Saturday, April 25, 2020

How Do I Discern the Will of God: A few Lessons from My Own Failures

I recall many times biking and running, when the whole body felt on fire.  It was burning.  And it wasn't fun at all.  But what does any gym enthusiast know?  No pain no gain. The incredible discomfort of the workout is leading to a stronger future.  Much is the same with mental fitness. When my mind is on fire, and I feel completely out of control, and my emotions are screaming unease, actually something exceedingly therapeutic is taking place. I'm going to level up, you might say, to a more mature state.  Just like severe exercise levels up the body, muscle by muscle, so mental problems, mental anguish produces growth. 

But to be honest, I never knew adulthood would involve this much Ibuprofen, Aleve, and Tylonel.  I'm on a merry-go-round between the three.  I now fully understand why old people are so grumpy.  And I only just turned 35.  Imagine the physical misery when I turn 60 or 70! 

Sometimes in life you just have to bear up under suffering.  Don't pretend it's fine either. It's not really fine.  It may be OK, and you're at peace with it, but there is a legitimate ouch to all of it.  Ouch. OUCH. Yes.  Very ouch.  About one year later, of being a minister, all I can say is, ouch. After a month of being in lockdown, once again, ouch.  Still being single at 35 with no prospects, well, ouch.  

But I suppose it's better than being with a wife that I realize to my own consternation that I don't like at all. Though I fully reject the modern concept of "falling out of love" with someone. Love is a choice. And given prayer, God can and will ignite those feelings that may have been lost from poor maintenance in the past. 

I found myself in a spiritual crisis of a sort recently.  I have a close relationship with God. Being a minister, I better have that.  And honestly, you can tell if a minister doesn't. Their sermons lack any power, it's just words they came up with, and their ministry lacks any growth or vitality.  So it's easy to tell.  But anyway, I found myself in prayer with a Bible in my lap, searching for answers from the Lord on situations in my life.

Now, if you don't know this already I am prone to mild flights of fancy.  And so I've gotten into this habit of looking to the future, to prophecy, and considering what is coming.  And then searching the scriptures and listening for God's response.  And this led me to a number of "predictions" of a sort.  

Does this sound familiar?  I'm not the first person to do this sort of thing.  It's a game.  But I've really felt many times that I was truly hearing something from the Lord.  And the truth is we do hear things from the Lord.  I've heard things many times from the Lord.  Dozens of situations in my life.  And the Lord is nudging me in a direction.  So I felt very firmly in a great deal of prayer and scripture reading and discussions with friends and family that I had discerned a path God was taking me on.  

Or I'll see something in a dream. And I'll assume that this moment in this dream is a word from the Lord.  Believe me, that is almost always a mistake to think that.  I've had all sorts of stuff blow up in my face from thinking a dream was from the Lord.  It may have been from Satan, but it wasn't from the Lord.  Yet here we go again, a dream can certainly be from the Lord.  It happens in the scriptures.  So it's confusing.  How in the world do I know what is God's voice and what is my own voice and what is even the voice of evil?  

That is the question I'm wrestling with right now.  Because I was really sure about this.  Multiple things had happened in my life that were saying "this is the new path."  I mean, first I had a dream, then I prayed about it, several people brought up that topic with me, without my prompting, even before the dream.  That next day my best friend brought up this topic without my prompting.  I read the scriptures, the scriptures in prayer, and they seemed to be pointing in that direction. More prayer, more prayer, and I felt an emotive notion that this was the path.  I received a random gift in the mail 2 days later that seemed to be highly symbolic of this notion I had dreamed of and prayed about and scripturally studied.  And yesterday I found out that this was almost certainly not happening.  Amazing, isn't it? 

We can think that we have all the answers and it's coming together and all these nods are pointing me in that direction.  I mean this is what I was taught as far as how to discern the will of God.  I constantly pray "God grant me knowledge of your will for me, and the power to carry it out."  I applied this four-fold method: Constant prayer, diligently searching the scriptures, talking with friends and family, and watching for signs/clues in the world around me.  All of them pointed to this conclusion.  But it wasn't true.  

My reaction to this situation and the conclusion was a great deal of anger, even rage.  I spend a great deal of time searching after God. I take it seriously.  I spend a great deal of time trying to discern what God is saying, and I was flat wrong.  This of course throws into chaos many things in my worldview.  How do I hear from God?  Why am I failing to hear from God?  Can I even hear from God?  It throws into question many concepts and ideas that I've been living on.  So it's very distressing for me to consider how to hear from God. 

It's always been a fudge area honestly.  God does not often speak in a literal voice.  He has done that at times throughout history.  And even currently he does do that.  We hear of reports of thousands of Muslims turning to Christ by dreams they have in the Middle East.  I remember talking to a woman who had been kidnapped and taken to another country, and raped, and brutalized, but God helped her escape, and she heard a verbal word from the Lord telling her "you're going home."  So yes, God does speak.  But I have never once heard a verbal word from the Lord.  

So it's tough to discern God's will.  It's not always clear, which that also makes me angry.  God obviously wants us to do His will.  Then why not be a little more clear about it?  Why allow me to delude myself time and again?  Especially when I'm honestly attempting to find God's will.  I'm honestly spending time searching for it.  So why can't I hear properly from God?

Well, the answer came recently.  My friend said, you know you can't always know the future. You're blind like the rest of us, living on faith in God to an unknown future.  

Aha, I thought to myself with a severe amount of irritation.  How correct she was.  I had been playing games with God attempting to gain special knowledge of the future.  How often does God give that sort of knowledge? Well, sometimes he does.  If you recall the Apostle Paul was told by the Spirit of coming trouble. From Acts 20:23 "I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me."

Similarly Jesus told Peter ahead of time that he would deny him 3 times.  But these of course are special circumstances.  But I fully believe God does the same thing today.  God has at times warned me that trouble is ahead. So it's tough to discern.  

But essentially my friend was 100% correct, I was trying to force God to give me constant special knowledge of the future.  There's nothing wrong with an assertiveness before God and a desire for knowledge.  I think you should ask for new gifts, for prophecy, for dreams, for ideas, for friends, for family, for healings, and so on and so forth.  Be bold in prayer.  But I had taken it too far.  And we have to be very careful when discerning the will of God to look to silence our own minds.  I had developed an uncanny ability to assemble a house of cards.  And they have kept collapsing on me.  

So in conclusion, be cautious friends when discerning the will of God. Be patient.  And listen, while silencing your own mind.  How easy we deceive ourselves! But consider this also friends: This is pat of the full body burn of ministry, indeed of Christianity.  We wrestle with God over and over in our lives.  We go through suffering of the body, but also just as much suffering of the mind.  We get the full body burn, and the full mind burn.  Yes, these are tough situations! But remember that burn of the mind is going to be fertile ground for growth of beautiful gardens of the mind in the future.  So bear up under it, and keep going!