A Biblical Guide to Making Big Decisions

Actually.

Take away all of the pretenses, facades, illusions, and fluff and that’s what you’re left with.

Actually.

Get to the genuine reality and that’s what you’ll find.

Sometimes with Christianity, it’s easy to overlook the actually. We listen to Sunday preaching, pray during our quiet time, and read from the latest daily devotional. We are consistently reminded of the important Biblical concepts of love, obedience, joy, and faith, for example, but often times we see them as just that, concepts. It’s easy to let the truths of the Bible become principles that we study and ideologies that make our emotional selves feel good. But seldom do they become the practical linchpins in our daily lives.

Actually is what moves us from theoretical to practical.

What does it actually look like to love our enemy? What does it actually look like to obey in times of uncertainty? What does it actually look like to have joy in the midst of struggle? What does it actually look like to live out your faith?

One of the “actually” questions a lot of us struggle to answer:
What does it actually look like to make big decisions while seeking God’s will?

We make decisions every day, most of them being small. But all of us will inevitably have big decisions come up in our lives. Perhaps it’s a move, a career change, a relationship commitment, a new addition to your family or maybe a big purchase. Whatever it is, when it is big and impactful, we feel the burden of not having an answer to this question.

There are people all throughout the Bible who were called by God to decide and act according to His clear commands. At my church right now as we continue through the book of Joshua, there are numerous examples of how Joshua and the Israelites were given clear direction from the Lord and their role was to choose whether they would obey.

But decisions in life seem so much more complicated than that. It doesn’t usually seem so clear as to what God is calling us to do or where He is leading. It’s hard to know if we are making the right decision.

What is God’s will? What if I make the wrong choice? What will be the consequences? Will we be overcome with a “peace that passes understanding?” Is everything supposed to “fall into place?” Will God “close all the other doors?”

In the midst of wrestling with big decisions, I have found these 7 biblical and very practical steps, which our pastor, Matt Brewer, shared at church a few weeks ago, to be a helpful guide in focusing my decision-making process and seeking what it looks like to actually make big decisions while seeking God’s will.

A Biblical Guide to Making Big Decisions 

  1. Genuine Faith
    This is different than just believing in God. Genuine faith is the by-product of choosing to truly submit ourselves to Jesus’ authority over our lives. It is acknowledging our filthiness and hopelessness as well as God’s provision through Jesus Christ to bridge the gap between us and Him.
  1. Bible Intake & Biblical Worldview
    To know what God may be calling you to do, you must know what is important to Him. The more you understand God and how He sees the world, the more you begin to see the world that way, too.
  1. Connected to and Involved in a Healthy Church
    Notice this is a HEALTHY church. You should be engaging in a church community that is actively seeking Christ, teaching sound doctrine based on Scripture, and shows evidence of fruitfulness. Also, being involved doesn’t mean being part of the Sunday crowd. It means intentionally living in community with fellow believers. It means meeting together, struggling together, and doing life together.
  1. Confession and Repentance Often
    Sin makes everything murky. When you allow sin to build up in your life, it clouds your ability to have good discernment and to view your situation and options with clarity. Sin bends your judgments toward selfishness and will steer you away from the Lord.
  1. Pray for Wisdom, Clarity, and Guidance
    Praying for these is a reflection of a humble heart that is open to truth and input. If you pray for these out a sincere desire, God will be faithful to provide them. He provides them in many ways, including through his Word and other people, so be looking for them all around you.
  1. Filter your wrestling through 1-5
    Be honest about what you think God might be leading you to and don’t throw aside considerations that seem intimidating. Compare all your options and consider how they line up with Scripture and affirmation from your church family. Also, be sure to give careful thought to red flags that are brought to your attention.
  1. Do What You Want
    If you have been faithful to walk through steps 1-6, trust that God will change your desires to align with His will. To place this anywhere else but last will, more often than not, lead you astray and away from God’s will. God is about His glory and His purposes, not ours.

God is practical. He is relevant and He is personal. Following Him isn’t just learning theoretical, life-improvement concepts. God wants you to welcome Him into the daily details of your life, especially when you are in the midst some of the biggest and hardest decisions you will face. When you feel overwhelmed by the options and stress and need something concrete, intentionally walk your way through this list. Allow it to move you from theoretical to practical, so you can actually, and boldly, follow God’s will.

