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MAKING EFFECTIVE DECISIONS

Guidelines to help you make effective decisions

1997 William R. Cunningham

 

PURPOSE

The purpose of this study is to provide you with information that I believe will help you make more effective decisions. I am not trying to present a formula for making good decisions because what is called good is relative and no two decisions involve exactly the same circumstances. Therefore, I am presenting my knowledge of making effective decisions..

I define an effective decision as a decision that is made and produces the desired or most effective result. What we perceive as good, therefore may not point to the most effective decision. Let me talk about this a little bit.

What Is Good?

I want to distinguish a good decision from an effective decision. "A good decision satisfies and an effective decision produces." We are prone to make a decision that will satisfy our desire to have something good or to do something that is good. On another note, we are prone to make a decision that will be good for us. However, what we perceive as good for us may indeed be bad for us or at the very least not in accordance with God’s plan. Good is relative to our emotions and perception. Our concept of good is very faulty and will not stand up to the will of God. Jesus said "There is only One who is good." in Matthew 19:17. All that is good is of God. No one can determine what is good and what is not on an absolute sense. Consider the following scenario.

Suppose we see an animal that is suffering to the point that you know it is going to die? A common answer is to put the animal out of it’s misery. That would be good for the animal because we would relieve it of its suffering because of our mercy. Killing the animal looks cruel on the surface but we have justified it by our concept of what is good for the animal. Consider also a person who we consider to be a good person. What makes that person good? They are a nice person, they don’t hurt anyone, they are kind, etc. These things are only superficial however and cannot be used to determine what is good. I would dare say that the trials and pains that we go through in life are sometimes ordained by God for our good. That doesn’t mean that God is going around harming people but that sometimes our pains, associated with trials, tribulations, and the situations of life, will in effect produce good in us or for us.

Now if we apply the above principle to decisions we see right away that we cannot depend on our concept of what is good for us. We are forced to look to God for assistance. We aren’t looking for God to tell us what to do all of the time as some do. We are looking to God for wisdom (discernment), knowledge, information, insight, etc. so that we can use the Spirit trained mind (see Romans 12:2) that we have to make the most effective decision. We see in yet another life situation where we have to learn to trust God. We also see that we are not alone and that God is for us in all aspects of our life. Consider the following scripture.

(Romans 8:28 NIV) And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

(Proverbs 3:5-6 NIV) Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; {6} in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.

The concept of "the good" must be referenced to God’s realm else we will move into things that we think are good. God’s omniscience and omnipresence transcends anything that we can bring to the table in an effort to do what is good—including making good decisions. Leaning on our understanding should be understood in light of the fact of excluding God from normal everyday decisions and activities. Consider that your life and where you go is a result of the decisions that you make. How important do you think it is to get God involved in those decisions thus your life!

The Basics

There are some basic items that we need to do and have in order to make effective decisions. Foremost we need information. Though information is very important in the decision making process, there are many other factors that are needed. Let me list the items that I believe we need to make effective decisions.

Information – How much do you know about the things involved? The more information you have about the options the more effective decision you can make. Without sufficient information, your decision may be based on emotions or the influences of others. For example, if you are trying to decide whether to purchase a Honda Accord or a Volvo Station wagon, then you need to know as much about both vehicles as possible. Only then will you be able to make an effective decision.

Proper priorities – Establish proper priorities relative to the situation at hand. What may be a major decision may not be necessary because the situation and its outcome may have a very low priority relative to other things that are going on in your life. Of course, establishing proper priorities is a job in itself and no one can do this except you.

Proper perspective (The overall picture) – It is very beneficial that you obtain a bird’s eye view of the entire situation. Otherwise, something that may seem extremely significant may not be significant at all relative to the entire scope of things in your life or the situation itself. Also, what may seem a minor decision may in fact be a major decision relative to the overall situation. Don’t focus on the immediate. Try to see the situation as a whole.

An awareness and sensitivity to the Holy Spirit – We must be aware of the Holy Spirit operating in our life. We have to consider him when we view the information, make our priorities, and view the entire situation. If we do not consider the Holy Spirit then we are left with the activity of leaning on our own understanding and abilities. Awareness of the Spirit of God is crucial to making effective decisions.

Biblical principles relevant to the situation at hand – It will be most helpful in many situations if we are aware of a Biblical principle relating to the situation at hand. Knowing what the word of God teaches about a situation will remove much of the pressure and stress to decide one way or another.

