There have been times when people have come to me seeking guidance in discovering God’s will for their lives. Often, they want some clear answer to a problem or some easy to see direction when making a choice. Since I have already admitted that I often struggle with knowing God’s leading for my own life, I am definitely not going to tell someone else what God’s leading for them is.
But having spent many years as a pastor and teacher, I get asked to help with the process. I discovered a great way to help people begin seriously seeking God’s leading. Rather than send them away to prayer vigils or read long Bible passages, I tell them the first thing they need to do is figure out exactly what they want in connection with whatever they are dealing with.
Many find that to be strange advice–they are looking for spiritual answers and I am telling them to look at themselves first. The reason for that advice is simple. Of the three influences that I mentioned yesterday, the easiest to hear is our own personal desires. As believers, we are taught not to be selfish so we learn early how to dress up our desires so that they sound spiritual but underneath all the disguise, they are still our desires.
Then comes the second influence–the tempter who knows our desires even if we are unwilling to admit them to ourselves. The tempter seeks to have us pretty up the desire, add some spiritual bling and act on it with appropriate humility which insists that we are only doing God’s will.
In many cases, even though we invoke God and our desire to follow his will, God’s influence never enters the picture because we are intent on acting out that which we desire.
So, to avoid the all too common situation where we dip our desires in some spiritual paint and do what we want, we begin the process by being honest with ourselves and God. Actually, we begin by being honest with ourselves since God already knows what we want to do. Because of the Christian coverings we wrap around so much of what we think and feel and want, this may be difficult but it is vital.
It is also a good Biblical principle. Jesus himself followed this approach, as we see in his prayer in Gethsemane. As we read in Mark 14.26, Jesus prayed, “Abba , Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (NIV)
Jesus, being fully human, didn’t really want the pain and suffering of the cross. Being fully God, he wanted to do what was necessary. Rather than ignore his human desires, he brings them in to the process, freely admitting that he doesn’t want to go to the cross. Then, with that admission out front, he can then re-commit himself to the Father’s will.
I think this is an important part of the process of discerning God’s will. We can pray all we want but if we are consciously or unconsciously looking for a way to get what we want, the prayer will be wasted time. We can consult with every religious leader we know but it we are looking for validation of what we want, their time has been wasted as well. Mind you, when we don’t admit to ourselves what we want, we are probably guilty of slanting our prayers towards what we want and choosing advisors who may encourage us to do what we want anyway.
Admitting what we want in a search for leading doesn’t guarantee that we will get it–nor does it guarantee that we won’t get it. But if we don’t begin our search with a search for what we want, the whole process will be out of kilter. Since we haven’t been honest with ourselves, it is hard to be honest with others or with God. And if we are not honest in the process of seeking, it is hard to arrive at an honest answer–a search built on dishonesty can only produce a dishonest answer.
Beginning anything with honesty is good–but when it is a spiritual guest of any kind, being honest with ourselves is essential. It may be that spiritual discernment is so hard to many because we aren’t honest enough. As we are reminded in John 8.32b, “… the truth will set you free.” (NIV)
May the peace of God be with you.