“Keep asking in faith, not doubting at all.”—JAS. 1:6.
1. What affected Cain’s ability to make a wise decision, and with what result?
CAIN had a choice, a decision to make: Get the mastery over his sinful emotions or let his emotions rule his actions. Whichever way he decided, there would be consequences that would affect the rest of his life. You know what Cain decided; he did not choose well. His decision and its resulting action cost his faithful brother Abel his life. And Cain’s decision affected his relationship with his Creator.—Gen. 4:3-16.
2. How important is our ability to choose wisely?
2 We too have choices and decisions to make. Not every one of our decisions is a life-and-death matter. However, many of our decisions, the choices we make, can have a profound effect on us. Hence, the ability to make good decisions can help us to live a relatively smooth, peaceful life rather than one that is full of chaos, controversy, and disappointment.—Prov. 14:8.
3. (a) To make wise decisions, we should have faith in what? (b) What questions will we consider?
3 What will help us to make wise decisions? We certainly need faith in God, not doubting his willingness and ability to help us to be wise. We also need faith in Jehovah’s Word and in his way of doing things, trusting God’s inspired counsel. (Read James 1:5-8.) As we draw close to him and grow in love for his Word, we come to trust his judgment. Accordingly, we develop the habit of consulting God’s Word before making decisions. But how can we improve our decision-making skills? And does being willing to decide mean sticking to our choices no matter what?
LIFE REQUIRES MAKING DECISIONS
4. What choice did Adam have to make, and with what consequences?
4 From the start of human existence, men and women have had to make important decisions. Adam had to choose to listen either to his Creator or to Eve. He was willing to make a decision, but what do you think of the decision he made? His misled wife influenced him to make an extremely poor choice, one that cost him life in Paradise and eventually his very life. And that was just the beginning of the overall cost. We are still suffering the consequences of Adam’s terrible decision.
5. How should we view the need to make decisions?
5 Some might think that life would be more pleasant if we did not have to make decisions. Do you feel that way? Remember, Jehovah did not create humans to be robots, incapable of thinking and making choices. The Bible actually teaches us how to make wise decisions. While Jehovah wants us to make decisions, this is not to our detriment. Reflect on some evidence of that.
6, 7. What choice did the ancient Israelites have, and why was it difficult for them to decide wisely? (See opening picture.)
6 Once settled in the Promised Land, the ancient Israelites had a very basic, vital choice: Worship Jehovah or serve some other god (or gods). (Read Joshua 24:15.) That might seem to have been a simple decision. Yet, their choice could come down to a matter of life or death. Repeatedly during the time of the Judges, the Israelites chose unwisely. They turned away from Jehovah and worshipped false gods. (Judg. 2:3, 11-23) Or think of an instance later in the history of God’s people when they were obliged to make a decision. The prophet Elijah clearly outlined the choices: Serve Jehovah or serve the false god Baal. (1 Ki. 18:21) Elijah rebuked the people for being indecisive. You might think that this was a simple choice because it is always wise and beneficial to serve Jehovah. In fact, no reasonable person should be attracted to or attached to Baal. Still, those Israelites were “limping between two different opinions.” Wisely, Elijah urged them to choose the superior way of worship—the worship of Jehovah.
7 Why might it have been so difficult for those Israelites to make a wise decision? First, they had basically lost faith in Jehovah and refused to listen to his voice. They had not built a foundation of accurate knowledge or godly wisdom; nor did they trust in Jehovah. Acting in accord with accurate knowledge would have helped them to make wise decisions. (Ps. 25:12) Moreover, they had allowed others to influence them or even to make decisions for them. The people in the land who were not worshippers of Jehovah influenced the Israelites’ thinking, moving them to follow that pagan crowd. Jehovah had long before warned that such a thing could happen.—Ex. 23:2.
SHOULD OTHERS MAKE DECISIONS FOR US?
8. What important lesson about decision-making do we learn from Israel’s history?
8 The above-mentioned examples convey to us a clear lesson. It is up to each of us to make decisions, and the wise, right choices are based on sound Scriptural knowledge. Galatians 6:5 reminds us: “Each one will carry his own load of responsibility.” (Ftn.) We should not give someone else the responsibility to make decisions for us. Rather, we should personally learn what is right in God’s eyes and choose to do it.
9. Why can it be dangerous to let others decide for us?
9 How might we give in to the danger of letting others choose for us? Peer pressure could sway us to make a bad decision. (Prov. 1:10, 15) Still, no matter how others try to pressure us, it is our responsibility to follow our Bible-trained conscience. In many respects, if we let others make our decisions, we are essentially deciding to “follow them.” It is still a choice, but a potentially disastrous one.
10. Of what did Paul have to warn the Galatians?
10 The apostle Paul clearly alerted the Galatians to the danger of letting others make personal decisions for them. (Read Galatians 4:17.) Some in the congregation wanted to make personal choices for others in order to alienate them from the apostles. Why? Those selfish ones were seeking prominence. They overstepped proper bounds and did not respect their fellow Christians’ responsibility to make their own decisions.
