Tips for Discerning God’s Will

People often come to us ministers for help in making crucial decisions.

“Should I marry my fiancé despite his obvious flaws?” they might ask.

Or, “I think God wants me to quit my career as a banker and go to the seminary. How do I know whether it’s really God who’s calling me into the ministry?”

Or, “I’ve got a job offer in Minneapolis. It pays twice what I’m making now, but maybe I should stay in Lexington to be near my aging parents. What do I choose?”

If Solomon were among us, he could answer such questions for other people. Unfortunately, none of us who work as clergy today are Solomon.

When I’m faced with these types of questions, I never give specific answers: “Yes, God wants you to go to the seminary.” Generally, I don’t know what God wants other folks to do. I have trouble discerning what God wants me to do.

Instead, I suggest a process by which seekers may find their own solutions. It’s the same process I use when I’m confused.

If you’re among those who believe in God, and you believe he has a benevolent plan for your life, the following exercises may help you see his will more clearly.

Even if you don’t believe in any god, or if you believe only in a distant, impersonal deity, several of these suggestions might aid you anyway. They’ll help you get in touch with your deepest desires, your truest self:

Cut through your own baloney.

Do you have a history of falling for every tall, lean, tattooed guy who rides a motorcycle, talks smoothly and treats you badly? Then beware of your infatuation with this suave new 6-foot-4 biker. He likely isn’t The One. Don’t rush to the altar with him.

It’s probably not God telling you to do that. It’s probably just you repeating the same old mistakes and telling yourself exactly what you want-but don’t need-to hear.

Often God directs us toward people and tasks we normally might not choose.

Ask whether the option you’re considering is moral, legal and compatible with basic scriptural precepts such as, “Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you.”

If you’re wondering whether God wants you to embark on a career as a loan shark or dump your wife for that titillating little hottie in the next cubicle, the answer is “No.”

Try to surrender your will. Decide you only want to do what’s best, whatever that is–and admit you can’t possibly know in advance what the best is.

Don’t give God instructions: “O Lord, send me to that job in Minneapolis!”

Instead, say to God (or, if you prefer, the great cosmos, or your inner self), “I’ll move to Minneapolis or I’ll stay in Lexington. I don’t care. I just want to know.”

Keep repeating that every day until you actually mean it.

It’s amazing how often you’ll quietly discover what you’re supposed to do.

Look for what the Bible calls “the peace that surpasses understanding.”

Ignatius of Loyola, a master of spiritual discernment, said that when we’re in harmony with God’s leadership we tend to feel “consolations” such as courage, deep happiness, gratitude, vitality and freedom.

When we’re moving away from God, we tend to be discouraged, anxious, burdened, sad and exhausted.

It’s a good sign when we find ourselves experiencing unaccountable joy and profound peace even though the external circumstances may still look daunting.

Let God confirm the message. If God is powerful enough to tell you what he wants you to do, he’s powerful enough to influence other people as well.

Maybe you suddenly have a burning desire to start a home Bible study group. You suspect this is God speaking to you.

If a couple of neighbors then come to you (without any prompting on your part) and say, “You know, we sure wish there was a Bible study group around here,” you might safely assume God is confirming what he’s already told you.

If you have an overriding urge to move from the research department into marketing, ask God to create an unexpected job opening in marketing and for the marketing director to ask if you’d be interested in applying for it.

Wait. For as long as you’re still feeling doubt or desperation, do nothing.

We get in a hurry; God doesn’t. We make bad decisions when we allow ourselves to be motivated by our own impulses, impatience or fear. Until you have an answer that resonates in your soul, stay where you are and keeping doing what you’re doing.

Granted, these suggestions aren’t a sure-fire formula for reading God’s mind-or even for reading your own mind. But if you try all these things in conjunction with each other, you’ll more likely than not come up with an answer you can live with.

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