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God is Not a Duplicator

Last Sunday night, Louis and I had the privilege to gather with the other couples in our church for a time of “marriage maintenance,” a time to be reminded and encouraged in our commitments to Christ-centered marriages. I was humbled to be in a room filled with so many collective years of marriage and so much insight and experience. Couples of different ages, in different stages of life, with different stories, all coming together. Plus we had Chick-fil-A catered for dinner, so the night was already destined to be great!

At just over 9 months of marriage, and only 23 and 22 years old, Louis and I were the youngest and least experienced. I was both eager and thankful to soak up the wisdom the speakers had prepared to share with us and to find practical ways I can learn to be a better wife to Louis. Over the course of the night, their testimony was both admirable and encouraging. They shared about the ways they have learned to love and serve one another well and to dance in marriage without stepping on each other’s toes (metaphorically at least, I cannot vouch for that literally…). We learned about hallmarks of true confession and forgiveness as well as how God’s graciousness toward us should drive our graciousness towards our spouse. Too much good stuff to talk about all of it here!

As I been reflecting on and praying about all we learned on Sunday, I have been overwhelmed by the way the Lord has guarded my heart and mind with the truth reflected in this quote, a quote I heard almost 3 years ago when Louis and I started dating.

“Be careful not to turn others’ lives into the mold for your own. We have a God who is a creator, not a duplicator.”
– Francis Chan

As humans, our hearts are prone to set up idols and take what was intended for good and twist it. It is a good thing to be encouraged by and to admire the beauty, strength, faithfulness, and Gospel-centered example of someone else’s marriage. We should be able to take joy in other’s triumphs, gifting, passions, and spiritual growth. Unfortunately, we often times allow comparison to be the thief of our joy and the cast for our idol.

Louis and I are very different from any other couple in that room. We have different personalities, different upbringings, different sin struggles, different love languages…we are, simply put, different people. Because of that, it does us no good to make someone else’s marriage the blueprint for our own.

However, while we should never model our marriage after someone else’s, it would be foolish to deny the importance of mentorship, wise counsel, and community, for it is a fool who thinks they are right in their own way. Louis and I are abundantly thankful for the blessing of having Christ-centered role models in our lives from whom we can glean advice, biblical counsel, and encouragement. Where I often err is finding the balance between those good things and being vigilant of my tendency to set a foundation for an idol by allowing the roots of comparison to take hold in my heart.

The Lord has graciously focused my time with Him this week on reminding me that the only example worth imitating is Christ. In fact, imitating Him brings about the opposite effect of imitating others: joy, peace, contentment, graciousness, and righteousness. As Louis and I walk boldly and joyfully walk in our marriage, we are keeping our eyes set on the perfect example and fighting against the human temptation to compare ourselves to anyone else. After all, why would we settle for duplicating anyone else’s marriage when God is creating something beautifully new in our own?

Maybe for you it isn’t marriage. Maybe it is being an RA, or a mom, or a lawyer, or maybe an athlete. No matter the role, we all have the tendency to look around at others’ in the same position and desire to mold elements of our lives after theirs. When you are tempted to compare yourself to someone else, remember that it is impossible to make a fair comparison, for our God is a creator, not a duplicator.

 

 

The Transparency of Boredom

I do not handle boredom well. I’m not talking about a lack of activity because I have decided to rest, relax, and not make plans. No. I’m talking about boredom where I have no plans I can make, I have reached my threshold for looking through social media, and still there is a void of time that is left unfilled.

Louis and I both have non-conventional and often conflicting schedules, a very limited budget, and a minimal community of friends in Indy. Throughout our nine months of marriage, we have found these three factors to be pretty restrictive at times. In some ways it has been an obvious blessing to our marriage and in other ways it has been difficult and discouraging. Especially compared to college life, this season of life has brought about many moments of boredom.

Maybe it is a western culture thing, but I think most of us go through great lengths to avoid being bored. We spend money on movies, dinner, bowling, traveling, concerts, shopping, and buying new gadgets. We entertain ourselves with accessible technology, including our computers, TVs, and video games; if we are on the go, it has become a reflex to grab our smartphone and scroll through Instragram, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, ESPN, etc. We plan and attend social events to surround ourselves with people, conversation, and activity. Sometimes we even busy ourselves with finding something to clean or organize around the house or in our car (Is that just me?).

Each one of these can be a good thing, like going to see one of your favorite bands in concert or meeting up with friends for dinner. I would say that anyone who lives a balanced life probably incorporates some of these into their schedule on a regular basis. But, lately I have been convicted of having a desire to schedule things just to be busy and avoid boredom, to look for a distraction.

