As a pastor, I’m privileged to walk through life with many diverse groups of people. What I have found interesting is that, even in our diversity, there is a common type of paralyzing fear we all can encounter at times: we are afraid that we’ll miss the will of God for our lives and, as a result, our lives will begin a downward spiral. Whether you’re standing on the edge of a significant life decision or not, we can often feel fearfully frozen that we’re going to make the wrong decision. When we think this way, we tend to see our lives as a destination at which we hope to arrive rather than a journey we experience and grow through. Viewing life as a destination causes us to make decisions based on a fear of disrupting the status quo. We forget that decisions can be an open door to something God wants to do in us and through us.
Yet even if we frame decisions as opportunities, making decisions isn’t easy and we tend to fall into one of two traps. The first is thinking that all of life depends on our action and effort. If this is the primary belief behind our decision making we will live stressed and worrisome lives because in the end we believe it all depends on us. The second is believing that God is in complete control and will do whatever He wants regardless of what we do. If this is the primary belief behind our decision making we tend to live apathetically and are prone to lazy inaction. Instead, scripture reveals a blend of both views working hand in hand for the glory of God and our good.
We can see this beautiful balance between God’s sovereignty and human decision at work in the life of Paul during his final voyage to Rome in Acts 27. He’s stuck in a storm and receives a promise from God that everyone on board will survive (v. 22–26). Shortly after, he tells the sailors planning to escape the ship to stay on board or they will die (v. 30–32). Which is it? How is it possible for Paul to be so calm and decisive? Is God in complete control or does everything depend on them?
The reality of this scripture shows us the power that liberates the human heart from the fear of making decisions. If everything was destined by God only, then Paul would be passive, cynical and indifferent: “Who cares? It’s all rigged. It doesn’t matter.” If everything were up to him, he’d be pressured. He’d be frightened. He’d be freaked. He’d be panicked, which he should be. We need to know both sides of decision making, because it’s the most practical. It’s the most motivating and most consoling. It’s motivating because I can’t be passive. It’s consoling because I can’t screw up my life in the end. I can’t mess up God’s plan for me. When we know both of those truths together we’ll be able to be decisive and at peace when we navigate the choices life puts before us.
God’s people have the security that they are loved by him and that He is always working to accomplish His purposes. This belief is what made it possible for Paul to be decisive and dependent even in the midst of something as chaotic as a life-threatening storm. In the same way, we can trust that the journey of our life is in the hands of a God who has already proven His love for us in Christ and promises us He’s working all things together for our good and His glory. This security gives us a foundation from which we can make decisions based on the hope found in Christ rather than being fearfully indecisive based on comfort.
Do you have a decision to make regarding an open door God has placed in front of you? Rest in the fact that God loves you and will continue to unfold His providential plan for the world. Trust that when you walk through an open door, you often learn truths you would never have learned if you stayed on the other side. In the end, maybe the work God wants to do in your heart is more important than the ideal destination we think we’re moving towards.