How can I know God’s will?
This question is one that most lovers of God wrestle with intensely throughout their lives. Most lovers of God would say, “If I only knew what God’s will really was—I would do it!” No one really wants to NOT do God’s will. There really is a more foundational issue at stake here. It is this—how does a person come to know God’s will?
Knowing God’s will is the journey of discernment. We want to discern—we want to see more clearly. We want to see with a a greater light and know with a great sense of certainty that the path, we are going to choose to walk, is the one God wants me to walk.
This simple, brief, yet eloquent prayer attributed to SAINT RICHARD, BISHOP OF CHICHESTER, written in the 13th century expresses our need to clearly:
Dear Lord of Thee, three things I pray,
To see Thee more clearly,
Love Thee more dearly,
follow Thee more nearly,
Day by Day.
To See Thee More Clearly….isn’t this what we want. To see…to know…to love doing what is right?
To Know is to Listen
Knowing God’s will implies obedience. We will obey if we know. The word in English for “obedience” is rooted in the Latin word “oboedire”, which means “to hear.” Obedience is about first listening; then knowing; then responding. First, we listen.
Knowing what decision we need to make about something in the future is our invitation to listen. If we act or decide before we listen, we may regret what we have decided because perhaps we did not first hear—we did not listen.
We live in a noisy world and what’s more, there’s even more noise inside our own heads and hearts. There are many voices shouting at us ‘to do this’ or ‘to do that.’ We have an inner sense of “should” whispering to us most of the times about whatever it is that we are facing:
“I should return that call.”
“I should return that email.
“I should go to that meeting.”
“ I should rest.”
“I should call in sick.”
Our Minds are Full of Clutter.
But do all the “shoulds” we hear, define the right action step for us? Our minds are filled with so much clutter…that we simply cannot hear until we rid our minds and hearts of the clutter.
Listening requires a clearing of the mind. We can’t hear or take in something else when our minds are too crowded. A friend told me recently, “Steve, it’s like I have a committee meeting going on in my head nearly all the time. One voice says, “this way” and another voice says, “Don’t do that or you’ll really regret it.”
Day of Discernment
Our ministry, Potter’s Inn, is in a season of discernment. We are trying to see into the future and what steps we should take together. We decided to spend a day together called a “Day of Discernment.” We all felt like it would be very good to spend a day together–to pray–to talk–and to make a plan.
The day did not go as any one on our Board expected. Our Board is comprised mostly of business executives and spouses shaped by decades of experience in decision making and management skills. Nothing —nothing we did in this day of discernment met their or my expectations.
We were guided in this day by a Benedictine Monk who was seasoned in age and experience for our day together. We made a good decision here. We decided that we needed some guidance because much is at stake. We wanted pure wisdom. So, we met with a Monk to be our guide for the day. I knew this monk well as this monk is my own spiritual director that I have met with for years.
We gathered around a lit candle, not a Powerpoint presentation. We began in silence. We needed to listen–she explained. She told us, “We can’t possibly begin trying to decide the future for your ministry until we FIRST, and she emphasized the word “First” clear our hearts and minds of all of our distractions.” She, then, asked us to write down on small rocks she had placed in a basket, all the things we came to the meeting feeling bothered by; preoccupied with or having anxiety because of something going on in our private lives.
We stared at a basket of rocks and a Sharpie. It was not corporate. It was not business. It was not technologically sophisticated. It was more “other-worldly” than anything I could have imagined. It was glorious.
We obliged her requests. I found myself immediately concerned for our Board members who had taken time off and away to be with us to make decisions. What would they be thinking? Would they be thinking, “Steve this is a waste of time. Let’s get down to business. “
I felt antsy. I felt conflicted. I could not listen well—I could not listen because my mind and heart were so cluttered.
That exercise took nearly three hours to complete. Yet, we yielded to the process outlined for us—a process not based on excellency, efficiency or ego. Each of us had come with significant issues we were holding in our hearts. One couple wrote on one rock, “our house”—they shared that they needed their house to sell here so they could move there. Another wrote the names of their teenage sons. Each of us shared about our rocks—our burdens—our preoccupations and we listened. We asked clarifying questions guided by the monk to help us more fully understand the burden each of us had been carrying.
After our first three hour session, we took a break and had lunch. Lunch was simple “monk food.” Again, nothing to rave about. Simple. Simple, Simple. During the lunch, I could not help but ask some of our Board members, what they were thinking. Each one shared that they too had wondered at first if this was a waste of time or “Couldn’t we move this along a bit more quickly.” But we listened.
We took a time of silence to sit with ourselves to see the clutter; feel the distractions and sense the inner urgency rather than ignore it. We listened to the voice of our culture shouting “Efficiency! Excellence and Performance.” We choose to march to the beat of a different drummer. We chose to listen.
After lunch, we came back and within 45 minutes had the entire future of our ministry displayed on a white board with action steps and a timeline. We sat in amazement at how this could have happened. Several of us shook our heads in disbelief that in 45 minutes, we had stumbled into a path that was filled with clarity, light and affirmation.
Our culture is all about action. We want to get down to business quickly and not waste anyone’s time. But being so action focused cuts off the ears of our hearts to listen to what really may be more pressing; more important and more of God.
As a Team, we choose to have some time of silence at the beginning of every staff meeting. Rather than doing a devotional, Bible Study or even prayer, we are learning the value of listening together and listening for the Voice of Creation calling to us for our attention and focus.
A family, we mentor and who has a large family of nine children from 5-18, begins the dinner meal with a collective silence. A time of being quiet together. A time of detoxing from the events, chores and issues of the day to segway into a time of sharing a meal—which is more than just eating food. They begin by listening.
In our marriage, listening is becoming the most important gift we offer each other. Both of us both want and need to be listened to deeply—not just hearing the facts or the events but listening for deeper indicators of one another’s soul and well being. When we listen, we are listening for what is not being said as much as we are listening for what is being said. We are listening to the pauses; the spaces between sentences and the signs. All of these are as loud as the words we use. For Gwen to really listen well to me and I to her, we both need to focus; be present and not distracted and be willing to keep our mouths closed.
Perhaps this is why the Apostle James reminds us: “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19).
When we are seeking to figure out God’s will—the first step is learning to listen deeply not just for God’s voice but for all the clutter inside that may be drowning out the Voice.