Every day we make millions of decisions. We decide to sit. Later we will decide to stand. Every breath results from a mental action. We consciously and intentionally make many of these decisions, but many more are unconscious and intuitive.  Many neuroscientific studies confirm these two different methods of decision-making. David DiSalvo reports many studies showing a brain’s “unconscious processing module” can handle about eleven million pieces of information per second. Though much slower, the “conscious processing system” can still handle forty pieces of information per second.[1] It seems God has given us these two different ways to decide because we would be crippled if we had to consciously process every breath and eye blink, yet, higher stakes warrant intentional effort in wise decision making. Daniel Kahneman’s well-researched classic, Thinking Fast and Slow, warns of the risk of trusting the fast-thinking, impulsive system when deeper issues are at stake.

It seems God has given us these two different ways to decide because we would be crippled if we had to consciously process every breath and eye blink, yet, higher stakes warrant intentional effort in wise decision making.

Our decisions determine our futures. The major you choose in college will open some career opportunities and close others. We cannot become a surgeon with our BA in Asian Literature. Making a lifelong commitment to marriage will connect you to your spouse’s decisions for the rest of your lives. While the consequences of big decisions can be exciting for some people, they are overwhelming for many of us. Fear of making a bad decision can often paralyze someone into not making any decision. So, how do you decide when it really matters?

Christian theology today has a range of answers to this question. A growing number of writers over the past century have wrestled with “finding God’s will” and “discerning the voice of God.” Some (including Dallas Willard, Priscilla Shirer, Paul Tillich, Richard Niebuhr, and Stanley Frodsham) have said mature Christians should expect to hear God’s voice in every decision. Others (including Kevin DeYoung, Carl Henry, and Garry Friesen) believe such efforts are futile and unwise. Many point to James’ call to pray for wisdom and not guidance (James 1:5). How can we, as Holy Spirit-filled New Testament believers, know what God wants us to do? This is a critical question for anyone who would call Jesus Lord. The word the original New Testament manuscripts use for Lord in Greek is kurios. Slaves used this word for their masters. It implies a commitment to total obedience. Realizing this, our decisions are no longer important simply because of the stakes they have on our own life experience. They now become the ultimate measure of our faithfulness to our Lord and Savior. Decisions really do matter.

A growing number of writers over the past century have wrestled with “finding God’s will” and “discerning the voice of God.”

So, how do you decide? Certainly, we should turn to the Bible first, because it is God’s authoritative word. Many decisions are clear. Should I tell the truth? Absolutely! (Ephesians 4:25) Should I steal? No way! (Exodus 20:15; Ephesians 4:28) Should I stay faithful to my wife? Yes, indeed! (Exodus 20:14, Ephesians 5:25-28). Yet the Bible does not address every decision we face. What chapter or verse tells us if it is better to buy a Ford, a Chevy, or a Toyota? Zechariah 8 won’t tell you if you should take the job offer in Omaha instead of the one in Toledo. Yet, these are big decisions with real consequences.

Throughout my Christian life, I have sought to make the best decisions possible, which has led me to eagerly study the Bible and learn not only what to decide but also how to decide. Gaining tools for deeper scriptural and theological study while also drawing from scientific research led me to develop a model for decision-making and many other practical applications of biblical, spiritual theology I call “Story Shaping.” I use this phrase because we are part of a larger story that started long before we were born. Although we do not get to compose the whole story, our decisions shape the story we live and how our own stories impact others and their stories. I am very grateful Zondervan has chosen to publish the book, How to Make Big Decisions Wisely: A Biblical and Scientific Guide to Healthier Habits, Less Stress, a Better Career, and Much More, that can help Christians have a workable, four-step approach to make the big, important decisions they face wisely and intentionally. We don’t need to be paralyzed when we confront the big decisions. We can and should choose wisely.

[1] David DiSalvo, Brain Changer: How Harnessing Your Brain’s Power to Adapt Can Change Your Life (Dallas: BenBella, 2013), 70.