“I don’t know.”
It’s the common answer I hear when I ask students about their aspirations for the future.
Where do you want to go? What do you want to do? What are you running after?
“I don’t know.”
On one hand, such hesitation is valid. Surely no one knows what the future holds. We’re told to seek His kingdom and to not worry about tomorrow (Matt 6:33-34). We’re cautioned against projecting our plans in the future because it is ultimately His purposes that will prevail (Jam 4:13-14). The future is not ours to determine.
On the other hand, it seems that the reluctance of many to formulate concrete dreams and take strategic steps toward those aspirations represents the spirit of the age more than a trust in the providence of God. Ours is an age of indecision. Relative affluence, unprecedented opportunities, and diverse possibilities have become paralyzing to many. How can I choose when there’s an unlimited array of options?
Paralysis in Decision-Making
This paralysis spreads into the lives of believers, even to those who pursue seminary education. Formal theological education was once a step along the journey of those running hard after a certain pastoral or missionary goal. They wanted to be a pastor, to take the gospel to an unreached people group, or to translate the Scripture into a new language. Seminary was simply a necessary training ground for their aspirations. God might change their path along the way, to be sure, but such detours were taken while driving full-speed toward a clear destination.
The process seems to have changed today. Now many students show up to seminary without the least inclination of what they are running after. They’re passive—idling away time waiting for God to clearly call them to one of many alternatives. Many are reluctant to even articulate aspirations to leadership positions, such as the pastorate, that were once the clear goal for many seminarians. Such indecisiveness does not end when degree work is complete, and many graduates spend years (or entire lives) bouncing from one option to the next without ever running hard after much of anything.
Decisiveness & trust in God
It’s imperative that believers do not buy the lie that somehow decisiveness and trust in the Lord are mutually exclusive. We can both run hard after something we sense the world needs and we’re gifted to accomplish AND trust in God’s providential leading of our lives and ordering of our steps. This seems to be a major thread running throughout the Scriptural narrative. God’s people act in obedience to what they know, and the seemingly invisible hand of God maneuvers them to accomplish His grand purposes. Think about the book of Ruth. Throughout this classic tale of redemption and love, the hand of God is actively orchestrating the minute details of Ruth’s journey to get her just where he wants her, when he wants her there so that He can show her His love and care. It’s in the movement that Ruth experiences the divine leadership of God. I vividly recall Tommy Nelson, former pastor of Denton Bible Church, commenting on this story with the quip “God doesn’t steer parked cars.” His point was clear—it’s in our movement, not our passivity, that the Lord directs our lives.
Here are six steps that I’ve noticed aid believers in decisiveness:
1. Run hard after something definitive each week. Start small and pick something you set your mind to do each week. Commit to share the gospel or pray with a stranger three times. Initiate a meal in your home with a co-worker or neighbor who is far from God. It doesn’t have to be a life-altering decision but most of us could benefit from having some clearly stated goals that we prioritize and actually pursue with vigor.
2. Talk with others about your plans. Accountability helps with decisiveness. Tell two or three trusted friends about your commitment and ask them to check in with you. Making a commitment in our head is far different than articulating a commitment to someone else. Once we’ve said what we plan to do, there’s a certain built in motive for following through.
3. Make mistakes. Mistakes are an unavoidable by-product of decisiveness. We lean into something we sense the Lord might have us do and things go wrong. Growth in this area doesn’t mean that we actively set out to make mistakes, but rather that we set out to act and expect frustration and failure along the way. In most cases, what we learn is that these challenges aren’t the end of the world—in fact, we often discover that it’s in the middle of making these mistakes that our faith expands, and God’s work is most visible.
4. Take inventory of who has your ear. Biblical wisdom suggests that plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisors they succeed (Prov 15:22). Yet it’s not the sheer number or volume of those counselors that helps our plans succeed but the degree to which the counsel we choose points us to God’s wisdom. Our day allows for many would-be counselors to have our ear—random bloggers or podcasters we’ve never met and social media “friends” who position themselves as experts. Giving ear to the pseudo-wisdom of too many voices or the wrong voices can make us deaf to the voice of God. We need to listen to the wise counsel God has put around us in the form of pastoral leadership and trusted brothers and sisters who echo God’s voice to us.
5. Give account to the fleeting nature of this life. Our lives are short—like a vapor or a flower of the field—so we are told. We should passionately invest our fleeting days in God’s mission, whatever specific contours that mission might take for us. Reckless risk is foolish, but so too is sloth. Our inability to make decisions is often unbelief tucked nicely behind a veil of religiosity. Will God come through for me? Does He care for me? Can He show His power through my life? Can He work through my mistakes to glorify Himself? Our stated belief says “Yes!” and “Amen!” to such questions, yet our practice often betrays such trust. Decisiveness leans into the care of God with active faith.
6. Get busy. We live in a broken world, with no shortage of need all around. The worst thing you can do is isolate yourself from those needs while you sit trying to discern God’s will for your life. Take steps of active obedience wherever you are and find meaningful ways to contribute, even if you’re not sure that it’s your long-term destination. If you do a bit of investigating, you’ll discover that even those who think they stepped into their long-term “calling” are often redirected multiple times along the way. They get overseas and serve faithfully for a decade, only to return to the States to embark on a new venture. They plant a church out West only to step back into a denominational leadership role in the South. Did they miss God? Probably not. They were faithful for a season and then God pressed them into some other assignment. So, don’t spend inordinate amounts of time consumed and paralyzed with a once-and-for-all, make-it-or-break-it decision. Become a pastor. Help plant a church. Serve in the 10-40 window. Launch a discovery Bible study with some co-workers from the office. It might be a long-term role, or it might be a step in discerning the next thing. Either way, you’ll be better for it and you’ll have been faithful in God’s mission along the way.
Praise God that He loves us enough to give us freedom to make real decisions that shape the trajectory of our lives and yet, at the very same time, He cares enough to go with us as we take decisive, though trembling, steps of obedience.