Discerning God’s Will………30 Apr

I want to today this morning about how we discern God’s will. I will admit upfront I am not entirely objective on this topic because a ‘word from God’ has hurt my family. But this is not the first time that I had been very uncomfortable with the way in which we discern God’s will in our lives. It really is and should be, a complex process. I have a problem, probably because of my psychology background, when people pray and then tell other people what they think God wants them to do with their lives…..just like that…no careful thought, no objective (if that’s possible) discernment, very little thought given to the consequences of those decisions, how they will affect their future, how they will hurt others. It seems as if the will of God is easy to discern in these situations where people are given ‘words’ or ‘messages’. But God’s will is never easy to discern. It is never discerned in a moment, or even in a few days or weeks… takes a long time during which time we need to listen from the depth of our being. We need to talk to our family, our friends, our spiritual colleagues and we need to listen to what they say, what they are thinking, what advice, options and ideas comes through them to our ears.

Ruth Haley Barton (‘Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership’) describes the discernment process as follows :

“…… the discernment process involves a major commitment to listening with love and attention to our experiences, to the inner promptings of the Holy Spirit deep within ourselves and others, to Scripture and Christian tradition, to pertinent facts and information, to those who will be affected most deeply by our decisions, to that place in us where God’s Spirit witnesses with our spirit about those things that are true. We need to pay particular attention to distress, confusion and desolation. Even the more difficult emotions need to be honoured.”

I like this quotation because it stresses the complexity of discernment and that we need to ‘hear’ many different sources, and most importantly, how we need to listen, to listen deeply. What strikes me is how small the part played by words from others is and how many other things we are required to do to ‘hear’ God’s will for us. We need to focus on Him, and listen to what is happening deep within ourselves, and how we need to be accountable to others for the choices we make.

I believe we find our purpose in life where our gifts and the needs God has created within us, and around us, intersect. How many of us truly know what our gifts are and how to ‘connect’ them with our needs and the needs of those God sends to us? I think that discerning God’s will in our lives is intimately connected with the gifts he has blessed us with. I think that when we intervene in other peoples’ lives in a way that makes them question their purpose I think we need to proceed with profound caution. I think that often the words ‘I have a word from God for you’ should be replaced by the less overwhelming words of ‘I have a sense that this is something you might think about’ or something along those lines, a little more understated. This gives the person some space to discern for themselves if this is something God is trying to tell them about, or not. Telling some-one that they have a word from God, almost demands acceptance, it blocks personal discernment……we are taught that God demands obedience and yet we can never really be completely sure where our sense of a message from him really comes from…can we?

I think that if we have the gift of prophecy then we should be accountable for how we influence others through it. We should share it gently and we should support the people we have ‘words’ for through a deep process of discernment. In short we should ensure that we ‘love one another’ first and beware of how we could hurt.

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One Response to “Discerning God’s Will………”

  1. Esty Christodoulou Reply

    Hello Elaine, thank you for this article. This is an aspect of leadership within the Christian context that I have personally struggled with for years, and researched in a master’s degree. After reaching certain conclusions, I subsequently felt guilty for that conclusion. It is as you say…difficult not to sanction words supposedly from God, especially when presented by trusted leaders and where power relations are un equal. In the spiritual Dimension power relationships seem amplified, and one becomes almost powerless to question even the basic.

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Dr. Elaine Saunders – Industrial Psychologist

Phd in Leadership Development
Author of Assessing Human Competence
Specialising in online competency-based assessment tools, leadership development and performance counselling
Based in Sandton, Johannesburg

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