Knowing God's Will: How do we find God's will for our lives, work, and relationships?

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 love doing what is right? To Know is to ListenKnowing 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 DiscernmentOur 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.

Some Resources to Help Us Discern

I"m so greatly encouraged that so many of you have emailed or left comments about me sharing my own personal journey of discernment.I thought I would share here some collected resources: prayers, poems, etc that I'm using that you may want to consider also.  Would you mind sharing in the comment section of the blog any other resources you've found helpful---those that offer light and insight; those prayers that you find yourself saying again and again and I'll add to this list.  Let's build this together.  Songs, books, etc.  Let's help each other here, OK?  Again, leave your suggestions here so we can watch the list build.Things I've written on the blog, can be easily accessed by scrolling up and down the blog entries.Finally, Would you consider to "Share" this post on your Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, etc post as so many are searching for answers.  Here are a few of mine:For a New Beginningby John O’DonohueIn out-of-the-way places of the heart,Where your thoughts never think to wander,This beginning has been quietly forming,Waiting until you were ready to emerge.For a long time it has watched your desire,Feeling the emptiness growing inside you,Noticing how you willed yourself on,Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.It watched you play with the seduction of safetyAnd the gray promises that sameness whispered,Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent,Wondered would you always live like this.Then the delight, when your courage kindled,And out you stepped onto new ground,Your eyes young again with energy and dream,A path of plenitude opening before you.Though your destination is not yet clearYou can trust the promise of this opening;Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginningThat is at one with your life’s desire.Awaken your spirit to adventure;Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk;Soon you will be home in a new rhythm,For your soul senses the world that awaits you. -----------------------------------------------------Harrowing by Parker Palmer The plow has savaged this sweet fieldMisshapen clods of earth kicked upRocks and twisted roots exposed to viewLast year’s growth demolished by the blade.I have plowed my life this wayTurned over a whole historyLooking for the roots of what went wrongUntil my face is ravaged, furrowed, scared.Enough.  The job is done.Whatever’s been uprooted, let it beSeedbed for the growing that’s to comeI plowed to unearth last year’s reasons—The farmer plows to plant a greening season. ----------------------------------------For RetirementBy John O’Donohue This is where your life has arrived,After all the years of effort and toil;Look back with graciousness and thanksOn all your great and quiet achievements.You stand on the shore of new invitationTo open your life towhat is left undone;Let your heart enjoy a different rhythmWhen drawn to the wonder of other horizons.Have the courage for a new approach to time;Allow it to slow until you find freedomTo draw alongside the mystery you holdAnd befriend your own beauty of soul.Now is the time to enjoy your heart’s desire,To live the dreams you’ve waited for,To awaken the depths beyond your workAnd enter into your infinite source.------------------------------------------- Disturb Us, O Lord by Sir Francis Drake Disturb us, Lord, whenWe are too pleased with ourselves,When our dreams have come trueBecause we dreamed too little,When we arrived safelyBecause we sailed too close to the shore.Disturb us, Lord, whenWith the abundance of things we possessWe have lost our thirstFor the waters of life;Having fallen in love with life,We have ceased to dream of eternityAnd in our efforts to build a new earth,We have allowed our visionOf the new Heaven to dim.Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,To venture on wilder seasWhere storms will show Your mastery;Where losing sight of land,We shall find the stars.We ask you to push backThe horizons of our hopes;And to push back the futureIn strength, courage, hope, and love.This we ask in the name of our Captain,Who is Jesus Christ. --------------------------------------------------A Prayer by Thomas MertonMY LORD GOD, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone. 

