We are all looking for signs, aren’t we?
I laughed when I saw that photo, but it also resonated with me. I often want a sign that I’m on the right track. That I’m doing the right thing. That I’m making the best decision.
While God gave signs to Gideon, Hezekiah and Abraham’s servant, God doesn’t always give people signs. I have personally received very few. When the Pharisees asked Jesus for a sign he said, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” (Matthew 16:4). Though the Pharisees were testing Jesus in that passage, he implied in the preceding verses that they had been given signs but did not pay attention to them.
So what does that mean for me, for us, when we are making decisions? Sometimes the answer is clear, and we just need the courage to follow through and pay attention to what the Lord has been showing us. We need to accept uncomfortable paths and trust God in them. But other times we genuinely can’t figure out what to do. There isn’t a clear-cut “right” or “wrong” choice, yet the decision is important. What do we do then?
In those cases, I have found George Mueller’s decision-making process, which is strikingly similar to Ignatius’ technique centuries earlier, very helpful. George Mueller was an evangelist who founded numerous orphanages in England in the mid-1800’s. Ignatius of Loyola was a Spanish priest who founded the Jesuits in the mid-1500’s.
Both men saw that the key to making a godly decision is to first get our hearts to a place of indifference, where we aren’t attached to our own will. Indifference does not mean apathy about the outcome but rather a willingness to submit to God.
“I seek at the beginning to get my heart into such a state that it has no will of its own in regard to a given matter. Nine-tenths of the trouble with people generally is just here. Nine-tenths of the difficulties are overcome when our hearts are ready to do the Lord’s will, whatever that may be. When one is truly in this state, it is usually but a little way to the knowledge of what His will is.”
Ignatius believed we needed to be indifferent to all created things too, and that indifference meant that we shouldn’t necessarily seek health over sickness, wealth over poverty, honor over dishonor, or a long life over a short one. Indifference requires we let go of our need for comfort and honor. It means trusting that regardless of the outcome, God’s grace will be sufficient. It is similar to Jesus’ prayer of relinquishment in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Yet not my will, but what you will.” (Mark 14:36).
This place of indifference, getting my heart into state in which it has no will of its own, is more challenging than it seems. My definition of a good decision is the one that will lead me to the greatest happiness and success as I define it. Too often, when I say I’m searching for God’s will, I’m really asking God to validate the decision I want to make.
After much prayer, when I can truly submit my will to God’s will and subordinate my kingdom to God’s kingdom, I am ready to move on.
George Mueller’s next step was to pray and ask God for wisdom. Mueller believed that because the Spirit and the Word will always be in concert, we should look to Scripture for guidance. Ignatius would further suggest we make a list with the pros and cons, asking the Holy Spirit for guidance.
Both these things have been helpful for me. First, I go to Scripture and ask God to show me through the full counsel of his Word what to do. I write down verses that I feel are applicable. Making a list with the positive and negative aspects of each choice has also been helpful as it provides clarity.
When I pray about the list, I imagine choosing each of the options, one at the time. I sit with each choice, often for a day, as if I had made that one. As I sit with each one, I pay attention to how I feel. Do I feel a sense of peace and closeness to God? Or do I feel agitated and distant from God?
Mueller says after you have asked God for wisdom, you look around to see how God is answering you. You pay attention to circumstances. And you wait for a sense of peace.
It could be the peace you sense after you sit with one of the choices or it could be something unexpected that makes the choice clear. It could come from reading the Word, or providential circumstances or the counsel of a trusted friend. Any of those could be your confirmation, which both Mueller and Ignatius say to look for at the end of the process.
I have used this method in my own life and it has led to greater clarity. I even used it with my younger daughter, Kristi, when she was deciding where to go to college. She was torn in two very different directions.
The most challenging part, as with any decision, was getting to a place of indifference. She had always seen herself at one of the schools. Her sister and good friends were there. She had even sent her acceptance in.
Though this school seemed like the perfect place for her, she still felt vaguely uncomfortable. Something inside of her was still wrestling.
To help her with the decision, we prayed for guidance and spent time reading Scripture together. Then we made a list of the pros and cons of both schools. I asked her to pray for God’s direction and to sit with each option for a day to see if either one brought a stronger sense of peace and closeness to God or a greater sense of agitation and distance from him.
The process brought unexpected clarity. Kristi reversed her earlier decision and chose the college that was more unfamiliar and farther away. She was still nervous about the future, but she felt an inner sense of peace.
How do you make decisions? Do you look for signs? Have you ever tried a process like this?
If you’re wrestling with an important decision right now, I’d encourage you to prayerfully try this method. I’d love to hear if it helps bring clarity.