Choosing a New Pastor

Choosing a new pastor HAS to be different than an episode of The Bachelor, and let me tell you why.

It was disturbing to recently see a handout that takes the reader through the pastor search committee process. While much was in order and took the reader through the logical and practical steps in the process, there was a disturbing and concerning section that I want to address. Perhaps just writing this is therapy for me, because once the committee begins its work, I have no influence whatsoever on how they conduct their business.

One block in the process is to “narrow the field down to 6-10 potential candidates.” Certainly this is all well and good. But the next step was to “check all references” which is not so good. I am a fan of checking references, but at the proper time. After checking references, then the field is “narrowed to 3-4 top candidates,” and then visiting and interviews take place. As I read this, all I could think about was The Bachelor TV show.

While I have only seen commercials and never the show, the premise is for a room full of women to be wooed and seduced by a handsome eligible bachelor. The process involves a series of dates, conversations, and decisions. The show is known for its famous scene of giving a rose to the ones that move forward in the process, eliminating those who don’t make the cut.

Point of clarification: the following is written in general masculine for simplicity in language. I do not want to write him/her for every pronoun used.

Doing this to a potential pastor is simply not right. Contacting references before the candidate is in serious consideration is premature. The candidate is now vulnerable to those in his current position, should they find out a search committee is considering him. Everyone in the candidate’s circles of influence begin thinking he is perhaps on his way out, asking questions, and damaging his current ministry, especially if he does not “get the rose” eliminating him from the competition.

The simple fact that he is in a “competition” is humiliating enough; imagine yourself being courted my someone. You’re interested and think this could lead to something like a life-long commitment, only to discover down the road he has been dating other people all this time and chose someone else over you. Besides, a potential pastor wants to know that God has led you to him, rather than you’re throwing the dice hoping for the best.

So, how should this pastor search be done? After all of the preliminary stuff like congregational survey and church profile, when the time comes to get to the business of looking at candidates, I suggest this process (beginning with much prayer and seeking God’s direction).

  1. Gather resumes from multiple sources: local association or state convention; recommendations from people you trust; sites like, etc. Beware of resumes that come from churches, groups, or individuals whose theology, methodology, or ecclesiology is not a good fit for our church.
  2. Copies of these confidential resumes are distributed to committee members to read and review. Messages on tape or mp3 are distributed as well.
  3. Each member picks out their top ten candidates based on the criteria for which they are seeking.
  4. In committee, everyone explains their selections to the rest of the group, and perhaps narrowing the field by pooling the candidates that many of the members have in common.
  5. Once you get to the top five choices, the committee puts these in priority order, and agree that candidate number one is the first to pursue.
  6. A visit is made to that pastor’s church to hear him preach live; no official committee contact is made. Make sure to call the church (like any guest might) to make sure the pastor is preaching that Sunday, and ask the time of the service. And don’t sit together as a group; don’t be obvious.
  7. The committee then decides if they want to contact him for an in-person interview.
  8. If all is satisfactory after the interview, then the committee requests confidential references. These reference should be called, not sent a reference form.
  9. If there are NO red flags at this point, the committee decides whether to extend and invitation for the candidate to visit the church, in private with the committee rather than publicly. The candidate and spouse visit the church and see the community to get a sense of who we are, and get a little of our history and the flavor of the church. The candidate may decide at this point to continue in the process or feel led that this is not the place.
  10. If there ARE red flags in the references or the interview, the committee may decide to move toward candidate number two. We thank candidate number one for his time and consideration but communicate that the committee decided it is not a good fit for the congregation.
  11. My recommendation is to work with one person at a time until such a time that God closes that door.

Once a candidate is unanimously selected, the committee is responsible to organize a “visit weekend,” in public, gathering with various groups within the congregation at various times for meeting, greeting, and questioning. Sunday is preaching day at the church. Then at a called business meeting, perhaps later that evening, the church would decide whether or not to extend a call that the candidate.

This is not The Bachelor, and these are solid reasons why we should employ a different method to select a new pastor.

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How to Discern God’s Will

This is an additional part for the lesson on bearing one’s own cross, basically discerning God’s will over following my own self-interests. For more on this topic, consider looking over my seminar on God’s Will.

There is a Sovereign Will of God: his secret plan that determines what happens in the universe.

  • Daniel 4:34-35 – He does according to his will.
  • Psalm 115:3 – He does whatever he pleases.
  • Job 42:2 – No purpose of yours can be thwarted.
  • Proverbs 21:1 – He directs the king’s heart.
  • Revelation 4:11 – Creation exists because of his will.
  • Ephesians 1:11 – Having been predestined according to his purpose.
  • Proverbs 16:33 – Every decision is from the Lord.
  • Romans 9:19 – For who resists his will?
  • Acts 2:23 – By the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God.
  • Acts 4:27-28 – To do whatever your hand and your purpose predestined to occur.
  • Romans 11:33-36 – How unsearchable are his judgments and unfathomable his ways.

There is a Moral Will of God: revealed through his commands in the Bible what men ought to believe and how men ought to live. Probably 95% of God’s will can be found in the Bible.

  • Romans 2:18 – know his will … being instructed in the Law.
  • 1 Thessalonians 5:18 – This is God’s will for you…
  • 1 Thessalonians 4:3 – For this is the will of God.
  • Colossians 1:9 – May be filled with the knowledge of his will.
  • Colossians 4:12 – That you may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God.
  • Romans 12:2 – That you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
  • Ephesians 5:17 – Understand what the will of the Lord is.
  • Ephesians 6:6 – Doing the will of God from the heart.
  • Proverbs 3:5-6 – Trust and acknowledge God, he will make your paths straight.
  • Psalm 32:8 – He will instruct and teach you in the way you should go.

There is an Individual Will of God: of his ideal, detailed life-plan designed for each person (traditional view).

Those who hold to this view seek to answer the question, “How may I be in the center of God’s will?” It is normally asked in the big decisions in life and the rest of life is navigated by circumstances and personal feelings. To find the center of God’s will require special revelation of God.

  1. A wife for Isaac (Genesis 24:3-5, 8, 10-26)
  2. A target audience for Paul (Acts 16:9-10)

A Completed Canon of Scripture: There are no more visions, dreams, and appearances (1 Corinthians 15:8, 1 Peter 1:20, no more “thus says the Lord…”) We have a more sure word of prophecy found in the canon of Scripture (2 Peter 1:19a, 21)

  • Revelation 22:18-19 – prohibits adding to God’s word (this revelation).
  • Jude 1:3 – The faith was once for all handed down to the saints.
  • 2 Peter 1:2-3 – God has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness.
  • 2 Peter 2:1 – False prophets arose, and false teachers will be among you.
  • What about dreams and visions today? (Hearing God’s Voice, by Richard and Henry Blackaby)
    1. In many parts of the world, God seems to be using visions and dreams extensively. In areas where there is little or no gospel message available, and where people do not have Bibles, God is taking his message to people directly through dreams and visions. This is entirely consistent with the biblical example of visions being frequently used by God to reveal his truth to people in the early days of Christianity. If God desires to communicate his message to a person, he can use whatever means he finds necessary—a missionary, an angel, a vision, or a dream. Of course, God also has the ability to give visions in areas where the gospel message is already readily available. There is no limit to what God can do.
    2. At the same time, we must be careful when it comes to visions and the interpretation of visions. We must keep in mind that the Bible is finished, and it tells us everything we need to know. The key truth is that if God were to give a vision, it would agree completely with what He has already revealed in His Word. Visions should never be given equal or greater authority than the Word of God. God’s Word is our ultimate authority for Christian faith and practice.

How NOT to Determine God’s Will:

  1. Do NOT Put God to the Test (Matthew 4:7, Deuteronomy 8:3)
  2. Do NOT Seek After Signs (Matthew 12:38-40)
  3. Do NOT Communicate With the Dead (Isaiah 8:19-20, Deuteronomy 10-12)
  4. Do NOT Look at Horoscopes (Jeremiah 10:2, Revelation 21:8, Galatians 5:20)
  5. Do NOT be Led by the Spirit Contrary to God’s Word (James 4:17)
  6. Do NOT be Led by Your Sinful Nature:
    • Jeremiah 17:9 (“follow your heart,” which is wicked and can’t be trusted)
    • Ephesians 4:22-24 (“Be true to yourself,” which self? The old self or the new self?)

How to Determine God’s Will:

1. Examine yourself to make sure you are a Christian:

  • 2 Corinthians 13:5 – test yourself
  • James 1:18 – God gave us new birth
  • 1 Timothy 2:4 – who desires all men to be saved
  • 2 Peter 3:9 – God does not want anyone destroyed but to repent

2. Understand a biblical worldview on the decisions that you make and the direction that you take (Ephesians 5:15).

  • What does God expect of me?
  • What principles from the Bible could give me further wisdom on this decision?
  • After determining biblical boundaries, pray for God’s wisdom to make the best choice with the options that remain (1 Thessalonians 3:1 – we thought it best…).

3. Seek counsel from those in authority over you:

  • Parents (Proverbs 6:21-23, Ephesians 6:1-3)
  • Husband (Ephesians 5:22, Colossians 3:18)
  • Small group leader or pastor (Hebrews 13:17)
  • Employer (Ephesians 6:5-9, Colossians 4:1)
  • Government officials (Romans 13:1-7)

4. Discern whether your decision will be consistent with God’s five purposes for your life:

  • Knowing (worship, exalt, magnify): connecting with God by getting to know, trust, and love him.
  • Relating (fellowship, encouragement, membership): connecting with others through learning real love and belonging in God’s family.
  • Serving (service, equipping, ministry): connecting with opportunities to give back and make a difference with your talents.
  • Growing (discipleship, edification, maturity): connecting with truths, tools, experiences, people, and habits that help you grow spiritually.
  • Sharing (outreach, evangelism, mission): connecting with opportunities to share your story and God’s story as you live out your life mission.

5. Discern whether your decision will be consistent with your God-given SHAPE (how you are wired). We are created for good works (Ephesians 2:10).

  • Spiritual gifts: how has God gifted me? (1 Peter 4:10, 1 Corinthians 12:11)
  • Heart: what do I love to do? (Philippians 2:13)
  • Abilities: what are my natural talents and skills? (Exodus 31:3)
  • Personality: where does my personality best suit me to serve? (Psalm 139:14)
  • Experience: what life experiences do I bring to this opportunity? (Philippians 2:12)

6. Consult your board of directors: a group of past teachers, mentors, and disciplers whom you can contact for advice.

  • Proverbs 1:5 – a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel.
  • Proverbs 11:14 – where there is no guidance the people fall.
  • Proverbs 12:5 – thoughts of the righteous are just.
  • Proverbs 12:15 – a wise man listens to counsel.
  • Proverbs 13:10 – those who take advice are wise.
  • Proverbs 15:22 – without consultation, plans are frustrated, but with many counselors they succeed.
  • Proverbs 19:20 – the wise listen to counsel and accept discipline.
  • Proverbs 24:6 – an abundance of counselors brings victory.
  • Proverbs 27:9 – a man’s counsel is sweet to his friend.

7. Make your decision and allow God to “blue pencil” your plans (the key is “Lord willing” and Proverbs 16:9 – the mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps, like a drafting change). Avoid the sin of presumption (James 4:13-17).

  • Acts 18:21 – I will return, if God wills.
  • Romans 1:10 – perhaps now at last by the will of God I may succeed in coming to you.
  • Romans 15:32 – I may come to you in joy by the will of God.
  • 1 Corinthians 4:19 – if the Lord wills.
  • 1 Corinthians 16:7 – if the Lord permits.
  • Hebrews 6:3 – if God permits.
  • 1 Peter 3:17 – if God should will it so.

[Based on my classes with Richard D. Leineweber, Jr. c. 2000]

Recommended resources:
Decision Making and the Will of God, by Garry Friesen
Decision Making by the Book, by Haddon Robinson

Worry Free Decisions

The purpose of this lesson is to help you think about decisions from the perspective of what would please God.

Have you ever given a friend a gift that you knew was exactly right? Remember how good it felt to see the joy in your friend as he or she opened the gift. Wouldn’t it feel good to experience God’s pleasure over a decision you have made, never having to worry whether you have done the right thing?

Describe something you did that brought real pleasure to another person. What has someone done for you that pleased you?

Who have you been attempting to please? How have you been going about it?

When a man came to Jesus upset about an inheritance, Jesus took the opportunity to talk with his disciples about pleasing God instead of worrying about self. Read Luke 12:13-34.

1. Describe the man in Luke 12:13. What were his worries?

Selfish and materialistic: This is especially evident if you consider what Jesus has just been talking to the crowd about in Luke 12:1-11 (concerning hypocrisy, and confessing Christ before men). How would you feel about an uneven distribution of an inheritance? You likely share many of this man’s worries.

Luke 12:13 Tell my brother: Jesus is asked to intervene in a family dispute, as an ancient rabbi would be. The dispute centers around a point of Mosaic law, divide the inheritance with me is likely in reference to the double-portion allotted to the firstborn son (see Deuteronomy 21:17).

2. What do the people of our society worry about?

3. What impact do our worries have on our decisions?

Think about specific worries you have had and what those worries cause you to do. For example, worries about money may cause some people to seek a higher paying job and others to take out a loan.

4. Why wouldn’t Jesus help the man in this story?

“The Lord refuses to fill the traditional role of judge because his mission concerns a more important question, the question of life itself. Jesus points his hearers to the importance of priorities in the quest for ‘life'”

Luke 12:14 Who made Me a Judge: Jesus refuses to enter into a dispute over money, which is clearly dividing a family. Such disputes over money destroy relationships, so Jesus tells a parable that explains the danger of focusing on wealth. Interestingly, the unnamed man mentions dividing the family inheritance, but Jesus states that He only came to divide the family (Luke 12:51–53). Whatever answer Jesus would give would not solve the problem. BOTH brothers had a covetous heart; the YOU is plural (Luke 12:14). BOTH men were greedy. They had an unquenchable thirst for more.

5. To what extent has “the abundance of possessions” been an ingredient in your decision-making process?

“In this parable and these pronouncements the Savior does not condemn the possession of worldly goods as such, but what He disapproves of is the covetous and carnal attitude with regard to earthly wealth, the trust in worldly things instead of in God, and the fault of not regarding one’s possessions gratefully as God’s gracious gifts and using them in His service and according to His will to the glory of His name. It is not only a terrible sin to make earthly riches and worldly pleasures the main purpose in life, but also a fatal act of folly, a deadly error.”

Luke 12:16 And he told a parable to them: Jesus uses this opportunity to move from His discourse about allegiance to Himself (see Luke 12:8–12) to allegiance to material possessions. The parable is meant to illustrate the truth that “one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (see Luke 12:15).

6. The rich man thought he had made a worry-free decision (Luke 12:19). Why was he called a fool (Luke 12:20)?

Luke 12:19 Relax, eat, drink, celebrate: Recalling Ecclesiastes 8:15; Isaiah 22:13.

Luke 12:20 God’s judgment on selfishness is clear. What did the rich fool have for the next life? He could not take his grain with him. What he owned was no longer of any value after death. In a single day, the rich man became poor. All earthly wealth is temporary and ultimately worthless (Matthew 6:19–21; 1 Timothy 6:6–10, 17-19; James 5:1–6). This night your life is demanded from you: Translated literally, the Greek says, “This night your soul they demand from you.” The plural “they” may be a reference to the rich man’s possessions, which have become his gods—rather than owning them, they own him. Such an allegiance to possessions leads to death.

How do YOU respond to the death of this farmer? Did he get what was coming to him? Right about the time he could REALLY live? The greatest tragedy is not what he left behind, but what lay before him, an eternity without God.

Wealth can be enjoyed and employed at the same time, if our purpose is to honor God (1 Timothy 6:10). Don’t be rich for this world and poor for the next.

7. The rich man did have a problem that needed to be solved (Luke 12:17). What decisions could he have made that Jesus would have found pleasing?

“Notice the repeated MY which points to an ingrained selfishness. The man is not concerned to use his wealth wisely. He is not trying to help other people. He is not even concerned to have a richer and fuller life for himself. He is concerned only with self-indulgence.”

Luke 12:18, 19 Including Luke 12:17, the word “I” appears six times, showing the selfish focus this man has as a result of his fortune. His plan is to store his abundant resources for himself, as though the assets were his alone and should be hoarded. This focus on the self is what Jesus is condemning. The attitude here is to take care of number one.

People should save for the future, and run a business successfully (1 Timothy 5:8), and Jesus does not encourage waste (John 6:12). Life does not come from an abundance of things, so he had a false view of life and death.

8. Why are ravens and lilies so carefree? (Luke 12:24, 27)

Luke 12:24 Jesus describes God’s care of ravens, unclean creatures according to Jewish law and among the least respected of birds (Leviticus 11:15; Deuteronomy 14:14). Yet God even cares for them. How much more are you worth: A point Jesus made earlier in Luke 12:7. Here, He conveys that if God takes care of the birds, how much more will He provide for His people?

