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.

The Care of the Soul

The Care of the Soul is the answer to these questions!The care of the soul is not a program to be mastered; not an agenda to be followed; not a curriculum in which we advance. The care of the soul is a way of life—a way taught by Jesus, followed by the early church, practiced in communities in the mid centuries and almost entirely forgotten and neglected by the modern church today.This way of life is a clarion call to pay attention to God in the world and in your own life. Soul Care is about awakening to what really matters in life—far, far more than monetary success, personal achievement and individual significance. The more modern we become, the more likely we are to both forget and ignore the old, ancient ways that we see in the Scriptures. In today’s world, we value the fast and swift; the busy and the one who can multi-task efficiently; the strong and convincing.  By returning to our roots, we find a whole, other way to live--a way the ancients knew and practiced--a way that brought them life in the midst of trials and tribulation. We need this hope today, don't we?Our souls are in need of great care because there is great violence happening in the world today and great violence in our inner lives. The world seems so thin—so much turmoil—so much disturbing us. We seem on the brink of war with so many. Our inner worlds are in turmoil too! We’ve become over-medicated; over stimulated and over committed. We can’t do it all. We can’t keep up. We’re not sleeping well anymore and there always seems to be a committee meeting happening in our minds when we try to be silent.  The expectations we care in our minds about our work, marriage, money, relationships and witness to the world can sink us. They are heavy, often conflicting with one another and sometimes confusing. We need help.[tweetthis]The care of the soul is a non-linear, fluid and kinder way of life.[/tweetthis] Soul Care has a predictable movement which involves these developments:- an awakening that we need to tend to our inner life.- a confession that we can’t do this on our own and that we need help.- a humility to become a beginner in something we’ve never been good at but need to master.- a guide to show us the way forward.Perhaps we need to just stop here and say that the reason why there is so much resistance to the care of the soul is because we are not really good at all at: awakening, confessing, being humble and realizing we need a guide. Our culture has shaped us into almost the exact opposite of each of these postures of the heart. We have been led to believe we are already the enlightened ones. We have no need of confessing anything because we feel we have not done anything wrong. We are stiff-necked not bowing to anything or anyone. Thinking that we are the real trail blazers we have no need of guide because there is simply no time to ask anyone for guidance.Caring for the soul is seen first and foremost in the life and teachings of Jesus, himself. Since he said, “I am the way…” we would do ourselves some good here if we remembered that the first followers of Jesus never called themselves “Christians.” They referred to themselves as the “followers of the way.” This is mentioned five times in the book of Acts alone.I’m sorry that the church, in general, is not much help here. Addicted to programs, attendance and performance, we must return to the ancient ways to find our own ways of doing our life. I lament this so often as I travel, experience and witness the unfolding of our American attempt to be the church.  Personally, I feel like we are on thin ice with our smoke machines, performance driven ways and spectator like methods of worship.  I'm so thrilled to share a new and just released resource with you here. Our friends, Mark and Carrie Tedder have now released a way for house churches, missionaries, those who travel; those who can't go to church--a new way to worship. It's called, "Scattered and Small" and you can view it here. It's a way to worship without the frills and trappings and for those who might want intimate, small and more reflective.  I am thrilled to discover churches that embrace the care of the soul for the sake of others as a basic tenet of their life. I'm so glad to say, I know of many and lift of the chalice of my life to greet their life.Throughout the history of our faith, individual men and women have stood up and stood against the tide of culture defining our faith and how to do our faith. Throughout time, there have always been individual voices beckoning us this way or that way and a part of caring for your soul is listening to the voices who speak with authority, clarity and conviction.  Perhaps, you might decide to start reading books published 100 years ago–for in these pages, you will find a more distilled voice–a voice that we can benefit from in today's modern world. Ancient wisdom still lives today and helps us today.Potter’s Inn is a resource to individuals who seek to care for their soul and then offer that same care to others. Our Aspen Ridge Retreat is a place people can come to be trained, receive guidance from our trained spiritual guides, and explore more resources we offer.To get started or to continue in the journey of caring for your soul, I’d like to suggest the following places to dig in:

  1. Get and read, Embracing Soul Care and do a daily reading. Use it as couples, in small groups, with a friend or alone. There are short entries to grasp some new thinking. Also, consider reading Soul Custody. Use this as a guide because there is a short study at the end of each chapter.
  2. Consider having a spiritual guide—a spiritual friend where you can enjoy conversations that are deep; life-giving and healing. At Potter’s Inn, we offer this through Skype, but also in person at the retreat.
  3. Attend a retreat this coming year. Consider the Potter’s Inn hallmark retreat: The Soul Care Experience. It’s a five-day, guided retreat covering the life-giving themes of soul care. The May 2016 is almost full but there is room in the fall retreat in October.
  4. Consider the Soul Care Institute, which is a two-year, cohort modeled training initiative led by seasoned veterans in the field of soul care.

Caring for your soul is a spiritual journey that has tremendous benefits for our physical life, our human bodies and minds–who always seem to beg for more!  It is a journey of the heart and mind, where a place of convergence begins to flow onward and inward.Blessings as you move onward and inward in the care of your soul this year!