11. How can we help others as they make personal decisions?
11 Paul set a fine example of respecting his brothers’ right of free will to make decisions. (Read 2 Corinthians 1:24.) Today, when giving counsel on matters involving personal choice, the elders should follow that pattern. They are happy to share Bible-based information with others in the flock. Still, the elders are careful to allow individual brothers and sisters to make their own decisions. That is logical because those individuals will bear the responsibility for the results. Here is an important lesson: We can show helpful interest in others and call attention to Scriptural principles or counsel. Still, others have a right and responsibility to make their own decisions. When they do this wisely, they benefit. Clearly, we should avoid any tendency to think that we are authorized to make decisions for other brothers and sisters.
MAKING DECISIONS WHEN EMOTIONS RULE
12, 13. Why is it dangerous simply to follow our heart if we are angry or discouraged?
12 A popular philosophy or common adage is: Follow your heart. But doing that can be dangerous. And in a sense, doing so is unscriptural. The Bible warns us not to let our imperfect heart or mere sentiment rule when we are making decisions. (Prov. 28:26) And Bible accounts show the sad consequences of following one’s heart. The core problem is that in imperfect humans, “the heart is more treacherous than anything else and is desperate.” (Jer. 3:17; 13:10; 17:9; 1 Ki. 11:9) So, what could it mean for us if we simply follow our heart?
13 A Christian’s heart is important, for we are commanded to love Jehovah with our whole heart and to love our neighbor as ourselves. (Matt. 22:37-39) But the Scriptural passages cited in the preceding paragraph highlight the danger of letting emotions dictate our thinking and actions. For example, what might happen if we make decisions when we are angry? The answer may be obvious if we have done this in times past. (Prov. 14:17; 29:22) Or is it likely that we will make sound decisions when we are discouraged? (Num. 32:6-12; Prov. 24:10) Bear in mind that God’s Word shows the wisdom of being “a slave to God’s law.” (Rom. 7:25) Clearly, we could easily be deceived by our emotions if we allow them to prevail when we are making important decisions.
WHEN TO CHANGE YOUR MIND
14. How do we know that changing one’s decisions might be appropriate?
14 We need to make wise decisions. However, that does not mean that we should refuse to change a decision once we have made it. There are times when we will do well to reconsider a decision and perhaps change it. Note Jehovah’s example with regard to the Ninevites in Jonah’s day. “When the true God saw what they did, how they had turned back from their evil ways, he reconsidered the calamity that he said he would bring on them, and he did not bring it.” (Jonah 3:10) After observing the Ninevites’ repentant, changed attitude, Jehovah adjusted his decision. In doing so, he manifested reasonableness, humility, and compassion. Furthermore, God does not determine his course of action based on a momentary flare-up of anger, the type of emotional outburst that many humans display.
15. What might lead us to change a decision?
15 There may be occasions when it would be good for us to reconsider a choice or decision. It could be when the prevailing circumstances change. Jehovah altered his decision at times when circumstances changed. (1 Ki. 21:20, 21, 27-29; 2 Ki. 20:1-5) Or new information may provide us with a valid reason to adjust a decision. King David was given faulty information about Saul’s grandson Mephibosheth. When David later received accurate information, he amended his decision. (2 Sam. 16:3, 4; 19:24-29) At times, it may be wise for us to do similarly.
16. (a) What are some helpful guidelines for making wise decisions? (b) Why and how should we view past decisions?
16 God’s Word counsels us not to be hasty when we need to make an important decision. (Prov. 21:5) When we take the time to weigh carefully all the aspects or facts related to a decision, we will likely be more successful. (1 Thess. 5:21) Before determining a course of action, a family head ought to take the time to research the Scriptures and Christian publications, as well as to consider the opinions or views of others in his family. Recall that God urged Abraham to listen to what his wife had to say. (Gen. 21:9-12) Elders too should take time to do research. And if they are reasonable, modest men, they will not fear losing respect if new, relevant information comes to their attention that indicates a need to reconsider what they had already decided. They should be ready to adjust their thinking and decisions when appropriate, and all of us do well to follow that example. This can promote peace and order in the congregation.—Acts 6:1-4.
FOLLOW THROUGH WITH DECISIONS
17. How can we be more successful in making decisions?
17 Some decisions are weightier than others. The weightier ones call for more thought and prayerful consideration, which may take time. Some Christians face decisions about whether to marry and whom to marry. Another serious decision that holds the potential for many blessings is how and when to enter the full-time ministry. In such areas, it is important to have full trust that Jehovah can and does provide wise guidance. (Prov. 1:5) Thus, it is vital to draw on the Bible as the best source of advice and to seek Jehovah’s guidance in prayer. And bear in mind that Jehovah can give us the qualities we need to make decisions that are in harmony with his will. When facing important decisions, make it a practice to ask: ‘Will this decision give evidence of my love for Jehovah? Will it bring joy and peace to my family? And will it show that I am patient and kind?’
18. Why does Jehovah expect us to make our own decisions?
18 Jehovah does not coerce us into loving him and serving him. That is our choice. In line with the free will that he grants us, he respects our responsibility and right to ‘choose for ourselves’ whether we will serve him. (Josh. 24:15; Eccl. 5:4) But he expects us to follow through on other decisions that we make based on his guidance. With faith in Jehovah’s way of doing things and the principles that he has kindly provided, we can make wise decisions and prove ourselves steady in all our ways.—Jas. 1:5-8; 4:8.