4 Steps for Discerning God’s Will Up Close and Personal

Having a general idea that God wants to be in relationship and that he wants me to be fruitful doesn’t help me with specific decisions, like a career path or a spouse.  I make choices every day, and most don’t seem to have anything to do with God.  What does “choosing God’s will” mean in my daily life and work?

This post rounds up four steps based on what Jesus taught about God’s will that answer this question in a very personal way.  No two people will come to the same conclusions after taking these steps.

Step One: Examine Gifts

We are not given equal abilities or identical opportunities.  The unique combination of opportunities and talents that God gave singularly to you is your cosa nostra with God.  It’s something only the two of you share.  The first step for discerning God’s will on an  intimate basis is to acknowledge those gifts given uniquely to you. 

Step Two: Examine Boldness

If scripture is any indication, God doesn’t intend for us to play it safe.  God called an old man to uproot his family with no clear destination, an unwed teen to get pregnant, and his own son to death by torture.  On the other hand, he doesn’t expect us to face life’s challenges alone under our own power.  Those who trust in him receive awesome grace.  “Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.” (Matthew 7:7)  The second step is to put your gifts to use in a manner so bold that you are sure to need God’s help.  It glorifies God when we collaborate with him in this way.

Step Three: Examine Compassion

We can use our gifts boldly to lift others up or to cut them down.  Jesus’ ministry of free healing and open table radically challenged cultural norms, and if we dare to follow his example, he leads us to relate to God through relationships with others, including the despised and outcast.  Ask yourself: Am I going about my daily life and work in a way that promotes egalitarianism or in a way that excludes?  Does my daily life and work contribute primarily to the well-being of others or to my bank account?  Do I focus on safety for my inner circle or security for all?  Step three is to exchange attitudes and actions that leave people out or drag them down for attitudes and actions that embrace all and lift people up.

Step Four: Examine Motive

Many of us take right actions without the right frame of mind.  We want credit for going through the right motions, but we stop short of looking at the true motive in our hearts.  Are we driven by unquenchable love and a desire to work in partnership with God?  Or are we racking up credits, paying our dues while banking on a future reward?  Step four is to look on all your daily tasks, important and tedious, as your very personal and unique offering God.

A career in ministry is not the only way to do God’s will or to put talents to a bold and compassionate use.  When we find joy in serving God, even in the small things, and that joy becomes our motive in all we do, we have found new intimacy with God in our daily life and work.

Join the conversation.  Where do you find intimacy with God?

Copyright 2011 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved. Visit www.AcrossTraditions.com.

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Making God’s Will Personal: Step Three-Examine Compassion

In a quest for intimacy with God, we have been discerning the will of God by accepting the talents he has entrusted to us and putting them to bold use.  Just any use won’t do, however.  We can use our gifts boldly to lift others up or to cut them down.  By what rubric can we measure how a bold use aligns to God’s will?

Escalating Judaism’s teaching of justice and fair treatment of fellow man, Jesus preached and practiced radical egalitarianism.  If Jesus was only starting a new religion, the Romans would have left him alone.  Rome tolerated religions.  What Rome did not tolerate was challenge to the authority status quo.  His “kingdom of God” language was an affront to the power holders of Jesus’ day.  Threats to the social pecking order are uncomfortable for those at the top of the power structure.  It might be worthwhile to pause here to consider where you sit in the social pecking order of the world today.

Jesus used numerous parables to describe the revolutionary rearranging of power that he called the kingdom of God.  Historical Jesus scholar and Jesus Seminar fellow John Dominic Crossan summarizes Jesus’ teaching about the kingdom in two points: free healing and open table.  The Greco-Roman system of patronage served the powerful by giving them a means to influence and to control the peasant class.  By complying, peasants averted social ostracism wrought by no association with a patron.  Against the backdrop of the Greco-Roman system of patronage, Jesus’s offer of free healing disrupted the status quo.  It offered the peasant class something radically better than patronage.  Not only that, Jesus welcomed the despised and outcast, including women, to his table.  As dining customs echoed in miniature the social pecking order in the culture at large, Jesus’ open table symbolized a flagrant challenge to deeply held Mediterranean cultural values concerning status, honor and shame.

