Casting Lots to Make Decisions?

Melanie Newton's picture

decision making in living by faith

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 do that? 

So, when I started studying Acts to teach at my church this fall, I ran across Acts 1:21-26 where Peter led the group to choose a replacement for Judas through casting lots. Can I get a “Casting Lots” kit from the local Christian bookstore? That would be so much easier than wondering if I made the right decision.

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, placed it in a vessel that was then shaken. The first to fall out was “God’s choice.” And, Proverbs 16:33 verifies that God directed the casting of lots for those who did it by faith in Him. Casting lots was a cultural tool God used with His people at that time, not a formula. 

Much of the Bible that is written in the narrative form like the Gospels and Acts is descriptive, not prescriptive. 

  • Descriptive = observation of what actually happened, how people lived and made choices on how to do life at the time (casting lots, Acts 2:42-47)
  • Prescriptive = command from God about how to live or do something that applies to all believers, all people groups, and all time periods. 

So, we can’t take this passage in Acts 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. 

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 rest spent years after receiving the Spirit at Pentecost figuring out how to live dependently on Him daily. 

But, we can look at the process these apostolic leaders used and see that the same process applies to us. Here’s what I see in Acts 1:21-26.

1. They lined themselves up with the purposes of God. 

Jesus chose 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). 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.

2. They considered 2 options that were also lined up 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 were the best fit and probably had shown some leadership capability. These were equally good choices, not a choice between good and bad.

3. They asked God for His direction and for Him to show them. 

They submitted their options to God and asked for God to show them which to choose. They trusted God to do this (Proverbs 16:33). This is living dependently on God. Using the mind and heart that God gives you, removing the options that are not lined up with His way of doing life, and then asking 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. 

4. They submitted to God’s direction for them. 

Matthias became the 12th apostle and joined the leadership team. 

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. 

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 I need to make a decision about things that will matter, I will:

  • Line myself up with the purposes of God.
  • Consider options that also line up with the purposes of God.
  • Ask God for direction and for Him to show me the best choice.
  • Submit to God’s direction and stop second-guessing. 

What about you? What decision do you need to make this week? What will you ask Him to show you? For what will you trust Him? 


Other Resources on Bible.org:

Why Christianity Is Credible (Acts 1:12-26)

Radical Acts Bible Study

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