Decision-Making: Personal and Life Choices
“Focusing Steps for
Personal Decision-Making”
(SL#102)

by Wm. M. Pinson, Jr., Th.D. with Lloyd Elder, Th.D.
adapted from SkillTrack® Vol. 10 – Decision-Making

How do you get focused for personal decisions? You might ask, “How do I look at a decision or center on this choice?” The basic steps discussed in the series on “Process and Tools” (SL articles #35 through 41, #98) apply to decisions made for
the individual life. However, here are some suggestions that apply more specifically to personal choices and decisions. They build on preparation and faith values.

  1. Look Up.
    Certainly God is not “up there” but everywhere. Yet in our everyday life we often speak and act as if He were. The Christian servant leader begins the process of decision-making by utilizing the resources especially
    available to the follower of Christ. These include prayer, Bible study, and being sensitive to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
    • Prayer at the onset of the decision-making process helps to focus the decision on God. Before facts are gathered or alternatives considered, prayer can help increase our desire to please God, to know and follow His will, to advance His Kingdom. A passion to serve God heightens our awareness of His direction through His written Word–the Bible–and His living Word–the Lord Jesus Christ.
    • The Bible provides few specific answers for the servant leader in regard to most decisions. The Bible does provide basic guidelines, however, that help in the decision-making process.  For example, the Bible will not indicate the specific person to marry, but the Bible will provide guidelines on what kind of person a Christian should marry. The Bible contains no injunction against smoking tobacco–tobacco was unknown in Bible times. However, the Bible speaks clearly about care for the body, the basic principle being that the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. Known facts about the harm of tobacco to the body leads to a decision about not smoking tobacco.
    • The Holy Spirit helps provide not only guidance but also empowerment. Sometimes in the decision-making process we come to a clear decision about what we ought to do, but we fall short in carrying out the decision. All kinds of obstacles stand in the way of doing what we know is right. The Holy Spirit supplies assistance in the “want to” part of decision-making as well as the “what to.”
  2. Look In.
    Various forms of introspection should be part of the servant leader’s decision-making process. These include reason, intuition, and conscience.

    • Reason is a gift from God. Jesus said that we are to love God with all of our mind (Matthew 22:37). Being a Christian does not mean parking one’s brain on a shelf or going into mental neutral. Rather, being Christian calls for the use of reason to the glory of God.  Careful, logical thinking often helps us make good decisions. Keep in mind, however, that reason alone will not bring us to the right choice.
      Reason must be guided by beliefs and values. Consider again the matter of smoking tobacco, for example. Reason alone does not indicate whether a person should or should not smoke. Added to the facts must be the value attached to the human body and to health before one can conclude that
      smoking is a bad decision.
    • Intuition is sometimes referred to as “rapid reasoning.”
      Sometimes when faced with alternate choices, we just “know” that one is better. This may well be due to subconscious, rapid thought processes based on experience or information that we are not even aware we possess. Intuition, some believe, can be developed through concentration.
      By focusing intently on a decision, sometimes the “light” just dawns, and we see clearly what we ought to do.

      “. . . our intuitive guesses about optimal solutions turn out to be, in some instances, surprisingly good. . . . When intuitive solutions go astray, the errors are often sizeable, and their negative consequences are potentially long-term.”–Hoch, Wharton on Making Decisions, p. 39

      Suggestions for aiding the intuitive process:

