I fumbled my way through high school, just thankful to have good enough marks to graduate. As a teenager, my decisions about my future career path were inspired by media and my own selfish desires. To be honest, there weren’t many better alternatives at the time. Like most students I imagine, I wanted a career that promised prestige and money, so that I could live an indulgent life, buy the stuff I liked, and be respected.
But I wasn’t making the right decisions that would get me there. I was doing what felt good in the moment. I ate junk food, got addicted to porn, and stayed up late watching television. Ironically, I was using these three vices to cope with my worry about the future. I wasn’t practicing good reading and studying habits, nor was I developing a disciplined mind or character.
Before I knew it, I was headed into university and it was time to choose my major and register for classes. I felt like I was fumbling again. I hadn’t been preparing or investigating what each class represented, only dreaming of my future wealth and status while fostering an undisciplined body and mind.
The process of selecting my major and registering for classes was stressful for me. I didn’t know what I was getting into. I was freaked out by the endless lists of abbreviations for each class and their little descriptions. I had very little idea of how to seek the guidance and input I needed from God – or anyone else. I was going it alone.
I’m learning not to ultimately trust myself
I thought I knew what career was best for me. I failed to see my need for guidance from God and my community for these decisions about my career. I failed to see that God designed me and knew best how I would fit into this world.
I was blind to my my selfish motivations and didn’t take into consideration what God wanted for me. There was nothing wrong with my desire to be a doctor, but now I see that my motivations for indulgence, money, and prestige wasn’t the goal Jesus had in mind for me.
Even when I went to God, I used foolish methods to make decisions. I would sometimes flip through random pages of the Bible hoping my finger would land on a single verse that would give me God’s direction. I sometimes asked God for signs (If this…then this) or made bargains with him (If you do this for me…I’ll do this for you). I made a lot of decisions based on a hunch or a feeling.
I also took some foolish approaches to studying the Bible. I sometimes justified my selfish desires by taking parts of the Bible out of context. I observed wealthy people in the Bible and expected that to be the norm for my experience. I wanted it to align with what I wanted.
Why did I do these things? I related to God as though my happiness was ultimate, and related to him as if he was supposed to endorse my desires. I thought if I could just earn his favour or appease him, I could get what I wanted. But I now know that none of these options are healthy ways to make good life decisions or relate to God.
A healthy tension in decision making
I am learning that the process of good decision making starts with keeping two things in healthy tension:
First things first: If I am in Christ, I can be assured that he desires to guide me, he doesn’t hide what I need to know and act on. In many decisions he allows me the freedom to choose from many options that please him.
Second, I am not entitled to know every detail of God’s plan for my life. I can be assured that God has a plan for me, but he is not obligated to fill me in on every detail, even though I sometimes want to have it mapped out in advance. In fact, he may choose to never give any reason for why he has permitted circumstances in my life. In all cases, he calls me to trust him and act on what I do know.
I like to use the following four points as a process to help me decide whether I am making the right decisions in life, and whether or not they are in line with God’s will for me.
Is my decision in line with God’s commands?
My life decisions need to first align with the highest authority – God’s commands. God’s direct commands are his will for me, to which he holds me accountable. If any choice offered to me contradicts a direct command, it cannot be a good decision because God is good and holy, and desires holiness and righteousness from me (1 Peter 1:15-15, ESV). To proceed with any decision that outright contradicts God’s word is sin and God cannot bless.
To help me know what God’s commands are, I read and try to understand the Bible and seek to understand how it applies to my life decisions. As I develop a closer love for God through reading about him and experiencing him in prayer, my desires change what I delight in and do.
Every part of Scripture is God-breathed: showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God’s way. Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us. (2 Timothy 3:16 MSG)
Is my decision in line with who God has made me?
Knowing what God requires of me helps me evaluate my motives for a decision. When I know and understand God’s truth and who he is, I can see myself more clearly. I can be more aware of my motives, acknowledge my strengths and gifts, and know where I need to develop.
God’s spirit searches my heart as I study the Bible. He safeguards me from pride, keeping me humble in my strengths, reminding me to use them to honor God and serve others. God’s spirit also helps me accept my weaknesses, being at peace with the reality that I can’t be competent at everything.
In many of my decisions I have tried to imitate others who I admire, but I end up trying to be someone I am not meant to be. I get frustrated when I can’t live up to what they can do and produce. God helps me accept my strengths and weaknesses as unique, and safeguards me from getting caught up in comparison.
Here are a few questions that help me process who God has created me to be: What gifts have I been given? What do I naturally tend towards thinking about or doing? Does my decision line up with a trajectory of what God has been doing in my life? What are people who know me well encouraging me in? What are people saying I am gifted in? How do people say that they are blessed by me?
Is my decision in line with Godly counsel?
Especially in critical life decisions, I value the wise counsel of mature Christians who I trust and admire. These people have expertise beyond mine and can help me live out the gospel in my decisions. They can ask me clarifying questions to help me discern my motives and offer me new perspective. They can even give me insight into the gifts and abilities they think I should focus on.
Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed. – Proverbs 15:22
I value the counsel of my spiritual leaders. My pastors, elders, and mentors represent God’s care and authority over me. Bruce Waltke offers a great suggestion for asking for counsel, ‘I typically open the door gently by asking “May I seek your counsel on something?”’
I can rest my decision in God’s Providence
Sometimes things happen that are completely out of my control. I may know that a decision is within God’s guidance, have it confirmed in my heart and by other mature Christians as a good decision, but circumstances can still prevent me from carrying it out.
I am learning to always leave my plans in God’s hands, because circumstances don’t always work out the way I plan them. Even if I have the best of intentions. I need to accept that I cannot control outcomes. I can rest in God’s sovereignty. He is in control and will work it out for the best end.
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. – Romans 8:28 ESV
It’s never too late
I was primarily motivated to make decisions about my future that were self serving. I wanted the prestige and money that a successful career promised. The stresses of making it happen weren’t sustained by my self indulgent lifestyle. I fumbled and stumbled my way through many foolish decisions and ended up with broken dreams.
But God was gracious and showed me that he does in fact guide me and change my desires to work for his glory and serve others. He brought me into closer relationships that gave me guidance and aligned my motives for career choices to what God desired. I never got the career I dreamed of, but I am glad I didn’t. I see how God spared me from only living for the pride of self-dependence, wealth, and prestige.
Read more about NEXT, Power to Change’s initiative to help Grade 12s connect to a faith based community in college or university.