Making decisions can be tough. It’s easy to become overwhelmed especially when they have the potential to alter your reality. When we’re overwhelmed we can be frozen in inaction. This often makes our situation worse. What will you do the next time a decision like this is called for? Here is a path for your to consider.

Our Story

Just this last week my wife and I had to make a life-altering decision. Because it involves other people’s personal lives, I can’t share what it was about, but as we worked through the process, I thought some of you might benefit from seeing how we experienced God’s leadership in the decision-making process.

My wife and I both believe that God gives direction. James wrote, “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.” (James 1:5) We trust the Lord is actively involved and if we ask, he will help us discover the better way. It’s not always the right, or wrong way, but it is more in line with his character, his desires and his way of working. This conviction frames the way we approach big decisions. It reassures us that we don’t have to depend on our limited abilities, but we can trust in the goodness, the knowledge and the power of God. We are involved, but we’re not alone.

This is how we did it.

Discern the “Why.” (Day 1)

All decisions start with a need, opportunity, or desire. It’s important to understand which of these is motivating the decision

A need is necessary. Either we decide, or something bad is going to happen. It might be a crisis decision that must be made now, or a decision that will need to be made sometime down the road. Either way, inaction is not an option because of the potential consequences to you and others.

An opportunity is our chance to do, experience, or accomplish something. There is an opening and we have decide whether we will walk through it. Time and circumstances create possibilities that may become impossible again.

A desire is something we want. It’s not something we need to decide, nor is it time-sensitive like an opportunity, but is just something we think we’d like in our life.

Here are a few questions that will help us discern why we need to make this decision and how to proceed.

First, is this decision time-urgent? Is there a time-line to the decision? Is there a rush, or can we take our time? This determines how quickly we need to move. Will the need change soon? Will the opportunity disappear? Could the desire to change wane, creating a greater crisis down the road?

Second, how important is the decision? What are the consequences of doing nothing, or doing the wrong thing? This helps us see the gravity of the situation. Some decisions really don’t need to be made. We may just need to wait and see how things work out. But sometimes a non-decision, or the wrong decision is dangerous. We need to know which it is.

Third, who does it affect? Is this purely a personal decision? Does it affect your family? Does it affect other individuals? What’s going on in their lives that makes this decision timely?

In discerning the “why?” we are getting a sense of how important this decision is and how important it is to decide soon. Without going into detail, my wife and I knew this decision was urgent. There was a window of opportunity to meet a need. It was important. Doing nothing would extend pain and suffering. A non-decision was a decision for the status quo, which wasn’t good. It affected the futures of multiple individuals. We knew the gravity of the situation and we knew a few trusted individuals agreed with us.

Ask, “Who can inform me?” (Day 1 & 2)

The very evening the opportunity opened up, we started asking, “Who do we need to talk to?” We began listing people we could ask for information. Who do we know who knows more than we do about this? The fact is, I am never the smartest guy in the room. And I’m happy to admit that. There is always someone with experience and information that I don’t have. And trust me, Google is not always your best friend. It can overwhelm you with information but not give any clarity. If you don’t know someone who knows, ask others who they know.

But now is not the time to tell everyone everything. The truth is, you don’t need everyone’s advice. Too many opinions can stymie the decision making process. You don’t want opinions right now. You want to list people who have information.

Determine, “Who needs to know?” (Day 2)

This part of the process started the next day. When we decide who to tell, there are few things to figure out. It involved a few emails and several phone calls.

First, who do I need support from? I’d recommend against a Facebook blast. We aren’t trying to get crowd sympathy. It’s better to have 3 people who will truly stand with you in prayer than a thousand praying hands emojis. James wrote, “the prayer of a righteous person accomplishes much.” Know who you’re getting support from and ask if you can depend on them.

