By Donna Lee Schillinger
The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.
I co-teach Sunday school with a man who feels like God is calling him to become a youth pastor, but he doesn’t quite know how to go about answering that call. Should he go to a four-year college and get a degree in counseling or ministry? Should he take a shorter Bible course that offers a certification in about half the time as a bachelor’s degree? Maybe he should just apply for a youth pastorate. After all, he’s 30 years old and has had a couple of years of hands-on experience in teaching and working with youth. All of these choices have subchoices too! If he decides on college, where should he go to college? And what should he major in? If he decides to apply for a job, should he look locally to remain close to his family or should he open his search to other states?
Maybe you can relate. Both a curse and blessing of youth is that the world is indeed your oyster (whatever that means!). The possibilities after high school and college are endless – that’s the blessing. The curse is that you actually have to narrow down those endless possibilities and choose one. A decision between a bunch of seemingly great options can be one of the hardest in which to discern God’s will. Maybe you have searched the Scriptures and prayed and still nothing is emerging as the clear, best option.
If I could tell you succinctly how to solve this conundrum, I’d be solving the conflict in the Middle East instead of writing this article. But I can offer you three possible courses of action to help you make a decision. Each of these has a Biblical basis.
1. Remember Gideon in the Old Testament? God told Gideon to go after the Midianite army. But Gideon wanted to make sure he was hearing God correctly. Maybe he wondered if it was actually God’s voice prompting him.
That happens to me a lot. I get wonderful ideas but I don’t know where they come from. I know from experience that not every good idea I have is from God. Some “good” ideas take me away from the direction in which God is trying to lead me. They are tangents and diversions that boil down to be big wastes of time and resources. Maybe Gideon had had a few of these “left-field” ideas before too and that’s why he was so cautious.
Gideon asked God for a sign – he laid out a sheepskin and said, “OK, God, if you really want me to do this, when I come out tomorrow morning make the sheepskin wet and the ground all around it dry.” Next morning he came out and there they were, just as he had indicated: wet sheepskin, dry ground. That really should have been enough, but Gideon tried it once more just to be absolutely sure that he was on the right track. “OK, God, now make the ground all around wet and the sheepskin dry.” And the next morning it was just as he had indicated.
I can’t fault Gideon for asking for a sign; it was a huge thing he was instructed to do – take on the Midianite army. And it was a good thing he was as certain as he was when he headed off to battle – with double confirmation from the signs – because just shy of the Midianite camp, God told Gideon to dismiss all but 300 of his troops. It seemed like suicide. The remaining 300 positioned themselves around the enemy camp and blew trumpets loudly, causing confusion in the enemy camp. The Midianite soldiers began fighting each other and eventually fled. Gideon and his small group defeated an entire army without even drawing their swords.
When you’re faced with uncertainty, try setting out a fleece. Don’t make it something ridiculous, but rather something you know God would have to be controlling. For instance, I recently thought about forming a mission trip to Peru. So I have asked God to give me a sign of five people who would commit to go by a certain date. If God mobilizes five of His children to act, that will be a good enough indication for me that He wants me to form this mission trip.
Careful though – God does not wet fleeces at our whim. If He is going to agree to our terms to reveal His will, we can be sure He has good reason. Perhaps as in the case of Gideon, something in the road ahead will challenge our faith and cause us to doubt our course. In those moments, we can hold to the surety of the sign God gave us.
2. So you set out a fleece and nada! God didn’t bite. OK, now what? Ecclesiastes 11:6 says, “Sow your seed in the morning, and at evening let not your hands be idle, for you do not know which will succeed, whether this or that, or whether both will do equally well.” In other words – go for all of it. In the case of the impending youth pastor, based on this scripture, I advised my co-teacher to apply for jobs and for college and to look into certificate programs too! Begin to act on all your options to the extent that you can and then, perhaps, a clear best option will emerge. Isaiah 30:21 says, “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’” Which comes first in this verse: The turn or the voice? Yes, sometimes you have to act and then God will chime in “Now, this way.”
3. Finally, in several places throughout the Bible, we see instances where lots were cast for important decisions – the last one being in the book of Acts when the disciples were choosing who would replace Judas as the 12th disciple. They had two good candidates, Matthias and Joseph, both of whom had been followers of Jesus since early on in His ministry. It was a tough choice. So they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry…Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles” (Acts 1:24-26).
Two thousand years later, you don’t hear much about Christians using the flip of a coin to make decisions. It seems that somewhere along the way, people starting attributing the result of the flip, the draw of the straws, rock/scissors/paper and other “decision-making tools” to forces of evil. They’ve been all lumped in there together with things like fortune telling and tarot cards.
Our opening proverb reminds us however, that God is in control of the coin flip – every time. Note that the proverb says, “…every decision is from the Lord.” I say let’s bring back lot-casting as a decision-making tool!
We should not be hasty to grab a coin to solve our problems. To reiterate, our first course of action should be to seek God’s will in prayer and reading the Scriptures – and that is not a process that can be rushed. Each situation has a prudent window of time for waiting on God to answer our prayers and speak through His word. In some cases, that time is less than an hour before action is needed; in other cases, we could wait for years. When that prudent time has passed, we need to act. Don’t let a multitude of options paralyze you. Don’t let the length of the journey scare you away from the first step. Act. If you’re desperate for answer, do as the apostles did: call on God, who knows the hearts of people and all of our futures, to lead us in the right direction. In our prayer, acknowledge His control over the seemingly random act of flipping a coin, promise to accept the outcome, then do it: flip the coin or draw the straw or pick from the hat, etc., and settle the matter once and for all.
I have learned that flipping a coin can often give me clarity about what I truly want. When the coin lands on heads, I may then feel certain I would have rather it landed on tails. However, I did not ask God to give me His decision in the coin toss so that I could reject it and do what I now know I want to do. I acknowledged God’s control and told Him in advance that I would abide by His decision. I think God would not be pleased if even I asked for best two out of three. This is a hard thing: know before you flip that it will be at your peril to reject God’s outcome.
Romans 12:2 says, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will.” Reading backwards (and paraphrasing), this scripture assures us that there is one perfect divine will for our lives, but we’re going to have to do some probing and testing to figure it out. And foundational to coming up with the right answer is a mind centered on Christ.