Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Discerning God's Will

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 joshross15@gmail.com 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.


Topher said...

I'm probably going to butcher and misuse theological terminology, so forgive me.

Can't one find biblical and theological evidence for a Calvinistic view as well? The ideas of predetermination, being chosen, and being called are in the Bible and part of our vocabulary. The nation of Israel was chosen by God. Jesus chose his 12 apostles. Jesus was chosen to die on the cross. These are examples of choosing to surrender to a preordained task. I don't think 'Calvinism' is very practical in my life. I haven't heard the booming voice of God in my ear, and I haven't had a one on one conversation with Jesus, so most of the time I feel left in the dark as to what God's plan for me is. Did I just describe Calvinism correctly, or am I off?

Community discernment seems the way to go. But cynically, it could also be seen as a way to draw on the collective moral reasoning of a community rather than actually discerning God's will. If each of us don't really ever hear a discernible 'voice of God,' then are we going to be any closer to God's will if we all put our lack of discernment together. I just have a hard time believing that I've actually been in touch with God's will. This has more to do with my own doubts, but I can't remember having any true confirmation of God's will.

What are your thoughts, Josh?

Josh Ross said...

Thanks for expanding the conversation.
All those who have struggled with the discerning process raise your hand--(all the blogger's hands are raised).
I didn't even touch on calling. You are right, you can't argue with the call narratives in Scripture. They are there. They exist: Abram, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Jonah, John the Baptist, Saul, etc. They are clear. You can't miss it. If you try to avoid it you will get yourself swallowed by a whale, right?
There are times when there is a preordained task in which God calls an individual, or a collective group of people, to engage in a particular ministry.

In my own life, I feel that I have been "called" places--absolutely. These callings have been affirmed by a community. Much like you, I haven't heard a voice, but the calling has been there.

I do tend to lean away from Calvinism. Too often, we can get so absorbed in the idea of "what is God's will for my life because I don't want to miss it...and what if I miss it..." that we fail to realize that the calling for every Christ-follower is faithfulness, commitment, loyalty, steadfastness, etc. So, sometimes we have choices to make, and with those choices is always a call to faithful discipleship.

In my experience, as Kayci and I surround ourselves with godly people, it is often through the community that we hear the voice of God. They ask the questions we have failed to ask...they make us aware of red flags that we haven't been able to see...they affirm us in times of need...and through this a decision often becomes very clear.

Josh Graves said...

You should tell the story about the ACU students who do the mission trip each spring break by being open to wherever God might lead them. I love when Randy tells that story. JG

Artist-Tim said...

Hi Josh,
Have you read anything about "experiencing God" by Henry Blackaby?
He suggests that our faith is strengthened by being available to join God in His work in the hearts and lives of people. When we have that "burning bush" experience with someone it changes the program of our day and our life. My crystal ball is cloudy here; the possibilities are endless, and that's most of the fun. We are exposed to community, not in the way we imagined but in a way that draws us deeper into the heart of God.

Anonymous said...

WE were going through this topic today at my church. And for some reason, I have always been a calvinist when it comes to discerning God's will. Somehow I hope for that one girl, or that one job, or that one degree. To be frank, I have just been piling up degrees now and wondering what is God's will. This is a topic that brings me much pain, because most of the time, I think that I am the problem. But at the same time, I want a safe life. So I will try the idea of free will.

One more thing, how can I get closer to the Holy Spirit. Even though he is in me, sometimes I think he is miles away from me.