Decisions, Decisions...

True confession: buying things makes me feel good, and I sometimes make choices based on my feelings. I live up to the old saying, “When the going gets tough the tough go shopping.” Or I used to. I’m working on a different way now.

As a Christian woman I know my decisions should not be solely based on intuition or feelings. You don’t think with your feelings! I know I should seek God’s will on everything and decide what to do based on biblical criteria. But what does that look like?

Mueller's Method 
George Mueller was a Christian man who started several orphanages in England in the mid-1800s. He literally made every decision by praying and trusting God to provide the answer and the means to accomplish everything he did.

He determined God’s will using five steps, which he shared in a book called Answers to Prayer. They go like this:
1.      Get your ‘self’ out of it, so that you have no will of your own; don’t leave the result to feeling or simple impression;
2.      Let any leading from the Spirit line up with the Word, so you know it is biblical;
3.      Consider providential circumstances;
4.      Ask God in prayer to reveal His will;
5.      Do this two or three times, praying, studying the Word, reflecting, so that you can make a conscious decision.
Mueller notes that it doesn’t matter how trivial the decision or how momentous it is, this process always works.

I love bullet points and these steps seem straightforward and understandable, but sometimes a set of guiding principles can look good in print, yet not work in practice. So I decided to try it out. There's this purse I want...

I notice that Mr. Mueller puts removing my own will before considering my feelings. It’s so easy to have a desire for something and feel like it’s the right choice, when it might not be. This can be true of something as small as buying that purse or as big as moving to a new house or taking another job. 

The process is no different, but the purse test is more practical and the truth is, I want this purse. Start small, right?

Feelings
It’s true that the Holy Spirit leads us quietly via impressions and feelings, but we women function on the feeling level so easily that the leading of the Spirit can often be drowned out as we allow ourselves to be influenced by the world. If I let my feelings lead I’ll just walk right over and buy that purse, justifying it as the right decision based on the sign that says HALF OFF or the ad telling me I deserve it.  Eve had this experience. “But it looks so good. It’s smart, and God wants me to be like Him—sharp and capable, right?” At least the purse display doesn’t have a snake wrapped around it...

When I fall to that kind of thing, the momentary feeling of satisfaction usually evaporates on the drive home, as I face the fact I made a decision based on little more than ‘I want it.’ Did I even give the Holy Spirit a chance to whisper to me? He’d have had to yell over the noise in my head to be heard, and He’s too much of a gentleman to do that. He wants me to stop and ask and listen. So, I have to honestly evaluate this: Do I let the world drown out His voice?

The solution begins when I get myself off the throne and put God there instead. As I stand in front of that rack of purses, I need to ask myself if this decision will result in good feelings only if I get to buy the purse. Can I end up feeling good about not buying it? I want the purse—but I have to stop and think. If I get it and that causes conflict, will I feel good? If the money isn’t in the budget how good will I feel?

If the reason I want it is because I saw another woman with a purse like it and I want to be in style, even though I already have a couple of purses at home that I can use, plus the one on my shoulder, I’m dealing with envy. Trust me, there will always be something else to envy—the fashion world makes sure of that. So that won’t result in good feelings either.

The goal here is to dispassionately, without any deep feelings, explore what will result from deciding not to get it, as well as from deciding to take it home with me. It’s no longer about feelings but results. Once I get clear of the feelings I can begin to hear God’s leading.

“What?” I bet you’re thinking, “All I’m doing is deciding whether to buy a purse and I have to go through all this? I’ll be here all day trying to decide.” Maybe with practice it gets easier.

Getting free of my feeling of want is sometimes hard to do, but it’s not impossible. Prayer is essential, even if it’s only the ‘help me decide, Lord’ variety of prayer.

Finally, I put God in charge, not my feelings of want, and I can truly say I don’t care whether I get this purse or not. I’m ready to go on to step two. “Let any leading from the Spirit line up with the Word, so you know it is biblical.”

More Steps
But now I have to examine any feelings that are left to be sure if this is the leading of the Spirit. How can I tell? I have to compare it to what the Bible says. This is where knowing the Bible accurately and having those verses memorized helps. What could God possibly have to say about buying a purse? Nothing about purses comes to mind, but how about, ‘Don’t be selfish; don’t live to make a good impression on others.’ (Philippians 2:3 NLT) I have to ask myself if I want this purse just to make myself feel good, or in order to impress someone else.

I put the purse back on the shelf and do a lap of the store as I pray. I realize I’m already into steps four and five. I have to take into consideration that the purse is there and it’s on sale today. I ask God if He put it there for me because it’s something I need or want. (God doesn’t deny us our wants and only give us our needs, or else He may have made the sky dingy gray. He loves giving us things to delight us, as any loving father does, so He made the sky blue.) I ask if this price is something He provided for me, or if He has a better plan for that money. I do another feelings check, to keep myself from being influenced too much by them.

When I come back to the purse, if I can honestly say that this is decision is godly and fair, I can pay for the purse and use it with a good conscience, or I can walk away from it and know that this wasn’t God’s best for me and never think about it again. My mind is clear, my decision is solid, and the outcome is satisfying.

Godly Choice
I admit to having made more than one lap around the store. In fact, I went home and had lunch, waiting to make the decision until I knew the right answer. I’m married, so I talked to my husband to see if he thought it was a good idea, too. He’s the leader in our home and I rely on him for godly advice. He often brings a different point of view to it than I do, and he’s not mean or over-controlling, so I can trust him to help me decide. It’s worth a little extra time and consideration to be sure that the decision is sound and godly.

How odd to think that just buying a purse gives me such practice, preparing me to make good, sound, God-directed decisions about big things when they come along. But that’s just like God, isn’t it? He wants to be included in the big and small choices, the simple or complex one, so that in the hard times when we’re pressed to make a good, godly decision we have the experience to know we can trust Him to help us in all things.

…If all you want is your own way, flirting with the world every chance you get, You end up enemies of God and his way. And do you suppose God doesn't care? The proverb has it that "he's a fiercely jealous lover." And what he gives in love is far better than anything else you'll find. It's common knowledge that "God goes against the willful proud; God gives grace to the willing humble." So let God work his will in you. Yell a loud no to the Devil and watch him scamper. Say a quiet yes to God and he'll be there in no time. (James 4:1-7 MSG)



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