The Journey of Discernment: Moving from Partly Cloudy to Clarity

How can we ever know God’s will? This has been a question people have muddled through for centuries. Our angst comes when we are faced with a particular conundrum—a dilemma of competing choices that impacts us personally. We need to make a decision but it feels more dark than light; more cloudy than clear. We live in the mud rather than experiencing a break-through. We want to know--but just can't figure it out with certainty.Should I marry this person? Should I take this job or that job?   Should we move to another city or stay put here? Should I retire or keep working? These questions force us to stop and think through a particular cross-road in life before we move on to acting. It’s those of us who have the tendency to bulldoze our way through doorways of possibility that get into trouble. People have regrets and have to live with regrets.Just last week when I was speaking to a group of business leaders, a man in his 70’s came up to me and said, “I’ve been reading your blogs. I have one thing to say, “Don’t retire. It’s the greatest mistake of my life. I should have never stopped working.” I was stunned to hear him say this but realized that his comments were really an invitation for me to pray more about my decision ahead. It was a signal to think very carefully about my own decision to “reposition” (read the blog I wrote about 'repositioning or retiring) myself. When we make quick decisions, we come to realize that we would have done better and been better had we thought the decision through more deeply.Discernment comes from the Greek word, “diakrisis,” which translated means “to separate” or “to sift through.” We need to learn how to “do” discernment because so many of us want the answers and we want to know on our timetable. It's like we have in our psyche, the erroneous idea that major decisions can be made in 15 minutes or less--then announced--then followed.  Discernment is a lost practice in today's quick world of quick answers and living by Twitter.  It's as if, we want to know God's will but want it sent in 140 characters. We are more shaped by our culture than truth and when it comes to making good decisions, we need to exercise great caution. We want to be able to “sort through” experiences, lists of pros and cons, strengths and weaknesses and then come to a conclusion based on our reason, logic or gut.  Spiritual discernment does not offer us easy answers but invites us into a process of laying down what we thought and how we thought good decisions are made to a journey--a journey of discernment.I am being cautious because, I have spent a life-time building what is my work. A wrong decision could be disastrous and impact people I love and care for a great deal.  I am a "founder" meaning that I have pioneered this work along side of Gwen and there is this disease called, "founder-itis" that I know I have. This disease says, "It's hard to let go of what you started." I'm in a process of working through laying down and repositioning. Some of you are as well.It is my observation that men, in particular find it hard to lay down their work.  Perhaps this is a part of our curse.  Our work gives validation, significance and love, to be honest.  And as a man ages, perhaps some women as well, it is just plain hard to lay down our work. So we choose mantras like, "I'll die with my boots on.But the journey of discernment is not just a left-brain exercise. When may seem linear and logical may not be very spiritual. This journey is moving from a Western mindset of “figuring out” a way to go forward to developing a posture of listening. It is moving away from needing to know—to needing to be in the presence of God. This is the all-important shift we need to make in learning to discern and I needed to shift my own need to know—to learning to be with God to listen—to listen to His voice and to listen to my own true self telling me what door is right.As I entered my 60’s , I began to notice more clouds than clarity. I remember having great clarity in my 50's. But almost on my entree to my next decade of life, the clouds came and the sun seemed to go away and hide. Things, that I once felt sure of seemed to be shifting to a certain unknowing. I suppose I thought that in time that I things would clear themselves up. But after a couple of years of walking in the forest more than in the light, I knew I needed something—or someone to help me. Confusion, lack of peace and anxiety bubbled up within me—more than at any other time in my life or work. For the first time in my life, waves of depression would wash over me leaving me lifeless and limp.  Finally, the straw that broke the camel's back happened on our Staff Team, when a key staff person resigned leaving it back on my shoulders. I was losing confidence. I was losing my grip that I knew I needed to have as a leader, founder and guide to many others. I knew I needed help. I needed a companion to walk with me through the clouds and into more clarity.An Intentional Journey of DiscernmentFor ten months now, I have been on an intentional journey of discernment. I chose to engage an ancient retreat method where I would slow down my need to know the future and enter into a long, slow, season of prayer where I would learn how to listen. I would learn how to listen to God. I would learn how to listen to my own heart and my own desires. I would learn how to distinguish the movements of God within my own four-quadrant heart and notice God moving me forward and through darkness to more clarity.So, I chose a trained, seasoned veteran of such things. I began to work with someone out of my box—out of my comfort zone—out of my normal way of thinking through things.  I had grown tired of groups, denominations and labels of people who think they know everything and have their act together.  Such arrogance and pride disturbed me greatly.  