Second, ask, “who is affected by this decision?” There are times when people are affected in big ways, but they’re not part of the decision making group. Immediate family members, church small groups, fellow employees are often people who are affected by important decisions. They should be informed. No one likes surprises, if they can be avoided. And negative affects can often be minimized if people know we’ve taken their welfare into account.

Third, who’s is it to tell? This is a very important question to answer, if we’re going build trust in the process of making a decision. Sometimes we have to make decisions that touch on some very private parts of other’s lives. And we may not be the ones to share that information. Medical information, financial information, personal relationship information and the like, should be shared by those to whom it belongs, no matter how much others care about the outcome.

Research options and catalog assets. (Day 3)

Now you’re ready to do the work of collecting options. Hopefully, from your contacts with others, or reading and researching, you’ve come up with information, ideas, or recommendations. You have to organize that information in some way. Some useful categories might be cost, process, time commitment, location, track-record, reputation, etc. As part of this step it’s also important to catalog our own assets. What resources of time, energy, and money do I have available to me to address this? Also, as you’ve talked to a few people, they may have offered help. Put those offers in the asset category, so you won’t forget who you can ask and for what.

In our scenario, this is the day that I made about 20 different phone calls, just to gather information. I used a common list of questions, so I could compare options. My last question on each call was, “What question should I have asked that I didn’t ask yet?” This gave them an opportunity to tell me what they thought was important, and it gave me an insight as to what was valuable to them.

One added tip is to put this information on one spreadsheet. This puts it all in one place. It helps when comparing the different options. Having that spreadsheet also helped me share the information with others who were going to be part of the decision-making process.

Decide what’s most important. (Day 3)

Let me summarize where we are right now. It’s time for decision and we know why. We contacted our list of people know, or have experience with this decision. We gathered our healthy spiritual and emotional support. We collected information. Now it’s time to begin the work of comparing the options.

Once we have all the information sitting in front of us, we have to narrow our options. How? We have measure then against a standard. In order to do this we have to discern. We need to take time to look into our own thinking and feelings and determine what is most important.

With 13 choices in front of me, I made a list of my convictions, priorities and preferences.

Convictions are my bedrock beliefs. They include my belief in Jesus’ involvement in my life, my commitment to honesty and integrity, a conviction to forgive and seek restoration, and hopefulness for the future. In whatever I would choose, these things and others had to be followed.

Priorities involve what I hope to see accomplished and how. Convictions are static, priorities change according to the situation. A conviction may be to love my neighbor. A priority is how I will love my neighbor today, in my neighborhood. As you define a few of your priorities, you begin asking, which option will help us meet them?

Lastly, there are preferences. All things being equal, what would you like? Sometimes there are equal options and we can just choose that which we prefer.

One more friend…

At this point, I consulted a friend. He shares my values and I trust his wisdom. I asked him to serve as an advisor, not a supporter. I told him, I’m going to tell you what I’m thinking and I want you ask me questions and help me determine if I’m off track. He agreed. I shared what I was thinking and what things were most important to me, he asked some good clarifying and challenging questions and at the end of the call, he said he thought I had thought through the issues and was on the right track. This gave me confidence to continue moving forward.

Narrow your list. (Day 3)

The day came to a close and there were about 4 options that revealed themselves as the best. They each fit with our convictions. They met most of our priorities. And they met some of our preferences. They were very different options. Some were less expensive, some more. Some were less convenient, some more. I narrowed the list, though I wasn’t sure how all our assets would line up. I was convinced that if God revealed a certain direction, he would provide what we needed to make that happen. There are times when cost is a final determining factor. Even when that’s the case, it is rarely the first thing we should consider. When we are part of the Body of Christ, God sometimes has some amazing ways of meeting needs.

With a prayerful heart, I made the list of 4.

Involve the right people. (Day 4)

Next, it’s important to include others in the decision, especially when they are affected by it. You may want to do this a little earlier in the process. In our situation, I had more time to do the background research. We talked over things and I kept my wife apprised of the progress, but she needed me to do a lot of the background work.

