Living with too many choices

Do we give God the chance to actually guide us?

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Many of us battle “mind games”—thoughts of worry, anxiety, regret, insecurity, decision-making paralysis and fear that keep looping in our minds. While these mind games tear us down, wear us out, steal joy and drag us to dark places, God wants us to be free from these traps.

One of the mind games that has trapped so many people is “decision-making paralysis,” the struggle or inability to make a decision. It’s true that some people are more “decisive” and might struggle less with decision-making, but doesn’t everyone, at least in some situations, struggle to make a decision?

  • Should I ask this girl out?
  • Should I buy this car or that one?
  • Should I get a third opinion on whether to have surgery?
  • Should I confront that person or not? If so, how? When?

One of the reasons decision-making is a growing point of stress for people is what researchers call “choice overload,” the reality that the greater the number of choices, the more difficult the decision-making process becomes.

Too many options

Said another way, there are so many choices out there—and often with no single, clear, “right” answer—people get caught in “paralysis by analysis.” They end up procrastinating on the decision or not making the decision at all because there are too many choices.

Take, for example, the decision to go out to eat. Many of us live in cities with literally hundreds of restaurant choices.  And once the decision is made on where to eat, comes the decision of what to eat. In 2019, the average number of menu offerings at the top 500 restaurant chains was 132 items: drinks, appetizers, entrees and add-ons!

We face “choice overload” in our parenting decisions. There are dozens of parenting philosophies on how to reward, discipline and train our children. And most of them are good options, without a clear, single, right approach.

There are dozens of live and on-demand streaming services to choose from: Netflix, Hulu, Sling TV, AT&T, Disney/+, YouTube TV, Pluto, Ginx, Twitch, Roku, Google Play, Amazon and Prime Video.  Netflix alone offers over 4,300 movies and nearly 1,200 TV shows.

How can we wisely process the important decisions we need to make?

As simple as it sounds, the single most important thing we can do to defeat the mind game of decision-making paralysis is to ask for help. 

We just have to ask

I am not saying that one simple ask for help will immediately resolve our decision-making predicament but asking for the help is the first thing we should do, and it is our best first step in resolving decision-making paralysis.

As Christ-followers, the first person we should turn to for help would be Jesus.

  • Psalm 121:1-2 says, “Where will my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.”
  • James 1:5 says, “Now if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without criticizing.”
  • Proverbs 3:5-6 calls us to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; don’t lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will direct your paths.”

Facing a dilemma, a decision?  Ask God.

I think a lot of us either minimize or skip the “ask Jesus for help” step and move straight to asking for help/advice from other wise people.

We minimize this step by saying, “Lord, help me to make the right decision over how to confront my adult child,” and then we move on, jotting out the pros and cons of various options, talking to some friends and then making a decision.

But we don’t actually ask God, “What should I do?” and then sit there and listen.

What might happen if we actually displayed faith and said to Jesus, “You know what my problem is. What should I do?”

And then we wait. We sit there. For five or 10 minutes.

What might happen?  Options that you’ve already thought about might pop into your mind.  But then we can say, “Jesus, is that my idea or yours?  Can you give me some peace or confidence or calmness about a particular direction you might want me to go?”

Or maybe, just maybe, God will honor our request and give us a “new” idea regarding the decision we’re trying to make.

Can we just give God a chance to actually guide us?

We might get to the end of those five or 10 minutes and only have heard silence or a jumble of thoughts. That’s okay.

Trust and faith

What did you just do? You expressed trust and faith. Jesus will be smiling and saying, “You’re learning to trust in me with all your heart. Your learning to not lean on your own understanding. You’re acknowledging and involving me in this decision. Keep living that way. I will direct your path.”  (See Proverbs 3:5-6.)

But in addition to asking God for help is the call to ask other people—wise Christians—for help.

Check out these verses:

  • Proverbs 11:14: “Without guidance, people fall, but with many counselors there is deliverance.”
  • Proverbs 12:15: “A fool’s way is right in his own eyes, but whoever listens to counsel is wise.”
  • Proverbs 15:22: “Plans fail when there is no counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.”

For many of us, there is a natural reluctance to ask others for help.  We might not want to be seen as “dumb.” We might be embarrassed that we couldn’t solve the problem on our own or we don’t want to be a burden on someone by asking them for advice.

But the alternative—not asking for help—is worse.

Once we’ve sought the wisdom of Jesus and other Christians, another step that has been helpful to many people is to dedicate that decision to God.  That is, after you’ve made the decision, but before you act on it, dedicate the decision to God.

You might pray something like this: “Lord, there are so many options for what I could do in this situation. You know that I’ve asked you for direction on this decision, and I’ve asked others for their wisdom.  I’m really trying to make the right decision! I humbly ask you to bless this decision. I dedicate this decision to you. If I’m going a wrong direction, please make that clear. Ultimately, I want to my decisions to line up with your heart. So, I am humbly dedicating this decision to you; please bless it.”

And with that, you step forward with confidence and joy.

Brent Warkentin
Brent Warkentin has been the lead pastor at First MB Church, Wichita, Kansas, since 2005. He grew up in Wichita and then spent his teenage years as a missionary kid in Indonesia. Prior to coming to First MB, Warkentin spent five years as a youth pastor in Kansas and California and 15 years as a pastor in the small town of Buhler, Kansas. Warkentin has been married to Joan for 31 years and they have two married daughters, two sons-in-law and one grandson.

1 COMMENT

  1. My heart so resonates with Brent’s thoughts. “Facing multiple choices.” “Asking God for clarity.” “Listening to God.” “Launching out in faith and trust.” Such is what contributes to the promised abundant life. And prayer is the tool.

    Prayer is difficult. Biblical prayer is even more difficult, and this because we don’t take time to listen.

    But understanding that God knows our needs and choices before we do, and knowing He formulated a perfect solution already in eternity past; and knowing He is presently pressing into action that perfect solution, oftentimes behind the curtains, according to His sovereign handiwork; and knowing He just might want to call us into action so we can work alongside Him, why wouldn’t we want to take time to listen, and then respond according to His will?

    At the end of his article, Brent offers us a model of biblical praying when we are facing a myriad of options. Read it. Meditate on it. And then apply it to the choices you are facing. You will be better for it. Lynn Kauffman

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