I became suspicious actually and wanted help in a different way--a way no one in my circles was talking about. I needed something more that a 10 week Bible study on ‘Knowing the Will of God.” I had done those kind of attempts and led those studies. This felt more raw for me. It feel more desperate. I was thirsty to really know and I needed to enter my thirst and not allow my thirst to be quenched by anyone or anything else.My Guide and My JourneyI chose to walk with a man who was trained in Ignatian Spirituality and someone who knew how to walk with someone who was a bit lost in the woods and couldn’t find his way out. I learned the old, ancient, tried and proven ways of listening to God’s voice within me. I began to distinguish and sift through the confusing feelings of self-preoccupation, worry and anxiety to the more trusted ways of experiencing a deep sense of peace, shalom and well-being. I began praying—every day for an hour—something that I had never really done before because I considered myself to be too busy and too involved—perhaps even too important. In this hour, I would listen to God in all of my life and as I practiced this, I became more comfortable with the process—even to the point of noticing a marked shift in me: I wanted to have this time. I needed to have this time. I wanted a God-listening heart.Then I went and sat in this person’s office every Wednesday at 4:00pm to talk and process together about what was happening in me and around me. With no doubt, this is the deepest journey I've ever walked to date and I have been so helped through my own rawness and clouds to a great sense of well-being. I am so glad to say, that I have moved from being partly-cloudy and into more light. It’s been like a parting in the woods where I found my path to walk in more light than I though possible. The result has been all gain and no loss. I’m still in this process at this very moment however and have not been “released” or “graduated.” I don’t think I will ever be graduated now that I am learning how to listen more deeply than ever before. I don’t want to be released from what I know now to be so true and so deeply meaningful. It’s a big shift for me to quit thinking of “moving on” or moving to the next thing to simply relaxing and staying in this posture of heart muscle that I have been exercising for these past ten months.A God-Listening Heart is Actually Possible!When King David of Israel had died, his son Solomon had a dream where God came and said to Solomon that he, God, would given him anything he wanted. Read the text for itself and see how Solomon responded:“And now here I am: God, my God, you have made me, your servant, ruler of the kingdom in place of David my father. I’m too young for this, a mere child! I don’t know the ropes, hardly know the ‘ins’ and ‘outs’ of this job. And here I am, set down in the middle of the people you’ve chosen, a great people—far too many to ever count.“Here’s what I want: Give me a God-listening heart so I can lead your people well, discerning the difference between good and evil. For who on their own is capable of leading your glorious people?”--I Kings 3:7-9, the Message.Solomon wanted a “God-listening heart.” As I have spent this year in discernment, I am realizing, perhaps more than ever before that I, too, want a God-listening heart. I need that kind of heart. I needed to move away from all I knew and amassed to be a beginner again in the deeper ways of God's Kingdom.I want to live believing that God still speaks—still has important messages to convey to me and I want to not be so busy, so involved, so committed that I can’t listen. Henri Nouwen reminds us that when life begins to feel absurd, we are losing our ability to listen to God. The root word in Latin for “absurdity” is deafness.  Life doesn't make sense anymore when we are deaf to the Voice of God. When we’re deaf to God, life feels absurd. We grown in cynicism, suspicion and are prone to burnout. I see this all the time in my work with leaders in the church and the marketplace.The once soft hearts for God have been hardened and calloused by disappointment, disillusionment and private despair. I say private because where does a leader go these days to confess their own despair at what is happening in the world today?  We all need such places to keep soft and impressionable hearts. This is what a major part of soul care is—to keep a soft, pliable, malleable heart and soul in the midst of such stress, angst and world-wide despair.When Benedict of Nursia began his humble attempt to form Christian communities after the fall of Rome, in the 5th century, he wrote to all his would-be monks, that the first rule to live by is this: “Listen with the ears of your heart.” In our world today, we are clamored with so much inner noise of shame, blame, quilt and self-talk that we can’t hear the truth.  We can't hear the Voice. It's all buzzing sounds. It’s also noisy on the outside: meetings, traffic, emails, Twitter and text. We barely have time to make sense of anything anymore.  Whoever speaks today of the ears of your heart?  That's the kind of language that captured me and still does. It is the language Solomon wanted. It is the reality I have witnessed in thirsty souls who simply want more than easy answers to pressing dilemmas.When we feel the need to move from the cloudy days of life and experience more clarity and inner freedom, this journey begins with learning to listen—trusting that the God who made us in His own image and who loves us, wants to speak with us.It’s a very big year for me. And this will be an important year in the ministry of Potter’s Inn that Gwen and I founded 17 years ago. As I begin to “reposition” this will mean that Potter’s Inn will be impacted and influenced. So I want to be careful. I want to be wise. I want to know that I do have a “God-listening heart.”It’s important when we make decisions to allow affirmation to come. Every affirmation is really an important re-enforcement that we are on the right track—that the pathway we now see with light and clarity is, indeed right. So, I have asked the Board of Potter’s Inn to join me in a “Day of Discernment.” We have asked a Benedictine Monk to spend a day with us as a Board to do group discernment. I’m excited because our Board enthusiastically agreed to have this day retreat and all look forward to this time coming up soon. We will spend a day together in the collective posture of having a “God-listening hearts” to discern—to sift—to separate the many options to seeing greater clarity the way God has for us to walk—and to walk together. It is always a comfort to walk with a few other people when making decisions gaining insight, wisdom and perspective and above all trusting the wonderful process of building authentic community with a few other people.Pray for us in the days and weeks ahead, would you?  Please continue to pray for Gwen and me in the journey ahead--the journey of discernment.Here are some trusted books I'd recommend on discernment:The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything by James Martin. Martin gives several chapters that are outstanding to discernment.Seeking God Together by Alice Fryling