Proverbs (2) — Making Decisions

Last week, we began a new sermon series on the book of Proverbs with an emphasis on wisdom. In my introduction last week, I made the observation that wisdom and knowledge are not the same thing. Knowledge comes by gathering facts. Wisdom, though, is knowing what to do with those facts.

I said last week that the very first verse of Proverbs gives us a good definition of wisdom. The Living Bible has paraphrased Proverbs 1:1 in this way: “These are the proverbs of King Solomon, David’s son: He wrote them to teach his people how to live — how to act in every circumstance.” And I think that’s a good definition of what wisdom is! It is knowing “how to act in every circumstance.”

I quoted someone who said that, “Wisdom won’t give you answers to every question, but it will give you clarity to every situation.” We would love it if God would answer all of our questions for us in a very direct manner, but he rarely does that. But what God does provide is clarity. As we develop more and more wisdom, the right decision or the best decision becomes clearer and clearer, and our decisions get easier.

Another definition of wisdom I gave you is that “Wisdom is the ability to make good decisions in difficult situations.” And that’s something that all of us could use a lot more of. Because our lives are often filled with stress and anxiety because we’re just not sure what to do. And most of the time, it’s not a moral decision that we need to make. Rather, we stress over questions like,

• “I wonder if I should get married. And if I should, should I marry Molly, Mabel, Melba or Marlene?”
• “I’ve been offered a new job. Should I take it or wait for a better offer?”
• “I’ve been accepted at two different colleges. Which one should I attend?”
• “Should I go back to school for my master’s degree?”
• “Should I try out for cheerleader?”
• “What courses should I take next semester?”
• “Lord, what do you want me to do?”

So, this morning, we’re going to continue to talk about wisdom, but we’re going to focus on wisdom as it relates to making decisions. When you have several different options in front of you, how do you determine which one is the best choice? Or sometimes the question is — How do you make sure that you don’t make a bad choice? And, for those of us who are Christians, this is extremely important, because we truly want to know how to make a decision that will honor God.

And there probably has never been a time in all of history when people have had more decisions to make, more choices, than we do right now in the 21st century.

Let me give you an example. When the Model T first came out in 1908, if you wanted to buy one of those cars, your decision was pretty easy when it came to choosing a color. In fact, Henry Ford himself once said (and I quote), “Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black.” But, today, if you go car shopping, you’ve got to make a choice. There are officially 26 different colors of cars, but even among those colors, there are a lot of variations.

Or, when it comes to watching television, many of us here in this room can remember a time when we only had three channels. If you wanted to sit down and watch TV, you didn’t have a tough decision to make. Because the only question was, “Are we going to watch ABC, CBS or NBC? But today, when you turn the TV on, you can choose from hundreds of cable channels, not to mention all the shows available on Netflix, Amazon, or Hulu

Now, in some ways, it is a tremendous blessing for us to have a lot of choices. And I think that we would all say that we like having a choice. But some psychologists are learning that for all the options we have and for all the promises that having more choices will make you happier, that really isn’t the case. In fact, evidence seems to show that the more options you have, the less happy you are after you make a decision.

There were a couple of studies done about 20 years ago. In one of these studies, they gave a group of college students 30 different kinds of chocolate and then asked them to choose their favorite. A second group was asked to do the same thing, but they were only given 6 different kinds of chocolate. (I know, some of you are wanting to know how you can get in on this study).

At first, the group with 30 options was thrilled. But when they were asked which chocolate they liked the best, they had a hard time deciding. There were too many options. And, for them, having all those options made it more difficult to choose. Even more significant, when it was all over with, the group with only six choices was happier with the decision they made than the group with 30 choices.

Now, that’s not what you would expect. But a second study done with jellies and jams came up with the same result. And psychologists say that the problem is, the more choices you have, the harder it is to know that you’re making the best choice. And, so, you spend a lot of time wondering, Is this really the best option? And if I choose this one, is it possible that I’m missing out on something better because I didn’t choose that one?

Now, chocolate is one thing, but let’s move on to something more important. Because, as Christians, we face a similar problem. We tend to struggle when we have a decision to make when there are a lot of options.

One of the reasons is because we get this idea in our head that any time we have multiple options to choose from, there’s only one right choice, there’s only one best answer, there’s only one “godliest” option. Suppose, for example, that you’ve got a choice to make and there are three different options. Maybe you could take this job, this job, or this job. None of those choices would be sinful, but you have this idea that only one of those choices will make God most happy with you. And if you don’t pick that one, then God’s not going to be as happy with you as he would be if you picked this other one.

And the result is that we can get so paralyzed that we can’t make a decision. What we need is a process to help us to make better decisions, especially in those areas where God has not spoken directly to us through His word.

So, allow me give you a few steps this morning that I think will be helpful as you face decisions in your life.

Step #1 – Listen to What God Has Said

We need to be reminded from the beginning that God is the ultimate source of wisdom, and we need to look to him and draw closer to him as we try to grow in our wisdom.

