Sometimes when counseling
someone about a decision, I'll give this simple
advice: Trust your judgment.
I may add something like, You
are in a better position to decide this matter
than you realize. Make the choice that seems best
to you, and believe that it is the right path to
take. Yes, trust your judgment.
There are two situations where
I'm particularly inclined to offer this counsel.
One is when someone has made a respectable effort
to work through a decision, yet cannot muster the
courage to finally resolve it. A common example
is a man or woman in a long-term relationship who
cannot decide whether to go ahead with marriage.
The relationship may be a solid, supportive one,
and there may excellent reasons to choose to
marry. The person may even be reasonably
convinced that marriage is the right choice.
Still, they hesitate, fearful that they aren't
seeing things as clearly as they should. This is
someone who needs to be strongly reassured of
their ability to make a good decision.
Another person who needs this
assurance is someone prone to value others'
opinions above their own. This often is the case
with the person who is fearful to break off a bad
relationship. A woman, for example, is pursued by
a man who makes every effort to win her
affection. After giving it fair consideration,
she concludes that the relationship isn't right
for her. Yet he persists, claiming that he has a
better understanding of things. He may even
insist that he knows that God wills for them to
be together. She wonders in all honesty if he is
right. And since he is a stronger personality
than she, it's easy to cave in to his persuasion.
Again, my counsel to her is, "Trust your
Typically, this advice is greeted
with some surprise. "Doesn't Scripture teach
us not to trust our personal
judgment?" it's asked. "Doesn't
Proverbs 3:5 tell us not to rely on our own
I confess I wince a bit when I
mete out this advice. Years of conditioning have
left me with the same knee-jerk reaction to
hearing "trust your judgment." It's
typically taught in Christian circles that we
shouldn't trust our judgment. If we've been
Christian for any time, we've probably heard this
notion preached so often that we feel irreverent
even questioning it or considering whether
there's another side to the story.
A Two-Sided Coin
Indeed, on one level Scripture
does advise us to be skeptical about our own
judgment. Proverbs 3:5-7 declares, "Trust in
the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your
own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge
him, and he will make your paths straight. Do not
be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun
Yet the Proverbs also prod us to
develop the ability to make wise decisions.
Admonitions to seek wisdom permeate the Proverbs.
While these are given to challenge us to grow in
wisdom, they do show that gaining sound insight
is a realizable goal. Consider Proverbs 3:13-14:
"Blessed is the man who finds wisdom, the
man who gains understanding, for she is more
profitable than silver and yields better returns
than gold." That statement--and many like it
in the Proverbs-- suggest that it's possible to
exercise good judgment, at least if certain
conditions are met.
Even more significant is Paul's
assurance that we who follow Christ have
"the mind of Christ" (1 Cor 2:16). This
is a remarkable promise about the possibility of
showing good judgment. Having the mind of Christ
does not mean that our insights are infallible.
Yet it does mean that we're beginning from an
exceptional position of strength in our effort to
make good decisions. As we make the right effort
to clear our field of vision, we may be confident
that we're seeing clearly to take steps of faith.
What do we need to do, then, to
reach this point of confidence about our
judgment? Here are several guidelines to keep in
your first impressions. We ought to have
an inherent distrust of our first impressions.
Ironically, it's those who find it possible to
doubt their own judgment who are most capable of
finally making competent decisions. But most
often it's our initial assumptions which
need to be called into question.
We each have been influenced far
more than we realize by ideals of our secular and
Christian cultures that hit wide of the mark of
how God sees our lives. Programmed is a
better word for it, for this influence strongly
affects our standards of judgment. It's this
internal programming which so often triggers our
initial perceptions and renders them misleading.
Take "love at first
sight," for instance. The romantic
attraction that we first feel for someone--or the
absence of it--often tells us little about our
true compatibility with that person or our
potential for a successful long-term
relationship. In the last Nehemiah Notes,
I cited a survey taken of 1,000 happily married
individuals, who were asked whether, when they
first met the one to whom they're now happily
married, they believed this was the right person
for them. Eighty percent responded no. It took
time for them to move beyond their initial
impressions and appreciate the true potential of
the other person--and the relationship.
