Most of us want to make good decisions in life. Most of us want our lives to reflect the life and plans God has for us. Most of us also struggle to figure out that Divine Direction. Making decisions that we feel are truly in line with God’s will is not easy, in fact, making decisions period is not easy. We mentioned 2 weeks ago how Decision Fatigue is a problem for us. Because we have so many good options in front of us today, at times it is hard to make any decision at all. We also struggle to make decisions because we don’t want to make the wrong decision because we fear that wrong decision will derail our lives. All around us we see people that we assume are living perfect lives, at least they are better than ours, and so we begin to think that perfection is attainable, if we will just make the right decisions, and move in the right direction. This is called The Illusion of Perfection and this also makes it hard for us to make any decision at all.
Studies have also identified another problem that the emerging generation has when it comes to making decisions, the problem is that they have spent their childhood not having to make any decisions. We have raised and continue to raise children that are Over-programmed and Over-scheduled, so they have not had to make a lot of decisions; they simply do what they are told. We make play-dates for our kids where they are told where and when and who they will play with. When I was growing up, my parents just said, “Go outside and play.” I wasn’t told who to play with, where to go, or what to do, I had to figure that out on my own.
So I would go see if any my friends were available, and then we had to figure out what to do. We had to look at all our options, and make some decisions. Now I was really blessed to grow up along the beach in CT, so we had lots of choices, especially in the summer. We could play games like Torpedo, or Kick the Can, but we could also go swimming, take out our raft, go crabbing off the dock, or fishing off the rocks. We created our own games, usually based on TV shows, like Lost in Space and Hogan’s Heroes. We could feed the ducks, build sand castles, create forts on the beach, or on our neighbor’s upstairs balcony, or we could visit the older woman who lived down the street who always gave us chocolate covered peanuts. (We did that a lot!)
But, here’s the thing; we had to decide. We had to make the decisions, work out the plans, and follow through with them – good or bad. Today we don’t and sometimes can’t just send our kids out to play, so we scheduled them for sports, and music, and dance, and yes, play. When we program their lives, they don’t have to make decisions, which means they are not learning how to make decisions, so making decisions as they get older becomes a challenge.
The emerging generation also struggles with decision making when it comes to their careers. Please understand, this is not an attack on any one generation, it is information from studies that help us all understand why we have such a difficult time making decisions. My parent’s generation grew up in the days after the depression, and that generation was told to get an education, if you could, and get a job, and they did. Many people stayed in that job for 50+ years and whether they liked the job or not, they would not have thought of changing jobs or careers. My generation comes along and we are told to get an education, and chose a career that we will enjoy. We do, but we begin to get dissatisfied with work, so we often shift careers in order to explore new pathways in life.
What the emerging generation has been told, and what they have embraced, is to first and foremost do what they love to do, then make a difference in the world, and also make a lot of money. They have also been told that they can have it all. Since very few opportunities allow us to really do all three, people fear making any decision because they don’t want to compromise, and they don’t want to make the wrong decision and settle for less. This goes back to that Illusion of Perfection, there are very, very few jobs where you do what you love, make a lasting difference in the world, and make a lot of money, but many people are holding out… while living in their parents basement.
Decision making is hard, but we are looking at how to make good decisions that we can trust are in line with God’s will, and today I want to share with you a process for decision making that can truly lead us in a Divine Direction. The process comes from the life of the Apostle Paul, and can be found in Acts 20. Paul is in Ephesus, a city that he loves, and working with people that he loves. Together they have done amazing work in Ephesus, and Paul is happy where he is, but Paul is sharing with the church leaders the decision he has made to move. Acts 20:22-24
Paul shares here four steps in the decision making process when it comes to following God’s divine direction. The first step is The Spirit’s Prompting. While Paul loved where he was and would have stayed there to keep doing good work, he was compelled by the Spirit to go somewhere else. Another translation said that Paul, as a captive to the spirit, was going to go to Jerusalem. Captive implies being held against our will, but Paul was willingly held captive by the spirit. The Greek word here implies being bound, or wrapped up by the spirit, and led in the direction the spirit wants us to go. While we might be happy where we are, we feel a sudden, compelling feeling that God has something else for us.
When my Grandmother had a stroke, I suddenly felt compelled to do something more with my life. I liked my job, I had good friends, an apartment that I really liked and was dirt cheap, and things were going well, but I could not get away from the sense that God wanted something more for me, and that God wanted something more from me. At the same time, the movie Dead Poets Society was released and the spirit of God used this scene to compel me to make a decision. Video Clip
My Grandmother was the one who had been so active, strong, vital and invincible, but in a blink of an eye, her life changed through a stroke. She was the one calling out to me, Seize the Day. God was compelling me to move in a new direction, to make something extraordinary of my life, and I made a decision to move in a new direction, a road that led me into ministry.
In ministry, there have been profound moments of the Spirit of God compelling me to make a decision. After a conversation with the leader of a UMC in Altoona that was dying, I was compelled to immediately write a letter to that congregation inviting them to join us. That moment led to a church merger that gave new life, and a new spirit, to what God was doing in us and in the city.
11 years ago I got a phone call asking me to consider moving to a new church, the problem was that like Paul, I loved where I was. I loved my life and ministry in Lewisburg. I loved the people, the ministry, the outreach, my friends, my home, and I didn’t want to leave, but unlike any other time in my life, I felt the Spirit prompting me to move in a new direction. With great pain and difficulty, I moved – and have never regretted the decision because it was God’s will that was compelling me to move.
