When have you done something believing it’s what God wanted, then later realized it wasn’t? What happened? (Ignore the embarrassment you’re feeling right now—just process it.) Looking back now, what really motivated you?
It’s pretty easy to get caught up in our own dreams. For that reason, it can be tough to know when, and how, God wants us to step out in faith. Sometimes we want something so badly that we can talk ourselves into believing it’s what God wants, too. And maybe it is what God wants. But maybe it isn’t. And maybe our desire isn’t in synch with God’s timing, even if it is what God wants.
“We naively think that the more we grow as Christians, the easier… to discern the will of God. But the opposite is often the case,” J. Oswald Sanders rightly observes in his book Spiritual Leadership. “God treats the mature leader as a mature adult, leaving more and more to… spiritual discernment…. The resulting perplexity adds to a leader’s pressure.”
This is all about that kind of discernment—of knowing whether this vision we have is really God’s as well. It’s tricky stuff. So let’s do our best to check our own desires at the door and discover what God wants.
Last Wednesday, we looked at a “case study” from the Bible, to understand how others before us have walked out the vision God’s given them. Let’s go ahead and look at two examples this week. Get that new tab open, look at Judges 6:34-40 and 1 Samuel 3:1-19, then think about this:
• How did Gideon and Samuel (and Eli, for that matter) figure out whether it was really God who was speaking?
• Would you say any of them showed a lack of faith—or, were making wrong demands of God? Why or why not?
• Think again about your missteps from earlier. What’s different between the approaches taken in these passages, and what you did?
• Look once more at Gideon’s example. When is it OK to “put out a fleece,” and when are we just trying to “fleece” ourselves into doing something that’s not really God’s idea (or get out of doing something that is)?
It’s important to figure out early whether this thing we’re praying about and talking about really is from God—or, for that matter and entirely likely, whether it’s both you and God, flesh and spirit, mixed together right now. It’s critical that we stop to figure out what’s God and what’s us, because once things get real, we’re almost certainly going to find ourselves disagreeing with God on some things.
And guess what? God’s right.
So when that happens, you’ll need to remember which parts of this vision are truly God’s, so you’re able to keep on trusting Him when you don’t understand what’s going on. “This one clear command would redefine you…. On those days when things were dark or difficult, you would at least know you were doing what you were called to do. That clarity… while a great burden, would be a great gift to us,” Brian Sanders (no relation to Oswald) puts it in Life After Church: God’s Call to Disillusioned Christians.
So right now, think through these questions. Take as long as you need. Ask yourself:
• As I’m pursuing this vision, am I sensing God revealing more about the things he truly cares about?
• Will this vision, once it’s realized, reveal more about God to others, or just more about me?
• Which parts of this vision were clearly not my idea (even if I’m excited about the idea now)?
• Have I tried letting go of this idea, only to find God bringing it up again?
• Would I still want this to happen even if someone else did it—or even if I did it and someone else got the credit?
One more question: What do you need right now, if anything, to be really certain that this vision you’re pursuing is really God’s idea? If you’re certain, why are you certain?
You might believe it with all your strength. You might still have doubts, too, and that’s OK—sometimes being obedient to God means staying put until you’re sure it’s what God wants. Thank God right now for wherever it is you’re at. Ask Him to help you discover what His will truly is for you in the weeks to come, and that your certainty and confidence is in Him, no matter where He leads them. May you move forward, in the path and at the pace God’s chosen for you.