Resources – Resources provide information. Use as many resources as you can or deem necessary to obtain insight, proper perspective, and information concerning your situation. One of your greatest resource is other people. People will help you by providing various insights and perspectives of a situation which in turn will help your perspective of the whole.

Awareness of your own convictions, desires, and affections – This is very important to making an effective decision. You may end up making a decision based on the influences of others (external things in general) instead of being influenced by your own convictions if you don’t consider what you want. Know what you want and where you want to go so that you avoid going where others think you should go or do what they think you should do.

The Basic Process

The way to make an effective decision is simply to weigh the facts and information including the things that we listed above. Your convictions, affections, priorities, and the prompting of the Holy Spirit will guide you to the decision that needs to be made.  The basic process is to weigh the information and generate a decision based on the outcome of processing the information you have.  What is important here is having quality information and resources as well as having as sound a mind as possible in order to process the information that you have gathered.  Let's look at the processing stage a little closer.

Using Your Mind

Some Christians may feel that they have to hear a word from God in order to inform them of which choice to select in the overall decision making process. God did not create you with a mind to think and not intend for you to use it. We do have to think in order to make a decision else we are not really deciding. However, what is involved with our thinking is the real question. The Holy Spirit is just as active in our thinking process as he is in all areas of our life. Therefore, do not think that thinking implies a neglect of hearing the voice of God. Thinking is only using the God given process that you have.

No Formulas

Let me say here that there are no formulas that you can use to make a decision. All people are different and all situations are different. That is why we have to rely on a process that incorporates Godly principles and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Also, if there were formulas then the decision process would be negated and our path would be predetermined. However, since we do have free will and therefore a choice, the decision making process is a real process that must be activated by us.

Influence

We have to be on guard against influences. It is very possible to begin to move in the direction of influence from others instead of making an objective decision based on simple information. For example, we may tend to move in one direction in the decision making process because of the biased comments of someone. Try to ignore or put aside any opinions of others. Only accept facts from people and not their pains, expectations, etc. Try not to be influenced by someone when you are trying to obtain information.

You do not want to be influenced. Just be careful what influences you and how. You definitely want to be influenced by the Holy Spirit and the word of God. Furthermore, your own convictions and desires will influence you as well. Also realize that the people closest to you have a greater opportunity to influence you the most (Ex. Wife, co-worker).

GET HELP

Read Exodus 18:12-27. The point that I want to bring out here is that Moses was making many decisions that he did not have to make thus wearing himself down. There may be many times when we feel that we have to make a decision alone. However, sometimes it would be most helpful if we either got help from someone or if we can delegate the decision making process to someone else whom we trust.

Therefore, try asking yourself the following questions when you are confronted with a situation that seems to demand a decision.

  • Do I have to make this decision, that is, is a decision necessary?
  • Can someone help me in the decision making process?
  • Can I delegate?

Never feel that you have to do everything yourself. We are tempted to think this way because we want things to go a certain way—our way. However, sometimes it is more effective and efficient to get help or even to delegate the decision to someone else if that is applicable.

Advisors

The President of the United States have advisors to help him make decisions. Company officials also have a similar advisory board structure. This results in the load of making the decisions being spread out over different people providing different insights, perspectives, and experiences.

Do you have an advisor or advisors. Your advisor may not be the same for all situations. However, it is good to know who your resources are. Who can you talk to about certain thing. Your goal for the most part is not to turn the decision over to them but to acquire information that will help you ease your decision making process. It is also easier on your mind.

Time Frame

What is the time frame for your decision? Do you have to make a decision now, tomorrow, next week, or next month? Knowing how much time you have to make a decision can make the process a lot easier on you if you find that you have plenty of time that can be used for research. However, if you don’t have much time then be content to do what you can. No one can logically expect you to be the bionic brain. You need information to make a decision and limited time means limited information.

Judge by Senses?

Consider the decision making process that we have discussed so far. It involved the acquisition of information, the processing of that information, and then a decision based on the process. Notice, in an absolute sense, there seems to be no provision for God to intervene in the process. However, that is not true. There are plenty of places for God to intervene in the decision making process if we include more than the senses that we have, the knowledge, and abilities that we have. Consider the following scripture.

