In our discussions about “seeking God’s will” or “discernment,” sometimes it all sounds rather abstract. What does this look like in real life?
Dr. Evan Howard, who is a friend of CRM and author of the book The Brazos Introduction to Christian Spirituality, provides a great paradigm to help us understand what discerning God’s will might look like.
The paradigm he offers consists of three different ways we may experience God’s leading in real life: “being blasted,” “feeling led,” and “being ignored.”
When we are “blasted,” God arranges life circumstances, times in prayer, conversations, scripture readings, or other divine encounters in a such a way that they serve as bright, flashing arrow signs pointing in the direction he is leading us towards. In these circumstances, everything around us seems to be confirming the leading of God.
In “feeling led” towards something, we go through a process of awakening to something we know we are to pursue. In these circumstances, the Lord guides subtly, and gives impressions and internal leanings towards a particular thing. Often, it’s the result of adding up the sum of our knowledge of ourselves, our past experiences, our inclinations, the wisdom and insight from others, and what the Lord seems to be showing us.
And then there are the times we may feel “ignored.” God doesn’t seem to be answering us in the usual way—no neon signs or flashing arrows, not even any subtle leanings, to provide us with a sense of clarity. In short, we may feel like God isn’t paying attention, and begin wondering how in the world we are to know which path to pursue.
Evan Howard offers a bit of advice in these kinds of discernment situations, since they can be challenging to navigate at times. He gives three steps to help you make your way through this kind of discernment process:
Step 1: Prayerful Meditation on the Word
The first thing he advises is to pray and look at scripture. See how the decision in front of you lines up with the teachings of Jesus—if his teachings contradict the choice before you, it’s probably not something you should choose.
Step 2: Seek Counsel
If it seems from prayer and reading of the Bible that God would be “on board” with your decision, the next step Dr. Howard suggests is to seek wise counsel from fellow Christians who know you and/or your circumstances well.
Step 3: Pray and Wait on the Lord
If the Bible and input from trusted advisors seems to point you forward in a certain direction, then move on to the next phase that Dr. Howard advises: seeking God and prayerfully sitting with your decision to see how you react internally. How does it feel to change careers? Go into ministry? Move to a new city? Invite the Lord to show you where you are harboring fears, anxiety, selfishness, or holding onto beliefs that don’t match up with the truth of scripture. Listen for the whisper of God’s spirit in your heart.
A Final Word
Once you make your choice, rest in God’s character: God is love and everything that is good, perfect, right, and true. Therefore, he will never engineer situations to sabotage or shame you. In fact, we are beloved children of God and the objects of God’s care and concern. We can believe that God is trustworthy, that he will never leave us nor forsake us, that his love for us is unconditional, and that he will provide for our needs.
Source: Howard, Evan B. “Christian Discernment.” The Brazos Introduction to Christian Spirituality. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2008. 371-401.
And thanks to Evan Howard for the phone interview!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jamie Rosenberry has been on staff with CRM since 2007, and recently completed an internship with InnerCHANGE in San Francisco.