To Be Open To Discern God’s Will And Ways
How do you discern God’s will? a 7-step process
God doesn’t play hide-and-seek with us. This 7-step process for discerning God’s will is the most popular post on this blog. It’s not a prescription, but it’s what I use and I’m sharing it with you.
Almost two years ago, in the middle of a family dinner, my twenty-something son popped a question. “Mom, how do you know the difference between faith-based trust and stupidity?”
My son loves the shock-factor. He’s a master at getting your attention. This was his way of opening up a discussion about how to discern God’s will. He and his new wife had many different forks in their road. There was one they wanted to take, but they wanted assurance it wasn’t a “stupid” move.
At the time, my husband and I were trying to make major decisions and discerning God’s will for our path as well. We had been reading and listening to sermons until all the theologians had become one talking head in our heads. We still didn’t have a full answer for him, but we talked it through and applied Scripture to what we did know.
During the last two years, all six of us have maneuvered more forks than I can count and made multiple life-altering changes.
Having recently navigated another crossroad, I decided to write about my process in case it’s helpful to you.It’s a seven-step outline for sorting through the options and priorities in front of me.
But first, a few “ground rules.”
1-Understand the 90/10 percentage principle
The majority of preachers my husband and I follow are insistent on getting this major point across when it comes to how to discern God’s will. In essence, they say:
If you are not following through onGod’s revealed will for your character,stop trying to figure out
his specific purpose for your choices.
One article put it this way:
“90 percent of God’s will for my life is the same as 90 percent of God’s will for your life. (Actual results may vary.)… We’re all supposed to do the Bible stuff. And there’s a lot of it.…once we start doing the 90 percent, it usually opens us up to seeing the 10 percent more clearly.”
So true. So foundational. So important
And yet, so NOT helpful if you have been seeking after him in the 90 percent.
For those who are trying to walk in the light, confessing and repenting of known sin, bathing life with worship and the Word, you ly desire input on how to discern that remaining “10 percent.”
But the teaching about lining up the other 90% of your walk is foundational and worth noting.
2-Understand the limitations of a blog post
Godly counsel is a key factor in navigating life’s twists and turns.
Just as my husband and I give it to our children, so we seek it from our own parents and spiritually mature friends we trust.
I love talking with friends about how God is working in their lives. I realize it’s not a prescription for how he will work in mine — but it gives me insight and hope.
This is one reason I write: to share stories of God’s faithfulness and remind you that you’re not alone.
But blog posts and podcasts or whatever other medium are not a substitute for the Church, the Scriptures, and godly counsel. I hope you have people in your life who talk things through with you in light of Scripture and tell you the truth.
As I share my journey and my process, it’s important to note:It’s not a formula or a prescription.
It doesn’t even always work this for me.
With all that said, here it is.
Identify desires of the heart and take them before the Lord via journaling and prayer.
This simple advice about journaling and recording prayers and thoughts has been given to me and given by me numerous times.
It’s mission-critical in my process and I often hear back from those I’ve counseled about how powerful this one step was in bringing clarity to their jumbled thoughts.
Study relevant concepts in Scripture, asking the Spirit to intercede and direct.
This includes structured Bible studies with groups as well as personal devotion and study time.
The greatest source of godly instruction should be your church. If you’re not following God’s will by living in community with other believers, placing yourself under the authority of his leaders, and worshipping him regularly, how can you expect to discern his will on the issues far less important to him?
Record related godly instruction (from trusted sources) that speaks to the subject (sermons, Bible studies, podcasts, books, and articles).
I end up with notes on my phone, laptop, a spiral in my Bible, and even a mini-spiral in my purse when I’m in the deep middle of trying to make a decision with God’s guidance.
Alongside these notes, I reflect on how what I’m hearing and seeing from biblically-based sources correlates to my past experiences and lessons learned. I consider God’s unique equipping, passion, and priorities he’s revealed for my life thus far.
Watch to see how 1-3 correlate.
(This may take time, but I always begin to see threads and themes.)
I talk it out with my husband or someone else I trust to tell me the truth if it sounds I’m trying to knit threads that weren’t meant to be crocheted. ~wink.
