I’m sitting at a stoplight holding my breath. If the light turns green before I take another breath, I’ll make decision A. If not, I’ll make decision B. If it doesn’t work out the way I want, I might try again at the next light, just to confirm…
I also have a more sophisticated version of this decision making process. It sounds more spiritual but it boils down to the same thing. From the account of Gideon in the Bible, I put out a fleece. I say to God, “If you do X, this unlikely event, then I will do Y.” Since God can do anything, I reason, He could make it happen if He so desired.
Thankfully, I do know better. I know that discerning God’s will isn’t quite like this. It isn’t akin to opening a fortune cookie and getting an answer.
Discerning God’s will has everything to do with relationship.
It’s about knowing God and His heart. It’s about aligning my will with God’s. It’s about His plans. It’s about what will glorify God most.
As I keep driving, after the third stoplight has given me mixed answers, I know I need a different approach. I’m a bit out of breath.
I pray. I need to hear from God. But I wonder: Am I attuned to Him? Am I willing to do what He wants? Or do I just want Him to bless what I want?
I ponder these questions on the way back. At home, I pull out three George Mueller biographies (so maybe I’m a bit obsessed with him), Henry Blackaby’s Experiencing God, and a few random other books and I start reading.
First, I need to be completely open to God.
“I seek at the beginning to get my heart into such a state that it has no will of its own in regard to a given matter. Nine-tenths of the trouble with people generally is just here. Nine-tenths of the difficulties are overcome when our hearts are ready to do the Lord’s will, whatever that may be. When one is truly in this state, it is usually but a little way to the knowledge of what His will is.”
I need to get my heart into such a state that it has no will of its own in regard to a given matter.
How do I do that? How do I separate from the outcome I want? I want what is easiest for me. What I think will make me happiest. The most successful.
Too often, when I say I’m searching for God’s will, I’m really asking God to validate the decision I want to make.
To truly hear God’s voice, I need to be willing to accept whatever He says. Willing to letting God change my direction, schedule my time, take me where I don’t want to go. It requires putting what I want, what I think I deserve, what I think is good for me aside and waiting for God.
Only then can I really hear. Mueller was right. Putting aside my own will is nine-tenths of the battle.
I beg Him to change my heart.
I consciously focus on God. I remember that He loves me. Extravagantly. He understands me. He knows my weaknesses and insecurities. He knows what fears hold me back and He also knows what lies on the road ahead. He sees everything.
He alone is wise. I don’t know what’s best. I don’t know the future. I don’t know how this decision fits into the bigger scheme of my life, or the lives of others. My perspective is so small, so thin, so finite.
Do I trust Him? That He will give me all I need? That He will fill my emptiness even if it means letting go of something I love? Do I believe that He will do exceedingly abundantly beyond what I can ask or imagine? Do I see that being surrendered to God’s will is the only place of true joy?
Am I willing to say “Yes” to whatever God asks?
Finally, I am. I’ve come to the place of surrender.
Now I’m ready to move to the second step: Ask for wisdom.
James says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting…”
I pray again. This time for wisdom. For clarity. For discernment.
The last step is the one I easily forget: Look around for God’s reply. Immediately. Notice what God reveals next. If I don’t, I show I am not expecting Him to respond. My prayer is perfunctory. Not asked in faith. Not believing God will answer.
I’m ashamed to admit it, but too often I don’t even look for ways that God could be answering my prayer.
But when I am purposeful in prayer, expect God to answer and actively listening for His voice, it’s amazing how much I notice. The answer may come in multiple ways; I just need to pay attention.
When God is speaking, there’s often an echo.
The Spirit uses various means to reveal His will to me. He often speaks through the Word, either directly or indirectly through a parable or example. I know His will can never contradict His Word.
He uses circumstances, the things going on around me, to bring confirmation or clarity.
Often a trusted friend can give wise counsel, corroborating the Spirit’s direction.
God even uses our human reasoning, such as making a list of pros and cons, and putting that before the Lord.
The key to all these things is to be open to the Spirit, whether it is a still small voice, or a symphony orchestra. He will answer.
So when I pull up to a stop light tomorrow, I don’t need to hold my breath.