      • Make sure you have defined the decision carefully; this will help you focus on what is truly important.
      • Review the objectives established for the decision.
      • Saturate your mind with facts and information.
      • Shut down the left brain (the non-emotional, logical side) and stimulate the right brain (the emotional, creative side).
      • Move away from the decision–sleep, play, engage in creative behavior.
      • Note what surfaces as your “gut reaction” to the decision, your hunch.
      • If the process has been bathed in prayer, your “hunch” may actually be the nudging of the Holy Spirit in the direction of the right choice.
    • Conscience is the inner voice that signals when we are about to make a choice contrary to our basic beliefs and values. Scholars argue over whether we are born with a conscience or develop a conscience.
      The fact is that human beings are born with a sense of right and wrong, of justice and injustice unless they are seriously flawed as a pathological killer or liar who seemingly has no sense of right or wrong. The content of conscience is remarkably similar from culture to culture. However, certain aspects of conscience do seem to be learned or “caught” from the culture in which we live. Therefore, conscience is not an infallible guide in decision-making. Neither are reason and intuition. Conscience is, however, a valuable tool. In decision-making it is not wise to go against conscience. In fact, to do this often seems to dull the effectiveness of conscience.
    • Meditation is a passive, solitary way to do active critical reflection. Intentional withdrawal to be alone with your thoughts and emotions with yourself nurtures, even integrates reason, intuition,
      and conscience. It may surface the deeper part of yourself as its own value. Often it turns loose in your thoughts insight on your current agenda or struggle; it may even provide like a flashing light the decision to be made.
  3. Look Outward.
    Making good decisions calls for getting all of the information necessary to make the decision. This calls for fact-finding. Determining what is truly fact from what is merely opinion calls for tough-minded research. What is considered “fact” has a way of changing. For example, what was termed “fact” about the shape of the earth centuries ago is no longer considered “fact.” The search for truth about reality is a never-ending process. Decisions, however, usually cannot wait until every fact is verified. What should we do then? Act on the best information that can be obtained.

    • In gathering information for making choices, go to the most reliable sources you know–persons, materials, institutions. Seek experts, not one but several, and compare information received from each. Avoid advertising claims, obviously biased reports, and propaganda. Focus on objective sources
      as much as possible, all the while realizing that objectivity is difficult to come by.
    • Ask helpful questions. Often an excellent way to determine the best alternative among many choices is to ask questions, lots of questions. Hurl a barrage of inquiries at the problem. The method of the child in asking “Why?” over and over again is not a bad way to clarify a decision. In the process, each answer to a question is followed by another question until there really are no more valid questions to ask.
    • Another set of questions might focus on resources. What alternative in the decision would provide for the best use of available resources?
      These resources may be talents, material possessions, time, or other entities. No one has unlimited resources at his disposal, and thus the best use of limited resources in keeping with priorities and objectives will often lead to the best choice.
  1. Look Forward.
    That’s right, effective personal decision-making looks ahead.
    It is not enough to look at decisions-in-the making as the way things are now or the current set of facts. Wise choices also grow out of what you want to become, or need to happen. Looking forward causes your life purpose and your church’s mission to kick in, contributing to your choices. It makes you willing to make changes and take risks.

Conclusion: Choices and Consequences
Questions certainly ought to address the consequences of the decision. What will be the effect of this decision on my life? On my family? On my church? On my relation to God? On the cause of Christ? Some acts are not right or wrong in themselves but must be evaluated on the effect they will have. When Paul helped early Christians with the decision whether or not they should eat meat that had been sacrificed to idols, he used the question of effect. For example: If eating this meat caused offense to others, he would not eat the meat although he believed there was nothing wrong with his eating the meat (see Romans 14:13-23; I Corinthians 8:1-13).

“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
–Col. 3:17

Reflection: In making your decisions, consider the example of Christ, applying it to your own life today as he applied to to the life of his disciples in the First Century.

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Application
Here are some other questions to pose in regard to decisions:

  • How does this decision fit with my basic values and beliefs?
  • Does this decision reflect a passion to follow Christ and be obedient to His way?
  • If I follow this decision, would I be willing for eveyone to know about it?
  • If I follow this decision, would I be willing for everyone to do the same?
  • Can I really ask God to bless me in this decision?
  • How do I “feel” about the decision–drained or energized? Calm or anxious? Hesitant or eager?

What are some other questions you believe helpful in making or evaluating a decision?

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For full citation of referenced works, see Bibliography/Links at www.servantleaderstoday.com
Adapted by Lloyd Elder, Th.D., Founding Director, Moench Center for Church Leadership