Often I hear well-intentioned Christians talk about prayerfully considering major decisions going on in their lives in such a way that sounds like they are waiting for God to talk to them specifically. This waiting can finally end for them when they feel right or actually hear something from “God”. As an example, people often waiting for God’s voice on what kind of car to purchase. This is an over-spiritualization of our prayers, which in the end soils prayers and decision making.
What does it mean to prayerfully consider something? What should a good Lutheran do in regards to keeping God involved in our decisions and asking for His blessings upon them.
I would suggest that if you are waiting to hear God’s voice in your prayers apart from seeking God’s Word you will only hear the voice of the devil (or even the voice of your own mind’s will, most likely the voice of the Old Adam).
In fact, in our efforts to hear from God apart from his Word we actually begin a fast path to falling for the Devil’s schemes. We end up treating God as a puppet meant to do our will [animism], or worse yet, a drug (or car) dealer meant to meet my felt needs just in the way I pray for them. It means to open the door to point the old Adamic finger at a bad decision and say something to the effect of “the woman you gave to be with me”, blaming God for our bad decisions. It means that we violate the Second Commandment and use God’s name in vain to sanctify our own sinful desires.
Our Small Catechism confesses that God has given us our reason and our senses (see the First Article of the Apostles Creed). That is something to keep in mind as we sit down to pray about the many things that come in this life. God’s answer to a lot of things is “use the reason I gave to you”. Take in God’s Word, which does speak to many topics and at least provide some guidance in how to think about things. Pray to God for wisdom, but then take your God-given wisdom, weigh out the options and make the decision. Once you have made a decision, continue to pray, asking God to bless the decision you have made. Realize that such prayers are usually covered by the petition “Give us this day our daily bread” (for more on that read the Large Catechism).
The key to all of this is the freedom given to us in Christ. Forgiveness achieved and already given to us, our eternal fate is already set, and the same Jesus looks out for our temporal things as well. He gives daily bread to all, even the evil ones. Under such freedom, we can serve in this world with good conscience toward God. This liberates our way of decision-making from having to rely on the feelings of our heart of hearing some still, small voice of God.
Also important to remember is that God does not want to deal with us through anything but the Word (and Sacraments, the visible Word). When we claim to hear His voice we are not hearing Him but the devil, an unholy spirit meant to draw us far away from God and His Word. From our Lutheran Confessions, a quote by Dr. Luther:
“Therefore we ought and must constantly maintain this point, that God does not wish to deal with us otherwise than through the spoken Word and the Sacraments. It is the devil himself whatsoever is extolled as Spirit without the Word and the Sacraments.” (Smalcald Articles Part III, Art. VIII, 10)
So my quick steps for sorting things out are:
- Pray to God – take the time also to thank Him for your gift of reason, confess your misuse of that reason to serve yourself and not your neighbors, and then ask Him for wisdom as you seek to make a decision.
- Does the Word of God speak to this decision specifically? How about in related things? How does my neighbor fit into this decision? Seek out God’s Word. Seek out the wisdom of the world on worldly matters as well. Even the heathen are given reason by God which can be helpful.
- Apply your information and make a reasonable decision. Sometimes this is hard as your decision may present two very undesirable options before you.
- Pray to God for His blessing upon your decision, and rest securely.
If you prefer for a Law-oriented way of prayerful decision making, read this. That way of decision making will trap you in doubts, insecurities, guilts, and always asking “was I sincere enough?” It will also afford you the ability to place the blame on your lack of faith and devotion rather than flawed reason or the fact that failure can sometimes be very helpful in our lives.