Luke 12:25 It is uncertain whether Jesus is saying through His rhetorical question that worry cannot add to one’s physical height or that worry cannot add to one’s life span. In fact, worry can sometimes shorten life. What is clear is that worry is utterly useless and shows a lack of faith in God’s plan for our lives.

Luke 12:27–29 Even the wealthy King Solomon did not clothe himself as God has clothed the lilies: The illustration of grass indicates that God cares enough to provide beauty for the parts of His creation that have a short life. Why should we worry if God takes such care of even the smallest blade of grass? The Lord knows our problems and will provide us with what we need. Do not seek … nor have an anxious mind: Since God will provide, there is no need for us to concentrate on mundane things such as food. This should not be our chief concern, but instead our first priority should be doing the will of God (Luke 12:31).

9. What would be different about making a decision from a raven or lily’s point of view?

“They should not make their chief aim or the passion of their lives the hoarding of material things. By this the Savior does not in any way mean that they must be lazy and neglect their ordinary work and duties, but that they must not allow their hearts to become so attached to material things that their inner lives are controlled by these, and they are not to be vexed and anxious about these things. Everyone must perform his daily task, which God gives him, whole-heartedly and to the best of his ability, but the inner life of the believer must not be caught in the clutches of materialism and of anxiety with regard to worldly things.”

10. How does our worry dishonor God?

Worry shows a lack of trust. When we worry about something, it is a statement that we don’t believe God can or will take care of it.

11. What does it mean to seek the kingdom of God (Luke 12:31) and provide a treasure in heaven (Luke 12:33)?

“They are to seek his kingdom, which points to a concentration on all that the kingdom involves. Disciples have pledged themselves to their Master. They must accordingly spend their time in doing His work and seeking His kingdom. This will mean trying to produce in their own lives conduct appropriate to those who have accepted the rule of God. It will also mean trying to bring others into a like way of living, for it is in this way that the kingdom grows. Jesus adds the information that when His followers concentrate on the kingdom, these things shall be yours as well. When men truly honor God, God honors their faith. His servants may not grow wealthy as the world understands riches, but they will not lack.”

12. How have you sought God’s kingdom as you have been making decisions?

Pray about everything that worries you, putting it into God’s hands again.

Now or Later

Doubt can often be the same as worry. Read what James has to say about this in James 1:2-8.

  1. According to these verses, why are some people confused?
  2. Why is a wave an apt description of a doubter?
  3. What advice does James give us for dealing with doubt and worry?

Additional Questions:

  1. What did you like to collect as a child? How about now?
  2. Which situation is more worrisome to you? Overdraft? Gaining 10 pounds? Child expelled from school? Nobody called this week? Mother-in-law stays for two weeks?
  3. What is Jesus saying for the disciples NOT to do? What are they to do instead (Luke 12:22, 33)?
  4. Over what are you worrying? Why?
  5. How can you transfer your treasure from Wall Street to Heaven’s Gate?
  6. How would your life be different if you lived the way Jesus says?
  7. Jesus wants us to be on our guard: Luke 12:15 Guard yourselves from all greediness: Jesus previously warned His disciples about the hypocrisy of the Pharisees (see preceding section), but now He warns them of the deceitfulness of riches. Does his life consist of his possessions? For Jesus, life consists of listening to and obeying the word of God (Luke 12:8:21; 10:42). It is interesting that this man’s problem was that he had too much wealth!
    1. What are the perils of prosperity (Proverbs 30:7-9)?
    2. Wealth can choke the Word (Matthew 13:22).
    3. It can set a trap of temptation (1 Timothy 6:6-10, 17-19) and a false sense of security.



Luke 12:22–34 Luke appropriately ties in Jesus’ teaching on anxiety over material provisions with the preceding section. The above parable, then, is directed at the rich (the brother who had many possessions, Luke 12:13), whereas this section is addressed to the poor. (See also Matthew 6:19–21, 25-34).

Destructive: The word “anxious” (Luke 12:22) really means “to be torn apart” and the phrase “doubtful mind” means to be held in suspense” (Luke 12:29). Our English word comes from an Anglo-Saxon word meaning “to strangle.”

Deceptive: Worry causes us to focus too much on the means and not the end, which is to glorify God (Matthew 6:33). Worry blinds us to the world around us, how God cares for the world and its beauty. Worry blinds us to itself, thinking that by worrying we can make a difference (Luke 12:25).

Deformative: Worry keeps us from growing properly, and makes us like the lost world (Luke 12:30). Worry is unchristian and is a sin.

Luke 12:33 Sell what you have: In contrast to the world’s hoarding of possessions, the disciple must be generous with what God gives. Money bags which do not grow old: By serving God and others, you can invest in your eternal future. You cannot take possessions with you in the next life, but you can store up an eternal treasure by giving to others (see Paul’s statement in Philippians 4:17).

Luke 12:34 What people consider valuable is where their energy will be spent. Knowing God and investing in His purposes should be the treasure we seek.

Warren Wiersbe

A Fearful Heart (Luke 12:1–12). When you fear people, you start to hide things, and this leads to hypocrisy. You fail to confess Christ openly and depend on the Holy Spirit (Luke 12:8–12), and this silences your witness. When you fear God alone, you need fear no one else; and you can boldly witness for Christ. You are important to God and precious in His sight, so never fear what people can say or do.

A Greedy Heart (Luke 12:13–21). Imagine being so greedy that you would interrupt a sermon to ask for help to get more money! The weeds were certainly growing in that man’s heart (Matthew 13:22). We all need a certain amount of money to live, but money is not a guarantee of security. If anything, it creates a false confidence that leads to foolishness.

A Divided Heart (Luke 12:22–34). The word translated “worry” (Luke 12:22) means “to be pulled apart,” and that is what worry does to you. If your heart is centered on Christ and trusting wholly in Him (Luke 12:31), you will have a united heart that fears God alone (Psalm 86:11). If your treasures are heavenly, you need not worry; no enemy can take them!

A Cold Heart (Luke 12:35–59). We are God’s servants, and He expects us to be faithfully doing our work when Jesus Christ returns. But when we stop looking for His coming, loving it (2 Timothy 4:8), and longing for it (Revelation 22:20), our hearts get cold, and we get worldly. The Lord will deal with careless servants when He returns, so we had better be ready.

Making the Wrong Decision

The Purpose of this Lesson: To give assurance that God will love us and use us even when we make bad decisions.

A major barrier to making a decision can be the fear of making the wrong choice.

On a scale of 1-10 (1 = I’m sure everything will work out; 10 = A wrong decision will destroy my entire life), how fearful are you about making a wrong decision? What experiences in your life have contributed to or relieved your fears?

Think of the worst decision you have made. Why was it wrong?

God had promised Abram and Sarai that they would have many descendants and become a great nation. On the basis of this promise, Abram had left everything familiar and had followed God to the strange land of Canaan. However, after living there for ten years, Abram and Sarai were still childless (and at eighty-five years old, well past their childbearing years). Impatient with God’s failure to act, they made a desperate decision. Read Genesis 16.

1. Which character in this story are you most like and why?

  1. Sarai-regretful of a decision you have made?
  2. Abram-wondering what went wrong?
  3. Hagar-blamed for someone else’s bad choice?
  4. Ishmael-the product of others’ dysfunction?

2. What decisions do Sarai and Abram make in this story?

Abram and Sarai “decided to resort to surrogate marriage, which was a perfectly respectable practice in the other cultures of the ancient Near East. A child born to a slave-girl could be regarded as the wife’s own child, if she had no children of her own. Many in ancient times saw nothing wrong in surrogate marriage, and surrogate motherhood is still an issue in contemporary society. Genesis, however, clearly does not agree with the practice” (G. J. Wenham, J. A. Motyer, D. A. Carson, and R. T. France, eds., New Bible Commentary [Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1994], p. 72).

3. Looking at these decisions from our perspective, several millennia after the fact, why were these decisions so flawed?

Abram had slipped from faith and allowed himself to be guided by reason and the voice of his wife. “Each of the three characters displays the untruth that is part of sin, in false pride (Genesis 16:4), false blame (Genesis 16:5), false neutrality (Genesis 16:6); but Sarai’s mask soon slipped (Genesis 16:6b), to show the hatred behind the talk of justice” (Derek Kidner, Genesis [Downers Grove, IlL: InterVarsity Press, 1967], p. 126).