One way to examine how we use our gifts is in this context of open table and free healing.  Another way to examine them is in the context of tzedakah.  The Hebrew
word tzedakah is often translated “charity,” but the Jewish concept of tzedakah
is the opposite of charity in many ways.  Whereas charity is at the discretion of the giver, tzedakah is the giver’s obligation.  Whereas recipients have no claim to charity, recipients are entitled to tzedakah.  Tzedakah is more accurately translated as the giving that fairness and social justice demand, and it is commanded of all people (including those in need of tzedakah).

Am I going about my daily life and work in a way that promotes egalitarianism or in a way that excludes?  Does my daily life and work contribute to the well-being of others or only to my own well-being?  Do my actions promote God’s glory and the welfare of my fellow man?  Or do they garner earthly possessions for me?  Do I focus on safety
for my inner circle or peace and security for all?

Join the conversation.  What are the questions you ask yourself to measure your actions?

Copyright 2011 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved. Visit www.AcrossTraditions.com.

Making God’s Will Personal: Step Two-Examine Boldness

God doesn’t intend for us to play it safe.  He wants us to stretch.  In discerning the will of God on a personal and intimate basis, not only must we recognize that unique combination of gifts given, but also we must put the gifts to bold use.

Jesus’ parable of the talents makes that clear, and the feeding the five thousand (Matthew 14:14-21) shows us how.  In all four gospel accounts, Jesus retreats with his disciples to a remote place for rest and, instead of rest, he is greeted by a great crowd.  Having compassion for them, Jesus teaches about the kingdom of God and heals until late in the day.  The disciples grow concerned about where the next meal will come from and ask Jesus to send everyone away.  Not one to miss an “open table” opportunity, however, Jesus instructs his disciples to feed the crowd.

What happens next is the crux of the story.  The disciples say, “We don’t have enough.”  Jesus says, “Give me what you have,” and then he does the miracle of making it enough.  So it is with us.  If we are really stretching, doing something bold with our talents, we will feel like we don’t have enough–enough acumen, perseverance, persuasiveness, tenacity, grace, generosity, etc.  If you do have enough, then you might just be playing it too safe.  Jesus didn’t ask his disciples to have enough.  And he didn’t ask them to do it on their own.  He asked them to give what they had in partnership with him.  If you think big, God will do the heavy lifting for you, but you have to do some lifting!  The first step is yours, and it is to get working with what you have.

I wonder which would please God more:

(a)    beings who lament, despite the innumerable gifts and opportunities bestowed upon them, paralyzed by uncertainty, pleading for paint-by-numbers instructions; or

(b)   beings who imagine boldly, come up with wild and outlandish ways to use their talents and have faith they will receive serious intervening help?

At the risk of projecting human attributes on God, I imagine he’d be greatly entertained and delighted by the second group.

Scripture indicates it glorifies God when we ask for his help in this way. “Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.” (Matthew 7:7) There are no caveats on this scripture.  The passage does not say it will be given to you if only you ask for the right thing.  Undoubtedly we do ask for the
wrong thing at times.  Sometimes we are sorry we got what we wanted.  Other times we’re grateful we received something else instead.  We don’t find out, though, unless we ask.

Many religious traditions encourage jumping into action to avoid squandering the gift of life waiting for perfect circumstances to come along or for perfect clarity.  The great Indian mystic Kabir offers this poetic example:

Do you have a body?
Don’t sit on the porch!  Go out and walk in the rain!

Join the conversation.  How did you make a leap into action even though timing or conditions seemed suboptimal?

Copyright 2011 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved.  Visit www.AcrossTraditions.com.