Written by Leslie Koh, Singapore
After spending a number of years in the media, Leslie finally decided to move from working with bad news to good news. He believes in the power of words (especially when they’re funny). He works as an editor in Our Daily Bread Ministries.
What course should I take in school?
What career should I pursue? Which job should I apply for? Should I change jobs?
Who should I date—and marry?
Making decisions in life is hard enough, but it’s even harder as a Christian because we genuinely want to do what is right in God’s eyes (of course you do, that’s why you’re reading this). We want to make the “right” choice that will please Him, and avoid the “wrong” choice that is not in His will for us.
And so, we seek His guidance before making big decisions (and hopefully small ones, too). We pray, we ask our pastors or elders, we talk to godly friends, and we try to comb through the Bible, hoping that the Holy Spirit will speak to us and show us what to do.The problem is, we may not hear God’s answer every time. Or—and this is true for me—most of the time.
Trying to figure out God’s will for me has been a struggle all my life. Sometimes, only in hindsight do I realise what the Spirit had been showing me all along. In some cases, I’m still not sure.
However, having gone through this process a few times, not to mention the godly advice I’ve received along the way, has helped me rethink my perspective of God’s will and the Spirit’s leading. While I still struggle with questions and dilemmas, here are five things I’ve learnt to apply when making difficult decisions:
1. Pray for wisdom, for God loves to guide you
Gideon’s famous “fleece” test in Judges 6:36–40 is often quoted as an example of how not to seek God’s guidance. Lacking faith, the Israelite leader tested God’s patience by repeatedly asking for a sign, even after he had seen enough demonstration of God’s power and reliability.
In contrast, Solomon—before he drifted away—pleased God to no end by asking for wisdom (1 Kings 3:7–9, 12). If there’s anything God would not hesitate to give us, it’s His brand of godly wisdom that will enable us to make decisions and live according to His ways.
Receiving God’s wisdom, however, doesn’t mean we will instantly know what to do. Rather, it will put us in the right frame of mind, so that we can assess our situation with godly considerations, talk to the right people, and know how to distinguish good advice from bad.
The slow, deliberate process of heartfelt prayer also invites the leading of the Spirit, for it is in prayer that He will open our ears to hear His gentle voice, and our hearts and minds to rely on His wisdom instead of ours.
2. Do your homework, but don’t ignore the feeling
You’ve probably heard of doing a list of pros and cons, or a “cost-benefit analysis”, and you might have thought: That’s so secular! Or, How boring! Surely the Holy Spirit won’t use a list of pros and cons to speak to me?
But why not? Just because it’s “secular” and “practical” doesn’t make it ungodly. The Bible talks about the value of careful analysis, diligent preparation, and seeking wise counsel before investing. “It is not good for a person to be without knowledge, and one who hurries his footsteps errs,” says Proverbs 19:2 (NASB).
Even Jesus Himself noted the need for objective deliberation and calculation in Luke 14:28: “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it?”
Of course, we need to do our analysis with godly considerations. Instead of simply asking questions like, “How much more will I make from this job?” or “Which is the more good-looking person to date?”, we need to ask God-centred ones like, “Is this choice likely to draw me closer to God or away from Him?”, or “Which guy/girl shares my Christian and moral values more?”
At the same time, not everything can be figured out through a list of pros and cons. There are times when the Spirit may speak to us, as a gentle prompting in our hearts, an instinct driven by conscience, or as a “gut feel”. If something “feels wrong”, don’t knock the feeling!
That said, we need to learn how to distinguish between feelings that may come from the Spirit and our inner desires. Too often, we let our deepest wants influence what we think God wants for us.
Prayer and our walk with God can make the difference, for a life led by the Spirit will desire what the Spirit desires (Galatians 5:16–17).
3. Remember—God is consistent
Our God can do unexpected things, and sometimes, His Word and His will can challenge our natural inclinations and beliefs.
But He is also a consistent God. He will never behave in a manner that is not in line with His goodness, holiness, and righteousness. He will not do or approve of something that is unloving, harmful, or hurtful.
The Bible stresses God’s unchanging nature and character. Malachi 3:6 records Him as saying, “I the LORD do not change.” And Psalm 100:5 assures us that “the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations”.
As we try to discern what the Spirit is leading us to do, may we remember that He will never lead us to do something that is wrong and against His holy ways.
4. But don’t forget—God is also creative
I don’t know about you, but when trying to figure out what God wants me to do, I sometimes feel like I’m playing a guessing game—where the right choice will put me onto a path to success, and the wrong path will lead me into trouble. I’d better get this right. There’s only one right choice.
But then, my mentor challenged my thinking. “Our God is a creative God,” he told me. “If you’ve spent enough time praying and seeking to put His priorities first, He will honour your choice, for you’ve sought to honour Him first.”
That advice transformed my outlook toward decision-making. No longer was it a guessing game of trying to make the “right” choice, but it became one of going to God first and asking myself questions like: “What would God want of me? What would be more (or most) important to God?”
A decision made with these considerations, I believe, pleases God, and He will work with us to make our choice the “right” one. Many people tend to make a decision on their own, then commit it to God and expect Him to make it work. But if we commit ourselves to God first, then make a decision, I believe that He will make it work—in His own way and in His time.
In such a context, Matthew 6:33 took on a new meaning for me: “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Could “these things” be the things we desire, provided that our desire has been shaped by the Spirit in our hearts?
5. Seek wise counsel (and make sure it’s truly wise)
The book of Proverbs repeatedly reminds us of the value of wise counsel, such as: “The way of fools seems right to them, but the wise listen to advice” (Proverbs 12:15).
The tricky thing is to determine where to get that advice, and what to do with it.
The tragic story of Rehoboam in 2 Chronicles 10 is an example of how things can go wrong. After being asked to lighten the yoke placed on the people by his father, Rehoboam sought advice from elders who had served Solomon and from younger men who had grown up with him.
Long story short, he chooses to go with the younger men’s advice to lord it over the people and go one step farther than his father. As a result, he’s eventually abandoned by the majority of the Israelites.
The lesson here is not that advice from older people are better than that from younger ones. It’s that we need to choose our advisers—and their advice—wisely: Are they speaking from spiritual maturity, experience, and godly wisdom, or are they simply stroking our ego and mirroring what we want?
Ultimately, Rehoboam had chosen to listen to the younger ones because they advised him to do something that made him feel good and powerful.
Good friends naturally want to encourage us, and may tell us what we want to hear. But a really good friend will challenge us to look beyond our own feelings and desires, and turn our eyes to see things from God’s perspective.
When you’ve done everything. . . take a step of faith
So, you’ve gone through every item on the list. You’ve prayed to God for wisdom. You’ve done your pros and cons. You’ve reflected on how God would see your choices, whether they would please Him. You’ve talked to spiritually mature people.
And you’re still not sure.
I once faced this dilemma when deciding whether to switch jobs. Both options (to stay or go) seemed right. In the end, I prayed: “Lord, I still don’t know what you want me to do. But I’m going to take one step first, and if it’s the wrong one, please stop me. Put obstacles in my path, and show me if it’s the wrong choice.”
No obstacles appeared, so I continued to make small steps, each time checking with God and asking Him to stop me if I was going the wrong way.
I’ve always wondered if this was a right approach, but years later—to my immense relief—I heard someone else suggest this as well.
I’m not going to suggest this as a Bible-tested way of making decisions, but I think that ultimately, whatever approach we take to decision-making, it’s about putting God first. When we commit our time and hearts to God, His will and ways take top priority in our lives.
“Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33). If we do that, I believe the Spirit will lead us into a decision that will not only please God, but satisfy us as well.