For my eighteenth birthday, my mom gave me a card that read, “I used to live each day as though it were my last. But people got tired of hearing me scream, ‘I’M GONNA DIE!!! I’M GONNA DIE!!!’ Hope your birthday’s a scream.” Funnily enough, that pretty much described the stress I was just beginning to feel as I reached the big 1-8. I was sad and scared and anxious because I suddenly realized that I wasn’t going to be in high school the next year and I was the one in charge of figuring out what I would be doing instead. And this role…
Freaked. Me. Out.
I didn’t know what God’s will was and I was scared of making a decision. Actually, for years, asking about God’s will made me want to curl up in the fetal position and eat refined sugar. What if I did the wrong thing? How was I supposed to know what the right thing was? How could I move forward when I didn’t see things coming together? What if I was just doing what I wanted to do and not actually doing God’s will and I was going to lose my salvation because I was self-deceived and didn’t even know it? (Taking things to an extreme is my spiritual gift.) I needed to know God’s will, but the possibility of making the wrong choice caused emotional hemorrhaging.
…asking about God’s will made me want to curl up in the fetal position and eat refined sugar.
Aside from figuring out if we want to accept Jesus, whom to marry, and whether or not pineapple belongs on pizza, wondering what God’s will is, is probably the biggest question we all deal with. Whether you’re a high school graduate figuring out your next step or a couple deciding where you should move or an empty-nester looking for wise ways to invest your time, it’s a question that never really goes away.
Maybe you’re not as maladjusted as I am when it comes to decision making. If so, that’s awesome. Go read another blog. But if you’re one of those people who has an identity crisis when they’re asked to pick a restaurant to eat at, you know it’s a struggle to make choices in our lives and have peace about them.
King David spent his life herding sheep, fighting battles, living as an outlaw, ruling a nation, and writing poems about his murderous thoughts and traumas. He had to ask for God’s guidance a lot. As my own struggle to understand God’s will has evolved, I’ve come to treasure a specific passage he wrote in Psalm 32:
“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will guide you with My eye. Do not be like the horse or like the mule, which have no understanding, which must be harnessed with bit and bridle, else they will not come near you” (Psalm 32:8-9).
If you regularly read the Bible, it’s not unlikely that you’ve come across Psalm 32:8 before. It’s a fairly popular verse, and for obvious reason: there’s a lot of certainty in it, and when we’re trying to make a decision, that’s often what we want. However, most of us stop there when looking for guidance. When I came across verse 9 though, it opened up some new, incredibly valuable angles on the way God wants me to relate to following His will. So, though this list is by no means exhaustive, here are three points from Psalm 32:9 to consider when you need to make a decision but you’re scared of making the wrong choice.
1. God gave you a brain to use.
…Which have no understanding…
When we need to make a decision, God promises to give us promptings as to what His will is (verse 8). But He also gave us reasoning powers that set us apart from every other creature on earth and it’s not always wrong to use those gifts to make decisions. When I read verse 9, I hear God saying, You’re not like the animals when it comes to decision making. I will guide you, but I also want you to use the mind I gave you.
So, what does that mean exactly? If you struggle with over-analyzing, you might be wondering, how have I not been using my mind? I’m constantly trying to figure out the right thing to do!
Well, often when we talk about decision making, there’s so much emphasis on how sinful our hearts, minds, and desires are that we become scared to use them at all. One of the ways we deal with this fear is by over-spiritualizing the decision-making process. We start reading into the minute happenstances of our lives and looking for signs in everything around us. If we can find some sort of spiritual omen off of which to base our decisions, we can offload the responsibility for a choice (and the potential for it to go wrong) from our own shoulders and onto God’s.
…often when we talk about decision making, there’s so much emphasis on how sinful our hearts, minds, and desires are that we become scared to use them at all.
But Psalm 32:9 is saying God doesn’t want this to happen. He gave us free will as a gift and wants us to use it. He wants me to surrender to Him, of course, but that is so He can get me to the point where I’m choosing what’s good and right and true on my own, just like Adam and Eve did before sin.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not always bad to ask for a sign, but the reality is that often signs and impressions are quite subjective experiences and can be interpreted many ways. You’re praying about a decision and you see a shooting star. Maybe it was a sign from God. Or maybe it was just a small, rapidly moving meteor that burned up as it entered earth’s atmosphere. You got goosebumps when someone approached you about a potential ministry opportunity. It might be a sign from God. Or it might mean you should get a jacket.