4. Why do you think Abram and Sarai believed these decisions to be for the best?

5. What were the consequences of Abram and Sarai’s decisions for themselves? For Hagar? For the world?

“The obvious evils which resulted are. . . the fracturing of otherwise proper interpersonal relationships between Sarai and Hagar with the accompanying damage to Sarai’s dignity and the production of contempt for Sarai from Hagar. Hagar is ‘used,’ but Sarai is not truly benefitted. . . . Contempt, as well as a son who turned from Abram’s way, was Sarai’s heritage for failure to wait for Yahweh to fulfill in His way the promise of seed” (Harold Stigers, A Commentary on Genesis [Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1976], pp. 161-62). Ishmael is considered to be the father of the Arabs and Abram’s subsequent son, Isaac, to be the father of the Jews-a rivalry that continues to the present day.

6. What have been the consequences of your worst decisions?

7. Where does Sarai place the blame for her troubles?

Notice that Sarai first places the blame on God when she says, “The Lord has kept me from having children” (Genesis 16:2). Then, when she gets her way, she blames both Abram and Hagar (“You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering. I put my servant in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me” [Genesis 16:5]).

8. Why do you think people are reluctant to take responsibility for their decisions?

9. What good does God bring out of these bad decisions?

God’s mercy brings good out of human folly. A promise was given to Hagar that was similar to the promise given to Abram. When Ishmael is called “a wild donkey of a man (Genesis 16:12),” this is “not in the sense of a boorish, desert yokel, but in another sense. A man would not be derogated by this epithet, for the ass was a prized animal; a man so designated would be a choice person. . . . Yet he will possess something of the character of the wild ass of the desert in that he will be intractable and oppose his neighbors” (Stigers, Commentary on Genesis, p. 162).

10. Why did God intervene instead of simply letting everyone live with the mess they had made?

This passage gives evidence of the love of God who picks us up when we fail. It is also evidence of God’s determination to bring about his plans. He had made a promise to Abram that was an integral part of his greater plan of salvation. Abram’s failure would not frustrate God’s plan-and our bad decisions won’t frustrate it either.

11. After reading this report of Abram and Sarai’s mistake, what can you expect God to do with your own bad decisions?

12. What is comforting about being seen by God, even at our worst moments (Genesis 16:l3)?

Our worst moments are also our moments of greatest need. God is near to point out responsibility and offer aid in assuming it.

Confess to God the mistakes you have made and ask him to bring good from them.

Now or Later

King David seemed to make as many bad decisions as he did wise ones. He tried to hide from King Saul by living among the enemies of Israel and almost had to go to war against his own people (1 Samuel 27-29), he committed adultery and covered it up with murder (2 Samuel 11-12), he contributed to a family feud (2 Samuel 13-14), and he took a census of Israel and Judah (2 Samuel 24). Read what he has to say about finding forgiveness for our bad decisions in Psalm 32.

  1. According to this psalm, what should we do about our bad or sinful decisions?
  2. What will happen if we do not come to God with our mistakes?
  3. What will happen if we do?
  4. In what ways have you acted like a horse or a mule (Psalm 32:9)?

Warren Wiersbe Outline:

Family adventure and vacations may often include detours, the same was for Abraham and Sarah. The conflict in their home brought conflict into the world, the affects we see to this day. The Arab-Israeli conflict begins right here.

This is also a great lesson on God’s people walking by faith, making decisions about the future and how they respond to adversity, detours and setbacks. We often must wait to see God’s promises fulfilled; while we tend to rush ahead of God’s timing.

Waiting (Genesis 16:1a) Abraham is now 85 years old. Abraham had been walking with the LORD for 10 years. God’s promise a child and descendants. There is a period of waiting and people don’t like to wait. It is through faith and patience that we inherit the promises (Hebrews 6:12). Why did God wait so long? Perhaps for the couple to be “as good as dead” (Hebrews 11:12) because God needed to get all the credit. Abraham could still father a child (remember Hagar & Ishmael?) so the time for the miracle baby had not yet arrived.

  1. The first evidence of faith is that whatever is done by faith is done for the glory of God (Romans 4:20).
  2. A second evidence of faith is a willingness to wait on the Lord. “He who believes does not walk in haste” (Isaiah 28:16). When we stop trusting, we make haste.
  3. A third evidence of faith is acting on the authority of God’s Word, “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God (Romans 10:17). Hebrews 11 record the “Hall of Faith” filled with examples of people waiting to receive the promise.
  4. Finally, when we act in faith, God give peace and joy in life, “the God of hope will fill you with joy and peace in believing” (Romans 15:13).

Scheming (Genesis 1b-4a) Sarah knew that she could not bear a child, but Abraham was still capable. God identified the father of many nations but not the mother. Logically it would be Sarah, or maybe God had other plans. Now comes the “second-guessing,” which is dangerous. True faith is based on God’s Word (Romans 4:20) and not man’s wisdom (Proverbs 3:5-6).

Sarah was not concerned with the glory of God; her goal was to get a child (Genesis 16:2). Perhaps there was disappointment with God or even blaming. Delays are not necessarily denials. Maybe Sarah felt that God was holding out on her, which sounds familiar (Genesis 3:1-6).

While multiple wives was legal, it does go against God’s original design (Genesis 2:24). Hagar and Ismael are not declared Abraham’s wife and son, but Sarah’s main, or bondwoman, and her son (Genesis 16:8, 21:10). Hey, whatever is not of faith is sin (Romans 14:23). So, this couple does not faith the tests or evidences of faith.

Fighting (Genesis 16:4b-6) When you follow the world’s wisdom, you end up fighting like the world (James 3:13-18). Family fights are likely the most painful of all. Had Hagar maintained the attitude of a servant, things may have been different, but she became proud (Proverbs 30:21-23). This family turned from faith to the flesh (Galatians 3:3) and the flesh behaves in a certain way (Galatians 5:19-21). They were at war with selfishness in their hearts (James 4:1-10).

Sarah became, or grew, “little” in Hagar’s eyes. Then Sarai said to Abram, “This is all your fault! I put my servant into your arms, but now that she’s pregnant she treats me with contempt. The LORD will show who’s wrong—you or me!”

That last phrase was as close to cursing that believers do in the Bible: harm, contempt, despise: the Hebrew word chamas (related to the Arabic word ḥamas) also occurs in Genesis 6:11 (“the earth was filled with violence [chamas]”). The word elsewhere describes deceit and general disregard for law and human life (Deuteronomy 19:16; Psalm 11:5; Isaiah 60:18; Ezekiel 7:23). Here, it refers to injustice.

  1. Sarah’s solution was to blame her husband and mistreat her servant (Genesis 16:5-6).
  2. Abraham’s solution was to abdicate his spiritual leadership (Genesis 16:6a).
  3. Hagar’s solution was to run away from the problem (Genesis 16:6b) a tactic she learned from Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:8). When Abraham fled to Egypt (Genesis 12:10-20) there was peace for a time, then trouble.

Submitting (Genesis 16:7-16)

Hagar had to submit to God: (Genesis 16:7-14) After the confrontation with the angel of the LORD (Genesis 16:11), Hagar called him GOD (Genesis 16:13). The angel called her “Sarah’s maid” (Genesis 16:8) so evidently GOD did not accept the “marriage” of these two. “The God who sees me” indicates that he is personal, concerned about abused people and unborn babies. When we submit to God, he helps us to do the tough things that we know need to be done, like returning to Sarah and apologizing for her behavior.

Sarah had to submit to God: How did Sarah feel when Hagar came back and reported that God had talked to her? This poor servant-girl? God concerned with this slave-girl’s baby? The Bible doesn’t say, but we know Hagar came back into the family and was not mistreated again.

Abraham had to submit to God: Throughout this event, he played a very passive role. He let Sarah talk him into marrying Hagar, allowed Sarah to mistreat Hagar, and let Sarah drive her out of the camp. Things went well until Isaac was born. In Genesis 21:9-10, the problems continued. Abraham did not offer any help, but later GOD made up for that (Genesis 21:13), because he was going to make Ishmael a great nation, too.

There is a great theme of life right here: Return and Submit (Genesis 16:9)

Decision-Making and Prayer

This is the sixth study in the series about Decisions: Seeking God’s Guidance:

Luke 11:1-13; 18:1-8

Purpose: To encourage us to keep praying about the decisions we face.

Billy Graham has said, “Heaven is full of answers to prayers for which no one ever bothered to ask.”

What has been your most amazing answer to prayer?

Corrie ten Boom once asked, “Is prayer your steering wheel or your spare tire?” How would you have answered her?

Although most Christians believe in praying about important decisions, they often make their decisions without prayer. There are many reasons for this: They question whether the particular decision they are facing requires prayer. They do not have time to pray because a decision is needed immediately. They do not know what to ask. They don’t really believe that God will give them an answer. Even Jesus’ closest disciples needed instruction in prayer. Read Luke 11:1-13.

