5 Keys for Making Big Life Decisions

Whether you're looking to move or contemplating marriage, navigating life doesn't have to be overwhelming.

Some choices present themselves pretty clearly: You find that the masters program you’re considering can be done for free if you’re serving overseas. Everyone says you’re an idiot if you don’t ask her to marry you. The apartment in the neighborhood you’ve had your eye on is an incredible deal. The job opportunity arises and you immediately jump for it without needing any kind of push.

But many unassuming little choices leave you peering into the river of possibility, trying to discern what’s right. He’s moving away, but you are still in school. The house you love is a bit too expensive. The church you’re in is in flames, and you want to bail. You want to go overseas, but the country you feel led to just closed its borders. There isn’t a very obvious answer. So: What are you supposed to do?

Let’s knock out the basics first: God knows you, loves you a lot and wants to lead you. You should ask God where to go and then go.

Got that? Good.

But … how? And how do you know what God wants? And what if it seems like He’s OK with any of the choices available?

Like most tasks in life, God doesn’t give quick, easy formulas for making choices. So here are five suggestions to help you steer along the journey.

1. Help wanted

Tell some friends, especially the further-along-in-life kind, that you need help. Politely plead for their time and their ears. If they accept, slowly and thoroughly tell everything you know about your options, hopes and worries. Give them your desires and concerns about your own selfishness and pride. Invite them to ask questions and reflect back to you what they’ve heard you say. You may not end up taking their advice, but if they’re wise (and try to choose people who are), they’ll certainly help you see the situation more clearly than you would alone. And sometimes, they might notice things you haven’t, or ways you’re acting that you’re too immersed in to see. The verbal processing itself will help clarify your thinking, too. Then ask them—beg them—to pray for you.

While you have their ear, ask them to search their personal network of connections for better options. Many great opportunities in housing, relationships, work and, well, life don’t come through search engines, but through people in the right place at the right time pulling precisely what you need from their pockets (or their contact lists).

Also, know that wise people who love you will tell you things that will be difficult to hear. Perhaps you haven’t quite grasped that you’re not cut out to be a musician. Or it could be that God isn’t calling you to drop out and move to Haiti. Maybe the wooing you’re undertaking is actually more like creeping. Listen to the wise voices. And sit with their hard words. They might just be the same ones God wants you to listen to.

2. Book it

Instead of opening your Bible for the first time in a year to wherever the pages fall for your mystical word from the heavens, how about reading it with your brain turned on? Using the Bible like a horoscope is an insult to God, and to your own ability to listen and reason. Instead trust that God does have wisdom, and He’s not trying to keep it a secret. Scripture applies directly to you and the decisions you need to make.

Start by looking for general principles that might cross an option off your list entirely (or bump some other option to the top of the list). Don’t kid yourself. Right off the bat—and hopefully this is obvious—make sure what you’re considering isn’t morally wrong. If you’re thinking about double-crossing someone, cheating on someone, lying or otherwise being a nutjob, knock it off! Then look for the sometimes-not-so-obvious deceptions. Are you making your choice out of greed or arrogance? Would one of your choices make it hard or impossible to stay connected to a church, share with those in need, honor God, quit habitual sins or disobey other big musts of the Bible? Have the courage to cross that one off the list, no matter how attractive it (or he/she) is.

3. Get off the people-mover

Most decisions we make in life slide by without us ever realizing we’re deciding. Life pulls us onward like a big conveyor belt. So we need to look up and figure out whether we are going where we need to go—and if not, stretch out a leg and get off.

In a perfect world, what would you ask for? If you can answer that question, then ask. Maybe you found the place you want to spend the summer studying but can’t find affordable housing. Maybe you want to serve in Eastern Europe as a pharmacist. Maybe you dream of being a roadie for that new band at Coachella. Or perhaps you just want to live in a more diverse neighborhood. Or it could be a new ministry role, or for a best friend, or increased self-control. Now is the time to ask for what’s missing. Without shame. Ask God. Ask everyone. Get off the conveyor belt.

