Decision Making and the Will of God – Dr Maria Haase

The abundance of life comes in following Him

12 MINUTE READ

from Luke’s Journal 2021 | Fire in the Belly 2021 | Vol.26 No.1

Much has been written on the will of God, both what it is and how we might discern it. 

Nevertheless, it remains a perennial topic, as we all have to grapple with this issue to find a comfortable position for ourselves. Our understanding is significantly influenced by our upbringing, denomination, worldview, discussions and most importantly, our knowledge of Scripture and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. There is a perplexing array of ideas and many different stances taken on this subject.

My goal in this article is to highlight differing views, summarise opinions, challenge concepts and encourage thoughtful consideration. Our views determine the impact on daily decision-making. Factored in is the challenge to continue to review previous beliefs, allowing room for change through growth and maturity. In this article,
I have posed more questions than given answers as I would rather stimulate thought and encourage personal reflection than proffer a firm opinion.

How do we make decisions?
How does God speak to us?
What is our concept of God’s guidance?
Do we wait for a direct word from God?
Do we “put out a fleece”, or ask for a sign, or flip pages of Scripture until we find a verse to support our own desires?

Or do we use our God given intellect in the light of application of correct Biblical principles of hermeneutics, plus learn from the wisdom of reputable scholars, prayerfully asking the Holy Spirit to guide us “in the truth”? (John 17)

“God has planned His course from the beginning and will accomplish His unalterable purpose.”

Initially, clarification of definitions is required. (I love definitions!)

Firstly, to define the word “decision”:

Decision [noun]: the act or process of deciding; determination, as of a question or doubt, by making a judgment; the act of or need for making up one’s mind; something that is decided; resolution. (dictionary.com)

This indicates an active process. Work must be done. Thinking is involved. Discomfort might be required! 

Scripture has much to say on this subject.

Romans 12:2 says, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (NIV)

Secondly, before looking in more detail at the “decision-making” aspect, it is necessary to clarify the term “the will
of God”.

What is “the will of God”? 

How do we know this “will of God”? How do we find it?

Most authors classify the will of God in to:

• The sovereign will of God

• The moral will of God

• The personal will of God

The sovereign will of God. God has planned His course from the beginning and will accomplish His unalterable purpose. It is absolute and not necessarily revealed to us. 

I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, “My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.” (Isaiah 46:9–10)

The moral will of God. This is what is revealed in The Holy Bible. The Scriptures are a “Lamp to our feet and a light to our path”, (Ps 119:105), providing some clear rules on how we are to live. It would be unwise to violate them. “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim 3:14-16).

In some circumstances, there are specific directives. For example, on whom to marry – “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?” (2 Cor 6:14). Similarly, Timothy and Titus give sound advice for living. In such circumstances, we can be clear on what is a right and firm decision, without anxiety, as it is already spelled out for us. Such commands are for us to obey.

God has a will for man which is revealed in His law. It also reveals what God desires from man. Ephesians 5 specifically directs our course for godly living: “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God… Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.”

“God-given wisdom is protective and helpful for decision-making. Some people pray earnestly for help with decisions but fail to follow the moral will of God clearly written for us!”

After that, there is freedom to choose according to wisdom (Proverbs is replete with wisdom and commands us to beget wisdom), wise counsel and the desires of our heart.

God-given wisdom is protective and helpful for decision-making. Some people pray earnestly for help with decisions but fail to follow the moral will of God clearly written for us! If a decision is outside of Scriptural injunction, then it is certain that this will be the wrong decision. Our decisions must not violate scriptural principles.

The personal will of God. Does God have a plan for my life?

Many have heard the popular statement “God has a wonderful plan for your life.” It reads as though this plan is perfectly mapped out and has to be sought and followed to “the dot”. This is commonly termed “the dot theory”.

Is a belief in a “personal will of God” a cultural question? Did previous generations or other cultures twist themselves in knots trying to determine if there is an individual, personalised plan from God? Are we getting ourselves distressed because of an incorrect theological perspective?

What if we concentrated more on seeking God and seeking first “the Kingdom of God” than seeking the individual will of God?

“What if we concentrated more on seeking God and seeking first ‘the Kingdom of God’ than seeking the individual will of God?”

So, does God actually have a plan for my life?

“… even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” (Eph 1:4-10)

Firstly, yes! “Chosen in Him before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him” sounds like a plan! It seems like the big plan is “to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” How that plan fleshes out in daily life pales into insignificance in the light of eternity.

Does He have a specific plan for every minute of our day? That is the conceptual challenge. Do we have a plan for every minute of our days? That would probably lead to anxiety, exhaustion and frustration. I wonder if we really need God to micromanage us. Is it necessary to seek His guidance as to which coloured shirt to wear each morning, or to ask His help when choosing from a menu? We are free to be creative! I wonder if this is a misunderstanding of “spirituality” as taught in some organisations and sectors of the church. That is to ponder. 

