Sunday, June 03, 2007

Discerning God's Will

I've recently been reading an introductory book on spiritual direction. One of the major topics covered is discerning God's will (usually rendered as "God's Will" with double capitals in the book). How do we discern God's will for our lives?

In itself, considering God's will is a good thing. Unfortunately, the current book's advice on discerning God's will does not have any depth on the most basic of all advice on God's will: loving God and neighbor. The author paints a picture of earnest and devout souls pouring themselves out in prayer in hope of finding that they have a commission for a Great Service, and scrutinizing every stray thought for a wisp of Holy Spirit that might lead them to what their Great Service should be.

The author shows some understanding that we humans are capable of self-deceit and self-delusion. But there seems little recognition that a great many Spiritual Quests are themselves somewhat self-deluded. God's general will is already revealed to us, from the negatives of not hating and not lusting to the positives of forgiving, loving, helping our families, helping our neighbors, greeting our enemies, and so forth.

C.S. Lewis once mentioned that it is easier to pray for a bore than to go visit him. Self-deceit enters our religious life when we pray for God to do what God has asked us to do. Nobody gets an additional assignment while refusing their original one. As the Scripture says, whoever handles a small trust well will be entrusted with more; whoever does not handle a small trust well will not be entrusted even with that. The Bible's advice on choosing good leadership is much the same: find people who have already done a good job with their families, who have already learned the basics and have already handled that trust well. They have built the necessary skills -- and shown the necessary faithfulness -- to be trusted with more. For our own lives, we have already been entrusted with certain small things that are within our grasp, things that are revealed in the Bible and are God's will for us all.

Someone on their knees, praying to know God's will (they would do it if only they knew it, they suppose), but ignoring their sick neighbor, not reconciling with their own families, harboring a grudge against the rude fellow at the office, and refusing be kind to their enemies -- and yet praying to "know God's will" -- this person's prayer to know God's will is not entirely sincere. The picture I had from the book was not so much of a noble soul praying, "Anything, Lord; anything", but of a would-be noble soul who did not want to love and serve the people he already knew, praying, "Anything but that, Lord; anything".


j a n said...

This is a great post. It reminds me of a friend who I met while we were both working at a Christian summer camp. On the weekends, some of us would invite her to go with us to the movies, or other activities. She declined most of the summer. She told us later (when she finally joined us) that she was going home every night to desperately pray that God would bring her friends! :-) I think we often do that with God's will - we shut ourselves in our rooms and pray for his very specific will for our lives, while ignoring all the general ways we can live and move and serve in His will every day.

Weekend Fisher said...

That would be funny if it weren't so sad. I hope things worked out better for her.

Brian said...

As I've gotten older - and perhaps a bit wiser(ha ha) - I've become convinced that God is much more concerned with how we do than what we do.

As you mention, this practice of discerning God's will can take us away from the things we know to do. But I think it can also distract us from Christ himself. We can become so focused on trying to find out what we should be doing that we stop dwelling on the beauty of Christ and what he has done and become for us.

Thanks for the post!