Life with my daughter has always been an adventure. When she was attending college at Oklahoma State, we began each semester with a standard procedure. I would drive her to the campus, 75 miles to the west, we would stop for lunch, I would pull out the OSU catalog, and she would choose the major du jour. The guidelines were fairly simple. No major in the sciences. I asked about political science, but that option got vetoed because “there is science in the name.” Too close for comfort. Across her long and distinguished college career, she changed majors every semester except for the last one.
I empathize. Choices come hard. Life has too many variables, too many unknowns, too much complexity, too many options, and too many hidden pitfalls.
This reality becomes problematic since life consists of an ongoing series of choices. We are constantly bombarded by the small ones: the day begins with deciding between the snooze option or actually getting up, what to wear, coffee or tea (that’s an easy one), and ultimately choosing between paper or plastic. Even more overwhelming are the bigger decisions: occupation, job change, purchase of a house or car, choice of a doctor and church. Many decisions we make semi-consciously, causing us to lose sight of the multitude of choices we make many times per hour throughout the course of a day. As I write this article I am choosing between words, which not only convey content but also color, tone, and attitude, and I even debate whether I should publish this article or write on a different topic.
The Apostle Paul recognized this challenge regarding choices in writing to the Colossians. I believe a good translation of Colossians 1:9 might read in part, “We have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled by the discovery of his will with all spiritual wisdom and understanding.” The word I translated “discovery” also embodies the idea of “discernment.” Making spiritually wise decisions requires discovering or discerning God’s will. No simple formula exists for identifying the most productive, the wisest path forward. Rather, we must discern it.
Paul conveys the same message in Romans 12:2. The NAS translates that verse, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” Merriam-Webster defines “prove” to mean, “(T)o demonstrate as having a particular quality or worth—the vaccine has been proven effective after years of tests.”
This verse indicates that this process of “proving” God’s will, requires a renewed mind, which consists of a worldview that encompasses all of reality including the spiritual dimension, as opposed to the old mind that is limited to the material realm. In our society, people seeking to discern the correct course limited to material data can’t even figure out which bathroom to use. Only as we incorporate the full range of spiritual truth into our understanding of life can we make wise decisions.
Doing so requires serious study of Scripture, the source of truth regarding the spiritual realm, which includes gaining acquaintance with all of the Bible and giving special attention to those parts particularly applicable to the choices confronting us. Developing a renewed mind requires consistent diligence over many years. We can, and need to draw on input from others who have made substantial progress down that road. However, because life confronts us with so many decisions, it is essential that we develop our own understanding of Scripture. We are blessed today to have access to free or inexpensive Bible study tools such as e-sword (http://www.e-sword.net/), which provides both an array of powerful Bible study tools and also many good commentaries. I have made a practice of opening a Word file for every book of the Bible that I study, which has allowed me to build a repository for insights the Lord has given me. The cumulative results of our Bible study enable us to develop “the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16) so that we can deal with each decision confronting us with the knowledge necessary to inform us regarding what Jesus would do.
We read about another essential requisite for making biblical decisions in Hebrews 5:14, which informs us that “…solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” (ESV) “Trained by constant practice” is the translation for a single Greek word from which we derive our English “gymnasium.” Of course, going to the gym is optional. Likewise, we can make choices without going through the gymnastics of actively seeking to discern what Jesus would do. Years ago I gave a class on stewardship, which provided principles for using all of our resources optimally for the Lord. One person in the class responded that to apply such principles in making stewardship decisions would drive her crazy. In essence she was saying that she would rather not get all sweaty in the gymnasium of biblical decision-making. For those willing to do the work, however, the payoff comes in the development of discernment muscles that enable us to “distinguish good from evil.”
Life is too complex for us to apply some canned formula for making choices. Wise decision-making requires the hard work of serious study of Scripture and exercise in the gymnasium of biblical application. In the especially confusing day in which we live, survival and success depend on our development of these requisites for decision-making.