1. What one idea about prayer stands out to you the most in these verses?

2. What kinds of things does Jesus tell us we should pray for in Luke 11:2-4?

The petitions of the Lord’s Prayer include

  • “Father, hallowed be your name” – a request for a proper attitude toward God
  • “Your kingdom come” – a desire for God’s kingdom to be fully realized
  • “Give us each day our daily bread” – acknowledgment of our continual dependence on God
  • “Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us” – a recognition of the need to forgive and be forgiven
  • “And lead us not into temptation”-a realization of our weakness and the ease with which we give way to the temptations of the world.

3. Which of these has been most prominent and most lacking in your own prayer life?

4. How would you feel about a friend who would be so persistent in bothering you in the middle of the night (Luke 11:5-8)?

5. How would you characterize the awakened neighbor?

Here’s some helpful background information: The setting is a small village where there are no shops. A household would bake its bread each morning. Jesus pictures a man whose household has used its supply and on whom a journeying friend makes an unexpected call. It is at midnight, which probably means that the friend had traveled after dark to avoid the heat. The man must feed his friend, for hospitality was a sacred duty. So he goes to another friend for three loaves, after all, three small loaves which would suffice for one man. But this second householder has shut his door and gone to bed with his children. Evidently he was a poor man living in a one-roomed house. The whole family would sleep on a raised platform at one end of such a room, possibly with the animals at floor level. A man in such a situation could not get up without disturbing the whole family. He raises no difficulty about giving the bread, but the bother of getting up is quite another matter. It is much easier to stay where he is.

6. How does the awakened neighbor differ from God?

The point of this parable is that God is not like the awakened friend. If even an imperfect human being, notwithstanding the inconvenience to which he is put, will arise at midnight to give a friend what he needs if he comes and asks him for help, how much more will God, the heavenly Friend, who is perfect in love, listen to the sincere prayers and supplications of His children who are really in need!

7. In what ways are we to be like the persistent neighbor?

It is important that we should remember that in the parable there is a friendship existing between the one who asks and the one who rises and gives, and that the request arises out of necessity and not out of selfishness.

8. How are we to practice asking, seeking and knocking?

The lesson is clear. We must not play at prayer, but must show persistence if we do not receive the answer immediately. It is not that God is unwilling and must be pressed into answering. The whole context makes it clear that He is eager to give. But if we do not want what we are asking for enough to be persistent, we do not want it very much. It is not such weak prayer that is answered.

9. What assurance do we have that God will give us good gifts (Luke 11:11-13)?

No regenerate child of God should ever doubt that when he prays to God out of real need his prayer will be answered. He who doubts this does Him the greatest dishonor, for by not believing that He will give what we really need we in fact appear to regard Him as less sympathetic and less faithful than an ordinary earthly friend. Therefore unbelief in relation to the answering of prayer is not only a weakness, but a serious sin and utter folly.

10. Read Luke 18:1-8. Why would Jesus compare God to an unjust judge? How does this comparison help Jesus to make his point?

Jesus is certainly not suggesting that God is like the unjust judge. This is a parable of contrasts. If a wicked man can sometimes be cajoled into doing something good, then how much more will God do right.

11. When in your prayer life have you felt like the widow in this parable? How do you think that God would prefer that you pray?

The widow stands in “sharp contrast to the elect of God who call upon Him in prayer. In the eye of the unjust judge she is an unknown, troublesome person in whom he takes no interest and about whose fate he does not worry. But the chosen ones of God are well known to Him and loved by Him, and He takes the keenest interest in them.

12. How do the lessons of these parables apply to your prayers concerning your decisions?

Thank God for his past answers to your prayers and ash again for his guidance in the decisions you face.

Now or Later

“Reading a book about prayer, listening to lectures and talking about it is very good, but it won’t teach you to pray. You get nothing without exercise, without practice. I might listen for a year to a professor of music playing the most beautiful music, but that won’t teach me to play an instrument” (Andrew Murray, “The Spiritual Life,” Christianity Today 34, no. 2).

Outline of Luke 11 – Warren Wiersbe

His Generosity (Luke 11:1–13). If Jesus, John the Baptist, and the Twelve all needed to pray, how much more do we need to pray! We must put God’s concerns first (Luke 11:2–4), because prayer is based on sonship, not friendship. God is a loving Father, not a grouchy neighbor; He gives us what we need. He neither slumbers nor sleeps; and He doesn’t become irritated when we ask for help (James 1:5).

His Authority (Luke 11:14–36). More dangerous than open hostility (Luke 11:14–22) is attempted neutrality (Luke 11:23–26), for an empty life is an opportunity for Satan to move in and take over. The only sign we need is the “sign of Jonah,” our Lord’s resurrection from the dead (Acts 2:22–36). Jesus has won the victory over the prince of darkness. Obey Satan and you let in darkness rather than light, and soon you will not be able to distinguish between them (Matthew 6:22–23).

His Honesty (Luke 11:37–54). He was a guest in the home, but Jesus did not flatter His host or the other guests by avoiding the truth. He exposed their hypocrisy and condemned them for their sins (Matthew 23). They defiled people (Luke 11:44), burdened them (Luke 11:46), and locked the door on them (Luke 11:52), all the while posing as holy men of God. Instead of taking the opportunity of repenting and being forgiven, they opposed Jesus and attacked Him. What fools!

Prayer is a mighty instrument, not for getting man’s will done in Heaven, but for getting God’s will done in earth. -Robert Law

Outline of Luke 18 – Warren Wiersbe

Confident Prayer (Luke 18:1–8). If an unjust judge helps a poor widow, how much more will a loving Father meet the needs of His children? We have open access into His treasury (Romans 5:2) and can claim His gracious promises (Luke 11:9–10), so we ought to pray with faith and confidence. No need to argue—just come!

Arrogant Prayer (Luke 18:9–17). True prayer should humble us and make us love others more. We should be like children coming to a Father and not like attorneys bringing an indictment. If prayer doesn’t bless the one praying, it isn’t likely to help anybody else.

Ignorant Prayer (Luke 18:18–34). Although the young man had many good qualities, one of them was not spiritual understanding. He did not really see himself, Jesus or the peril he was in because of his riches. The publican went away justified (Luke 18:14) while the young man went away sorrowful (Luke 18:23). What happens at the close of your prayers?

Persistent Prayer (Luke 18:35–43). The blind man was not to be stopped! He had his great opportunity, and he would not let it pass. Our Lord stopped, looked, listened—and healed! Jesus is not too busy to hear you. Just be sure you are in earnest when you pray.

The revelation of our spiritual standing is what we ask in prayer; sometimes what we ask is an insult to God; we ask with our eyes on the possibilities or on ourselves, not on Jesus Christ. -Oswald Chambers

What About Some Good Advice?

This is the fifth study in the series about Decisions: Seeking God’s Guidance:

2 Timothy 3:10-4:8

Purpose: To learn to distinguish between good and bad advice.

It is said that “advice is cheap,” which is probably due to the fact that there are more people selling it than buying it. The book of Proverbs, however, encourages us to value advice when it teaches, “Listen to advice and accept instruction, and in the end you will be wise” (Proverbs 19:20).

What is the best and worst advice you have been given? What happened when you followed each?

How do you normally react to people who give you advice: (a) appreciative? (b) resentful? (c) indifferent? (d) skeptical? What does this tell you about yourself?

Second Timothy is a letter the apostle Paul wrote to a young pastor he had trained. In it, he encourages Timothy to stand strong in a world full of godlessness, false teaching and bad advice. Read 2 Timothy 3:10-4:8.

1. What information does Paul give about his character and suffering?

2. Why is it important to consider the character of those we seek advice from?

John Stott suggests: No, Paul is not boasting. He has reasons quite other than exhibitionism for drawing attention to himself. He mentions his teaching first, and then goes on to supply two objective evidences of the genuineness of his teaching, namely the life he lived and the sufferings he endured. Indeed, these are good (though not infallible) general tests of a person’s sincerity, and even of the truth or falsehood of his system. Is he so convinced of his position that he both practices what he preaches and is prepared to suffer for it? Have his beliefs made him a better man, even in the face of opposition? Paul could answer both questions affirmatively. The false teachers lived lives of self-indulgence, and it would be quite out of character to expect them to be willing to suffer for their views; they were altogether too soft and easygoing for that. The apostle Paul, however, lived a consistent life of righteousness, self-control, faith and love, and remained steadfast to his principles through many and grievous persecution. (Guard the Gospel [Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1973], pp. 94-95)

3. According to the criteria given in 2 Timothy 3:10-11, who do you know that you might go to for advice?

4. How was Timothy to evaluate the advice he received from others, including Paul (2 Timothy 3: 14-15)?

Timothy is told to evaluate what others say based on the convictions he has built over time. Those convictions have been given to him by Scripture and by people whose character he knows and trusts namely his mother, his grandmother and Paul. A Christian must stand firm on what he knows of the truth, like a rock resists the increasing fury of the waves.