(Isaiah 11:1-3 NIV) "A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. {2} The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him-- the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD-- {3} and he will delight in the fear of the LORD. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears;"

This scripture is a prophecy concerning Jesus Christ. However, I want to point out something that this scripture reveals. It reveals a decision making process that is not dependent on what is seen with the eyes or heard with the ears. In a general sense, we can say that this decision making process is not dependent on the physical senses. What then is the bases of this process? These scriptures reveals the answer to this question. It says that The "Spirit of the LORD will rest on him-- the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD."

 

The Component of the Spirit of God

I would like to propose that the Christian has another information source and processing basis then the senses and facts. The scripture above says that the Spirit of the LORD would rest upon him (Jesus). We have this same Spirit IN us to guide us to all truth.

(1 John 2:20 NIV) "But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth."

(John 16:13 NIV) "But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come."

What the Christian has is the Spirit of God. We are taught to live by that Spirit. This means that we have to incorporate the Spirit of God in our decision making process since it is one of the most important aspects of our lives. We don’t have to judge by what we see, hear, understand, or the plain facts. We can judge rightly by listening to what the Spirit of God says. I don’t believe that the Holy Spirit tells us the answer to every decision that we face because that would negate the necessity for knowledge, understanding, and wisdom which the Bible teaches much about. We should incorporate the knowledge and insight of the Holy Spirit in our lives since He lives in us (Christians).

The Divisions of the Spirit of God

This particular passage of scripture (Isaiah 11:1-3) has been for a long time disputed. Some believe that this passage lists the spiritual components of the Spirit of God. Others believe that there is another component which is the Spirit of The Lord itself. However, I simply believe that the following passage simply is a list of components of God’s Spirit and are not necessarily all of the components. The emphasis in this scripture appears to be judgment and these attributes seem to center around that point. What does this prophecy say that Jesus will have—having the Spirit of God?

  • The Spirit of wisdom

  • The Spirit of understanding

  • The Spirit of counsel

  • The Spirit of power

  • The Spirit of knowledge

  • The Spirit of the fear (reverence) of the LORD

Jesus was anointed with the Spirit of God and so are we (Christians). Therefore, we can rely on the Spirit of God to guide us to truth. We can rely on the Spirit of God to direct our lives (paths) via the decisions that we make.

Consider that we do not have sufficient wisdom, understanding, counsel, power, knowledge, and fear of the Lord to affect anything. For example, the Bible says,

(Isaiah 64:6 NIV) "All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away."

(John 15:5 NIV) ""I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing."

Therefore, the wisdom, knowledge, understanding, etc. that are referred to above are from the Spirit and is nothing that we have of our own. It would seem appropriate to say that we can judge effectively or even rightly because of the Spirit of God within us. It therefore becomes important that we do all we can to get into agreement with the Spirit of God and be guided by the Spirit.

Discernment From God

(1 Kings 3:9 NIV) "So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?""

(1 Kings 3:12 NIV) "I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be."

This is consistent with what James said about wisdom.

(James 1:5 NIV) "If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him."

(James 3:17 NIV) "But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere."

(Proverbs 2:6 NIV) "For the LORD gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding."

See also Psalm 119:124, 1 Chronicles 22:12, and 2   Chronicles 1:10.

The point here is that the ability (or power) to discern rightfully comes from God. We have no wisdom of our own. We must rely on God for proper judgment or discernment. Therefore, if you need to make a decision then trust God who has all wisdom and knowledge.

The Wisdom Of God

James gives us some insight into the wisdom that comes from God.

(James 3:17 NIV) "But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere."

The wisdom of God is undefiled (pure) in that it contains nothing contrary to the nature of God or His word. The wisdom of God is geared toward peace (order, calmness). That is, the wisdom of God will not produce or feed strife or discord. The wisdom of God is also considerate (gentle, submissive). That is, it is not harsh and insensitive to you or the needs of others. It is not a cold law that produces a desired result no matter what. The wisdom of God is full of mercy and it produces good fruit in the end. It is also non-biased and sincere for the desired outcome from God.

Keys to Discretion

Solomon gives us a key for wisdom and understanding. This Godly divine writing is a key to us obtaining wisdom and understanding from God. See Proverbs 1:1-6 for the statement. I strongly recommend that you read the entire book of Proverbs for words of wisdom, insight, and knowledge.