Why am I so persistent to fight against boredom? Why am I looking for a distraction?

This week boredom hit me especially hard. So, I decided to think about what the real-life, non-fluff answers to those questions were. The verdict?

When I am bored and my mind is not distracted, my heart becomes more transparent. I start to see the things I am (consciously and unconsciously) trying to cover up and shove down deep so I don’t have to deal with them.

I see that my heart is messy and ugly.

I see the depth of my loneliness and my discontentment.

I see the insecurities and the doubts that I am carrying.

I see my lack of trust in the Lord.

I see how much bitterness I am actually holding onto.

I see how little of undistracted time that I spend in the Word or in prayer.

I see my skewed motives and the idols I have erected.

I see how I so easily abandon an eternal perspective to conform to the pattern of this world.

But this isn’t just in this particular season of life, for this has been an accurate picture of my heart time and again. My heart is fickle and prone to wander and that is why I can find myself here so often. Sometimes there are tears. Sometimes just resigned silence. Sometimes there is self-pity and wallowing. But over time I have learned there is one way, that works for me, to fight these lies that so easily consume me.

I must move myself to think upon the character of God and the depth of His love for me.

This is not a passive remembering. This is an active and intentional decision to, one-by-one, take the lies that I see in my heart and speak specific Truth to each one. When I have been struggling to trust the Lord (maybe through a transition or uncertainty) I fight by writing down the things I have seen in my life and in Scripture that show me the Lord is trustworthy. When I am feeling lonely, I jot down some of the wonderful relationships I do have rather than dwelling on those I wish I did. When I start to buy into what the world says is important, I make a list of what the Lord says is of eternal value.

While this does not magically make everything better, but it does encourage me to press on even though situations and seasons that are not ideal. God cares for me more than the birds of the air or the flowers of the field. He is fully aware of my messiness, my emotions, and my needs. In Christ, I am known and I am loved.

The thing about distractions is that while they may be entertaining and effective for a while, they truly are temporary. Eventually there will be a moment when no distraction is available and you are in a moment of boredom, and that is when the things deep in your heart will start to bubble to the surface.

And when it does, let it.


 

Enjoying Quality Time on His Terms

Stepping outside of your comfort zone is not just for the dating arena, where being impressive is the name of the game. It actually becomes even more important in marriage. Sometimes in very big ways like supporting a job transition, and other times in very small ways like…agreeing to play a video game? Yes, like agreeing to play a video game.

I do not like video games. I think video games are silly, distracting, a poor investment of time, isolating, and sedentary. Until I met my husband, who happens to enjoy video games, I had a very rooted stereotype in my mind of what a video gamer was like. So when the latest (and greatest?) Pokémon Go was released, my response was the equivalent of a tsk and an eye roll. Think about it… it is all about wandering around to catch imaginary creatures on a cell phone! It sounds absolutely nuts.

What I do like, however, is going on long walks. I think the fresh air, exercise, and interaction does my heart and mind so much good. It gives me opportunities to decompress and destress and it’s where some of my favorite conversations have happened.

Last week my husband asked if I wanted to bring Leia, our puppy, and walk around downtown Indy to play Pokémon Go together. My first reaction was to tell him how stupid I thought this phone game was. I proceeded with my first reaction. As someone who strongly dislikes playing video games, why in the world would I be interested in playing? He usually doesn’t jump at opportunities to go walking with Leia and I, especially not for two hours, but because of Pokémon Go he is actually suggesting it? At this moment I realized that I had two options. One, I could concede to my rooted dislike of video games and refuse his offer to play the game with him. Or, I could choose to be thankful for the way Louis was reaching out to spend time with me and do something I normally wouldn’t.

…………………………………………………….

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We brought a backpack just to carry water for Leia!

Louis and I spent somewhere between three an four hours downtown that afternoon. Leia and I walked with Louis as he guided us through the streets of downtown to the nearest Pokémon and the plethora of Pokéstops located at various monuments downtown throughout the city. Louis and I held hands and threw digital Pokéballs. We talked about life and we talked about who had control over the closest Pokémon gym. I got to work on training Leia among the people and distractions while Louis got to work on training his Pokémon in the game. Leia, too, enjoyed the new sights, smells, and various people who were eager to pet her.