In Proverbs 3:5-6, Solomon said, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”

Wisdom begins with trusting God. And what that means is that we need to take time to consider what God says to us in his word — what he says about himself, what he says about you, what he says about our relationship with him, and what he says about his expectations for us. We start with the Bible because it is the Word of God, and that means that anything it has to say is going to be true.

So the first thing you need to ask is this – Is what you’re thinking about doing a sin? Does God’s Word say that it’s wrong for you to do the thing that you’re thinking about doing? And, if the answer is yes, then there’s no need to go on to step 2, because this process is over.

The process that I’m going to share with you is not to help you to think through whether you should sin or not. If God says it’s sin, then that decision is made. You “trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.”

But if it’s not a sin, then there are several promises that God has given to us us in his word that will help you as you make your decision.

1. Your value in God’s eyes is not determined by the choices you make

I’m going to take a minute to let that sink in, because I think this is something we all struggle with. Your value in God’s eyes is not determined by the choices you make.

Let me tell you why I say this. Despite the fact that we all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, God loved us, and went to great lengths to bring us into his family. Jesus went to the cross and died the death that we should have died. And then he rose from the dead as a guarantee that if you have put him on in baptism, his death counts as your death. We need to remember that our relationship with God is not based on the wonderful things that we do.

As Paul said in Titus 3, “[God] saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior.” (Titus 3:5-6)

It is important for you to remember this before you make any decision. You need to remember that your relationship with God is not determined by the decisions you make; it is determined by what Jesus has done for you.

Now, again, I’m not talking here about decisions that involve sin. We’ve already removed that possibility. But we often have this idea that, if I don’t make the best possible decision, then God will be disappointed in me and he won’t love me as much. And that’s just not true. There is no decision that you could make that would cause God to love you any more than he does right now. And there is no decision you could make that would cause God to love you any less than he does right now.

And once you understand that, it takes some pressure off of your decision. Sometimes we think our choices are going to determine how God feels about us and that puts a whole lot of pressure on us to make the right decision. And all that pressure is going to make it difficult for us to think rationally. There’s too much at stake. But knowing that your value in God’s eyes is not determined by the choices you make removes that pressure, so you can think through your situation clearly.

2. God is in control.

We have a sovereign God. And over all of our decisions is a God who is working all things for our good. Remember what Joseph said to his brothers? “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” (Genesis 50:20).

We have a God who is working all things according to his plan and purpose. Which means that God is in complete control, no matter what decision you make. God is in complete control over both your wise decisions and your unwise decisions.

You see this a lot in the Old Testament. Not every choice that Jacob made was a good choice. I don’t think I would have forced my brother to trade away his birthright for a bowl of stew. But God used even his poor choices for his ultimate good. Not every choice that Joseph made was a good choice. I don’t think I would have shared all those dreams with my brothers. But God used even his poor choices for his ultimate good.

For those who trust in Jesus Christ, God promises he will work all things (which includes all your decisions), God will work all things for your ultimate good.

I do want to give one bit of clarification. The truth of God’s sovereignty does not justify us purposely making unwise decisions. You can’t go around thinking that God is going to take care of you, so you can just do whatever you want. You are still responsible for your actions. Which is to say that if you make some unwise decisions, there will be some consequences. God can work through it; it just won’t be as pleasant for you.

But knowing that God is in control takes the pressure off your shoulders. Your decisions don’t dictate what ultimately happens in your life.

3. God has given you a mission

Before Jesus ascended back to heaven, he got his apostles together and he said, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” In Matthew, Luke, John, and the beginning of Acts, all four of those books emphasize the same thing. It seems to be pretty important.

So when you’re thinking about the decision you need to make, you need to consider how it affects your ability to draw other people closer to Jesus Christ. Every relationship, every job, and every opportunity in your life needs to be filtered through the question of how can you bring people closer to Christ through this opportunity?

Your job matters to God. Your marriage, your kids, and your friendships, they all matter to Him. But they’re not all random independent pieces of your life. They are all opportunities for you to bless others in the name of Jesus Christ. That’s why God has given you all these opportunities and relationships.

Or, to put it another way, God is much less concerned with what you do than with what kind of person you are. Maybe you want to know, “Lord, should I go to Minnesota or should I go to South Carolina?” You’re asking the wrong question. The more important question is not where should you go, but what kind of person are you going to be when you get there. The more important question is not: Who should I marry, but what kind of person am I going when I get married?

So, listening to what God has to say is the first step in making wise decisions. Remember that that your value in God’s eyes is not determined by the choices you make, that no matter you do, God is still in control, and that all of our decisions need to be looked at remembering that God has given us a mission.

Step #2 – Pray for wisdom

As I said last week, since God is the source of all wisdom, we need to ask God to give us the wisdom that we need to make good choices. As James said, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” (James 1:5)

Step #3 – Listen to Godly Advice

One of the greatest gifts God has given his people is his people. And, so often, we neglect or we ignore the collective wisdom that God has given us. Listen to Solomon in the book of Proverbs:

“Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.” (Proverbs 11:14)

“Get all the advice and instruction you can, so you will be wise the rest of your life.” (Proverbs 19:20, NLT)

God often gives us wisdom through consulting with other Christians. And I’m emphasizing Christians, not because non-believers can’t give good advice, but you want to hear from somebody who believes that a relationship with God is the most important thing in the world.

