Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Knowing God's Will: A Real Life Example

The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
Psalm 23

Up to this point in this series of posts you may feel like all I have given you is vague generalities. The truth is I wish I could be more specific. I wish that there was a neat mathematical equation for knowing God's will. There simply isn't. Knowing God's will is a spiritual gift and an acquired skill. It is a gift that only God can give and only you can learn to perfect for yourself as you walk through the valleys of life hand-in-hand with your Savior. One thing that may be helpful however, before we move on to some of the more concrete ways God sometimes uses to give us direction, is for us to pause to look at a real life example of how someone has discerned the Lord's will. Since my knowledge of the intimate inner workings of a person's decision making is limited to myself and my wife, I will have to resort to a personal story. It is somewhat fitting however as this post will serve as a sort of review of the journey the Lord has taken my wife and I on over the last year.

Towards the end of 2009 my wife and I felt led to resign our positions at the church where we were both employed at the time. December 31st of 2009 was our last day of work for the first church we had ever served in full-time ministry. We started 2010 unemployed, with no immediate job prospects. Unemployment was at the highest rate it had been in our lifetime, and I was scared. I had felt led by the Lord to resign, but even I had my doubts about the intelligence of doing so. But discerning God's will isn't always about being certain. In fact, I believe that it will always require a step of faith. At its core it is about wholly accepting as true the fact that God knows better than you what you should do in a given situation.

So I started 2010 on a job search that would last six months. At the time it felt like an eternity. In retrospect I can see how blessed I was to find a job so quickly. I applied to churches all across the nation. In total I believe I applied to more than 75 total. I was desperate for a job. A few months into the search a church in rural Georgia began to show interest. After several phone interviews and even one face-to-face meeting the church told us that we were their top choice. They wanted to move forward and have us come down and meet the people. This will sound crazy but almost immediately I wished I wasn't their first choice. Although we lacked any really clear direction from the Lord, Stacy and I both had an uneasy feeling about this position. I couldn't imagine walking away from what looked like a solid job offer, the only thing resembling a job offer we had received in months, but we simply didn't have a peace about moving forward either. One thing I have learned is that part of discerning God's will is listening to the counsel of wise people in your life. I value my wife's opinion and when she validated the uneasy feeling I already had, it was a big red flag to me. Add to that the fact that God had not indicated to us in any way that He was calling us to go to this church, and Stacy and I felt like we had no choice. We hesitantly walked away. I wasn´t 100% sure it was the right decision when we made it. At the time it was a step of faith, but within a very short period of time Stacy and I were both very confident with the decision. This leads to another important point: Sometimes silence is God's means of showing His will.

After we turned down the opportunity to move forward with the church in Georgia, there was a long drought in our job search. After several months, in order to bring in some money for the family, I took a job as a teller at a bank more than 30 minutes away from our house. I felt like I was on a spiritual island. The Lord was strangely silent. The clear direction that He had given me so freely in the past now seemed absent. In this time I learned that discerning the Lord's will often begins with silence. This silence may seem to drag on forever, but we serve a God who doesn't leave His children in silence forever. He will speak in His time.

Finally about four months into the job search things started to heat up. After several rounds of phone interviews there were two churches near Washington D.C. and one in Nashville that were still interested in us. I was on an airplane returning from an all day face-to-face interview with one of the churches near D.C. when I began once again to plead with God for some direction. I was asking God simple questions and hoping for some sort of an answer. "Lord do you want me to work at this job in Northern Virginia? Do you want us to take this position in Maryland? God is it your will for me to work at Haywood Hills Baptist Church in Nashville?" As I sat in the plane and prayed, God finally gave me that moment of clarity I had been seeking after for so many months. No hoopla or fanfare, just quiet assurance and confidence that I was being called to serve at Haywood Hills. It was hard to believe at first. I hadn't even met anyone from the church. I was set to have my first face-to-face interview with them in just a few days, and I hardly knew anything about the church. Over and over again I repeated that question to the Lord for weeks. Consistently and patiently He gave me the same answer every time. A quiet assurance in my gut, in my heart, and in my mind that this was what He was calling me to do.

The problem now was timing. Haywood Hills was still at a fairly early stage in their hiring process. I was one of three candidates with no guarantee that they would pick me. In the meantime two of the churches I had been interviewing with told me that I was their number one choice and they wanted to move forward. Stacy and I knew that God had called us to Haywood Hills, but what if the church didn't get the same direction? These other churches wanted an answer from us now, and we weren't going to hear back from Haywood Hills for a few more weeks. Again, with some fear, Stacy and I took a step of faith. We told the other churches that although we did not have any desire to shut the door on them completely, we did finally feel that God had revealed His will to us and that He was leading us in another direction. We didn't feel that it would be right to allow them to fly us out for further interviews and meetings without them knowing our hearts were elsewhere. The churches chose to wait, Stacy and I waited, and I am sure that Haywood Hills also waited for our sovereign Lord to work everything out in His timing.

Waiting is an apt characterization of discerning God's will. This spiritual discipline often involves much waiting. It involves acknowledging that we are not in control and that He is. That we do not know what is best for us, and that He does. That we are completely dependent upon Him for our every need, and that we will continue to wait until He chooses to light our path in His timing.

In the end, God proved faithful. Haywood Hills also felt the Lord's leading and the church voted almost unanimously to call me to serve as their Minister to Youth and Children. And because of the long process that our Lord took us through, Stacy and I know for absolute certain that this is where we have been called to serve which brings us real peace. In the end what started as perhaps the most difficult thing that Stacy and I had ever experienced became our greatest blessing. Walking through this storm with our Savior taught us so much more about God's goodness and trustworthiness than we ever would have learned otherwise. There are some things you just can't learn by reading about them. I believe that the full magnitude of God's faithfulness is one of those things. I hope that you get the chance to experience that goodness in real life ways just like I did, even if it involves walking with Him and discerning His will through difficult situations.

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