When it comes to making big decisions, when should we rely on God to tell us what to do?
We face a lot of decisions every day. Some of our decisions are mundane, like “What should I wear?” or “What should I eat for lunch?” But sometimes we come across a big decision: “Where should I go to school?” “Should I accept this job?” “Should I marry this person?” (Read: Idea List: A Major Decision.)
When we are confronted with big decisions, we tend to—appropriately—take a little longer to make a choice. We “study it out” in our minds, we “ask ... if it be right,” and then we wait to “feel that it is right,” just like the Lord instructed Oliver Cowdery (see Doctrine and Covenants 9:8).
This is great counsel, but when it comes to big decisions, sometimes we rely a little too much on waiting for God to tell us what is right and not enough on studying it out in our minds. And with all this waiting, we can let incredible opportunities pass us by. We may understand agency, but we may also feel anxious about making a decision that could take us off course from our predetermined plan. (Read: What If I Don’t Feel a Burning in the Bosom?)
For many of us, this leads to a significant question: How does God help us make decisions?
God’s Role in Our Decision-Making
Perhaps this question is best addressed through the story of the brother of Jared. After the languages were confounded at the Tower of Babel, God led Jared and his family out of the land and to the seashore. As they traveled, God directed every step of their journey. But when God instructed the brother of Jared to build barges to cross the ocean, the brother of Jared realized that the ships would have no light. He asked God what he should do. Instead of answering the question directly, God asked, “What will ye that I should do that ye may have light in your vessels?” (Ether 2:23). Rather than giving detailed instructions, God allowed the brother of Jared to decide what to do.
This kind of response can be difficult to understand. We are taught to pray and then wait for an answer, so naturally we worry when we receive nothing in response. Sometimes we wonder if the lack of a clear answer is a “stupor of thought,” meaning that we are not considering the correct choice. Or maybe we wonder if we are not righteous enough to receive the answer or if we are not asking with “real intent” (see Moroni 10:4). But there is another option that we don’t always consider: maybe, like with the brother of Jared, God is allowing us to make our own decision.
Making a Decision
God wants us to grow and to learn how to make our own decisions. Sometimes we may not get an answer from Him about a specific question or problem because any of the decisions we might make are acceptable to Him. Our Heavenly Father won’t take away promised opportunities if we are sincerely trying to figure out what to do.
The brother of Jared likely could have suggested many solutions to lighting the barges, and the Lord would have helped him move forward. The experience helped the brother of Jared to strengthen his faith; it also taught him how to make his own choices.
Without agency, we can’t make the kinds of decisions that will help us achieve our full potential. Growth, like everything else in the gospel, comes “line upon line, precept upon precept” (2 Nephi 28:30). God wants us to be a prepared people, and He expects us to use our agency to live our lives the best we can. (Read: Agency and Inspiration.)
When we learn to find the balance between agency and revelation, we can experience true spiritual growth. This is what happened to the brother of Jared. After thinking it through, he worked to molten 16 stones out of a rock and asked God to touch them and make them glow (see Ether 3:1–5). This time, when God responded, everything changed. The brother of Jared actually saw God, who appeared in person to show the brother of Jared incredible visions of the world and everything that was to come (see Ether 3:6–26). It’s possible that the brother of Jared would not have been spiritually prepared to receive this vision if he had not first experienced the personal growth that came from making his own decision.
As we make decisions, we should certainly follow Alma’s advice to “counsel with the Lord in all [our] doings” (Alma 37:37). When the Lord needs us to make a specific decision, He will let us know and will help prevent us from going astray. But we must also be prepared to stand up and move forward in faith, whether or not an answer comes. If we are keeping our covenants and staying true to the gospel of Jesus Christ, we can feel assured in our righteous decisions, and we can feel at peace that the Lord is pleased with our efforts.