5. Why was Paul such a good mentor for Timothy?

6. Focus on 2 Timothy 3:15-17. What is the purpose of Scripture?

Paul says that Scripture will make us “wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15). By this he means, “the Bible is essentially a handbook of salvation. Its over-arching purpose is to teach not facts of science (e.g. the nature of moon rock) which men can discover by their own empirical investigation, but facts of salvation, which no space exploration can discover but only God can reveal” (Stott, Guard the Gospel, p. 102). Paul goes on to show that Scripture teaches us both what to believe and how to behave.

7. How can Scripture be used in helping us to make decisions?

Since Scripture teaches us how to behave, all such teaching will come to bear on our decisions. We should never make a decision that will cause us to act or believe in a way that is contrary to Scripture.

When Paul speaks of all Scripture, he is definitely referring to the complete OT, but also to those portions of the NT that were then in existence.

  • In 1 Timothy 5:18, he quotes the Gospel of Luke (Luke 10:7) as Scripture.
  • Peter speaks of Paul’s Epistles as Scriptures (2 Pet. 3:16).

Today we are justified in applying the verse to the entire Bible.

This is one of the most important verses in the Bible on the subject of inspiration. It teaches that the Scriptures are God-breathed. In a miraculous way, He communicated His word to men and led them to write it down for permanent preservation. What they wrote was the very word (and message) of God. While it is true that the individual literary style of the writer comes through, it is also true that the words are the same as the Holy Spirit intended. So, we read in 1 Corinthians 2:13: “These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.” If this verse says anything at all, it says that the inspired writers used words which the Holy Spirit taught.

The writers of the Bible did not give their own private interpretation of things, but wrote the message which was given to them by God. “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:20-21).

It is false to say that God simply gave the thoughts to the individual writers and allowed them to express these thoughts in their own words. The truth insisted on in the Scriptures is that the very words originally given by God to men were God-breathed.

Because the Bible is the word of God, it is profitable. Every portion of it is profitable. Although man might wonder about some of the genealogies or obscure passages, yet the Spirit-taught mind will realize that there is spiritual nourishment in every word that has proceeded from the mouth of God.

The Bible is profitable for doctrine, or teaching. It sets forth the mind of God with regard to such themes as the Trinity, angels, man, sin, salvation, sanctification, the church, and future events. (This is the way we should live, to walk on the path).

The Bible is profitable for reproof. As we read the Bible, it speaks to us pointedly concerning those things in our lives which are displeasing to God. Also, it is profitable for refuting error and for answering the tempter. (This tells us where got off the path).

The Bible is profitable for correction. It not only points out what is wrong but sets forth the way in which it can be made right. For instance, the Scriptures not only say, “Let him who stole steal no longer,” but add, “Rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give to him who has need.” The first part of the verse might be considered as reproof, whereas the second part is correction. (This tells us how to get back on the path).

The Bible is profitable for instruction in righteousness. The grace of God teaches us to live godly lives, but the word of God traces out in detail the things which go to make up a godly life. (This tells us how to stay on the path).

8. How might Scripture be misused in decision making? How can you avoid this?

This question is not directly answered in the passage, but by understanding the purposes of Scripture, we will also come to understand what it is not intended to do. The Bible generally teaches principles of behavior that will guide us in reaching a decision. For example, if a person is considering whether or not to marry a particular person, the Bible can help the couple examine their motives and desires. The Bible cannot be expected to give a yes or no answer as if it were a crystal ball.

9. What does good advice consist of according to 2 Timothy 4:1-7

Good advice will…

  1. Take into account that Christ is coming back and will judge us for what we have done
  2. Be relevant in that it will correct, rebuke and encourage according to the needs of the one being advised
  3. Be patient so that it will not pressure or attempt to contrive a decision; and
  4. Contain careful instruction which guides a person intellectually

10. Why might some people be motivated to give bad advice?

Paul warns that people will substitute their own desires for God’s truth. They will judge teachers by their own subjective taste instead of by the authority of God’s Word. In order to be popular or to gain an audience, teachers will be tempted to say what people want to hear.

11. How can you avoid having “itchy ears” (2 Timothy 4:3) as you seek advice?

12. How will this study change the way in which you seek advice?

Pray for God’s guidance as you study Scripture and seek advice.

Now or Later

A contrast between people with “itchy ears” and people who know how to accept advice is found in Acts. Read Acts 17:1-12.

  1. In what ways does Paul follow the principles of good advice you discovered in 2 Timothy?
  2. Why did the people of Thessalonica not listen to Paul’s advice?
  3. How is this similar to the people with “itchy ears” in 2 Timothy?
  4. How is it similar to people in your community?
  5. What is commendable about the Berean style of evaluating advice?
  6. Have you been more like a Thessalonian or a Berean in accepting advice?

Warren Wiersbe


Perilous in 2 Timothy 3:1 means “difficult,” “hard to deal with,” or “dangerous.” It is the same Greek word used to describe the demoniac in Matthew 8:28 and translated “exceedingly fierce.” How do we live for Christ in such terrible times?

Expect them (2 Timothy 3:1–9). The person who is looking for a soon-coming paradise on earth is destined for disappointment. To expect these perilous times is to become not a pessimist but a realist. Note the emphasis on the wrong kind of love (2 Timothy 2, 4).

Follow the right examples (2 Timothy 3:10–12). We tend to emulate the people we admire, so be careful about the heroes you select. Modern-day Christian celebrities may not exemplify the life-style God wants us to have.

Stay with the Bible (2 Timothy 3:13-17). Believe God’s Word will…

  1. Save you (2 Timothy 3:15)
  2. Mature you from childhood to adulthood (2 Timothy 3:15, 17)
  3. Equip you to serve the Lord (2 Timothy 3:17).

Satanic deception is rampant today and has infected the church (2 Timothy 3:13), and the only weapon that defeats the deceivers is God’s inspired Word.


Christ is coming (2 Timothy 4:1)! In view of all this(that which he tells us in chapter 3), we must know our task and be faithful to do it. Review 2 Corinthians 5:9–11, and read 1 John 2:28–3:2.

Apostasy is coming (2 Timothy 4:2-5)! Indeed, it is now here. Many professed Christians have no “ear” for the Word of God. They prefer religious entertainment and sermons that will tickle their ears instead of cut their hearts.

Departure is coming (2 Timothy 4:6-8)! Paul saw his approaching death as the offering of a sacrifice to God (2 Timothy 4:6; Philippians 2:17), the ending of a difficult race (2 Timothy 4:7), and the gaining of a glorious crown (2 Timothy 4:8; Revelation 2:10). This is the victor’s crown given to winners at the Greek Olympic Games.

Help is coming (2 Timothy 4:9-22)! Paul was greatly disappointed when the people he had ministered to turned away from him and were ashamed of his bonds. He asked Timothy to come as soon as possible and to bring Mark with him. But best of all, the Lord came to Paul and encouraged him! No matter what His people may do, Jesus will never leave you or forsake you (Acts 18:9–11; Hebrews 13:5–6).

How to Make Wise Decisions

This is the fourth study in the series about Decisions: Seeking God’s Guidance:

Proverbs 3:1-26, the purpose is to help recognize the factors that make for a wise decision.

Although knowledge will help us in making decisions, it is even more critical that we choose wisely. Wisdom combines good judgment, knowledge, experience and understanding, but it is different than any of these.

What was created even before the world was founded? Proverbs 8:22-31, 3:19-20

What is a definition of wisdom? After listening to each other, how would you now change your answers?

  1. Accumulated philosophic or scientific learning (knowledge)
  2. Ability to discern inner qualities and relationships (insight)
  3. Good sense (judgment)
  4. Generally accepted belief
  5. The ability to see beneath the surface of things
  6. A wise attitude, belief, or course of action
  7. The teachings of the ancient wise men

What is wisdom? What is the difference between wisdom and knowledge?

The dictionary defines wisdom as “the ability to discern or judge what is true, right, or lasting.” This is a theme that is recurring throughout the Bible. We know that knowledge, on the other hand, is defined as having information through experience, reasoning or acquaintance. God wants us to have knowledge of him and what he expects of us. But equally important is having wisdom. Knowing facts about God and the Bible is not all there is to having wisdom.

