This summer, my husband and I will pack up all of our things, strap our daughter in her car seat, and drive to a different state—a state where we currently have no jobs, no housing and no community. Why? For my husband to pursue a graduate degree.
Are we crazy, stupid or silly to be leaving established jobs, a strong community and a house we own for my husband to pursue a degree?
Or maybe we’re following God.
By faith, I believe we’re doing the latter—I believe that this step we are taking is actually a response of obedience to God. Still, from the perspective of those who don’t know us, our choice to move may seem ridiculous or even irresponsible.
But how we got here was anything but irresponsible; we took practical, intentional steps to make this decision to move. We sought God’s voice and direction in multiple ways by involving our church, our friends and our families in the decision-making process. And we believe that the steps that we have taken helped us discern God’s will and hear His voice in the process so that we can move to a new city this summer with confidence and hope.
It is in big decisions like these—decisions regarding calling, career, community, marriage—that we need clarity regarding how we can hear God and seek to determine His will for our lives. There are no hard-and-fast rules from the Bible regarding how we make decisions: We don’t always put fleeces outside, we don’t always fast for three days, we don’t always see a burning bush. Similarly, God does not always speak to us the same way—He can speak through multiple people, experiences and interactions.
When it’s time to make a big decision, here are four questions to ask as we seek to hear how God might be speaking through several of those avenues in our lives:
1. What Does the Scripture Say?
While the Bible doesn’t tell us specifically to take one job over another or marry one person instead of another, the Word does have tenets that can—and should—guide these types of decisions. For example, the Bible cautions us to keep our minds fixed on “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8).
Will the job that you are considering help you live a life of truth, honor and purity? Will that person you are thinking about marrying help you praise God and live a commendable life before Him? We need to keep the Word of God at the center of our discussions about the decisions in front of us—it is meant to be our plumb line and our source of wisdom and truth in all things.
2. What Does Our Community Say?
As Christians, we are meant to live in a broader community of fellow believers whom we worship with, spend time with and do the work of the Kingdom with. In all of its various permutations around the world, this is Church—all of us with various gifts and abilities that build up the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12).
Those around us who are fellow believers carry the Spirit of Christ within them, and they can often see our lives, personalities and tendencies more clearly than we can see them in ourselves. We need to invite others into our decision-making process, prodding them to ask the tough questions we shy away from—questions about motivation and calling. We also need them to offer encouraging words when they sense that we are moving in the right direction.
If your close community senses health in your dating relationship, ask your friends if they think marriage with your significant other would be wise—and then also ask why. If you are considering pursuing a degree in hotel management, ask your close friends if they see the skills and gifts in you that would enable you to do that job well. To receive their feedback will require humility, and it may also protect us from unwise decisions.
3. What Does Our Leadership Say?
Churches have leadership structures, whether formal or informal. And while leaders are fallible and sinful, just as anyone is, they have been charged by God to “equip the saints for the work of ministry” (Ephesians 4:12). Their role is to help us develop into men and women who are able to carry out the work of the Gospel and to proclaim the Good News that Christ came to save sinners.
Ideally, our leaders know us and can affirm God’s call on our lives, and can bless us and send us out into new endeavors. Talking with a trusted leader about the decision we are seeking to make can often (but not always) lead to a fuller insight regarding our role in the larger body of Christ, and that can help us to see the decision before us in a clearer light.
4. What Do We Sense God is Speaking to Us Personally?
Prayer—consistent, intentional prayer—should be a central part of any decision-making process, and it should include time both speaking to God as well as time spent seeking to listen to His response. Do we have a sense of peace when we pray about one choice and a sense of anxiety when we pray about another? Does a specific scripture come to mind when we are praying about the decision at hand? Do we hear the voice of Christ voice speaking direction to us (John 10:27)? If so, we can take that word, that peace (or anxiety), or that Scripture back to our community to ask our friends to help us sift through the options ahead of us.
When there seems to be a consensus with most, or all, of these aspects in our lives—Scripture, prayer, community, leadership—we can move forward with somewhat of a sense of clarity about what decision to make. Sometimes, the clarity is that either choice we make will be good; sometimes, the clarity is that neither choice would be beneficial. Regardless, making any decision in isolation isn’t advisable—neither by the Bible nor by common sense: “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed” (Proverbs 15:22). Choosing wise counsel—from advisers and friends who love God and love us—will help us align with God’s leading in our lives.