Inside: Did you know that you can improve your decision-making skills? Check out these research-backed tips for making wise decisions as a Christian every day.
Did you know that there’s an optimal time to go before a judge?
According to a study of 1,112 Israeli judges on a parole board, 65% of the criminals heard in the morning or after lunch were granted parole, but almost none were granted before a break or at the end of the day.
Like us, judges start to get fatigued by the time lunch or the end of the day rolls around. They tend to resort to the easiest decisions, in this case, denying parole. It turns out that a hungry, tired judge might also be the harshest.
Known as the hungry judge effect, this phenomenon can affect us as Christians as well. You may not be deciding the fate of an inmate, but your environment and lifestyle affect your decision-making skills.
Fortunately, we can use this and other research to improve our daily decision-making skills. Let’s examine how making wise decisions can become a consistent pattern in your life.
How Do You Hear from God When Making a Decision?
Before we begin, let’s examine what the Bible says about decision-making. Let God’s Word be the foundational basis for making wise decisions.
1. Stay close to God daily.
We should seek God regularly through prayer and the Word, not just when we need an answer. As we spend time in the Word, we become more able to discern His will.
Romans 12:2 says, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (NIV).
Staying consistently close to God helps us make godly decisions, as we become more sensitive to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Philippians 2:13 says, “For it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.”
God not only changes our desires, He enables and empowers us to walk in His will.
2. Ask God for wisdom first.
When facing a decision, ask God for the wisdom that you need. This means not going first to a friend (or Google) for answers.
James 1:5 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” God is more than willing to give us wisdom if we would go to Him first.
3. Be willing to lay down and surrender all possible options.
This means saying, “Not my will, but Your will be done.” Sometimes, God gives us exactly what we want. Sometimes, the choice is left to us.
Other times, He changes our hearts to want what He wants and then gives us those desires. Psalm 37:4 says, “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” In any case, be open to His leading.
4. Ask for counsel from trusted Christians.
After praying for wisdom, seek counsel from the wise people that God has put in your life. This might include Christian family members, friends, pastors, or leaders.
Proverbs 19:20 adds, “Listen to advice and accept discipline, and at the end you will be counted among the wise.” Wisdom won’t be found in a vacuum. Let’s be willing to humble ourselves and put aside any self-sufficient pride to ask others for help.
But What If You Still Can’t Hear God’s Voice?
What if you’ve done all these things, and you’re still at a loss as to what to do in a certain situation? Sometimes, when God seems silent, it’s not because He doesn’t care.
In His goodness and graciousness, God gives us considerable freedom to make our own choices. We are the stewards of the resources gifted to us. And He might want us to make the decision ourselves, trusting that He’ll guide us along the way.
In Hearing God, Dallas Willard writes,
“It is God’s will that we ourselves should have a great part in determining our path through life. This does not mean that he is not with us. Far from it. God both develops and, for our good, tests our character by leaving us to decide. He calls us to responsible citizenship in his kingdom by saying—in effect or in reality—as often as possible, ‘My will for you in this case is that you decide on your own.'”
Willard says that if we don’t hear from God explicitly, it means that He wants us to make a good choice ourselves, trusting in His grace as we go along. But we want to hear from God on every major decision because it feels safer and less risky.
The Bible Does Not Have All the Answers You Seek
As much as we wish otherwise, the Bible doesn’t contain all the answers we’re looking for. You heard me right.
The Bible doesn’t spell out every single decision that we face in our complex world. Many modern-day decisions are not even moral or ethical ones. And the Bible won’t contain the hidden blueprint of our 10-year life plan.
The Bible teaches us wisdom, but it doesn’t give us specific guidance on which business deal to take, whether to homeschool, or if this is a good year to install solar.
So how can we go about evaluating these kinds of decisions? Given that you are walking closely with God daily, here are some other approaches to making wise decisions.
11 Science-Based Tips for Making Wise Decisions
1. Limit your choices.
Sometimes we can become overwhelmed by the sheer number of options available to us in our modern age. When making decisions, purposely limit yourself to a few choices, rather than an exhaustive list of options.
Limiting choices helps us focus on the quality, rather than quantity of our decisions. It also reduces second-guessing and leaves us with the energy to make other important decisions.
