Part Four: Seeking Guidance
The fourth part of the book expounds “Seven Elements of Biblical Decision Making” (189) within the context of a “case study illustrating the process of wise decision making in a specific, real-life situation, the story of Don and Glenda” (187). “This case study is based on a true story but also includes elements from other actual cases to provide a broader coverage of issues that arise in real-life decision making” (187). The first step of the process is “Consecration” (chapter twelve). Simply put, “to be led of God, we must belong to God” (193). This chapter begins with reflection on Romans 12:1-2. “The sacrifice of ourselves means that we no longer pattern our lives after the motives and goals of this age, but exchange our old ambitions and ways of living for new ones God has for us” (193). This means that the
The second step is the gathering of “Information” (chapter thirteen). Petty provides examples of “information gathering” from Scripture and exhorts us to “see with our own eyes the situation in which we must trust God and make decisions” (201). This involves not only knowing ourselves (Romans 12:3), but also “identifying the key questions” (202) that need to be answered about any given situation. This is followed by step three: “Supplication” (chapter fourteen). “In Scripture, the Holy Spirit makes it abundantly clear that we are invited to call upon God for guidance” (213). Prayer is crucial to the wisdom approach to decision making “because wisdom and insight do not come on command” (216). While answers to prayer are the primary benefit to praying, we can also gain perspective, develop perseverance, and grow in creativity when we pray. “God’s involvement tends to blow away parochial barriers [our] fears may erect” (216).
“Consultation” (chapter fifteen) or the seeking of counsel is the next step. Petty cites numerous passages from Proverbs on the importance of seeking counsel and also shows how this pattern continues in the New Testament in the lives of the apostles and the early believers. Though resistance to seeking counsel is epidemic among men in our culture, we need the advice of others. “We need advice if we are confident of a decision because most foolish decisions are ‘clear’ to the fool.” And, “we need advice on confusing decisions because we are not yet clear” (223). Consultation should be joined with “Meditation” (chapter sixteen), to which God promises success (Josh. 1:8-9). We should not confuse meditation with worrying or fantasizing about situations, nor should we “get stuck in the meditation and consideration stage of a decision, going around and around with no progress toward a resolution” (233). Yet, careful consideration is an essential step in making wise decisions, except in emergencies, where we have no time for meditation. In those cases, “our preparation and meditation must be done in advance or not at all” (231).
The sixth step is “Decision” (chapter seventeen). We may be forced by time limits to make a decision when we still do not feel ready. And “decisions expose us to the risk of being wrong, yet whenever we allow that to control our obedience, we serve self rather than God” (241). That doesn’t mean we should be rash – “there is no merit in making difficult decisions just to have them made” (242). And “when a decision is not clear and God has supplied additional time in which to make it, we must learn to wait patiently while we seek the crucial wisdom or information” we still need (242). Chapter eighteen (titled “Expectation”) asks, “What expectations can we have as Christians of the choices we make?” (251). First, we can be confident that “God’s providence works everything (including our decisions) for good” (251). And we can also be confident that our lives will bear God-glorifying fruit, if we are prayerfully aligning ourselves with God’s kingdom agenda. Don and Glenda’s story progresses throughout the second half of these seven chapters with realistic and interesting detail which model well how to apply the principles to our own lives. The book ends with a helpful appendix on assessing our priorities.
This is the fifth book I’ve read in the “Resources for Changing Lives” series written by the faculty of the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation. As with each of the other books, Step by Step is both doctrinally rich and practically helpful – the kind of down-to-earth pastoral theology that the church so desperately needs today. It is easily the best book on the topic of guidance that I have read so far, and it is hard to imagine a more even-handed treatment of the subject. I could not be more enthusiastic in my recommendation of this excellent book!