The principles in God’s Word, though, are constant and don’t change at all. And there’s nothing un-spiritual or unholy about using our surrendered hearts and minds and desires to make a decision. More important than having crazy stories of spiritual omens and supernatural events is having a heart and mind that are supernaturally in love with Jesus and His desire to help us freely make choices based off love and not fear. Yeah, maybe it doesn’t feel as fancy or magical, but we’re not called to be fancy or magical. We’re called to live in God’s love, plain and simple, and sometimes that means just using our God-given brains.
2. God may not give you all the details.
…Which must be harnessed with bit and bridle…
Another thing to consider when you have to make a decision but you’re scared is realizing that God may not make all the details perfectly clear. Horses wear bridles and are told exactly what to do every step of the way, but apparently, according to Psalm 32:9, God doesn’t want to give us a play-by-play of how we’re supposed to live our lives. Why? Well, because maybe He doesn’t care in quite the way we think He does. Not that He’s not interested in every detail of our lives. He is. After all, we’re talking about the God who sees every sparrow that hits a windshield and has a count on every hair you lost in the shower this morning.
…maybe He simply likes to see us choosing things that make us happy.
But could we ever be in a situation where there is more than one option that is within His will, and so He’s letting us figure out the details? Or could it be that the figuring out process will help us grow? Or maybe He simply likes to see us choosing things that make us happy. Or maybe any of the options we’re facing will be equally as effective in helping us become the people He wants us to be. Or all of the above. Again, God created us as individuals with choice, and what would be the point of this gift if He literally wanted us to follow an exact script for our lives? We would simply be mirrors of His every thought and free will would be a divine joke.
It’s true that sometimes there is only one right option. God spelled things out pretty clearly for Israel most of the time. But there were other key Bible characters who had to wrestle and make choices and deal with the unknown, like Ruth, Jacob, and Abraham.
If God isn’t giving you all the details you want, don’t assume this means you’re an unsaved reprobate who’s committed the unpardonable sin. It may just mean that God likes you, He’s with you, and He wants you to figure it out.
3. God doesn’t want you to stay stuck.
OK, this last one isn’t technically in Psalm 32, but I still think it’s true nonetheless.
I’ve found that one of the biggest things I need to remember when I’m scared of making a wrong choice is that God loves me. And true love takes away fear (see 1 John 4:18). So if I make a choice that turns out to be bad, it doesn’t mean that I’m bad or that God is going to abandon me. It just means it was a mistake and I can move on. In her book The Best Yes, Lysa Terkeurst put it this way: “If you desire to please God with the decision you make and afterward it proves to be a mistake, it’s an error not an end.”1
So then, if God loves us and we love Him and want to serve Him and we’re surrendering our hearts, then we are free to explore and experiment and figure things out. Within God’s will, there are infinite beautiful possibilities, and the worst thing we could do would be to stay stuck in the same place forever because we were too afraid of making the wrong choice.
Within God’s will, there are infinite beautiful possibilities, and the worst thing we could do would be to stay stuck in the same place forever because we were too afraid of making the wrong choice.
In the book Gospel Workers, Ellen White writes about decision making:
Long delays tire the angels. It is even more excusable to make a wrong decision sometimes than to be continually in a wavering position; to be hesitating, sometimes inclined in one direction, then in another. More perplexity and wretchedness result from thus hesitating and doubting than from sometimes moving too hastily.2
How does that work? Well, as a friend of mine once told me, you can’t steer a parked car. I think it’s easier for God to work with good motives and our poor actions than to work with our bad motives and actions that have the appearance of piety. Simply put, sometimes it’s easier to fix wrong choices than a wrong heart. So focus on your heart and know you’re loved by God and how beautiful His will and ways always are. Then keep moving! He loves you and if you fail and make mistakes (and you will), you’re by no means abandoned. You might not feel absolute certainty that you’re doing the right thing and nothing will go wrong, but you can be certain of God’s goodness and His love, and that’s enough.
- Lysa Teurkerst, The Best Yes, Nashville, TN, 2014, p. 79.
- Ellen G. White, Gospel Workers, Washington D.C., 1915, p. 133.4.