On a recent warm spring day while my wife and I were driving on the interstate, a small turtle crouched by the road literally a few inches from traffic. His head raised high and his neck fully outstretched, he looked like he was contemplating crossing the freeway. Of course, we certainly knew the turtle could not really “think” about making such a decision. Motivated by instinct, he might have merely been trying to reach a mating or nesting area after leaving his winter quarters.
Did the turtle cross the freeway that day? We don’t know. But if he tried, the odds of him making it to the other side were clearly not in his favor.
How about you and me—when we face a major decision, do we carefully implement critical decision-making practices that will give us the best opportunity for success? Or are we figuratively crouched by the edge of a busy freeway, “sticking our neck out,” just hoping a hasty decision to dash across won’t result in us being run over? How can we make effective decisions? What is a wise, deliberate course of action we can employ when we must decide a major issue?
Making good decisions
Throughout our lives we encounter many decisions, both small and large. The small ones might include what clothes to wear or what to eat for lunch. These kinds of decisions generally do not take a lot of thought or effort. But the major decisions require much more concerted attention and action. These might cover such questions as: What should I do after losing my job? Should I change careers? Maybe go back to school? Should I get married? Should I move to a new city or state? Buy a house? Have a baby? When should I retire?
If we employ wisdom and place our lives in God’s hands by faithful obedience, we can have confidence that the decisions we make will work to our ultimate advantage.
Decisions like these can be challenging and demanding because they often involve complex factors including how family members will be affected, finances, climate, health issues, relationships and much more.
To illustrate, I’d like to use a personal example. A number of years ago I was managing a large convention property that had been up for sale for a long time. After it finally sold, I lost both my job and our housing since we lived on the property. My wife and I with our two children moved to a nearby apartment, and I began searching for new employment. One particular complication involved my allergies to mold, mildew and various printing inks, toners and fragrances. Finding employment where I would not be exposed regularly to these substances was a major challenge.
After months of job hunting, nothing suitable resulted. Ultimately it took about two years of searching before I finally obtained a new job and we settled in another state. Unlike the turtle on the edge of the freeway, the way to the other side was not a straight line, but a journey replete with hills, valleys and many detours. Very little of that experience was “black and white,” nor did it feel like a direct route to a good job and a settled life. It took hard work and the application of several important principles of decision making to reach our goal.
Stay positive and optimistic
Decision making during times of stress and uncertainty, such as after a job loss, can be very frustrating and difficult. Feelings of inadequacy and dejection can often accompany unemployment. This can be especially true if the situation has gone on for a long time. I know, because I had to fight that battle. As a result, I found that it was critical to do everything possible to stay positive and upbeat. Making sound decisions requires clear reasoning and an optimistic outlook. I learned that being encumbered by negative emotions short-circuited making objective judgments.
Dr. Hossein Arsham, a professor of business statistics and decision science at the University of Baltimore, wrote : “Do not make any serious decisions when you are angry, hurt, depressed, desperate or frightened. Do not make a decision when you are incapable of rational thought. Make decisions for the right reasons and when you are calm and thoughtful.”
Stress, despair and depression can have a harmful effect on effective decision making. The website wisedecisions.com explains: “When the brain is overloaded by stress or dimmed by depression the ability to think well and make wise decisions is reduced. Stress and depression, by clinical trials, have been clearly proven to reduce cognitive ability and affect memory, concentration and judgment. So what do you do? The best advice is to refrain from making major career or life decisions when you are in such a state. Give it time, rest, let go of the decision and come back to it a little later.”
The book of Proverbs confirms that depression and hopelessness can hinder a person physically, emotionally and spiritually so that he or she cannot function optimally. “A merry heart makes a cheerful countenance, but by sorrow of the heart the spirit is broken” (Proverbs 15:13 Proverbs 15:13A merry heart makes a cheerful countenance: but by sorrow of the heart the spirit is broken.
American King James Version×). The Bible also offers essential advice in combating negativity and pessimism when meeting difficult trials: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7 Philippians 4:6-7 6 Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
American King James Version×).
Avoid concentrating on past mistakes
Another lesson we learned when encountering major decisions was to avoid reliving past mistakes. Of course all of us can and should learn from our failures and errors, but it is unwise to repeatedly look into the rearview mirror, by wishing things were different. When I was searching for a job and not making progress, I occasionally found myself thinking, “If only I had acted sooner,” or had not previously made a particular mistake in judgment. It took time to realize that it was unhelpful to continue rehearsing former troubles and miscalculations. I learned that I needed to let the past be the past and put my energy into finding a new road ahead. The apostle Paul offers this simple yet profound counsel: “Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14 Philippians 3:13-14 13 Brothers, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth to those things which are before,
14 I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
American King James Version×).
Make every effort to get the facts
Wise decision making also requires the careful gathering and analysis of various options. This could simply be called “getting the facts.” My wife and I found that when we faced a key decision it was valuable to impartially write down as many pros and cons about the situation as possible. Doing so compelled us to take the time to examine the implications of a range of choices and not treat lightly any potential negative effects that could be faced.