By the end, all three of us were sweaty, tired, and very happy. 

After getting married, it has been easy for me to fall back on my personality (whether by nature, nurture, or both) and stop getting out of my comfort zone to please my (now) husband. I figure that since my husband already knows X about me, I am justified in not having to do X. X becomes all sorts of things, from playing video games, to staying out late, to listening to certain radio stations in the car. All of these are small examples, but they do reveal something about my heart and the limitations I’ve put on how I will love my husband.

Don’t draw the line at stepping outside of your comfort zone to impress a date. Be willing to step outside of your comfort zone to love your husband, too.

Fourth, I am a PA Student.

I often spend life as if I am frantically running with my head down. I load a lot of things on my plate and let each day pass without taking the time to look up and enjoy the moments. I am a creature of habit and routine, always looking to feel settled and comfortable.

 

Tragedy interrupts that.

 

It could be tragedy very close to your heart and home. It could be tragedy in a country overseas or something you read in the news. No matter the source, tragedy puts a brick wall in our path and forces us to stop. It reminds us that this life is just a vapor and that we can never know when it will come to an end. It forces us to consider the deeper questions of how we are investing our life and what is truly important and worthwhile. The last 24 hours have made me look at my priorities, my commitments, my responsibilities, and my relationships and wonder…are they working in tandem as part of a life that is purposeful and fruitful?

I just started PA school at IU at the beginning of May and I have less than a month until I have one full semester under my belt. Becoming a full time graduate student changed a lot of things for Louis and I. It put new demands on our schedules, finances, and our energy. It made us say “no” to some things and opened us to say “yes” to others. I feel so confident this is where the Lord wants me and I desire to be faithful in that by being a good steward of my time and resources to do my absolute best. However, I have had to wrestle with what it looks like for school to fit within the hierarchy of what is important (based on how the Lord defines important).

First, I am a Daughter of the King.

Second, I am a wife.

Third, I am a daughter, sister, and friend.

Fourth, I am a PA student.

Yesterday I was reminded that I will never be disappointed when I choose the Lord or important relationships over school. How well I perform in PA school is not going to matter in light of eternity, and it is not what I would want to prioritize if tomorrow were my last day. It is worth it to forgo an extra 2 hours of studying for an extra 2 points on my test in order to spend quality time with my husband when he comes home from work. It is worth it to put off homework for an hour so I can call a dear friend and we can catch up and encourage each other in the Lord. It is worth it to miss class and arrange to make up the work in order to attend the weddings of people that I love. It is worth it to put away my books on Sunday so that I can enjoy fellowship at my church and dinner with my family.

PA school is not first, it is not second, and it is not even third. It is fourth. I want my life to be spent for the sake of the gospel and for other people. At the end of time (or even just at the end of my time) everything else will fade and pass away, including PA school.

Externally Processing or Gossiping?

When conflict arises between you and a significant other, do you ever reach a point where it feels like any discussion will be unproductive? Do you both get so buried in the disagreement that emotions start to dominate, gentleness is abandoned, the tongue becomes unrestrained, and it ultimately becomes one side against another, as if compromise is no longer an option? When I have found myself in these situations, it has been abundantly helpful to go to specifically chosen people in my life in order to externally process through the conflict with someone other than my husband. This allows me to get out all of my bent up emotion and hear an outside perspective so that I come back to my husband ready for a productive discussion.

However, there is a boundary we need to be careful of for there is a fine line between externally processing and simply gossiping. Therefore, it is important to be selective and intentional about the people you open up to in the midst of conflict with your significant other. In order to guard yourself from gossiping, I believe there are five qualities you should look for in a chosen confidant.

  1. They are not for you.

Find someone who is for your relationship. (Caution: If you can’t find anyone who is for your relationship, that should be a red flag!) The more partial and inclined to side with you someone is, the more he or she will fuel negative talk about your significant other without giving you any real perspective. You can’t externally process with someone who has already decided to agree with you.

  1. They know your significant other.

Often times when we are in the middle of externally processing, we believe we are 100% in the right and our significant other is 100% in the wrong, which is almost never the case. However, talking negatively about your significant other to someone who doesn’t personally know them can ultimately damage the way they view him/her. Only confide in someone who is not going to think any less of your significant other because of your biased presentation of them.

  1. They are willing to tell you the truth.

It is not helpful to go to a non-confrontational friend who will listen to you vent, but is unwilling to speak truth to you. Externally processing has the goal of understanding, which means sometimes you need to be told that you’re wrong. If no truth is exchanged, it is futile gossip.

