10 Things to Do When Deciding Direction (Part 2 of 2)
Glad you hopped onto the blog today! If you are here because you read part 1 of this blog, I can’t wait to keep talking about this topic of discerning direction when facing a big decision. I love this topic so much I feel like I could write a part 25 😉 I know decisions and direction can be stressful and we can feel lost but what I love and what I personally bank on is that God is a God who speaks. You and I can count on that when seeking where we are going and what we are doing. Here are more things you can do when deciding direction…
6. Ask God to guide you. Then look for signs that He is.
This may sound obvious but I think sometimes we talk a lot about decisions. We process with friends. We make pros and cons lists. We ask people we admire what they think we should do but we forget to ask God. We forget to ask the One who knows us best, the One who knows our best. We forget to process with Him. You know you can go to Him and you can process with Him. You can dump out all the options, all the worry, all the excitement. You can talk, talk, talk. You can also listen, listen, listen. No matter what, go to your Guide for guidance.
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.”
Look, God tells us to ask for wisdom and He will give it to us! That sounds like a promise to me! And if He promises He will give you wisdom then look for it. That might sound weird to you but I look for signs that God is speaking to me.
God spoke through signs, wonders and circumstances in stories in the Bible all the time. Joel 2 tells us that “God’s Spirit will pour forth dreams, visions, and signs in the sky.” In Luke 2:12 tells the story of how the shepherds would Jesus was the Messiah: “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”
Belshazzar experienced handwriting on a wall and called Daniel in to interpret what that meant. Gideon prayed and experienced circumstantial changes from a wet fleece one day to a dry one the next and heard God speak direction through that. Balaam was so blinded by his own greed so God used an angel to spook his donkey, knocking him on his booty and the whole circumstance revealed some serious truth to Balaam. God spoke to Moses during his unwanted circumstance of a 40-year work stint for his father-in-law.
The woman caught stark naked in the act of adultery and about to be stoned by a bunch of judgy religious men was Jesus’ opportunity to step into her circumstance and remind her she matters. When 5,000 hungry people were getting hangry, Jesus used that circumstantial moment to show what He could do with a little boy’s lunch. When Jesus sent out His disciples, He told them specifically to move based on the reception they experienced: “And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart. As you enter the house, greet it. And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town.” (Matthew 10:11-14)
When Paul and those he ministered with were trying to travel about and his direction was hindered in Acts 16, it was concluded that God was the one who had directed them not to go: “And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them.” When Paul and Silas were attacked by an angry mob and thrown into a jail, that night they were singing hymns and an earthquake occurred. The jail doors opened and people’s chains busted off and they did not leave the jail. In fact, Paul used this circumstance not as an open door to leave jail but as an opportunity to witness to the jailer, illustrating the integrity and right doing of one who follows Jesus Christ pointing to His power in people’s lives. They were amazed and the jailer and his whole household gave their lives to God and were baptized… all because Paul paid attention to his circumstances and what God was doing in them. Many of us might see jail and hindrances and a room full of people threatening us with rocks and lack of reception and cranky donkeys as “coincidence” or as a bad sign, but God can use all of our circumstances to guide our direction, our decisions and our trajectories.
Now don’t get all woohoo on me here and turn everything in your life into a sign. Be careful not to stretch something as “god.” Your cheerio in the shape of a Y is not a yes from God. Your rash does not mean you should quit your job today. Your flat tire does not mean you should move to Mexico. But I do trust that God speaks through 4 ways: His people, His Word, His Spirit and our circumstances. (I talked about the first 3 already in part one of this blog.) And God does not contradict Himself. God is a Guide, not a confuser. So God is not going to tell you to go and spew hate on your neighbor when Scripture makes it clear you are called to love your enemies. And God is not going to tell you to hoard all your money for yourself because God calls us to give generously. You catch my drift…
Knowing God does speak through His Word, His Spirit, His people and your circumstances, you can be paying attention to your circumstances and asking God if He is saying something to you through them. They can also be processed with your spiritual advisers. Sometimes we pray and ask God for wisdom in buying a house and our offer gets declined. Could this circumstance we don’t want, be a sign? Sometimes your date no-shows you. Could that be a sign? Maybe he is a complete flake or maybe he calls you the next day and tells you how sorry he is because his phone fell in the toilet and he lost his contacts (you being one), and his grandma passed away, and all he can think about is you. That could be a sign too. I can’t read the signs for you or interpret your circumstances, but you can, with God’s Spirit and God’s people in God’s Word. You can ask God for wisdom and then look for how His wisdom is showing up all over the place.
