These 3 words can cause sleepless nights, a lose of appetite, seasons of depression and/or days of stress. Discerning God's Will isn't supposed to be easy. If it is easy...you are probably succumbing to your own will while labeling it "God's Will." (We do this more than we think. But that isn't the point of this post.)
I want to offer a few suggestions to those of you who are faced with tough decisions in your life--maybe it is a job, thoughts of adoption, a career move, what college to attend, or the attempt to truly find a ministry to invest your life in.
DO NOT attempt to discern on your own. Instead, surrender to communal discernment. This principle is rooted theologically and biblically. Community is at the very heart of God. We live in a world that values independence and individualism, but to choose to walk the path-of-discerning indepentently is not the path to God's Will. I suggest that you have 6 to 10 faithful, loyal, dependent Christ-Followers who will join you on this journey. They need to be people who have been in the trenches, people who aren't afraid to tell you what you don't want to hear, people who will ask the hard questions, and people who are going to love you to the very end. The concept of "communal discernment" is not that you surround yourself with people who will make a decision for you, but rather that these people will be ears more than mouths, and question-askers more than advisors.
Once you have formed a community, your prayer life will be filled with more assurance because you know that you are not alone. There are moments throughout the discernment process when we become too tired to pray. This is where the power of the Triune God comforts us by affirming us that others are praying us through. You know that you are in a season of discernment when "prayer time" consists of more silence than words. You know that you are in a season of discernment when prayer struggles with you, wrestles with you, and pokes and prods at your heart, motives, and intentions.
--(hold your breath)--Fasting
This is one of the long lost spiritual disciplines. We live in America--aka--the fattest country in the world. We don't just crave meals; we crave snacks. The thought of skipping a meal is appalling. However, this is a discipline that we find weaving its way throughout all of Scripture. Jesus practiced it, and in Matthew 6 he assumes that his followers will fast, just like he assumes that they will pray and give. In fact, in Matthew 6, assumptions carry greater weight than a command. There is no way around it. When it comes to seeking God, fasting is mandatory.
I can speak from my own experience that fasting with other people is always the most meaningful. For instance, when Kayci and I were wrestling with the decision to move to Memphis or not, we invited our discerning community to fast and pray on a specific Thursday. A few of us broke the fast together. Fasting isn't about mourning over a growling stomach; it is about offering up our appetite to God for a purpose.
--Make a decision based on "principles" not "pros and cons"
The temptation is to make a list of pros and cons and then look to see which list weighs more. David Wray urged me years ago to make decisions based on principles. For example, what do we value? If one of your principles is that you need to have a job in which you can work hands-on with people, don't take a job sitting behind a desk, even if it pays more. If a principle in your life is to have adequate family time; don't take a job that will send you all over the country on a weekly basis. (I don't have the time to flesh this out here. If this doesn't make sense, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can talk more.)
One last thing, if you think Calvinistically--meaning that you believe that God only has one plan for each person: one job he wants you to have, one person he wants you to marry, one place he wants you to live--then the idea of communal discernment probably isn't for you.
BUT, if you believe that God has given us freewill--meaning that we have the God-given ability to make decisions: that sometimes we could choose between 2-3 different jobs or cities and it would still be within God's will--then hopefully the suggestions in this blog will urge you on in your discerning process.