  1. They have an opinion you respect.

If you are truly looking for perspective and good advice, you will go to someone whose opinion you actually respect. This may not be the person you hang out with the most, and that is okay. If someone is your best bud but you don’t value their opinion on a particular topic, then you will never give weight to their perspective.

  1. You can trust them.

Even if you are well-intentioned when you share information, it can quickly become gossip when it starts to spread. Only share personal information about your significant other when you know it will end there. It is wholly unfair to your significant other to allow information about him/her, which is usually biased and negative, to spread to other people.

Once you determine the people in your life who have these five qualities, intentionally ask them if they will commit to being there to help you externally process when you need them. Don’t assume. Make sure these people know the role you are asking them to play in your life. Then, tell your significant other who these people are. You want to be on the same page so that when conflict does arise and you do go to those people, there is mutual understanding and no miscommunication about the information being shared.

For those of you who are not in a romantic relationship: take advantage of being single! Use your time in this season of life to be fully investing in quality, lifelong friends who will be those people you can go to when you do enter a relationship. This will prove of so much worth to you later on!

I strongly believe that externally processing can be a healthy part of resolving conflict in relationships, but there is a fine line between that and simply gossiping.

May we people who honor our significant other by walking that line wisely.

 

Do Not Believe the Bible Because I Said So

When we are told to accept truth based solely off of someone’s presentation of it, it doesn’t usually produce deep roots that can withstand external pressure. Here lies an important distinction: assuming truth verses actually believing it. The best way to come to believe in truth and not just learn about it is to struggle with it. Is it not true that we are often the most certain of the things we once questioned? There is something about the process of questioning, investigating, and pondering that acts as Miracle-grow for truth. It ultimately becomes more deeply rooted in our hearts and minds and then produces even more fruit in our lives.

Unfortunately, this nearly absent in the Church. Average people tend to believe questioning is only for theologians while they go through life simply accepting what their pastor tells them or what they are reading in the latest Christian best seller. If doubts do come to mind, there is often a sense of guilt that keeps them quiet, as if their faith is not strong enough and they just need to pray for it to be stronger. We have churches full of people who have most definitely struggled, at one point or another, with wrapping their minds around how God can be both loving and just or wrestled with how tragedy can be a part of God’s will or doubting the reliability of the Bible, but everyone is too afraid to say anything as if it were a sin to not have all the answers figured out.

You shouldn’t assume something about God or the Bible is true just because I might say so or because someone else tells you so. As a Church, we should be doing a better job of creating a culture where doubt, struggling, and questioning are not only okay, but are welcomed. Being a Christian does not mean that you have to abandon critical thinking at the door or use “faith” as a justification for being uninformed. The entire body of believers, not just pastors or theologians, should feel well prepared to give a defense for what they believe.

And if questioning and critical thinking is not typical of adult churchgoers, it is even truer of our youth. In fact, many teens and young adults end up abandoning the church once they grow up. Is it because the church isn’t relevant or because it is too strict? I would argue it was because the truth they learned never took root. When children grow up under the assumption that the Bible is truth, they become young adults, bombarded with a variety of worldviews and an overwhelming number of skeptics, and the Bible stories they once learned now seem much more unbelievable; what they once were so accepting of now seems much less certain. In assuming what they were told was truth, they never decided for themselves to believe it was true.

Our faith is not blind and our God is not whimpy. He can stand up to our questions, doubts, or skepticism. He is Truth and when we seek him earnestly, He will not lead us astray. So, do not feel shame in wrestling with truth because it is through that process that you will develop deep roots that can withstand even the hardest circumstances. Go to God with your questions, and invest time into reading and searching through your Bible. The Bible is not just ink and paper; it is alive and active for through it, God reveals both Himself and ourselves to us. Go to other believers. Ask your pastor, bring it up in your small group, or ask an older, wiser person in your church. Don’t be afraid to start the conversation, because more than likely, you are not alone. Go to extra-Biblical sources and references, including in the areas of history and science, and see how that lines up with what Scripture claims.

Do not believe the Bible because someone says so. Whether you consider yourself an agnostic or have been in the Church for years, don’t assume something is true (or untrue for that matter), go look for yourself.

Defend the Bible? I would as soon defend a lion! Unchain it and it will defend itself.
-C.H. Spurgeon