A Checklist for Decision Making

From the Desk of Dr. Stan Ward:

Ah, the spring.

In spite of the cold temperatures of January, we have technically entered the “spring” semester. For my senior students, it is a time of decision making: where to attend college, who to ask to the winter formal on February 15, etc.

When students ask for advice about God’s will and decision making, I present them with a “checklist.”

Pardon me for associating something as mundane as a checklist with something as divine as God’s will. However, when I consult with students making big decisions, this metaphor seems to resonate.

I’ve heard Donald Miller quip that his test for knowing if God has a specific plan for your life is straight-forward: if you are a virgin, but pregnant, then God has a definite plan for your life. Likewise, if a donkey talks to you, then God has something specific for you to do.

While my system is not quite as straight-forward as Mr. Miller’s, I still find it helpful. When students talk about the decisions they are making, I generally listen for five confirming factors to determine if the decision is both wise and spirit-led.

  1. Scripture. If your decision directly contradicts Scripture, then it is obviously a no-go. On the other hand, how does your decision represent what Scripture tells us about life? For example: are you doing justice, loving mercy, and living humbly (Micah 6:8)? Are you striving to live at peace with others (Romans 12:18)?
  2. Prayer. Have you prayed about it? I will admit that exactly how prayer works is a bit beyond me. After all, God is all-knowing and all-powerful, so how is my prayer going to affect anything? I don’t understand exactly how it works, but I know that scripture tells us God wants us to pray, so I do it. For examples, see Luke 18:1-8 and 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18.
  3. Other Believers. Have you spoken with other Christians about this decision? What is their counsel? Proverbs is full of affirmations for the importance of wise counsel. See Proverbs 12:15; 15:22; 19:20; 24:6. I recommend finding believers who have known Christ longer than you have and whose lives are worth emulating.
  4. Spirit-led. This one is hard for me to explain. Sometimes I have a repeated sense of direction. Sometimes in my gut, I have a sense of what I am supposed to do. When this feeling comes over me multiple times, and it lines up with the three factors mentioned above, I trust this is a prompting from the Holy Spirit.
  5. Circumstance.  C. S. Lewis says in his Screwtape Letters that God wants us ask three questions about an action: (1) Is it righteous? (2) Is it prudent? (3) Is it possible? Sometimes circumstances, through no fault or our own, are such that we can’t pursue an opportunity. That’s OK, we should consider circumstance as one of the ways God directs our steps.
How about you? What models do you follow for decision making?