Ephesians is basically a book on “how to”. How to know, how to grow..… “to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine. Rather, …..we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” (Eph 4:13-15).

To be grown up means accepting responsibility for decisions and actions, not immobilised by uncertainty and insecurity.

Bob Goff in his book Everybody Always states, 

“I’ve met a lot of people who are waiting for God to give them a “plan” for their lives. They talk about this “plan” like it is a treasure map God has folded up in His back pocket. Only pirates have those. People who want a reason to delay often wait for plans.”

So, does God have an individual will for each believer, fully mapped out (the dot theory), or is His primary will for us to become mature followers of Christ and be His in eternity? Would He guide us along the way allowing room for individuality but quicken our spirit to respond to kingdom issues i.e. to lead us to fervently pray when an important event in the spiritual realm is occurring, or lead us on the path where a decision will determine the next important step in our journey? This is a challenging question. We humans grapple with the cut-off point, the balance between the mundane, where reason and common sense are sufficient, but also the understanding of supernatural intervention of a living, loving, relational God who is there directing our paths during great need or uncertainty. Then, why does He seem to intervene sometimes and not others? Is there an actual cut-off point? I doubt that we will know this side of eternity.

So how are we to apply this to our lives?

Garry Friesen, in Decision Making and the Will of God states:

“The Bible must be understood according to the original intent of the author when he wrote to the original readers. In other words, it must be interpreted historically and grammatically as it was originally intended to be understood. To twist the original meaning of the text in an attempt to discover God’s individual will for me is a misuse of Scripture and will prove to be misleading.”

Here are Friesen’s basic principles on knowing and doing the will of God:

  1. Where God commands, we must obey.
  2. Where there is no command, God gives us freedom (and responsibility) to choose.
  3. Where there is no command, God gives us wisdom to choose.
  4. When we have chosen what is moral and wise, we must trust the sovereign God to work all the details together for good. 

On a practical note, it is handy to have some strategies to assist in making wise decisions. This checklist is helpful… (The Decision-Making Process, thebalancecareers.com)

  1. Define the problem, challenge, or opportunity.
  2. Generate an array of possible solutions or responses.
  3. Evaluate the benefits, or pros and cons, associated with each option.
  4. Select a solution or response.
  5. Implement the option chosen.
  6. Assess the impact of the decision and modify the course of action as needed.

Also, take a look at the Black Dog Institute’s Structured Problem Solving decision-making plan.

  • Don’t make narrative normative, i.e. in choosing a marriage partner, don’t ask for God to cause a specific person to come to a well and water your camels! Also, don’t count on a fleece!
  • Beware of choosing verses to support your argument, especially if this is outside of the moral will of God, logic and advice from trusted friends.
  • Seek wisdom and knowledge from Scripture.
  • Be prepared to challenge your views in the light of further study, personal growth and reflection and alter your path if appropriate. A person can only make decisions based on the best knowledge available at the time and stage of growth. 
  • Rejoice that God allows trust in the relationship with Him. We are developing an eternally-long relationship with our Father. Godly children can be trusted!

All of the above can seem very cognitive and prescriptive, lacking in joy and a sense of intimacy with God. So, as a contrast to the more prescriptive writing of Gary Friesen, whose tome on the topic is huge, Dallas Willard encouragingly writes:

“The ideal for divine guidance is finally determined by who God is, and who we are, and what a personal relationship between ourselves and God should be like. Failure of competence in dealing with divine guidance has its deepest root in a failure to understand, accept and grow into a conversational rela­tionship with God: that sort of relationship suited to friends who are mature personalities in a shared enterprise, no matter how differ­ent they may be in other aspects.

It is within such a relationship that our Lord surely intends us to have, and readily to recognise, His voice speaking in our hearts as occasion demands. I believe that He has made ample provision for this in order to fulfill His mission as the Good Shepherd, which is to bring us life and life more abundantly. The abundance of life comes in following Him, and “the sheep follow him; for they know his voice” (John 10:4) 

(Dallas Willard In Search of Guidance, pp. 26-27)

I think that this is a most uplifting note on which to close. Ultimately, it is our relationship with our Father through Christ and our response to His love by obedience to Him, that allows us to delight and trust in His will. 


Dr Maria Haase     
Dr Maria Haase is a GP working part time in Private Practice. She and husband, David, relocated to Toowoomba, QLD in February 2019. She has made annual short-term visits to Myanmar since 2006 to work in an orphanage and to hone her clinical skills. (COVID-19 prevented this year’s trip.)


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References:

The Holy Bible (ESV unless stated)
Garry Friesen with J. Robin Maxim Decision Making and the Will of God Multinomah Press1980 
Dallas Willard In Search of Guidance HarperCollins 1993
The Decision-Making Process. (thebalancecareers.com)
Black Dog Institute Structured Problem Solving
Bob Goff Everybody Always Bob Goff Thomas Nelson Publishers 2018
Ravi Zacharias International Ministries https://www.rzim.org/resources/gods-will

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