and callings He’s given us.
Wiith the assurance that He’s going to work with whatever choice I make, I am free to choose without the fear of somehow sabotaging His purpose for my life.
Keep Moving; He’s Got You.
Psalms 37:23-24 in the Amplified Version reads, “The steps of a [good and righteous] man are directed and established by the Lord, And He delights in his way [and blesses his path].” The same psalm in the New International Version says that He “makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him; though he may stumble, he will not fall, for the LORD upholds him with his hand.”
I used to think that the “directing” and “establishing” of my steps always came before I made a choice. Consequently, my decision-making model was something to the effect of, “God, just tell me what to do and I’ll do it.”
While my motivation was rooted in wanting to obey and please God, it also led to me freezing every time I had a decision to make. When I wanted to do something, I would find myself thinking, “Well, I can’t do that until the skies part and I hear a clear voice booming from Heaven telling me to do it.” (Okay...slight exaggeration, but you get the idea.)
What I didn’t realize then was that it’s the steps of a righteous person that are directed by the Lord. Not the standing still. Not the waiting for God to decide for me. It's the steps that He directs. Why is this an important distinction? Steps are movements. They imply decisiveness. God tells us that He’ll direct us along paths that are good for us, but that direction often comes as we go, not before we go.
I think a lot of times, when we're waiting for God to tell us what to do, He's actually waiting for us to move - to just make a decision and trust that He’ll guide us as we go. As we make decisions and move forward with them, we can trust that He'll gently steer us away from paths that are going to hurt us and towards paths that are good for us because that’s the kind of loving Father that He is.
These days, I've decided not to wait for God to tell me what to do at every turn. Instead, my decision-making paradigm looks more like: “God, this is what I’d like to do. What do You think? I trust You to show me if it’s not a good idea or if You have something better in mind. But if You don’t, I’m going for it.” Unless I get a clear “no,” I move forward, trusting that God is big enough and good enough to keep me. As long as I’m delighting in Him, I trust that He’s not going to let me fall.
If God’s ability to keep you is a question in your mind, if it’s something that causes you to hesitate when making decisions, I challenge you to check out verses like Proverbs 3:5-6, Jude 1:24, and 2 Timothy 1:12. If your eyes are on Him and you’ve given Him your life, you can trust that you’re in good hands. He’ll tell you if you’re about to choose something that isn’t good for you. He’ll show you what you need to see to make that choice. All you need to do is trust Him and move forward.
So, the next time you find yourself at a major crossroads in your life, remember that you, too, have the power to make good choices. To choose well. And to choose often. Remember that you are free to make powerful decisions that bring you life. And most of all, remember that as God's child, you are loved and supported, with access to His guidance, through the whole decision-making process.