5 Questions to Ask Before Making a Life-Altering Decision

All of us make hundreds of little decisions each day. “What shoes shall I wear? Will I drink tea or coffee? One sugar or two?” But occasionally, we are faced with a major life decision. One that sets the course of our life for years to come. two-choices-cartoon

I’ve faced many of these life-altering questions along the way: “Should I drop out of Georgia Tech and transfer to Covenant College? (Yes) Should I ask Josephine Gitonga to marry me? (Yes) Should we move our family to London? (Yes)

Of course, the scriptures guide us in many decisions (Should I kill my mother? No!!) but much of life is lived in the grey spaces outside the clear teaching of the bible. In a very practical sense, biblical wisdom is therefore making good decisions when the Bible isn’t clear.

Over the years, as I have thought about my own life decisions and had discussions with other Christians, I’ve developed a series of questions which can help bring clarity. Assuming the scriptures aren’t clear with an answer, here are 5 questions to ask before making a life-altering decision:

Opportunity – What options are before me?
Yes, there are times when we should do something completely outside the norm. But usually, our life-altering decisions arise because there is an opportunity in front of us to be seized. Could I have moved to Mongolia instead of London many years ago? Yes, but I didn’t know anyone in Mongolia and have no idea how I would have done that. I was invited to consider moving to London in 2000 and that invitation opened up an opportunity I had never considered before.

Ability – Do I have the skills to do this?
We all have dreams. I’d love to play for Arsenal but that’s never going to happen. No matter how hard I tried, I didn’t have the talent to play world class football (soccer). If you don’t currently have the skills, is this an ability that can be learned? Are there years of schooling or practice in your future?

Benefit – Does this benefit others?
Our calling is to be a steward or manager of the life God has given us. Is this opportunity before you something that benefits your family, your community or others (the poor, the widow, the orphan and the immigrant). Or will this increase the likelihood that your time, energy and effort will be expended solely for your own personal comfort and pleasure? Idolatry of self is serious business – be very careful in making a decision primarily because it will “make me happy.”

Community – What do my family, friends and church members think?
Our western society continues to place the individual at the top of any decision making process. “Do what feels good! Search inside your heart for the answers!” Yes, we are individual made in the image of God. But for me, I’m also a husband, father, son, brother, church member and friend. If you are facing a life-altering decision, you need the input of those who love and support you. Don’t make a major decision alone.

Desire – Is the Spirit giving me peace about this?
Jesus told us that he would leave the Helper to guide us in his absence. Do we really believe that the 3rd person of the trinity lives within us? If so, isn’t it reasonable to assume that the Holy Spirit will guide us through a difficult decision? After the first 4 questions have been thought through, the final question is simple:  prayerfully ask, “What do I want to do?”

Often there is no right and wrong decision. We make a choice and follow through with our commitments. Think carefully through the opportunities before you, pray and make a decision. Then live with the consequences of that decision to the best of your ability.

And know that the Creator of the universe is smiling upon you. Not because you’ve made the “right” decision but because you are united to Christ by faith.

Top 10 Books of 2015

For the past few years, I’ve been keeping a list of books that I’ve finished. At the end of this year, I culled through the list and picked my “Top 10”.

These are not necessarily classics or books that I would agree with totally. But that are books that made me think. These are books that stuck with me, opened up new ideas and ones I would recommend to friends.

Here they are set in the order that I finished them in 2015:

  1. Reading for Preaching by Cornelius Plantinga Jr.

This book challenged me to carefully consider and expand what I read.

2. Sensing Jesus by Zack Eswine

Written by a friend and classmate from seminary, this deepened my understanding of the pastoral ministry.

3. Merciful by R. A. Nabors

Nabors is a long-time friend and mentor; this is the culmination of a lifetime thinking about church-based mercy ministry.

4. The Case for the Psalms by N.T. Wright

After I heard that Wright and Keller both have read all 150 Psalms monthly for years, I started a new habit.

5. Christ + City by Jon Dennis

A good overview of the both God’s heart for the city and the church’s calling in an urban context. The New City staff read it together this autumn.

6. How (Not) to be Secular by James K.A. Smith

Since my daughter’s attending Calvin College, I figured it’s time to read this from one of her potential professors. I was not disappointed.

7. Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

Reading for Preaching got me reading this one.

8. It Starts with Food by Melissa and Dallas Hartwig

I had gained some weight but now I’m “normal” thanks to this book.