It is not always life changing decisions that God compels us to make, sometimes the decisions God wants us to make are smaller. We feel prompted to reach out to a neighbor, call an old friend, or help out in the community. Maybe you are feeling prompted today to gather your friends or coworkers together to assemble a flood bucket, or step out in faith to donate money to purchase one. Maybe you are feeling compelled by God to go on a mission trip and take some time to actually serve those in need. Or maybe it is to serve right here and walk in the Crop Walk to help feed those who are hungry around the world.
The steps don’t have to be huge, they just have to be faithful to what God is prompting us to do, how the spirit of God is calling us to move. As we consider making this decision, we need to understand that the second step in the process is Certain Uncertainty. Acts 20:22. Paul did not know what was going to happen to him in Jerusalem, all he knew was that God wanted him to go. While we want all the details ironed out in life, God doesn’t always give us the details ahead of time, which is a good thing, because if we knew all that was going to happen, we might not make the decision to go.
When I started college at MSU, if I had known how hard those first few months would have been, I probably wouldn’t have gone, but I went, and I had to make many difficult decisions, but looking back, I would not have traded that experience for anything in the world. While there is always uncertainty that we face, there is something we can be certain of: God will be with us!
God will not only go with us, God will instruct us and guide us, this is what we heard last week in Psalm 32:8. God wants to guide us, God wants to give us counsel and direction, we just need to trust God to do that, and move forward. God’s direction and counsel, however, does not reveal to us the entire plan, sometimes it just shows us the next step. Psalm 119:105 says, God’s word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. God doesn’t light up the entire journey, and shine a spotlight into the future, sometimes God simply shines enough light to help us take the next step.
It’s kind of like following Cairns in the fog on the top of a mountain. (picture). We simple walk as far as we can see, and trust that God will lead us to where we need to be. What this tells us is that the only real plan we need to move forward is to be faithful with what God asks of us today. We may not have the plans for the next 5 years of our life, but we don’t have to have that, we just need to be faithful in living today. While uncertainty is certain, we have enough certainty in God to take the next step.
Which leads us to Predictable Resistance. As we move forward with God’s plans, there will be resistance. Acts 20:23. Paul knew that hardships were facing him. Paul knew that prison was waiting for him, there was going to be resistance, but he moved forward in faith. Doing anything significant in life comes with resistance, the problem we have is that too often we see resistance as God telling us to stop because God is not in this. Too often we buy into the idea that if we are in God’s will, and moving in God’s direction, then everything will be easy. Tell that to Moses. He led the people out of Egypt, God was giving them the victory over Egypt and then what happened? They hit the Red Sea and Pharaoh’s army was approaching fast. This was not going as planned, but Moses didn’t give up; he faithfully took the next step, lifted his staff and watched the Red Sea part.
Then there was Joshua who led the people into the Promised Land, the first thing they came up against was the fortified city of Jericho. This was not going as planned, the land was not just there for the taking, but instead of giving up, or turning back, the people were faithful to God, marched around the city 7 times and watched the walls come down. Then there was Jesus. He was the perfect Son of God, doing the perfect will of God, and he met resistance at every step, eventually being crucified for doing God’s will. We have to get away from this idea that if we are in God’s will, everything will work out the way we want it to, many times when we are doing God’s will we are going to meet resistance and we need to be ready for it.
Then the last step in this process of making faithful decisions and moving in God’s divine direction is to claim an Uncommon Confidence. Acts 20:24. Paul had confidence that what was taking place in his life was from God. This was God’s plan, God’s course for his life, and Paul was so confident of this that he was going to see it through to the end. For Paul, this confidence came after years of walking with Jesus. With each step of faith, and finding God trustworthy all along the way, Paul had an uncommon confidence in Jesus that allowed him to follow the Spirit’s prompting.
So do you see the process here, and how it feeds back into itself? We feel prompted by the Spirit, and while we know there is some uncertainty ahead, we move forward and face any resistance. As we find God trustworthy it gives us an uncommon confidence to move forward, so when the Spirit prompts us to keep going, we keep going. And as we trust this process, we find that the decisions we make are the ones God wants for us. All along the way we gain more confidence to make faithful decisions and all of this moves us in a Divine Direction.
Where are you feeling the Spirit’s prompting today? What uncertainty are you struggling with? What resistance or fear are you experiencing? But more importantly, where do you see God walking with you, calling you to go deeper, and calling you to take the next step? God’s divine direction is a process and we need to trust this process in order to truly walk in God’s will.
Trust the Process
1. Create time and space in your life, and the life of your family, to go outside and play.
- Share your experience with others.
2. When have you felt prompted by God to do something?
- Did you do it? How did it turn out?
- Did you ignore it? Why?
3. Name one thing you feel God prompting you to do now?
- Share this situation with one person this week.
4. Read Acts 20:22-24.
- Did Paul have all the details he needed for this change?
- How do you feel when you don’t have all the details you want, but still have to make a decision?
5. How can God’s word be a lamp to your feet and a light to your path this week?
- What is the next decision you need God to help you make?
- How can God’s word help?
6. When have you faced resistance to a decision you made?
- Did that make you feel like you were doing God’s will or going against God’s will?
- How can the stories of Moses, Joshua, and Jesus help you keep going in the face of resistance?
7. Identify how God is present in your life today.
- How can this knowledge give you confidence to take the next step in your life and faith?
8. What step, in the process that has been outlined, is the most difficult for you to embrace: The Spirit’s Prompting, Uncertainty, Resistance, or Confidence in God?
- Ask God to help you overcome your fears so you can trust the process.