2. Write out your thought process.
Putting our thoughts on paper helps us see the situation in front of us. Make a pros or cons list. Alternatively, make a list of the consequences of each option, and decide that way.
If you are looking for methods for making complex work decisions, consider a decision matrix or other tools.
3. Make a list of your commitments.
Make a list of your current commitments, and then prioritize your commitments by importance. Weigh your choices and evaluate your decision in light of this list. Clarifying our values helps clarify our decisions.
4. Imagine what you would tell a friend.
Imagine what you would tell a friend in your position. Studies show that we’re more objective in the third person. That’s why it’s easier to give advice than to receive it. Gain a different perspective this way.
5. Consult professionals if needed.
God gives us differing amounts of abilities and resources to manage and steward (Matthew 25:14-30). It’s okay if you lack the expertise to make an informed decision. But if God has given you the financial means, the best decision may be the decision to outsource.
Outsourcing can be a wise and shrewd use of our time and money, allowing us to multiply our limited resources. Examples would be hiring a tax preparer, financial planner, or general contractor.
6. Do something else (or sleep on it).
Brain imaging research shows that the brain continues to unconsciously process complex decisions even when engaged in unrelated tasks. This means that our decision-making often improves after we take a break or sleep on the issue.
Rather than dwell relentlessly, put some space between you and the decision. You’ll get more clarity this way.
7. Wait to make major decisions until the morning.
Remember the study of the Israeli judges mentioned at the beginning of this post?
Studies have shown that we make the most accurate and thoughtful decisions in the morning—regardless of whether we are morning people or night owls.
We get fatigued as we make tiny decisions throughout the day. By the time the evening rolls around, we are more likely to take mental shortcuts and make poorer decisions.
(This is also a great reason to pray through major decisions during a morning quiet time.)
8. HALT when you are Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired.
Being hungry, angry, lonely, or tired increases the likelihood of making an impulsive or poor decision. As Robert Schuller once said, “Never make your most important decisions when you are in your worst moods.” Wait until you feel better.
But if you absolutely must make an important decision while in any of these vulnerable states, eat something first. Remember the impact that a simple meal had on the Israeli judges in granting parole.
9. Put the decision in perspective.
Remember that this world isn’t our real home. Ask yourself, Will this decision matter a year from now? 5 years? In eternity? If the decision isn’t that important, avoid wasting precious time and energy. Make a decision that is “good enough,” rather than perfect.
10. Consider your first gut reaction.
For some people, anxiety and fear about outcomes can lead to analysis paralysis. But remember that not making a decision is also a decision. If you truly care about the outcome, it’s better to make a decision, rather than leave things to chance.
When stuck in analysis paralysis, go by your first gut reaction. Which option would you choose if forced to choose quickly?
11. Flip a coin (!)
Believe it or not, there’s some science behind this idea. According to Friederike Fabritius and Hans Hagemann in The Leading Brain, our gut feelings—or intuition—can be a reflection of years of experience.
If we’re unsure, flipping a coin gives us insight into what our gut is saying. Assign an option to each side of a coin. Flip the coin, paying attention to how you feel when the coin is landing. Are you secretly pleased that a coin landed a certain way, or are you disappointed? What’s your gut feeling?
Making Sense of a Complex World
Many Christians struggle with godly decision-making in today’s choice-laden world. Whether you’re prone to indecision, impulsive decisions, or overcommitment, we can use scientific research in addition to the Bible in making wise decisions throughout the day.
Fortunately, most of our decisions won’t affect the rest of the life of an inmate.
Recap: Tips for Making Wise Decisions
What the Bible says:
- Stay close to God daily.
- Ask God for wisdom first.
- Be willing to surrender all options.
- Ask for counsel from other Christians.
What science says:
- Limit your choices.
- Write out your thought process (or use a tool).
- Make a list of your commitments.
- Imagine what you would tell a friend.
- Consult professionals if needed.
- Step away from the decision (or sleep on it).
- Make major decisions in the morning.
- HALT when you are Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired.
- Put the decision in perspective.
- Consider your first gut reaction.
- Flip a coin (to determine your gut feeling).
Do you find yourself struggling with making wise decisions? What can you do to improve your decision-making skills today?
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