I mentioned (in part 1 of this blog) my son’s process of determining which college he was supposed to go to. The entire journey, Aidan was pretty confident he was supposed to go to the University of Portland. But there was one visit where he was all of a sudden second guessing it big time. We sat down as a family on our trip to Portland and processed why he was starting to get a little panicky about it when he had been confident the entire time. He shared that he wondered if moving to a whole new city with no friends was a good idea. His feelings were so valid! Who wouldn’t feel this way?! When he was second guessing, I was wondering if this was a redirect. So that whole night I prayed and asked God to guide us. I certainly didn’t want him going rogue on his own and making a decision he would regret. The next day we visited the school one more time. We ended up on some road that led our car to the actual very middle of campus where the bell tower stands. It is a beautiful center with rolling green grass, old brick buildings, a chapel and this tall, tall bell tower. We rolled down our windows and all 4 of us sat in the car looking out, taking it all in.
And wouldn’t you know it? The bells started unexpectedly playing a song. And it was so, so beautiful. Come to find out, the fourteen bells play at certain times every day but the songs switch up. They are not always the same. And that day I recognized the song but I wasn’t sure why. And then my husband, who grew up in the church, started humming it. It was the song “What a friend we have in Jesus.” I wondered if God was speaking to us, guiding us, giving us wisdom so when we left campus, I went and looked up the song. The lyrics sing:
What a Friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer!
Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged,
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful
Who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness,
Take it to the Lord in prayer.
Are we weak and heavy-laden,
Cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Savior, still our refuge—
Take it to the Lord in prayer;
Do thy friends despise, forsake thee?
Take it to the Lord in prayer;
In His arms He’ll take and shield thee,
Thou wilt find a solace there.
Was that a sign? Here we were exploring campus for the last time before Aidan had to make a decision, and the only worry he had was about friends and this song came on? Sure, you can think I am crazy and woohoo, but I think God was speaking to me. I think God was reminding my mama-worry heart that He will always be the best friend my kid could ever need. He was reminding me that my son’s decision around college would not be sealed with peace because he had lots of friends going with him but because Jesus was going with him and promises to be his closest companion, walking with him into every class, every relationship, every mess up, every accomplishment, every heartache and every learning lesson.
That day for some reason, my son’s fears were relieved and he said he was ready to press “Send.” My fears were relieved too. We were prayed up, we asked God for wisdom, and then we looked to Him to speak in His word, by His Spirit through His people and in our circumstances. And finally a decision was made. Aidan is now a Portland Pilot! And I trust Jesus to show up and friend Aidan every single day.
7. Listen for God and ditch what keeps you from hearing.
God speaks and we often don’t hear Him for the same reasons we don’t hear each other. We aren’t familiar with God’s voice: John 10:4 says “The Shepherd goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.” We have to be in tune with Jesus’ tone, inflection, emphases. We have to spend so much time with Him that we know His character, His every move, His rhythm. We have to soak up His Word in the Bible and memorize it so that it guides like second nature. When you know what the voice of God sounds like, you can decipher it even in the middle of a storm.
We have spiritual selective hearing. We are like spiritual teenagers, at least mine:) We can’t hear things like, “do your chores” or “take out the garbage” or “walk the dog,” but for some crazy reason we can hear, “here’s ten bucks” or “want some ice cream?” Our hearing listens for what it hopes to hear and everything else we drown out. It’s like we have those noise canceling headphones on that my son wears. We wear our pride, we wear our desire to rebel, we wear our bitterness, we wear our hardened hearts, we wear all sorts of God-canceling headphones and only we can take those off and choose to listen.
It’s just too loud. Spotify’s on, Alexa’s telling jokes, telemarketers are calling, Facebook’s dinging, the dog’s barking, the calendar’s notifying us that we’re supposed to be at 9 places at once, the Yelp reviews are booing, the alarm clock is sounding, the parents are expecting, the kids are fighting, the boss is demanding, the acquaintances are DM-ing, the enemies are backstabbing, the culture is pushing and friends are leaving voicemails. It’s no wonder we can’t hear anything God is saying.
Sometimes we don’t hear because we are doing all the talking. Sometimes it’s because we’re too busy to listen. There are all sorts of reasons we don’t hear God’s voice, but I’ll tell you what, when we desire to hear someone we can even hear silence. I learned this from my kids. When they were little I wanted to hear their voices in the grocery store, at a park, or at a concert in a crowd. I wanted to hear them when they woke in the morning and at night when they were sick. I was so used to listening for them that I could even hear their silence. God speaks but hearing Him requires the desire to start listening.
8. Seek the advice of experts.
In Luke 14:28-30 Jesus lays down some serious advice when it comes to making decisions, “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’”
Jesus is trying to keep us from making a decision before we have thought it out, before we have measured the cost of time and materials, before we have a plan. So look, if you’re going to build a house, you don’t guess how much sheetrock will cost and how much a driveway might gouge you. You seek the advice of a builder. You and I can take it from Jesus, don’t start building until you have a plan for how you are going to build. This might take us asking the people who already know and have expertise about what we are building when we are building something we have never built before.
If you are considering going back to school, ask someone who is juggling work life while getting a masters degree. If you are praying about going into ministry, ask someone in ministry all the questions you’re dying to know the answers to. If you are thinking about changing your career, talk to someone doing the kind of work you are toying with. If you’re thinking about starting a business, talk to people who run their own business and if you can, someone who runs the kind of business you’re considering starting up. You and I would make tremendously better decisions if we spent more time sitting down with a “builder” before we start getting out the hammer and nails to construct new things in our lives.