This approach can be advisable if, for example, you are considering a move to another city or state for new employment. You may want to reflect on questions like, What are the risks and benefits of moving? How will doing so affect your family? Will the income from the new job be sufficient to cover higher living costs in the new area? How about the climate? Will family members be able to adjust adequately? What will the schools in the new area be like for the children?
Placing these and other questions, choices and alternatives on paper can provide a beneficial long range view in order to more accurately determine what could lie ahead. Taking this step requires concerted effort to really dig out the facts. Doing so may bring to light important factors that had not previously been considered or discussed.
Moving ahead on a major decision without adequate information and deliberation could be like the slow-moving little turtle trying to cross the busy freeway. There may be little chance of success if a range of important alternatives are not first investigated carefully.
Seek wise, objective advice
Another critical key in formulating an appropriate decision is to seek wise counsel. In determining the facts, it is important to obtain as much objective advice as possible from people who possess information and data relative to the subject in question. As an example, if you had a problem with your car’s engine and were unfamiliar with how to diagnose or repair it, you would likely seek out someone with the proper mechanical knowledge. The same is true about other circumstances for which you may not be as familiar.
Seeking advice from several individuals who are highly regarded and trustworthy authorities on the matter associated with your decision is a valuable element in good decision making. “Where there is no counsel, the people fall; but in the multitude of counselors there is safety” (Proverbs 11:14 Proverbs 11:14Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counsellors there is safety.
American King James Version×). Besides obtaining advice from wise people, gaining knowledge from God’s Word is also an essential key to making good decisions. The Bible is filled with examples of right and wrong decision making, both by the leaders and average citizens. Studying these biblical illustrations carefully can help you steer clear of possible blunders in the choices you encounter. “Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come” (1 Corinthians 10:11 1 Corinthians 10:11Now all these things happened to them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, on whom the ends of the world are come.
American King James Version×).
A truly wise and humble person realizes he is inadequate without God and His careful guidance. At the beginning of his reign King Solomon said to his Creator, “Now give me wisdom and knowledge, that I may go out and come in before this people; for who can judge this great people of Yours?” (2 Chronicles 1:10 2 Chronicles 1:10Give me now wisdom and knowledge, that I may go out and come in before this people: for who can judge this your people, that is so great?
American King James Version×).
You could benefit by this example as you ask God for His direction in your choices. He understands your situation and sincerely desires to help you. Nevertheless, He sometimes waits for a person to ask for His assistance. This is where persistent prayer should also be a part of your decision making procedures. “So I say to you, ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (Luke 11:9 Luke 11:9And I say to you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you.
American King James Version×). My wife and I learned that we also needed to appreciate that God, in His wisdom, will answer our prayers in the timing and methods of His choosing, not necessarily ours. Therefore, we found that another key to making judicious decisions was exercising patience.
As we gathered the facts, sought wise counsel, studied and obeyed God’s Word and prayed about our situation, we also found we needed to patiently analyze the information we have obtained. Just as the turtle cautiously stopped and waited on the side of the freeway, so should you carefully employ patience to help you do what is best and avoid getting into trouble. Although the time for action will come, the apostle James offers some excellent advice: “But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (James 1:4 James 1:4But let patience have her perfect work, that you may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.
American King James Version×). So “sleeping on it” before making a final decision is a favorable and wise strategy.
Implementing your decision
Once you’ve decided on a course of action, it is time to move forward positively and decisively. Vacillation must be rejected because it can be discouraging and debilitating. If you ask God for His guidance you should do your utmost to eliminate doubt. “But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways” (James 1:6-8 James 1:6-8 6 But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavers is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.
7 For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord.
8 A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.
American King James Version×).
After choosing wisely, the next thing is to work diligently to obtain the desired results. Ecclesiastes 9:10 Ecclesiastes 9:10Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, where you go.
American King James Version×says, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might.” But what if the outcome of the decision is not exactly to your liking or your goal has not yet been fully been achieved? If that occurs, it is important to demonstrate flexibility.
If events do not turn out precisely as planned, be willing to adjust and modify the path to your goal. I mentioned earlier that my road to new employment was not a direct one. Even after research, contemplation, consultation, discussion, prayer and study, it was a journey that included various detours and alternate routes. It required agility to adjust to changing circumstances.
Not every decision you make will immediately provide sparkling, ideal results. It is inevitable that you will occasionally run into unanticipated problems. Being prepared for that possibility can supply peace of mind and prevent you from becoming frustrated and discouraged.
The most important component
In thinking back about the turtle we saw on the side of the busy freeway that spring day, we certainly hope he made a better “decision” than to try to cross to the other side. Although we know he was operating only by natural instinct, you and I have the God-given capacity to formulate and then decide on the path forward. Making wise decisions requires the important principles and practices just described.
But there is an additional component that ought to be integral to every decision made. “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:33 Matthew 6:33But seek you first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you.
American King James Version×).
If you and I make the Kingdom of God our overall goal, we don’t have to be like the turtle on the side of the freeway, just “sticking our neck out,” hoping we will make an effective decision. Rather, if we employ wisdom and place our lives in God’s hands by faithful obedience, we can have confidence that the decisions we make will work to our ultimate advantage.