It's the same principle which
writers, artists and other creative people almost
always discover, sometimes the hard way. Writers
often find that their first draft of a
manuscript, no matter how lovingly nurtured,
doesn't communicate effectively. A second or
third revision makes all the difference. Artists
have the same experience. Consider the testimony
of painter Yasho Kumiyoshi:
I have often
obtained in painting directly from the object that which
appears to be the real results at the very first shot,
but when that does happen, I purposely destroy what I
have accomplished and redo it over and over again. In
other words, that which comes easily I distrust. When I
have condensed and simplified sufficiently, I know then
that I have something more than reality.*
Questioning our initial assumptions
can be painful. Yet it's a critical beginning point in
approaching any major decision. This, I'm convinced, is
the concern underlying Proverbs 3:5-7. By urging us not
to lean on our own understanding, the writer is saying,
"Don't be too quick to take your gut instincts and
first impressions uncritically."
the facts. We also need to make a reasonable
effort to get the facts and weigh them carefully. This is
the second condition for good judgment.
When we look at the many proverbs which
stress seeking wisdom, we find them pressing us to be
diligent thinkers. They implore us to get pertinent
information and prudently sift through it. "If you
call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and
if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for
hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the
Lord and find the knowledge of God" (Prov 2:3-5).
Our effort to gain insight in any
important matter should not be halfhearted, the proverb
stresses. We should seek the best information we can,
consider it carefully and allow time for our insights to
season. While the proverb clearly prompts us in this
direction, it also assures us that we can be successful
in this search. With the right effort, it promises,
"you will find the knowledge of God"--or the insight
of God. The verse that follows adds, "For the Lord
gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and
This assurance that we can reach the
point of judging wisely is vital to keep in mind, for it
cautions us against endlessly analyzing a decision. While
God calls us to be responsible decision makers, he urges
us to be good stewards of our time. The point comes when
we should assume as a matter of faith that he has given
us adequate insight to decide correctly. We should make a
reasonable effort to get the facts and reflect on
them. Then in faith we should trust that God has provided
us enough information to make our decision.
Two people, for instance, who have dated
seriously for two or three years, and have discussed the
possibility of marriage for nearly this long, have
usually gone well beyond making this reasonable effort.
Typically they are at a saturation point of information.
If you are in this position, the question to consider is
whether by waiting longer you are likely to gain some
radically new insight which will help your decision. If
the answer is no, then you are at the point where a
choice should be made. It makes sense now to trust your
judgment--provided you are seeking the Lord's direction
to begin with.
for guidance. This brings us to the third
condition for good judgment--the need to pray for wisdom.
Throughout the Proverbs we're told that wisdom and clear
insight are a gift of God. In light of this, James 1:5
instructs us, "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."
Here again, though, the guiding word is reasonable.
Make a reasonable effort to pray for insight.
Remember that James promises that if we pray for wisdom, "it
will be given." Praying excessively for guidance
may indicate that I don't believe God is honoring his
promise to provide it.
While many Christians don't take prayer
seriously enough, some become obsessive about praying.
It's striking that most of the significant prayers
recorded in Scripture are brief. Even in
Gethsemane, with the momentous events to follow, Jesus
didn't instruct his disciples to pray endlessly but for
"an hour" (Mt 26:40). This is liberating, for
it suggests that an hour may be a reasonable period to
spend praying over a critical matter. Jesus certainly
wasn't suggesting a rigid or legalistic time frame in
telling his disciples to pray for an hour, for the
ancients didn't have the precise time measurements we
have today. Yet his advice does provide a general
benchmark to follow in praying over a significant
If you are facing a major
decision--perhaps about a career change, a relationship
or involvement in your church--and have made a reasonable
effort to get the facts and weigh them, let me urge you
now to give some attention to seeking God's direction.
Set aside a period of uncluttered time--an hour,
perhaps--and choose a quiet spot where you're not likely
to be interrupted. Pray earnestly for God's insight. Ask
him, too, for courage to step forward in faith as he
Then believe in faith that God is giving
you the grace to think clearly. Trust your judgment. Go
ahead and make your best choice. If in all honesty it
seems that you still don't have enough information to
decide, then don't force the decision. Choose to stay
tentative--but make that definite choice with confidence.
But if there is reasonable evidence that
you should move in a certain direction, then opt to do
so, asking God to make it abundantly clear if you're not
choosing the best course. Then move ahead confidently,
even if some doubts remain. Look for substantial
certainty but not perfect certainty.
Beyond Mood Swings
If you are one who is indecisive or
analytical by nature, realize that there are some
important benefits to your temperament. It gives you the
energy and patience to carefully plod through all the
angles of a decision. But realize the drawbacks it
presents for you as well. You may be prone to overanalyze
a decision or wait for a measure of "perfect
peace" that isn't reasonable to expect before taking
a major step.
Take confidence in knowing that if you
are a child of Christ, God has given you the mind of
Christ. He has put within you the capacity to make good
judgments. Honor him by taking that ability seriously.
And enjoy the incomparable adventure of decision making.