So, when you think about godly counsel, you may want to turn to family or close friends. You may want to turn to church leaders. But I especially encourage you to turn to people in the church who have demonstrated wisdom in the area you’re struggling with.

Sometimes, we have people in our lives that we go to for advice, but those people have repeatedly made bad choices in their own life. Don’t make that mistake. Go to people who have shown wisdom in what you need help with.

If you have a question about parenting, go to someone who has dealt wisely with their own children. If you have a question about marriage, find someone who has survived those tough times and come out stronger on the other side. If you have a question about finances, find someone who handles their own finances in a responsible manner.

Whatever you’re dealing with, there’s probably somebody in this church who has been through what you’re going through right now. Seek them out. Ask for their advice. Learn from their wisdom.

But one thing about asking for advice. If you really want wisdom, you need to listen most carefully to those people who disagree with you. Godly counsel is of no value if you only listen to those people who agree with you. That’s not to say that everybody who disagrees with you is right. But if someone says something you don’t agree with, don’t dismiss it. At the very least, take it to somebody else and ask him or her what they think about it. You’ll never get wisdom if you refuse to take advice that goes contrary to your own opinion.

As Solomon said, “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.” (Proverbs 12:15)

Step #4 – Do whatever you think is best

And I know that sounds a little bit unspiritual. And if you haven’t done the first three steps, it is unspiritual. But after you go to God’s Word and after you pray for wisdom and after you go to God’s people for advice, then you just need to decide to do what you think is best. Should you take that job? Do what you think is best. Should you move? Do what you think is best. Should you marry that person? Do what you think is best.

A lot of times, we don’t want to make a decision until God tells us exactly what to do. But you can go to God’s Word and pray and ask the advice of others, and still be completely paralyzed in making a decision because you’re waiting for some mystical moment when God whispers in your ear what to do.

And there may be times in your life where God makes it abundantly clear which direction you need to go. Deciding to become a preacher was like that for me. If I hadn’t made that decision, I would have felt that I wasn’t doing what I should have been doing. But I haven’t had many moments like that. That’s not the rule. It’s the exception.

The normal way God leads his people is through giving us wisdom. As we look to God’s word and we pray for wisdom and we seek out the counsel of others, God gives us what we need in order to make a good decision.

The problem for a lot of us is that when we make a decision, we experience FOMO, the fear of missing out. If you go one direction, that’s means you’re not going to be able to go the other direction. And you have to be okay with that. You’re only going to be able to experience so many things in life. You can’t experience everything. And the sooner you can accept that, the more confident you can be in going a particular direction. Don’t let fear of missing out lead you to do nothing at all. You need to make a decision. So, make the choice and don’t look back.

Step #5 – Ask for faith

There comes a time when you’ve made your decision. You’re going in a particular direction. Now you need to have faith to trust God, because you have no idea what’s going to happen. You can be the wisest person on the planet, but you still don’t know the future. You can study the trajectories and trends, but no matter how confident you may be, you don’t know what’s going to happen. And we need to remember that our decisions don’t ultimately dictate what comes into our lives. God does.

And what you and I need is faith enough to trust him, his decisions, and what he decides to bring in to our lives.

Solomon put it this way –“Mortals make elaborate plans, but God has the last word.” (Proverbs 16:1, Message).

“The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9)

The truth is that you can make the very best decisions possible and still find yourself in a terrible situation. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that wise decisions will always bring only good things to your life. You can make wise decisions and still wind up in suffering. And you don’t need to look any further than Jesus Christ as an example of that.

Jesus had the greatest wisdom the world has ever known. He always made only the very best choices. He never made one single bad decision, but he still ended up on a cross. You can have wisdom and you make great decisions, but you may also end up on a cross.

That’s why we need faith to trust God no matter what he brings into our lives. God will sometimes bring us into circumstances that we didn’t want to be in. We always tend to end up there when we make bad decisions, but it’s harder when you make a wise decision and things still seem to turn out bad. It’s in those moments when we need to ask God for faith.

Charles Spurgeon once said, “God is too good to be unkind. He is too wise to be confused. And when you cannot trace his hand, you can always trust his heart.”

When you don’t understand what’s happening and you can’t see God’s hand, that’s when you need faith to trust Him.

When we make decisions, we need to listen to God, pray for wisdom, listen to the advice of wise people around us, and do what we think is best. We go through this process so we can make the very best decisions we possibly can. But, in the end, no matter what happens, God is in control.

“No wisdom, no understanding, no counsel can avail against the Lord. The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the Lord.” (Proverbs 21:30-31)

Our job is to get the horse ready for battle and make the very best decisions we can, but we have to remember that whatever happens on that field, God is over it. And I can’t think of anything in this world that should give us more comfort than that.

We need to strive to make wise decisions, but we need to always remember that God is better than anything we can get out of those decisions. And so, may God make us a wise people, but may he make us a people who want him more than anything else.

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