Proverbs 9:10 also tells us that the reverence of God is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge of him is understanding. This is very important because it places the essence of wisdom and understanding on God. The knowledge of God is not solely based on facts or a familiarity with Him. The knowledge of God involves a personal experience of God. Knowing God is to experience him intimately to the point where He is the primary influence in your life. Knowing God is to be connected to Him. Solomon also stated:

(Proverbs 15:33 NIV) "The fear of the LORD teaches a man wisdom, and humility comes before honor."

There are two principles revealed in this verse. The first is that the reverence (fear) of God leads us to wisdom. Also we see that humility precedes honor. We must practice humility in order to be honored by God or man.

Proverbs 11:2 teach us that humility is also important in the acquisition of wisdom. Humility in this verse references submission to God or man (those who are wise and upright). See also James 3:13

Solomon informs us, by inspiration of God (See 2 Timothy 3:16,17), that discipline is important in obtaining the knowledge that comes from God.

(Proverbs 12:1 NIV) "Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates correction is stupid."

The word discipline here refers to training by word or deed according to the Ryrie Study Bible Commentary.

Wisdom is Available

Wisdom is not hidden for a specific few. See Proverbs 1:20, 8:1. We all have access to the wisdom of God. All we have to do is seek for it and we will obtain it. See also Proverbs 2:1-12. Wisdom is of great benefit to the one who has it and, as I said previously, it is available to all.

The Value of Wisdom

What is the real value of wisdom to us?

(Proverbs 3:13-15 NIV) "Blessed is the man who finds wisdom, the man who gains understanding, {14} for she is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold. {15} She is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her."

We must reckon the wisdom of God to be crucial and necessary for our lives else we will not really seek to obtain it. We will instead be content with the natural wisdom that we obtain from experience and procedural decision making alone.

Note also that Solomon states that the person who finds wisdom is blessed. They are blessed because of the impact that Godly wisdom will have on their lives. Gaining understanding is also important in addition to wisdom. Again I recommend that you read the entire book of Proverbs to obtain a more detailed view of wisdom and its impact on our lives.

Summary

We have seen that in order to make effective decisions we need the interaction with the Holy Spirit. That is, we need the wisdom of God to be active and operating in our lives. This involves knowing God and reverencing him. The first step to making an effective decision and to be in line with God’s will is to allow God to lead you by His Spirit.

There are two major components in making effective decisions: 1) Using your mind as a medium for God to guide and 2) The acknowledgment (awareness to the point of influence) of God. Don’t be fearful of the outcome. Allow yourself to make an objective decision based on the facts and the Holy Spirit’s guidance. Then you can have confidence, regardless of the consequences of the decision, that you made the "right" decision according to the purposes of God. However, be aware that sometimes we may miss the mark.

Evaluate your path once you have made the decision. This will help you catch mistakes if you make them (and you most likely will). No decision is totally conclusive. There is always room to go back and evaluate the path that we chose. If we find that the path is not the correct path then simply change paths! Sometimes the information we need is not available until we make a decision and begin a journey down a path.

More Aspects of Effective Decision Making

Let me list some things that I think are also important in making effective decisions.

Prayer

It is very important to pray. Prayer affords you the opportunity to seek the voice of God for guidance or perhaps specific instructions. I don’t believe that God will spoon feed you on every decision that you have to make. That is, God won’t tell you what to do all of the time. God will speak to you and guide you but ultimately the decision will be yours. Prayer opens the door for God to get involved with your decision making process. Prayer can give you peace of mind as you begin to realize that God, your heavenly Father, is involved with your life and he will help you (See Philippians 4:6-7).

Patience

Hastiness can lead to very "bad" decisions. Obtaining a bird’s eye view of the situation and your time limitations will help you from being hasty. Don’t allow perceived emergencies cause you to disrupt the decision making process. Learn to decide according to the situation. If you need to make a quick decision then remember the process (the process doesn’t change). Know as much as you can and get God involved are the two integral parts of the process. The Holy Spirit will help you and guide you even if you need a decision now.

Wait on The Lord?

Should we wait to hear what God wants us to do? Not necessarily. Sometimes you will not have the slightest clue as to what to do about a certain situation. In these instances you may need to hear something from God. It is not good to blindly make a choice just because a decision is necessary. Consider though that God’s voice may not come to you in a dream, trance, or from the sky. God may speak to you through another Christian. He may speak to you while you are praying or reading your Bible. The point is not to let the fact that you have no idea what to do deter you from activating the decision making process. If you don’t know then do what you can to know. Above all else, seek the voice of God for instruction and direction and you will be led. Making decisions are not solely based on weighing facts. It is based on the processing of information by the use of the wisdom of God and the information that you have (some of which comes from the Holy Spirit).