Wisdom is a gift from God. James 1:5 says “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” Wisdom is what God will bless us with in order for us to glorify Him with the knowledge we have of Him.

The book of Proverbs is perhaps the best book in the Bible to study when seeking to learn biblical wisdom. Proverbs 1:7 also clearly explains what it means to have biblical knowledge: “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; Fools despise wisdom and instruction.” When we fear the Lord, which is the most basic form of knowledge, God can then begin to provide us with wisdom through Jesus, whom the Bible says is wisdom itself. “But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30).

Knowledge is what is gathered over time through study of the Scriptures. It can be said that wisdom, in turn, reveals itself by acting upon that knowledge. In other words, knowledge manifesting itself in any given situation through wisdom. If one lacks knowledge, he will also lack wisdom. The two go hand-in-hand.

Who do you consider to be wise? How has his or her wisdom been demonstrated?

The book of Proverbs offers practical advice through poetry; short, pithy sayings; and vivid comparisons. The main point of the book is that we should always seek the wisdom of God.

1. This passage describes many benefits of wisdom. Which of them are most attractive to you?

2. According to Proverbs 3:1-12, what characterizes a wise decision?

Wise decisions consist of following wise teaching, being motivated by love and faithfulness, trusting in the Lord, going God’s way instead of our way, giving to God generously, and submitting to God’s discipline. A decision made on the basis of these criteria is promised to bring great reward.

3. Why is a commitment to “love and faithfulness” (Proverbs 3:3) important to making a wise decision?

A decision that is based on love and faithfulness is given the promise of winning favor with God and humanity. A decision that is NOT motivated by love and faithfulness will allow us to become self-serving.

4. Some people would argue that it is unwise to trust anyone but yourself. How would you answer them after reading Proverbs 3:5-8?

Proverbs 3:5-8 “are to Christ’s disciples what the wedding ceremony is to newlyweds. They spell out what is and is not to be done within the relationship. They set the terms of what it means to live with God at the outset of our commitment to Him and through every step of our pilgrimage. They are the ‘to have and to hold from this day forward’ of our marriage-covenant with God” (David Hubbard).

5. Why is it wise to “honor the Lord with your wealth” (Proverbs 3:9) instead of spending it on yourself? How have you done this?

The principle of firstfruits comes from Deuteronomy 26:1-15. It is the practice of giving God the first produce to ripen and be harvested. To give the firstfruits is an act of trust because the giver has no guarantee that the rest of the crop will actually be harvested. “Prosperity, gratitude, and charity are an indivisible triad of experiences in biblical thought, and notably in Proverbs” (Hubbard).

6. How do people today “despise the Lord’s discipline” (Proverbs 3:11)?

To “despise” and “reject” God’s discipline is the opposite of the trust that is spoken of in Proverbs 3:5-8. People despise discipline when they live in denial, make excuses or pass blame.

7. What role has God’s discipline played in making you wiser (Proverbs 3:11-12)?

8. What makes wisdom so valuable (Proverbs 3:13-17)?

Wisdom is valuable because it provides understanding, brings prosperity, lengthens a person’s life and gives peace.

9. How can you “embrace” wisdom (Proverbs 3:18)?

10. According to Proverbs 3:19-26, what can wisdom accomplish?

We know that our world is a fruit of God’s wisdom (Proverbs 3:19-20). Since we can clearly see what God’s wisdom has already accomplished, the author now assures us of what it can do for each of us personally. Wisdom will give us life, keep us safe, banish fear and build our confidence.

11. In what ways are you like and unlike the person described in Proverbs 3:2l-26?

12. What can you do to become more like the wise person pictured here?

13. What have these proverbs taught you about wisdom and how to find it?

Pray for godly wisdom in the decisions you face.

Now or Later: Read Jesus’ parable about wisdom and foolishness in Matthew 7:24-27.

The wise and foolish man both faced the same decision where and how to build a house-but they made very different choices.

  1. What factors do you think influenced their decision making process?
  2. Why are so many foundations built on sand?
  3. What does this parable teach you about making wise choices and avoiding foolish ones?

Open Bible Notes:

  • Proverbs 3:1-2 – The connection between keeping God’s commands and enjoying long life is supported by the fifth commandment (Exodus 20:12).
  • Proverbs 3:5-6 – These verses, worthy of being memorized, which sum up the biblical approach to life. Wisdom is not the result of mere human insight, but of learning God’s unchanging ways.
  • Proverbs 3:7 – Fear the LORD … depart from evil (see Job 1:1).
  • Proverbs 3:9 – To honor the LORD meant to give Him the portion of material goods that He required (Deuteronomy 26:1-2, 9-13). Firstfruits were the first items harvested, and often the best.
  • Proverbs 3:24-26 – Serving God saves us from many fears.
  • Proverbs 3:27-30 – The wise person does not delay payment. Delay may lead to misunderstanding and strife.

Warren Wiersbe:

Your heart (Proverbs 3:1-8). What you do with your heart determines what you do with your life (Proverbs 4:23).

  • Cultivate an obedient heart (Proverbs 3:1) that
  • Receives God’s Word (Proverbs 3:3, 2 Corinthians 3:1-3) and
  • A trusting heart that obeys (Proverbs 3:5-6).
  • Proverbs 3:5 does not suggest that you ignore your mind or common sense, but that you not lean only on them and reject God’s way.

Your possessions (Proverbs 3:9-20). Put God first in the way you use His wealth (Matthew 6:33) and major on the things that money cannot buy (Proverbs 3:13-18). When God corrects you, accept it as an evidence of His love (Hebrews 12:5-6).

Your conduct (Proverbs 3:21-26). Let every part of your body be controlled by God’s wisdom (Romans 12:1-2). Restful sleep is one of the tests of faith and true surrender to God (Psalm 4:8).

Your neighbors (Proverbs 3:27-35). If you want God’s blessing on your home, be a blessing to those around you. Share what you have and never plan evil against others (Romans 12:9-21).

Hard & Painful Decisions

This is session two of my study on Decisions: Seeking God’s Guidance. This section looks closely at Acts 20:17-21:14

The purpose today is to observe a case study of how God enabled a person to follow his will even when it was painful.

“We are not necessarily doubting,” said C. S. Lewis, “that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.”

Describe a time when God’s best has been painful for you. How has this experience affected you?

Do you ever fear God’s will? When and why?

The apostle Paul made a momentous decision to return to Jerusalem. Even though many Christians urged Paul not to go and warned him that he would be arrested in Jerusalem, still Paul remained convinced that this was what he should do. As he traveled, he made several brief stops to visit friends, explain his decision and say farewell.

1. If you had been in Paul’s position, would you have gone to Jerusalem? Why or why not?

2. For Paul, what were the issues involved in his decision to go to Jerusalem?

“His overriding concern is not at all costs to survive, but rather that he may finish the race and complete his Christ-given task of bearing witness to the good news of God’s grace” (John R. W. Stott).

3. What do you find admirable about Paul’s convictions? The words of Thomas a Kempis may be helpful in answering this question. He wrote:

“Jesus hath now many lovers of his heavenly kingdom, but few bearers of his cross. He hath many desirous of comfort, but few of tribulation. He finds many companions of his table, but few of his abstinence. All desire to rejoice with him, few are willing to endure anything for him. Many follow Jesus unto the breaking of bread; but few to the drinking of the cup of his passion. . . . Many love Jesus so long as adversities do not happen. Many praise and bless him, so long as they receive comforts from him.” (The Imitation of Christ).

4. How are your convictions similar to or different from Paul’s?

5. What price have you had to pay for your convictions?

6. If God wanted Paul to go to Jerusalem, why did the Holy Spirit give so many warnings not to go?

The warnings were given not to discourage Paul, but to warn him. John Stott draws a distinction between a prediction and a prohibition:

The better solution is to draw a distinction between a prediction and a prohibition. Certainly Agabus only predicted that Paul would be bound and handed over to the Gentiles (Acts 21:11); the pleadings with Paul which followed are not attributed to the Spirit and may have been the fallible (indeed mistaken) human deduction from the Spirit’s prophecy. For if Paul had heeded his friends’ pleas, then Agabus’ prophecy would not have been fulfilled! It is more difficult to understand Acts 21:4 in this way, since the “urging” itself is said to be “through the Spirit.” But perhaps Luke’s statement is a condensed way of saying that the warning was divine while the urging was human. After all, the Spirit’s word to Paul combined the compulsion to go with a warning of the consequences (Acts 20:22-23).

