For part 1 of this series, read here.

So how do we put godly decision making into practice? I want to offer a very practical rubric for making wise choices. The six steps for making godly decisions are:

Purpose

Principles

Picture

Plenary Perspectives

Planning

Practice

Step 1. The Purpose of Godly Decision Making: The Glory of God

Decisions always have a goal or purpose, what we call a “motive.” The ultimate goal for Christians is glorifying God in all things. Note Paul’s train of thought in 1 Cor 10:30-31: “If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks? So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Paul here makes a crucial link between thanksgiving and the glory of God: the Corinthians glorify God by receiving all things in thanksgiving. For Paul, Christ returns the world back to the Father, thus restoring the cosmology of Ps 24:1 (“The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof,” 1 Cor 10:26, 28) as celebrated in thanksgiving to God for all foods and drink (10:30-31). As such, the Corinthians are to glorify God as their creator and thereby demonstrate that they are part of the new creation.

Thus, as we make our decisions, we glorify God by acknowledging him as the source of wisdom and discernment in our decision making. James exhorts us to “ask God, who gives generously,” for “wisdom” in order to “face trials of many kinds” (James 1:2-5). Here James echoes Proverbs 2:1-6:

My son, if you accept my words

and store up my commands within you,

turning your ear to wisdom

and applying your heart to understanding—

indeed, if you call out for insight

and cry aloud for understanding,

and if you look for it as for silver

and search for it as for hidden treasure,

then you will understand the fear of the Lord

and find the knowledge of God.

For the Lord gives wisdom;

from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.

Hilary of Arles writes: “God gives wisdom like a fountain which never runs out of water, and he fills everyone whom he enters.”  By asking God for wisdom, we acknowledge and glorify God as our creator and sustainer, and thereby demonstrate our trusting dependence upon him to meet our needs. Hence James links the asking of God for wisdom with asking “in faith, with no doubting” (1:6). Abba Isaac sees this exhorted faith as a disposition towards God as one’s “caregiver,” while Cyril of Alexandria interprets the doubting as a form of pride.[1]

From this vantage point, we are not called so much to make good decisions, but rather wise decisions. In other words, we need not be pragmatic and utilitarian, always seeking a kind of value optimization. Instead, we are called to strive for decisions that are faithful and true. Our decisions are acts of worship.

Step 2. The Principles for Godly Decision Making: The Word of God

All decisions involve principles, which in effect determine the various ways in which you will carry out your decisions. Here we turn to biblical principles by which to shape and guide our decision making. For example, many of us will have to make the decision regarding whom we will marry. Passages such as 1 Corinthians 7, 2 Cor 6:14-18, and Eph 5:22-33 reveal the distinctives of Christian marriage that ought to frame such a decision. Another big decision involves our career and employment. What does the Bible have to say about our vocation? If you are making a venture capital decision, see what Scripture says about investing. Here, too, we might turn to studies and commentaries on particular biblical subjects, which we shall address below (see Plenary Perspectives). The point, however, is very simple: nothing substitutes or supplements a good, old fashioned Bible study for determining the parameters and principles for godly decision making.

Step 3. The Picture of Godly Decision Making: The Moral Imagination

So what will your decision ultimately look like? What are the various outcomes? When we decide to fulfill a purpose according to principles, our first thoughts are not syllogisms or equations or models; they’re pictures. If I’ve determined that I want to get something to eat, I immediately think of myself eating Italian or Chinese food, or sitting in a particular restaurant. This is what author David Allen calls “outcome visioning”: “Whereas your purpose was the why of your going out to dinner, your vision was an image of the what – of the physical world’s looking, sounding, and feeling the ways that best fulfilled your purpose.”[2]

It is important to note that this imaginative component is not merely visualization; because it is linked to the values of godly purpose and biblical principles, outcome visioning involves a distinctively moral imagination. The imagination has been gifted to humans by God to perceive the divinely-infused meaning of the cosmos which provides a moral map of the world by which we might live out our lives.

The kind of outcome visioning shaped by the moral imagination sees our decisions as part of a larger context, a wider redemptive narrative. For example, it is commonplace among choice theories to designate value maximization as the primary motive for our decision making. But Paul, particularly in 1 Corinthians 8-10, gives us very different purposes and principles by which to govern our decisions. When confronted with the choice of eating that which causes other Christians to stumble, Paul is not necessarily looking for the best decision for himself, one that maximizes his own freedom of what to eat, but rather for that decision which considers the needs of others as more important than his own (cf. 1 Cor 6:7; 8:13). The moral imagination enables us to settle rather than optimize, so as to nourish and foster mutuality and love.

Step 4. Plenary Perspectives of Godly Decisions: Wise Counsel

It’s been said that we are all ignorant, just in different subjects. And so, having an imaginative picture of fulfilling our purpose according to biblical principles, it is prudent to seek counsel. The Book of Proverbs tells us: “Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counsellors there is safety” (11:14). And again: “Without counsel purposes are disappointed, but in the multitude of counsellors they are established” (15:22).

In general, we ought to seek the advice of those who possess specific knowledge for specific decisions. Pastoral counsel is incomparable for major life decisions, such as those involving marriage, children, vocation, and end of life issues. Specialized consulting is invaluable for the various decisions and projects involved in the technologically driven professions. Brainstorming with a number of trusted voices will optimize your perspective on the issue at hand.

While personal interaction is best, you can seek the counsel of others through writings and research. Your Bible study in Step 2 will be greatly enhanced by reading theological studies and commentaries. For example, are you making a decision about work and occupation? Read Gene Veith’s God at Work and Os Guiness’ The Call for excellent synopses on Christian vocation. You can use the internet as well to seek counsel. Suppose I need to make decisions regarding a major move; I can simply do a Google search on “Lists of things I need to do when moving.” We live in a so-called ‘information age’, from the library to the internet data bases, from Amazon to Google, and so faithful decisions often include good e-research.

Steps 5 and 6 will be the subjects of our next post.

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[1] As cited in ­A Patristic Commentary on The Book of James, http://www.ukmidcopts.org/kotob/Fr%20Tadros%20Malaty/Commentary%20on%20the%20Epistle%20of%20Saint%20James.pdf

[2] David Allen, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity (New York: Penguin Books, 2001), 57.

Featured image credit: © 2012 Niamh <>, Flickr | CC-BY-ND | via Wylio