Making decisions is hard for me. And, I’m talking about simple things like choosing bathroom rugs. I go back and forth between two or three options, finally decide, then second guess myself for weeks or months. Do you ever do that? It’s not fun.
Making decisions is part of daily life. We can’t get away from it. What we have to learn is how to make those decisions in a way that maintains our dependence on Jesus Christ in the process. Jesus’ followers had to learn that as well.
Forty days after Jesus was resurrected from the dead, He ascended into heaven, leaving His disciples back on earth to learn how to live without His bodily presence and still carry out His mission for them. His first instructions sounded so easy. Wait in Jerusalem for 10 days. Then, the Holy Spirit will come on you, and the adventure of spreading the gospel begins. Huh? We can all count to 10. But, what would the rest of that cost?
While waiting those 10 days, they needed to make some decisions. At the end of Acts chapter 1, Peter led the group to choose a replacement for Judas through doing something called “casting lots.”
Casting lots was a cultural tool not a formula.
After reading through that section, I was wondering if I could get a “Casting Lots” kit from an online Christian bookstore. I didn’t even know what it was, but it sounded so much easier than wondering if I made the right decision.
So, I did what most of you would do. I searched “casting lots” in my favorite online resources. I found out that the practice of “casting lots” was common in the Old Testament. And, God even used it to give direction to His people. This section of Acts is the only recorded time it is used in the New Testament.
No one really knows how it was done but most think Peter scribbled each candidate’s name on a stone or piece of pottery, then placed those in a jar of some kind. The jar was shaken, and the first to fall out was “God’s choice.”
Proverbs 16:33 references casting lots as a cultural tool that God used with His people sometimes.
The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord. (Proverbs 16:33)
So, God directed the casting of lots for those who did it by faith in Him. It was a tool. He also used prophets and counsellors.
Casting lots was not a formula then nor is it a formula today. What we read in Acts is simply a description of what they did. Not a prescription for how we are to make decisions today. This is very important for you to understand as we study the book of Acts!
Descriptive versus prescriptive
Much of the Bible is written in narrative form. Consider the Old Testament books of history—Genesis through Esther—mostly narrative. The Gospels and Acts—mostly narrative. Narrative is descriptive not prescriptive. Here’s what I mean:
Saying narrative is descriptive means it is observation of what actually happened, how people lived and the choices they made about how to do life at the time. Casting lots in Acts chapter 1 is descriptive. How the early church began to function at the end of Acts chapter 2 is descriptive (Acts 2:42-47). It’s not telling us we have to do it that way. It’s not intended for us to copy exactly and say it’s the only way to do something.
Saying something is prescriptive refers to commands from God about how to live or do something that applies to all believers, all people groups, and all time periods. The Gentiles being included in the Church equally with the Jews as taught in Acts is prescriptive. Much of Paul’s teaching about how we at to live like Jesus Christ is prescriptive. Be kind, forgiving, humble.
The key is this: we can’t look at this passage in Acts chapter 1 about casting lots and create a formula for making decisions with God’s blessing on the result. Casting lots is not a “prescription” for how to live and make choices. You can’t order a casting lots kit online and expect it to be God making the decision for you. Are you with me?
We also know that the Holy Spirit now lives inside every believer and can give us direction from the inside of our own hearts and minds for making decisions. Peter and the others spent years after receiving the Spirit at Pentecost figuring out how to live dependently on Christ daily.
From our study of Acts 1, we can’t get a formula for making decisions. But, we can look at the process the apostolic leaders used and see that the same process applies to us.
The process for making decisions
Here’s the process I see in Acts 1:21-26.
Step 1. They aligned themselves with the purposes of God.
We see in the gospel of Mark that Jesus had chosen the Twelve Apostles to be with Him, to preach the kingdom of God, and to have power over diseases and demons (Mark 3:13-15). We read that in Mark chapter 3. Acts 1:8 says they were also to be “His witnesses.” The eleven remaining apostles knew that Jesus chose 12 initially. One was now gone. Since Jesus chose 12, they would fill that 12th spot for the purpose that Jesus had set before them. It was a position of leadership to fill. They aligned themselves with the purposes of God.
Step 2. They considered options who were also aligned with the purposes of God.
There were 120 in the room. Most could probably fit the qualifications of being with Jesus from the beginning of His ministry through His ascension. They used their own observations and mental acuity to evaluate the choices. Two men were the best fit and probably had shown some leadership capability. These were equally good choices, not a choice between good and bad. Both were aligned with the purposes of God.
Step 3. They asked the Lord Jesus for His direction and for Him to show them the best choice.
In the writings of the New Testament after the gospels, whenever you see “the Lord,” that refers to Jesus. God is God the Father, Lord is the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Spirit is the Holy Spirit.
The disciples submitted their options to their Lord Jesus and asked for Him to show them which to choose. This was their prayer in Acts 1:24,
“Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen (Acts 1:24)
They knew Jesus as their Lord now. He had initially chosen the 12 disciples. He knew these two men being submitted to replace Judas. He was also God. They could trust Jesus’ response.
This is living dependently on God. God the Father who is also your Creator has given you a brain to use. He wants you to use your mind and heart to evaluate the options and then remove the options that are not lined up with His way of doing life. Once you have done that, ask Him to show you which good option to choose. I remember someone teaching me as a young Christian to ask God to open a door or close a door to guide me in the right direction. It is an act of faith. Ask the Lord Jesus for direction.
Step 4. They submitted to Jesus’ direction for them.
Now, I’ve seen all kinds of arguments online about whether or not they should have done this. But, it says they were constantly praying. Daily. Submitting their hearts and minds and wills to God. They must have felt a prompting to add the 12th man, especially because the number 12 represented the 12 tribes of Israel. And, God didn’t zap them. They asked for God to show them, and God did. Then, they submitted to that. Matthias became the 12th apostle and joined the leader team.
Decision-making as part of dependent living
So, this is what I learned. We can do the same thing that Peter and that group of 120 praying believers did. Whenever you need to make a decision about things that will matter:
• Align yourself with the purposes of God as described in His Word.
• Consider options that also align with the purposes of God.
• Ask God for direction and for Him to show you the best choice.
• Submit to God’s direction and stop second-guessing.
Decision-making is a huge part of dependent living. What decision do you need to make this week? Follow those guidelines I just gave you, trusting Jesus with your decision-making.
Let Jesus satisfy your heart with His Spirit’s transforming power. And say yes to a life of adventure with Him!
Learn more about trusting Jesus when making decisions from these Bible Studies: