My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.
-Jesus (John 10:27)
Do we think that God is intentionally difficult to understand?
The late Dallas Willard was a professor of philosophy at USC for most of his career. He was also one of the most influential Christian spiritual formation voices of our time, writing a number of profound books on following Jesus. He trained an entire generation of pastors toward spiritual depth (myself included). If you’ve never his work, check out his seminal book, The Divine Conspiracy.
There’s a story that a young man tells about his interaction with Dallas during a ride to the airport after a conference. The young man was trying to figure out a PhD program to pursue. This decision would affect where he lived, what specific career path he would be moving in, financial implications, and more. The decision-making deadline was right upon him. He shared with Dallas the difficulty and complexity of the decision and his anxiety at a lack of guidance from God though he had prayed about it many times. Dallas listened, asked a few questions, and then gave this response:
“Well, simply pray, and say: 'Lord, I do not believe that you mumble, so if you’d like to direct me, you need to do so before Friday. Otherwise, I will presume your blessing to make my own choice.'”
Whoa. That sounds terrifying. God would give us the freedom to make our own choice about important things?
I’ve known many Christians that approach life as if it’s a nearly impossible maze, and at every turn there is the way God wants and the way God is against, yet there’s little clarity on which is which. It suggests God’s will is one single path made of hundreds of little decisions that I could get wrong at any point and screw up forever. Therefore, there is a constant underlying anxiety that we are always about to get it wrong. Sleep well tonight, friends!
I’m not talking about moral decisions here of doing something loving vs. something selfish. We’re talking about decisions that have no clear moral implications.
What if God trusts us to be seeking after Jesus and acting accordingly? Maybe much of this is less about God’s will and more about our own. I remember, as a youth pastor, having senior high students in my office who were paralyzed about which college God wanted them to attend.
Have you spent some time praying for guidance?
Well, do you sense that you can serve Jesus more effectively at one school over the other?
Can you imagine yourself glorifying God at both schools?
I think so.
Then uh…. where do you want to go the most?
God’s will for us is not a needle in a haystack. God’s will is that we would trust in the way of Jesus and the rescue of Jesus, and live our lives openly, inviting others to join us in expressing God’s kingdom.
That doesn’t mean we don’t prayerfully discern. The flip side is dangerous too. To act as if everything we do is obviously God’s heart for us without prayer and discernment is arrogant and foolish. But if we have been set free, and we trust that disciples of Jesus can hear his voice and guidance…. then maybe we need to stop it with the constant fear and pressure.
From the beginning and through til now, God has entrusted humans to partner in God’s redemption purposes. Like Willard says in his book Hearing God,
God is not looking for people to endlessly command; God desires to form persons and a people who can bring to bear all their own redeemed creativity and will into the realization of the Reign of God on earth...
Everything we do can glorify Jesus. That’s the beauty of freedom and grace working in our lives.
Let’s seek God for guidance about decisions and constantly move in the best direction. Let’s be patient with those decisions and not rush. Let’s involve other trusted disciples in those decisions. And when no clear path emerges, maybe it’s not because God is staying silent and unreachable. Maybe it’s because God is saying… I trust you.
Is there a decision that you’re stuck on because you feel a lot of pressure? Maybe you need to hear God’s grace and trust.
Jesus, speak to me. And when it’s not audible, form me enough so that I can express your heart in everything.