Liberty

Are you free in Christ? The more free you are in Christ the more you will confidently handle situations that come your way (my opinion). Of course being free in Christ implies the presence of God in your life (See 2 Corinthians 3:17). Therefore, do all you can to obtain more and more of the presence of God in your life. This way you will be more prepared to handle situations as they come.

Bible Study

The study of the word of God is imperative in order to make effective decisions according to your God given purpose or for your benefit in general. Knowing the principles that are contained in the Bible will afford you a measuring stick to weigh certain facts. If a particular option involves violating a Biblical principle then you will stay away from it. This is one of your first lines of defense in the decision making process itself.

Pressure From Others

Do not allow the pressure of others to guide you. The church is full of rules and regulations, opinions and suggestions. Use people as resources and insight but not as a determinant in your situation. What you should or should not do is up to you and God. I believe that sometimes we have to just turn everyone off and seek God’s face because others will only guide us to where they think we should go. They don’t know God’s purpose for us nor our heart.

Pain

The avoidance of pain may not be the basis for an effective decision. Sometimes the decisions that we make may involve pain but for our good. That is, we may have to toil and work harder than we ever had or deal with people and situations that seem to wear us out. We may find ourselves face to face with the proponents of a religious belief who are pointing their weapons of war at us. It is painful but may be very necessary. So don’t allow the avoidance of pain be the basis of your decision if applicable. For example, people don’t let the fact the exercise will cause them pain stop them from exercising. They accept the pain as a part of accomplishing what is good for their body. However, pain should be quantified else we move into a realm we don’t want to be in.

Pleasure

Likewise, don’t allow the quest for pleasure be the basis of your decision if applicable. Though an option may bring you great pleasure, it may be completely contrary to what God wants or what you need to do. The pursuit of pleasure does not necessarily produce what is good for us nor does it guarantee an effective decision.

Fear

Sometimes we delay making a decision or deter from making one because we are afraid of the outcome or the outcome is not clearly visible. Remember in your Christian studies that faith in God does not necessitate the view of the circumstance. Faith in God only necessitates the view of the goal or the accomplishing of the hope we have. So don’t let fear of what’s on the path deter you from getting to where you should go.

Fear may take many forms. We may be afraid of what people will say about us or what they will think of us. We may fear failure. We may just be afraid because the decision that we see we have to make will lead us out of our comfort zone. You can’t grow or progress if you stay in the same place. You must stretch out so don’t be afraid of the unknown. It is not necessary to know until it is time to know.

Lust

What does lust have to do with making effective decisions? A great deal! Your lust can cause you to pursue those things that you shouldn’t pursue thus clouding your perception and thus discernment. Lust will blind you of God’s purpose and enlighten what you desire for your own benefit. In this case it is necessary to evaluate your motive for making a particular decision. This will help you guard yourself of your own sinful lusts.

Affecting Others

Don’t let the consequences that your decision will have on others deter you from making an effective decision. Your decision may cause pain in others and even yourself. The bottom line is that you have to do what you have to do. For example, you may have to make a decision to move to a different state. That will mean that the church you attend will have no one to play the piano for them (you were the piano player). You may be inclined to measure their pain more than what you have to do. Remember that if God is involved in the process then God has already taken care of all of the bases so to speak. Stay focused on your purpose and aware of the Spirit of God and just do what you have to do.

Conclusion

Making an effective decision involves processing the information pertaining to a particular situation and allowing the Holy Spirit to be an integral part of that decision making process. Only then can we have the confidence to make the decisions that we think we should. The Christian has the use of the mind as well as the guidance of the Holy Spirit in the process. This will help us to use the power of the mind that God gave us and to help us stay on the path that God wants us on.

Always remember to allow the Spirit of God to be involved with the entire decision making process. Don’t be afraid. If you need wisdom then ask God. If you need help then ask God. He has not left you alone. He is always right there with you according to his omnipresence. Remember that he loves you and wants the best for you. Have faith in God and have faith in your faith of God. Don’t be fearful of what you think you see the outcome will be. God will not leave you. If you need to make another decision to undo the previous one then do it. Don’t think that once you have made a decision that your life’s path is carved. No it isn’t. If you need to go on a different path then do it. Above all, stay in communion with God and other God fearing people and you ARE in good hands. Amen.

 

 

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