Many years ago, I had a friend I was working with who was presented with two opportunities. He prayed. He invited others to pray with him. We talked many times. But in all the prayer and discussion, my friend was left feeling like he hadn’t heard from God. He became paralyzed by anxiety because he wanted to make the right decision. He scoffed at the idea that maybe God was allowing him freedom and that there wasn’t one right decision.
I had a client who was in the process of choice and made the statement that “if it is easy, then it is God’s will.” We had a lot of conversation about that falsehood of that statement, but it is a common way to think about God’s will.
Many times we treat God like a genie in a bottle. Saving having him part of the decision making process until we are at a crossroad or crisis. Then we demand that God’s intervention be instantaneous and obvious. We don’t like to wait.
Other times, we make a decision that suits us and then turn back and invite God to join us. A classic example of this is when Abraham and Sarah decided to fulfill God’s promises through having Hagar be a surrogate mother. They had made the promise a higher value than the One who made the promise.
Paul highlights the problem we have in discerning God’s will in Romans 12:2:
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is- his good, pleasing and perfect will.
All of us struggle with mixing the values and patterns of this world we live in with the values God’s has for our lives. It is part of the battle with the false self, unlearning old behaviors and ways of thinking and leaning the ways of the true self in Christ.
Because of this we put a premium on happiness, comfort, upward mobility, fulfillment, painlessness, autonomy, being empowered, self-actualization, or reaching our ‘potential’. These (and many more like them) are the values of the world.
Injecting these values into our discipleship will erode our trust in God.
For instance, if you operate and pray with a mindset that God wants you to be comfortable, then when comfort is hard to find or you are actively suffering, then it must be because God doesn’t care/is powerless/can’t be trusted with my life.
Here are four realities about discernment that I think are among the most important to remember:
- Suffering is part of following Jesus.
Jesus himself promised we’d have trials. Jesus walked toward suffering. We are to carry our cross as we follow him. This is a picture of suffering and is contrary to the values that the world lives by. Some suffering is due to have the dependencies of the old self torn away – growing pains hurt. Some suffering is due to living in conflict with the values of the world. Some suffering will be as we give ourselves away as a sacrifice.
God may be leading your into a decision that involves suffering.
- Being conformed into the image of Jesus is God’s primary concern for you.
This fact alone should affect the questions we ask ourselves and the values we live by. When considering a purchase (of a car for instance), instead of asking “can I afford it?” which is a good and reasonable question, a better one would be “will this car make me proud?” or “will I use this as a source of identity?” or “will this purchase impede my ability to live generously?”
- Discernment is not done alone.
We are part of a body of interconnected followers of Jesus. Our identity is a communal one not just an individual one.
Our decisions will affect others so should not be entered into alone. Also, others bring perspective. Often we do not see our shortcoming clearly and others provide a mirror for us.
- More than a tool for a one-time decision, discernment is a way of life.
Paul taught that God’s will for the Thessalonians was to “rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances.”
Live in proximity to God each moment, then you will see clearly if a decision is a step towards holiness (being defined by God) or a steps toward defining your self apart from God.
What values of the world have crept into your discipleship? How can you take a step towards living in closer proximity to God? How would that change your decision making process?
My new book Essential Questions: Learning to Follow Jesus by Examining What He Asked is due out in October 2019.
I am an author, discipleship coach, and speaker who helps followers of Jesus gain perspective on their identities so they can experience transformation in their decisions, behaviors and relationships and live in freedom. My book Tree of Lies: Transforming Decisions, Behaviors, and Relationships By Gaining Perspective On Your Identity in Christ available on Amazon (http://amzn.to/2bjMRyx) or Barnes and Noble (http://bit.ly/2c0q62I). Visit TreeofLies.com for free resources.
Services I offer are one-on-one coaching, group coaching, speaking at organizations/churches, workshops on marriage/discipleship/leadership, and church retreats. For more info, click here to contact me.