7. How did Paul’s meetings with various communities of disciples encourage and prepare him to enter Jerusalem?

Even though Paul’s friends mistook the prophecy of hardship and imminent suffering for a sign that God did not want Paul in Jerusalem, they were still used as God’s agents of encouragement. They gave a message from the Holy Spirit that confirmed the one Paul had already received, they demonstrated that Paul was deeply loved by them and by God, and they prayed with him.

8. How has God encouraged and prepared you for difficult times in your life?

9. Many Christians expect God’s will to be the most pleasant and trouble-free alternative, but from Paul’s experience, that is apparently not so. What would be better criteria for interpreting God’s will?

  • First, to know God’s will we must first accept God’s salvation in Christ. It is God’s will that none should perish.
  • Second, to know God’s will we must be obedient to God’s word as recorded in the Scriptures. We find 90 percent of God’s will right there.
  • Third, to know God’s will we must pray and earnestly seek His direction.
  • Fourth, to know God’s will we must listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit. (George and Donald Sweeting)

10. In your decision-making process, have you usually been more concerned about personal comfort or following God? How has this been shown?

11. Acts 21:14 says that in the end, the disciples “gave up and said, ‘The Lord’s will be done.'” Why is it so often difficult to give in to the Lord’s will?

When the people said, “The Lord’s will be done,” they were making a positive affirmation, not a stoic resignation. To make such a statement is a cry of faith and trust that “God is good, all the time!”

12. What are you having difficulty giving up to God’s will?

Pray for each person in your group who is facing a difficult or painful decision.

Now or Later: A vivid description of someone facing a painful decision is found in the story of Jesus at Gethsemane. Read Mark 14:32-42.

  1. Compare and contrast Jesus’ decision to go to the cross with Paul’s decision to go to Jerusalem.
  2. What encouragement do Jesus’ and Paul’s examples give you for facing your own painful choices?
  3. What do you learn from these stories about how to encourage a friend who is facing a painful decision?


Acts 20:22-23 Having reviewed his past conduct among the Ephesians, the apostle now looks ahead to the sufferings that await him. He was constrained in his spirit to go to Jerusalem. It was an inner compulsion, which he was apparently unable to throw off. Although he did not know exactly what the turn of events would be in Jerusalem, he did know that chains and tribulations would be a regular part of his life. The Holy Spirit had been making this fact known to him in every city, perhaps through the ministry of prophets, or perhaps by the mysterious, inner communication of divine intelligence.

Acts 20:24 As the apostle weighed this outlook in his mind, he did not think that his own life was the great consideration. His ambition was to obey God and to please Him. If in doing this, he would be called upon to offer up his life, he was willing to do so. No sacrifice he could make would be too great for the One who died for him. All that mattered was that he finish his race and complete the ministry which he received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. No title could better express the good news which Paul preached—the gospel of the grace of God.

Acts 21:4b It was during this time that these disciples told Paul through the Spirit that he should not set foot in Jerusalem. This raises the age-old question as to whether Paul was deliberately disobedient in going to Jerusalem, whether he unwittingly failed to discern the mind of the Lord, or whether he was actually in the will of God in going. A casual reading of verse 4b might seem to indicate that the apostle was willful and headstrong, acting in deliberate defiance of the Spirit. However, a more careful reading might indicate that Paul did not actually know that these warnings were given through the Spirit. Luke, the historian, tells his readers that the advice of the Tyrian disciples was Spirit-inspired, but he does not say that the apostle knew this as a definite fact. It seems far more probable that Paul interpreted the advice of his friends as calculated to save him from physical suffering or even death. In his love for his Jewish countrymen, he did not feel that his physical well-being was the important consideration.

Acts 21:10-11 During Paul’s stay in Caesarea, a certain prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. It was the same prophet who came to Antioch from Jerusalem and predicted the famine which took place during the reign of Claudius (Acts 11:28). Now he took Paul’s belt and bound his own hands and feet with it. By this dramatic action, like many of the prophets before him, he was acting out his message. Then he gave the meaning of the object lesson. Just as he had bound himself, hands and feet, so would the Jews of Jerusalem bind the hands and feet of Paul and deliver him over to the Gentile authorities. Paul’s service for the Jews (symbolized by the belt) would result in his being captured by them.

Acts 21:12-14 When the apostle’s companions and the Christians in Caesarea heard this, they pleaded with him not to go up to Jerusalem. But he could not sympathize with their concern. Their tears only served to break his heart. Should the fear of chains and imprisonment restrain him from doing what he considered to be God’s will? He would have them know that he was ready not only to be bound, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus. All their arguments proved of no value. He was determined to go, and so they simply said, “The will of the Lord be done.”

It is difficult to believe that Paul’s parting words were spoken by a man who was knowingly disobeying the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We know that the disciples in Tyre told him through the Spirit that he should not go to Jerusalem (Acts 21:4). But did Paul know they spoke through the Spirit? And did not the Lord later seem to approve his trip to Jerusalem when He said, “Be of good cheer, Paul; for as you have testified for Me in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness at Rome” (Acts 23:11)?

Two things are clear:

  1. First, Paul did not think his personal safety was the main consideration in serving the Lord.
  2. Second, the Lord overruled all these events for His glory.

Developing Spiritual Discernment

The longer one is a follower of Jesus Christ, the greater one should have spiritual discernment, which is the ability to determine right from wrong, good from evil, this direction or that.

Discernment does not come by flipping a coin and saying “heads or tails,” and it doesn’t completely rely on common sense or the conscience. Spiritual discernment is a gift from God and comes to us through the Holy Spirit, who dwells in every authentic Christian. It is the supernatural ability to “know” something not because of personal knowledge or experience, but because of personal time spent with God in prayer and time spent in his Word.

If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord. (James 1:5–7)

The ability to know God and discern his will for your life comes through…

Salvation: Spiritual things can be discerned only by the indwelling Holy Spirit. When you trust Jesus as your Lord and Savior, you have met the prerequisite for knowing the mind of Christ. The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man’s judgment: ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:15–16).

Scripture: As you study Scripture, you learn how God works in the lives of His people. Understanding God’s principles gives you a basis for knowing how He is working in your life today.

  • The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding. To him belongs eternal praise (Psalm 111:10).
  • These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come (1 Corinthians 10:11).

Situations: Are you focusing on God’s will for your future? Instead, focus on God’s purpose in your present situation, and trust Him with your future. God always has a personal will for you, and your responsibility is to adjust to what He is doing in your life right now. Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own (Matthew 6:33–34).

Surrender: Are you surrendering to what God wants to do in your life today? Pray to be moldable clay in the Potter’s hand, allowing God to mold and shape you into the vessel of His choosing. O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter does? declares the LORD. Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel (Jeremiah 18:6).

Servanthood: Have you given up ownership of your own life? When your heart is willing to be God’s servant no matter the cost, He will reveal His plan for you. No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money. Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? (Matthew 6:24–25).

Testing our Decisions

How does one know if they are making the right decision, it may be more practical than you think. From God’s perspective, decisions are not to be determined by random selection, supernatural events, people’s opinions, delay tactics, analytical thinking, or good feelings. God wants you to measure your decisions by his standards. Rather than testing God, test yourself using these Scriptures:

Scriptural Test: Has God already spoken about it in His Word? All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16). Maybe marrying a nonbeliever in hopes of drawing the spouse to Christ even though 2 Corinthians 6:14 says not to be yoked together with unbelievers.

Secrecy Test: Would it bother me if everyone knew this was my choice? The integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity (Proverbs 11:3). Perhaps like, thinking no one is hurt by keeping an overpayment of returned cash or credit.

Survey Test: What if everyone followed my example? Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity (1 Timothy 4:12). Perhaps like assuming a little trash tossed out the car window will never be noticed on a busy highway.

Spiritual Test: Am I being people-pressured or Spirit-led? Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ (Galatians 1:10). An example might be volunteering for an assignment but doing it for the show of others, not as a confirmation that God wants you to do this.

Stumbling Test: Could this cause another person to stumble? It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall (Romans 14:21). Maybe having an alcoholic drink in a public place could cause this stumbling of others.

Serenity Test: Have I prayed and received peace about this decision? Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6–7). Maybe we decide to make any major change without praying and waiting on God’s peace for confirmation.

Sanctification Test: Will this keep me from growing in the character of Christ? We, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:18). Perhaps you are failing to obey God when He prompts you to do something that is difficult or burdensome.

Supreme Test: Does this glorify God? Live as children of light…and find out what pleases the Lord (Ephesians 5:8, 10). Perhaps you are conforming to the world’s standards by living a lifestyle of indebtedness.

A final reminder can be this: Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).