Sunday, February 9, 2014

Is this the right path for me? - knowing and walking in it

For more than 20 years I have rebuffed various calls from leadership in churches I've attended to give - as laity - faith teachings. Lead small group discussions? No problem. One-on-one discussions? You bet! Talk in front of everybody on Sunday? Nope. No thanks. Not gonna do it. Didn't matter what my heart was telling me. Didn't matter that I had, at various times, felt compelled to deliver a particular message. My answer was basically always no.

Until this last January.

My family and I have been attending Corvallis Mennonite Fellowship for several years now. There is no senior pastor, only a pastoral team responsible for setting up weekly teachings. Thus, we rely on visiting pastors and teaching from attendees of the congregation. And I got the tap on the shoulder. The subject material could NOT have been more appropriate and timely in my life - how do I know the will of God?

Wow. Are you kidding me?! My family and I were facing one of the toughest decisions we had yet faced – if, when, and where to go to graduate school. You see, I’ve long felt compelled to teach. This desire had been recently re-affirmed – on several occasions and quite strongly – during quiet reflecting time while attending a couple of transformative Bootcamp Northwest events and a Gary Barkalow “It’s Your Call” weekend. Getting a PhD (piled higher and deeper?) seemed like the next logical step. But was I just being crazy? Or selfish? I mean, I already had a few degrees from Oregon State University and after nearly 15 years in Corvallis had developed quite the community! Was this potential move a good idea? Was it part of “the plan”? Reflecting on discerning God's will seemed like a pretty worthwhile endeavor, given we were contemplating moving away from the well-connected life we'd built in the area. On the other hand, it felt presumptuous to think I could even 'know' something like God's will. Regardless, despite this and my history of substantial reservations, I said yes. Emphatically, even.

Mysterious ways, indeed!

And what a remarkable experience it was. Not necessarily the actual Sunday teaching, which was good for me...but the time I spent reflecting on discerning God's will. Tuning out the distractions and listening, truly listening, was a good reminder that our minds are typically too crowded with...things, to regularly hear God talking to us. It was time for me to 'check out' from all of life's busyness for a bit, and ratchet up the quiet, reflecting time.

And the messages flowed. Freely. What follows are my responses to the questions the pastoral team asked me to consider responding to. In a nutshell, I came up with six ways in which you and I can discern God's will. 

But regardless of whether you believe in God, I think you'll find many of the following can serve as good indicators if you're following the path that's right for you.

Are there others I missed? Please do let me know your thoughts!



We cannot presume to know how God's will will play out in our lives...but we DO have a number of clues that can help us discern God's will in the present moment. And in the larger picture.

Read and reflect on Romans 12

How have you experienced the gladness of knowing you have chosen God’s good, pleasing and perfect will?

I can only describe it as 'Living in The Sweet Spot'

I can sometimes hear God's voice. Clearly. For me, it's often conversational. And intoxicating.

Take a deep breath, and get real high. Sense of euphoria.

Seeing the glorification of God.

How have your seen God work good things out of bad or evil circumstances?

What strikes me first is the West Nickel Mines Amish School shooting and the incredible story of forgiveness. Like a ripple in a pond, we’ll never know just how far God’s message reached but it sure made a lot of people take pause and reflect on God and Christianity (spirituality in general) and the remarkable healing power of forgiveness

I recently watched a moving film about Lonnie FrisbeeThe Life and Death of a Hippie Preacher. Lonnie was one of the most influential and charismatic figures of the Jesus Movement of the 1960s and 1970s. He helped spark/found the Calvary Chapel and Vineyard Movement Churches, two of the largest evangelical denominations to emerge in recent decades, from which countless people have been helped and heard the Good News. But, by his own admission and words, he struggled with "an affliction" (homosexuality) throughout his life, eventually dying in 1993 from AIDS. He was essentially written out of the history books of both denominations and ostracized from the church, but – on his deathbed – he forgave those who had wronged him. What struck me the most from the film about his life, the message I heard loud and clear, was that despite what we may view as our inherent shortcoming and failings - our brokenness - God can use us for remarkable good! 

The big question (at least for me) -- How do you/I know the will of God? 

I came up with six ways (though there are likely others):

1. Is your will or desire Biblical? Can you find mention of it in the Scriptures? Dig into them…

“For I know the plans that I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans for welfare and not for ruin, to give you a future, and hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

Test it out. Be not conformed to this world. (Romans 12:2 and again in I John 2:15-17)

Do justice. Love kindness. Walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8)

Love one another. (John 15:12)

Pray for others. (Romans 15:30-33)

Abstain from immorality. (I Thessalonians 4:1-8)

Be wise, not foolish. (Ephesians 5:15-17)

Live in His grace. (Ephesians 5:1-20)

Word of God (Scriptures) should abide in us (John 15:5-8)

Seek the kingdom of God first. And His righteousness. (Matthew 6:33)

Does evil lie close at hand when you do what you believe is right? (Romans 7:18-24)

Give thanks. In all circumstances. REJOICE! (I Thessalonians 5:18)

Be vigilant against temptation (watch, pray; Mark 14:38; Matthew 26:41)

Do not be deceived. (I Corinthians 6:9-11)

Pray earnestly (Luke 10)

Slow to anger. Abounding in steadfast love. Forgiving iniquity and transgression. (Numbers 14:18)

Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Do not lean on your own understanding. In everything acknowledge Him. And He will make your path straight. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

Ask it of God. (James 1:5)

And so many others...

2. Is it a desire of our heart? Do you feel compelled toward some end?

Search your heart and you will know what the mind of the Spirit is (Romans 8:27)

God is producing in you, both the desire, and the ability to do what pleases Him (Philippians 2:13)

BUT…the desires of the heart can be deceitful (Matthew 15:19) so be vigilant against temptations of the flesh.

Is there an earthly (and Godly) need your desire fills?

3. Does it seem to be within your gifts and/or abilities?

Are you working within your gifts of the Spirit? Within your abilities?

If you are unsure of what your gifts or abilities are, ask others. Reflect on what makes you tick… 

4. Do opportunities and/or situations keep cropping up?

Are there recurring themes in your life? Does something keep presenting itself?

Do doors keep opening? Or closing? Probably a good indication...

5. Is your initiative magnified (in one direction or the other)?

If you take the initiative – that first step – what happens?

Did that effort get magnified, in one direction or the other?

Your ears will hear a word from behind you saying “This is the way. Walk in it.” Whether you turn to the right or the left. (Isaiah 30:21)

When you make a decision and have a thought about something, does doubt immediately creep in? Are you immediately met with that little voice in your other ear sowing discontent, self-doubt, spite? (Passage from A River Runs Through It, pp. 19-20, where Paul is describing whether or how to approach a particular run on the river where he's watching a big fish rising [or is he?])

6. Seek the Opinion and counsel of others. How do they see this desire fitting you?

You have a circle of friends and colleagues – peers – that know you. Even if only from an outsider’s perspective. Talk with them about what they see in and about you.

Seek the counsel of others. They can be your peers, those with plenty of experience, those with little, or even those that have only known you briefly – each will have valuable insights. But be careful – don’t “stack the deck” of those you ask, picking those you think will give you the answer you want to hear.