At this point, I gave her the list of 4 and asked her to call each one and ask any questions she had. I did this for a couple of reasons. One, she is perceptive in ways I am not. I know from experience that she senses things in people that I just don’t. When she is uncomfortable, I listen. Second, she will ask questions that I’m sure to miss. If you don’t have a spouse to do this, you may ask a trusted friend.

At this point, the two of us narrowed it to 3. Then we presented the list to one more person to give an opportunity to do some research, make calls, and express a preference. We tried to keep everyone affected aware of the process and timing of the decision.

Pray for discernment. (Day 4 & 5)

This was an interesting step. At this point, we didn’t all agree. As we talked about our convictions, priorities and preferences, we landed in a little different place. Kris and I talked about it on our way to church that morning. We could tell that we weren’t seeing things exactly the same and it was a little frustrating. Yet, both of us were committed to praying and following God’s lead.

During worship, before I got up to give the sermon, something happened. I had a thought I hadn’t had before. It was an insight. A new perspective that changed my mind. It wasn’t anything that had come up in conversation before. But it pointed me in the direction, I knew Kris was leaning.

After church I told her, “I think this is the one.” She questioned, “are you sure?” “Why do you think that now?” She wanted to make sure I wasn’t just caving to her preferences, but I was convinced it was the right thing. I told her about the thing that clicked in my mind. It wasn’t something she had thought of and it made us both more convinced that it was the choice God wanted us to make.

Then she told me something. She said, after our conversation in the car on the way to church, she knew we were on different pages. She said, “I prayed, ‘Lord, help me be put aside my preferences and be submissive to my husband, if I need to be.” And then she prayed for God to lead us together. I do appreciate my partner.

While she was praying that, God was changing my mind. I think that is a picture of discernment. This is God’s leadership of two hearts that are yielded to him. Both were willing to give up preferences for the sake of doing what is best for those who were hurting. And both of us trusted that God would lead us to a decision together.

Make the decision known. (Day 5 & 6)

We made the decision. We shared it with everyone affected by the decision. Talking with others cemented in our own minds that this was the right thing. We still didn’t have all the answers (and we still don’t). We didn’t know how, when, or how much.

Once we knew which option we were taking, we could begin making a plan to make it happen. We needed to align some things. Tasks had to be accomplished to make the next step possible. We knew we would need to wait. But while we waited, we could do some things to get ready for action.

Take the next step. (Day 7)

We thought the next step would come in about 2 weeks. It actually came the next day. Timing changed, the door opened and we had to step through it. Because of what we’d been through, there was no deciding needed, only action. We were already convinced that this was the right thing. We experienced God’s leadership. Now we believed that he was opening a door. And we were convinced that he would provide what was necessary to get it done. So far, He has and that gives us confidence for the future.

In the End.

We don’t know what the outcome will be. Our idea of the right results may not be God’s idea of the right results. He may be trying to do something that we can’t even imagine. While we don’t know the outcome, we are convinced that he led the decision. He opened the door. He shaped the hearts.

For You.

As you approach your next decision, I encourage you to do your homework and involve God. If we depend on him and ask, he will give wisdom, humility and leadership. I’m also convinced that he will provide the resources needed to move forward.

A few people familiar with our need, asked how we were handling all this? I told them, “We’re just doing the next thing.” We couldn’t afford to become overwhelmed with the whole process and the potential outcomes. We just had to do the next thing. The encouragement was, we weren’t alone.

Do you have something to add to the list? Leave it in the comments section. If you this list helps, let me know and share it around. Lastly, could I ask you for something? Would you just pray that God will use this decision Kris and I made to relieve suffering and provide hope to others?

Thank you for reading…

If there is a way I can encourage you, or serve your ministry, my email is on my “About Jim Renke” page.  Or you can direct message me on twitter @jimrenke, or instagram at jimrenke.  I’d love to hear from you. You can also stay connected on my facebook page.