9. Building a Healthy Multi-Ethnic Church by Mark DeYmaz

On sabbatical I’m reading several books on multi-ethnic churches; this is the best of the bunch.

10. The New Middle East by Paul Danaher

There are so many people from the Middle East in London, this helped me understand where they have come from.

Books I finished reading in 2015

  1. The Appeal – John Grisham
  2. How Sermons Work – David Murray
  3. Unapologetic – Francis Spufford
  4. Spiritual Leadership – Oswald Chambers
  5. Reading for Preaching – Cornelius Plantinga
  6. Galatians For You – Tim Keller
  7. Sensing Jesus – Zack Eswine
  8. Creativity, Inc. – Ed Catmull
  9. Jesus in the Present Tense: I AM Statements of Christ – Warren Wiersbe
  10. Evangelism: Doing Justice and Preaching Grace – Harvie Conn
  11. Create: Stop Making Excuses and Start Making Stuff – Stephen Altrogge
  12. Running Scared – Ed Welch
  13. The Truth About Islam – Anees Zaka & Diane Coleman
  14. Overrated – Eugene Cho
  15. Merciful: The Opportunity and Challenge of Discipling the Poor Out of Poverty -A.R. Nabors
  16. The Covenant of Grace – John Murray
  17. How People Change – Lane and Tripp
  18. Linchpin – Seth Godin
  19. The Case for the Psalms: Why They are Essential – N.T. Wright
  20. Fleshmarket Close – Ian Rankin
  21. Pray, Write, Grow: Cultivating Prayer and Writing Together – Ed Cyzewski
  22. Through the Eyes of N.T. Wright: A Reader’s Guide to Paul and the Faithfulness of God – Derek Vreeland
  23. 61 Hours – Lee Child
  24. Christ + City: Why the Greatest Need of the City is the Greatest News of All – Jon Dennis
  25. David & Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants – Malcolm Gladwell
  26. The Cross and Christian Ministry: An Exposition of Passages from 1 Corinthians – D. A. Carson
  27. The Checklist Manifesto – Atul Gawande
  28. Secrets of the Vine – Bruce Wilkinson
  29. Love into Light: The Gospel, the Homosexual and the Church – Peter Hubbard
  30. How (Not) to be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor – James K.A. Smith
  31. The Grapes of Wrath – Steinbeck
  32. Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity – Nabeel Qureshi
  33. The Myth of the Garage – Chip and Dan Heath
  34. Seven Days of Prayer with Jesus – John F. Smed
  35. The Post-Black & Post-White Church: Becoming the Beloved Community in a Multi-Ethnic World – Efrem Smith
  36. It Starts with Food – D. & M. Hartwig
  37. Building A Healthy Multi-Ethnic Church – Mark Deymaz
  38. The New Middle East: The World After the Arab Spring – Paul Danahar
  39. 15 Secrets Successful People Know About Time Management – Kevin Kruse
  40. Ready, Aim, Fire! – Eric Fisher and Jim Woods
  41. Death on the Nile – Agatha Christie
  42. Church in a Blues Bar – Allan Dayhoff
  43. The Hardest Sermons You’ll Ever Have to Preach: Help from Trusted Preachers for Tragic Times – Bryan Chapell

2016 – the year of change??

Well, it’s here. 2016 – just as we expected it to be. And yet, the new year never does live up to our expectations. We expect change, we make resolutions and yet we wake up in the same bed with the same problems, the same struggles and the same sin patterns as we had in 2015. A new year is not the magic solution to a new life. Screen-Shot-2013-12-30-at-4.09.37-PM

But all is not lost.

Most of us have a desire to deepen our love for Jesus and for those around us. As we repent of our past failures and seek do this, our hearts are changed by the Spirit which then leads to changes in our actions. God has made us responsible beings who are capable of change – we are not robots nor slaves to our past or our passions. But change does not come easy.

As you think about your life in 2016, consider ways in which you need to change. Make plans, set goals and strive for 2016 to be better than 2015. But remember, our days are in the Lord’s hands. And it is by His power that change will come.

It won’t be easy. It will be slow. But 2016 can be different from previous years. Seek the Lord today for the change you want to see over the course of the year. And then go about setting some plans in motion to make it happen.

I’m excited about what God is going to do in 2016. May He bring change to our hearts as we seek to bring change to our actions.

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