4. Hold your horses

Sometimes the right decision is no decision. Sometimes you wait without any new options. These seasons can feel even more painful than trying to make a decision, because in waiting you have so little power over your destiny. Whether you’re lingering in the unknowing until you pay off debts, graduate, find a new couch, finish your lease or have a baby, learn to relish the present. Practice patience. Yes, sometimes days and months drag on like a long frozen winter, but when summer comes and things start growing and chirping again, you’ll look back and see how this slow season shaped you. Make sure it shapes you for the better.

5. Now: stop worrying

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When you’ve done most or all of the above and nobody has noticed some big disobedience in one direction or another (say, financing your education by selling meth or working at a roadside porn emporium), stop the humming of your worry muscles and relax. Trust. You’ll be OK. God isn’t lurking around the corner waiting to smoosh your life into misery if you accidentally pick option A over option B.

St. Augustine put it simply: “Love God and do as you please.” Make your decisions with God-given sense, with an honest goal to pursue Him and “commit to the Lord whatever you do and your plans will succeed” (Proverbs 16:3). God’s in the business of redeeming even our worst choices, and every highway has off-ramps to other choices.

If there’s one thing you can know, it’s that there will always be more choices. Trust that God will honor your efforts … and then go make some choices.

For more tips on making your way through life's transitions, check out this full article in the July/August 2011 issue of RELEVANT magazine.



John commented…

Thank you so much for this article! It makes me feel like I am doing something right. Having just graduated, I definitely feel in the number 4, and waiting has allowed God to really just open my life to show me the things in my life that i just tend to ignore and want to hide in the back corner. And through this time God has really brought them out for me to deal with, and it's such a freeing experience in itself even though it is painful to not really know where I'm supposed to go in life. And it's in that process the rest of the topics also really help.


Youlovechad commented…

Maaaaan! Thanks for this one guys. I can't tell you how much I've held myself back from things I realized I should have pursued. (In hind-sight) All because I was waiting for that neon sign in the sky from God, and He was probably saying 'Just move forward, and I'll guide you'. We want so badly to be in His will. We want, so badly, not to mess up. It can be paralyzing when you don't know what to do, or how to go about knowing His will. This really helped me. I can feel ok with waiting, or just moving forward and allowing God tomaneuver me, like a ship rudder. He just wants us to use the smarts & wisdom that He gives us and step out in faith sometimes. Even if that means we 'hurry up to wait' in some situations. Great article guys.


Jeff Dolan commented…

Remember, every decision is a spiritual decision. And even if we do not make a "right" decision, God can turn it into something good if we continue to seek Him.



jAbreedlove commented…

I agree that life is like aconveyorbelt just pulling us along and that sometimes we need to assess where we are. Actually, we should continually assess where we are. However,(this goes with the 4th one as well) I have a difficult time "waiting". I don't mean being patient. I mean waiting. The church preaches be patient and wait on God. Yet there is a very real difference between the two. Waiting implies a stoppage or removal from something. While patience is more like we are not stopping but moving from place to place. If I am on a train and ready to get to the next station I need to be patient. If I am at the stop waiting for the train than I have not gotten on yet. Sometimes we get off the train before it arrives or we miss the train by waiting and have to try to jump on while it is moving.

This especially true of relationships. I am 24 and single. Most of my friends are married and some have children or they are on the way. Sometimes I want that, but sometimes I know I do not want it just yet. On the other end, I have friends that are depressed and down because they feel like they have missed the train or are lonely because they want someone in their life.

I took the stance at one point that I would wait on God. As have many of the people I know. However, I learned that my waiting was not God at all. Instead, it was me being to scared of what may happen if I broke out of the my shell. I am happy where I am but also know I will be happy when I meet the right person. I am patiently waiting for my wife and have abandoned trying to time out the next 50 years of my life, but I am actively pursuing life and trying to take advantage of the opportunities I am given.

Stopping to smell the roses is not a good idea. Take the roses with you instead.


jamewatson commented…

This is a nice post and the 5 suggestions are really amazing. Some times its too difficult to take a right decision but I think this is a very useful keys for everyone. This is really wonderful post.
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