By Warren Bird
How does God guide us in the decisions we have to make? This sermon provides an outline of a Biblical model of guidance, using Colossians 3.
I don’t suppose many of you are old enough to remember the original TV Quiz Show, “Pick-a-Box”. It was hugely successful back in the very early days of television in Australia in the 1950’s and 60’s – so, yes, all the episodes were in black and white.
The big moments in “Pick-a-Box” came when the contestant who had got the questions right had to pick from several boxes on a wall and there would be either a terrific prize or some useless dud object in the box. It was a moment of great drama for many Australians at the time – what would the contestant decide? I guess more recently we have had the nightly decision by the winner of “Sale of the Century” about whether to take the prize they’d already won or come back the next night to try for a bigger one.
Decisions, decisions – life is full of the need to make decisions. Make the right decision – pick the right box – and you will end up a lot better off than if you make the wrong decision.
In “Pick-a-Box” the outcome was random. Despite being smart enough to know the answers and get to the point of making the decision, in the end the contestant just didn’t have enough information to be able to tell which was the best choice of box.
Sometimes we get choices like that in life and a lot of the things that happen to us in life do seem somewhat random. But most of the time we do have information to help us make our decisions – maybe not enough information to guarantee the outcome, but enough to help us to make a choice from among alternatives. It is then up to us to use the information we have and any other resources that might be able to help along the way, to make the best decisions.
• Some decisions are quite trivial – will I have a Magnum Classic or a Magnum Ego? Will I choose Optus or Telstra as my internet provider?
• Some are moderately important – will I give up eating ice cream like Magnums so that I don’t get overweight? Will I go out and play sport or spend my time on the internet?
- And some decisions are crucial for our life’s direction – will I get married? What career will I aim for? Will I obey the road rules when I am driving my car?
Phew, some big issues there! Because they can be quite daunting choices to make, some people seem to think that they can avoid making decisions and just drift along with life. What did those critters in “The Lion King” call it – akuna matata? Friends, that sort of attitude IS making a decision – it’s a decision to be unthinking about what you do in life, a decision to give in to the forces that are at work in the world for good or evil and let them rule over you. From my experience, far from meaning “no worries for the rest of your days”, akuna matata means nothing but trouble as those forces sweep over us and get us into an awful mess sometimes.
As Christians we have accepted that making our own decisions our own way, ignoring God in our lives, is not the way we want to live; we have turned to Jesus as our Lord and Saviour, accepting Him because He has accepted us, has taken us into His friendship, into His family; and as a result we have decided to follow Him.
This means that when we are faced with a decision we will want to make the right decision, the best decision, the decision that is consistent with us being followers of Jesus Christ.
The question before us tonight is, therefore, how do we know whether we are making the best decisions? How do we find and follow God’s guidance in our lives? We want to obey God’s will, but how do we know what His will for us actually is? Like the writer of the psalm that we read together, we call out to God:
“Show me your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths;
Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are my God and Saviour and my hope is in you all day long.” (Ps 25:4-5)
God Promises to Guide Us
The prayer of the psalmist is not a forlorn one, because God does promise to guide us. Later in psalm 25 we read that:
“Good and upright is the Lord; therefore He instructs sinner in His ways; He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them His way.” (Ps 25:8-9)
Other verses that similarly promise God’s guidance are:
Proverbs 3:6 “In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths.”
Isaiah 58:11 “The Lord will guide you always.”
James 1:5 “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.”
These and many other passages in scripture make it clear that God wants to help us to live the lives He asks of us. He hasn’t called us into a relationship with Himself only to leave us in the dark about how that relationship should unfold. In the verse from Isaiah that I just quoted he uses interesting imagery to make this point clear. He describes life without God as being like living in a desert, in a “sun-scorched land”, but says that God’s guidance of His people means that they “will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.”
Be in no doubt that God wants what is best for His followers and that He promises to guide us.
How Does God Guide Us?
OK, you accept that God has made this promise, but the question then becomes, “how?” How does God guide us? When we acknowledge Him, as the verse in Proverbs says, how will he then direct our paths? When we ask for wisdom, as James instructed, how will He give it to us?
Over the years many Christians have given lots of different answers to this question. You will hear sermons on guidance that talk about doors that are opened and closed for you; about things that you can do to test out the different options from which you are to choose; about the importance of the counsel of Christian friends and elders; or about the place of your own feelings of “peace” about a decision.
In some of those things there can be helpful stuff and in relation to some decisions that we face in life those sort of “signals” will have a part to play. If I fail maths and the Universities Admission Board won’t let me into an engineering degree course then that is probably a clear signal that I should pursue something other than a career in engineering.
But I worry that a lot of the things I hear on guidance belittle the place of God’s revealed word in the whole process. The apostle Paul wrote to his young friend Timothy that the Bible is “inspired by God” and said that this means that it “is profitable for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim 3:16) Doesn’t that mean that if we want to find out how God wants us to make decisions, how He guides us, that we should look first and foremost in the Bible?
Yes it does, but there is also a great danger of taking this the wrong way entirely as well. Finding information on guidance in the Bible doesn’t mean that there is going to be in its pages a simple, text-book like answer to every question. When my wife and I decided to get married all those years ago we didn’t look up a passage in the Bible that said, “God wants D.A.D. to agree to marry Warren Bird”.
Nor does it mean that we can lift any verse out of its context and interpret it as telling us something about a decision that we are facing. I heard of a young man once who tried to use the Bible like that.
He randomly opened it at a page and with his eyes closed let his finger pick out a verse on that page. He got to Matthew 27:5 in this fashion: “Judas went and hanged himself.” That’s not real helpful, he thought, so he repeated the process and ended up selecting Luke 10:37: “Go and do likewise.”