9. Receive no as protection not rejection.
Years ago my husband and I looked at a house for sale 11 times. We fell in love with this old, old craftsman that overlooked the city and we brought friends in construction over to give us advice, we processed, we dreamed and then decided we would make an offer. The night before we were going to make an offer on this pink house, we prayed together asking God to guide us. The next day my husband got a call from a woman who we barely know and she said she was doing her morning devotion and the Lord told her “The Weston’s are going to make a very big decision today and they should not do it.” She said she knew it was weird to call us and tell us this given we don’t have a close relationship, but it’s what the Lord told her.
Now I tell you what, there are a zillion weird things that happened before this that I don’t have time to go into. All of them should have been enough to scare us away from purchasing this place but our deep desire to make this house ours kept us from letting go. So after I heard about the weird call my husband got from this woman, all the things that should have given us pause previously, all told a story that backed up this call from a sister in Christ. My husband and I knew that we were not supposed to buy the house. And two things happened. One is that I ran into a lady in the grocery store the morning we were supposed to make an offer but we didn’t. She asked how I was and I was honest about my disappointment over this house. She looked at me and said “maybe it’s protection and not rejection.” I was so annoyed, my inside voice was saying in a screechy voice, “maybe it’s prohhhhtection and not rejexxxxction.”
This passing comment in the bread aisle bugged me, until soon after, the economy crashed. My husband’s salary is directly connected to the market so we were severely affected by this unexpected hardship. Looking back now, had we bought this pink house, we would have lost everything. I have learned the hard way over and over again that sometimes when we don’t get what we want, it is true, God is protecting us, not rejecting us. So if you are getting a no or running into a dead end, sometimes that is God protecting you from what could happen if you get a yes.
10. Receive yes and then trust God with it.
I just talked about receiving a no from God. But I also want to talk about receiving a yes. Sometimes God tells you to go. Sometimes God challenges you with a yes. Sometimes God dares you to move. And it scares the heebeegeebees out of you. I think about my story of being a business student in college and that was my plan and the Lord redirected my entire plan and called me to go into ministry. I fought that plan so hard. I wanted to run, I wanted His yes to be a no. In fact, I got a yes to be a pastoral intern and I walked away from it because I couldn’t believe God could use me. (I tell this story in the Yes, You Bible study that you should pick up because so many women are being impacted by it!) I walked away from an opportunity to be used by God and God turned me right around and said “Never say no to what I can do through you.” See, I was giving God a no and He was giving me a yes. Trusting His yes turned my entire life around. What if I was still living out of my no?
God says in Isaiah 55:8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
You can’t make decisions merely out of what you think possible. You can’t make decisions out of fear. You can’t let insecurity or inadequacy be your guide. Not all of God’s directionals make sense on paper. God’s thoughts on who you are and what you are capable of are so much higher than you can comprehend. God’s ways and how He can accomplish them in your life, you can’t even dream those up for yourself. If God gives you a yes, you have to trust His yes. If He calls you to do something that requires a courage you don’t have, He will give you the courage- hand Him your yes. When God calls you to shake things up and go in an entirely different direction, walk in that direction and your life will be better for it. If He calls you to do something and you don’t see a way, trust that God can make a way where there is no way. When making decisions friend, allow yourself to make them not by your power and your might, but by God’s. What could God do? What might God do? What does God have the power to do? God’s yes to you is not dependent on your power, your resources, your privilege, your status, your accolades or lack thereof. God gives you a yes and then He supplies all you need for that yes to be your next best step.
11. (And one more for good luck…) Sometimes you’re right where you’re supposed to be when you have no idea where you’re going.
Do you ever feel like you don’t know what you’re doing? Isn’t it a crazy thought that that might mean you’re right where you’re supposed to be? Just think, Abraham is considered one of the greats of the faith and in Genesis 12:1, “The LORD said to him, ‘Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.’”
Abraham had no idea where he was going. He didn’t know if he was going straight, right or left. He didn’t know if he was checking into Motel 6 or road tripping down the 101. Abraham didn’t know if he would have community or if he would be lonely. He didn’t know if he was moving to the inner city or settling on a hillside farm. And you know what the best part of the story is? These 3 words are the best part:
“So Abram went.”
Abraham said yes to an adventure with God. He stepped out into the unknown trusting God’s voice. He risked leaving what was comfortable and known for what was uncomfortable and unknown because he knew that being where God thought best, was best.
Friend, if you are feeling like you don’t know what you’re doing or you don’t know where you’re going, if you feel like you’re making it up as you go, if you feel like you have some big decisions ahead and need some direction, know that God will show you just like He did Abraham. Sometimes you might not see the final destination, but your God He will show you your next best step. And each next best step taken will get you closer to the best that is waiting for you. So keep putting one foot in front of the other and Jesus, the one who says “follow me,” He will guide you, all along the way.