To walk out of His will is to walk into nowhere. ― C.S. Lewis
I have come to believe that contemporary Christians do not have a good working theology for discerning God’s leading in our lives. I blame our consumer-oriented culture that is bent on selling us what we are not aware we even need. And I point my boney finger at the prosperity Gospel on the airwaves and which lines our Christian bookstores. They, in essence, say that God’s will for you is health, wealth and a career trajectory that always points up and to the right.
When Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before his execution he pleaded with God to come up with an alternative plan for redeeming and restoring creation. Heaven was silent. Yet he walked in full obedience to God’s will without the companion of joy, peace or happiness. The clouds didn’t part and the angels didn’t begin to sing like a choir at any time when Jesus was in the Garden.
Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered. Hebrews 5:8
Obedience is hard.
The author Frederick Buechner has a famous quote that has helped me a great deal to think deeply about the ache in my heart and the immediate need I find in my sphere of influence.
“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” ― Frederick Buechner
Clearly, simple obedience to the imperatives of the Scriptures are the starting point for God’s calling and being in God’s will. But after that I feel as we grow in our maturity with Jesus he expands our field of view to look at our desires (deep gladness) and a specific unraveling of the created order (world’s deep hunger) to see where they intersect.
For instance, the deepest gladness I receive these days is when a ministry leader will join me on the sacred journey of soul care. What I am seeing in this church moment is an unraveling of the lives of ministry leaders due to the lack of seasoned guides to walk with them through the rugged topography ministry life.
Thus, I’ve found my calling. That means that in addition to shepherding my beautiful mountain church, I am privileged to shepherd a few shepherds as well.
So, what are some good guidelines for hearing from God? These have proven helpful for me.
1. Open Doors
Sometimes a door opens before me; sometimes a door closes in my face, but God often uses these to get my attention to something he is saying as he teases me to follow him into the future.
2. Holy Nudgings
Something deep inside me resonates with the open door. Some itch is aching to be scratched and the opportunity before me looks like a bristle brush. It is deeper than a want. Wants are surface felt-needs. God leads me through the deeper ache of soul-desires. I try to discern the difference.
3. Biblical Precedence
I don’t take one step through an open door or take one swipe at that inner itch if I can’t find something like it that parallels the ancient scriptures. Part of the reason we have the old stories is to give us a reliable roadmap for how God has led his people in the past.
4. Godly Counsel
When I’ve vetted the opportunity, discerned whether the itch is a want or a desire, and been informed by the Word of God then I verbally process my findings with godly people who have my best interest at heart. If they don’t corroborate the narrative I sense God writing in the first three guidelines, I slow down and rethink. I don’t keep looking for someone who eventually agrees with my narrative. Their role is to help me objectify what I am hearing. Spiritual friends always help me hear God’s voice.
I have learned that as I walk moment-by-moment with the rabbi from Galilee while listening to his quiet voice, then seeing where He wants me to go is clearer even if it’s not always easy.
But at least we will be together, and that is somewhere.
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