Sounds funny, but there are many Christians who treat the Bible just like that – I know, I was one of them when I was a young Christian.
Paul also wrote to Timothy that he should “be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a workman who is not ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” (2 Tim 2:15) I could preach a whole sermon on what “correctly handling the word of truth” involves. The key thing to get across tonight is that understanding any one verse requires understanding the message of the whole Bible and that understanding what the Bible is saying about my life individually requires prayerful meditation and reflection. That way we can ensure that we are not imposing what WE want or think on what God is really saying to us.
A model of guidance
What, then, DOES the Bible say about how God guides us? I think that our reading from Colossians gives us a terrific outline of the answer to this question. There are three parts to the answer:
1) Keep your eyes on the prize.
2) Keep your feet on the path.
3) Keep your heart at peace with Christ.
- Eyes on the prize (Col 3:1-4)
Ultimately, God’s guidance relates to the way that He takes us from being sinners who do not know Him to living eternally in heaven with Him. God cares about every detail of our lives here and now, because He wants to help us to negotiate the path tp heaven that we set out on when we become Christians; it is the impact that each decision we make has upon that objective that is of most importance to Him.
This is a constant theme in the New Testament. Paul elsewhere wrote that personally he was pressing on toward the goal to win the prize for which God had called him heavenward in Christ Jesus (Phil 3:14). Peter wrote that Christians should “live holy and godly lives”, looking forward to the day in which God will bring this world to an end and usher in the new heaven and the new earth, our new home of righteousness (2 Peter 3:11-13).
It’s also in Psalm 25 – verse 15 says, “my eyes are ever on the Lord, for only He will release my feet from the snare.”
In Colossians Paul urges us to set our hearts and minds on the prize that awaits us when Christ returns in glory. Everything we do in our life now should be done with our eyes on the prize. When we are faced with decisions that have to be made, God’s guidance is that we choose things that will be positive for us spiritually, that will help us on our journey to our home of righteousness, rejecting choices that will hinder our journey.
The first principle of guidance is to keep our eyes on the prize.
- Feet on the path (Col 3:5-14)
Paul goes on to argue that if we are heading in the direction of heaven then we should actually walk on the path that takes that us in that direction. The attitudes and behaviours that we have turned away from when we decided to become Christians should be left behind and the attitudes and behaviours of “God’s chosen people” should be the ones that we adopt.
Let’s be clear – no one is a Christian because they live a moral life. Being a Christian means you are an immoral person who knows they are immoral and has asked God’s forgiveness through Christ. But someone who has been forgiven is now heading for a new home of righteousness, as Peter called heaven, and thus right living is a logical, natural outworking of the relationship we have with Jesus. So when you are seeking God’s guidance, a significant place to look is in those passages of the Bible that talk about His moral will.
When you are faced with a choice between something that is morally wrong and something that is morally right, then God’s guidance for you is unambiguous – choose the thing that is right. Sometimes it won’t be easy, especially when it is a decision that has effects on other people, who might fight back or take some sort of retaliatory action against us. But be clear that God will only ever guide you to decide something that is morally right.
As Psalm 25 says, “may integrity and uprightness protect me, because my hope is in You.” (Ps 25:18)
There was a lot of news about lying, cheating and fraud in some of America’s biggest companies. The first of those companies to be found out was Enron and the whistle blower was an employee of Enron who knew that the financial accounts were a fabrication. She is a Christian woman and she realized that keeping her feet on the path required her to be honest about what was going on at Enron. It has cost her a lot – she lost her job and has been ridiculed and verbally abused by the men that she exposed – but she is able to stand before her God in all good conscience, which is far better.
The second principle of guidance is to make decisions that keep our feet on the path of life.
• Hearts at peace with Christ (Col 3:15-17)
The third and final principle is to make decisions based upon Christ’s peace ruling in our hearts. This isn’t talking about a subjective feeling of being “at peace” about a decision. Rather it is talking about the peace that we know in our hearts and souls when our daily lives are in tune with the friendship that we have with Jesus.
A lot of it comes from the fact that thankfulness is a significant part of our relationship with God. Can you thank God for the decision that you have made? Can you stand before other Christians and say that you have made a decision that expresses your gratitude to God for what He has done in your life? That you are at peace with God after making the decision? If you can, then it is a decision that you can truly say resulted from following God’s guidance.
Working it Out
You might be thinking about a decision you face at the moment in light of these three principles. It is possible that you might be thinking, “hey, wait a minute, those three things rule out some of the choices that I have but not all of them. I’m still in the dark about what God is guiding me to do. Should I go with option A, B or C?”
I want to say to you that in many, many instances there are going to be several choices that are ALL within the realm of God’s guidance. You might be looking for a new job; you rule out a couple of options because they contradict Biblical principles; but you still have a choice of 2 or 3 jobs left. A lot of people would keep fretting about not yet having received God’s guidance about what to do, but I want to tell you that in that case you really should be rejoicing! If God’s clear leading results in you having a couple of choices then there is nothing wrong with going with the one you’d prefer. God is your creator as well as you saviour, and if he made you with a liking for engineering instead of medicine, or labouring instead of office work, and there are no spiritual or moral reasons to favour one job over the other, then go with the one you’d like the best.
The apostle Paul has summed up the Bible’s teaching on guidance really well in Colossians 3:17 – “whatever you do, in word or in deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” Everything we do is as a representative of God here on earth – we act in His name. When we have choices to make, let us make the ones that represent Him the best, the ones for which we can give Him thanks. We can’t go wrong if these are our guiding principles.