Pray. Pray. Pray.
Organize thoughts by outlining ideas, options, and possible steps — rearranging, sorting, and refining as I pray.
(Some would call this a “brain dump.”)
I still have whiteboards left over from our homeschooling days. They’ve followed me from Texas to Virginia to Pennsylvania. I can’t do life without whiteboards.
Your “brain dumping” may not be on whiteboards, but the concept of sketching, moving, erasing, and positioning ideas and steps until they have aligned into something resembling an outline is the same.
The idea is to put it out there, but hold it all loosely until it begins to take shape in tandem with continuing steps 2 and 3. Continue to seek God’s timing and guidance through prayer and be open to godly counsel.
Create a specific plan with a timeframe for changing course if necessary.
(i.e., Don’t quit the plan and make a new one until a certain amount of time has passed.)
At some point, you have to decide on something worth sticking with. Many times the only reason I’ve continued on a path is because it was part of “the plan.”
Just because we act after seeking God’s direction doesn’t mean it will be easy. In fact, it might mean it’s harder than ever.
This is why when you finally do move forward, you need both an outline for the steps and a commitment to continue through to some threshold (either determined by time, milestones, highest sacrifice, etc.).
7-Pray it forward
Pray it forward as I act in confidence, implementing the outlined plan.
Here’s where I choose to trust that God is big enough to redirect if I’m moving in a direction he disapproves.
It’s a combination of doing and purposing, while continually seeking and praying. I’ve seen it work on each end of the time spectrum:
- Sometimes it’s the “long game,” as I wait patiently with deliberate intention for the Lord to answer and give me confidence and courage to act.
- However, it’s also the groundwork that sets me up to act quickly when I believe he is answering through an opportunity.(See: Praying & acting in confidence)
As mentioned, moving forward (even with a clear direction from God) doesn’t ensure the path will be easy. In fact, if your calling has any kingdom potential, you can trust the enemy will throw temptations and trials your way. (This is discussed more in part two ~ see below.)
As I prepared to write this post, I surveyed my family again. There were four key takeaways from that discussion. It’s interesting to hear how your children have deciphered and implemented your counsel. These are discussed in part two. Click to read:
4 lessons learned about seeking God’s will
At the end of that post (as well as this one), there’s a link to an index page of other articles I’ve written on discerning God’s will and trusting his timing.
Friend, this is not easy and the enemy would to convince us we are on our own with this thing called life. But that’s a lie.
Our God is a faithful Father who cares, but he hasn’t promised us a spotlight into the future, only a lamp unto our feet.
Which means sometimeswe only get instructions
for one step at a time.
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More Posts on Discerning God’s Will & Trusting his Timing
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This powerful list of articles includes
biblically-based guidance for you in seeking God’s will and trusting His timing.
Making Life & Words Count!
God’s Plan or My Plan?
Ephesians 1:1-20; Colossians 2:2-10:
A. The Plan: We can do many things without God (acquire wealth…start a business…get an education…etc.), but only in God’s will can we find true joy, fulfillment, faithfulness…and expect someday to hear from Him… “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
That wonderful plan God has already designed for your life and mine contains the very best of Purpose, Adventure, Fulfillment, Joy, and new lessons.
B. The Trust:.Whom do you trust? Is there a person in your life with whom you would trust your very life, if necessary? A spouse…a parent…a sibling…a very good friend? Think about that person. And then realize that God loves you infinitely more than that person with whom you would trust your life!
We can trust someone who loves us perfectly…perfect love drives out all fear” 1 John 4:18.
“Then trust the Lord completely, don’t even trust yourself. In everything you do, put God first and He will direct you and crown your efforts with success.” Proverbs 3:5 (LB)
- Eyes focused on things. A failure to yield our possessions. …if there is something you own which you can’t give away, you don’t own it, it owns you!Matthew 25:21…If God doesn’t get your attention on the ‘one-talent’ propositions in life, you’ll never get a chance at the ten talent ones! Our sinful nature…”All we, sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6) The ‘self-made man’ usually worships his creator…self!
- Lack of knowledge about how to find God’s will (from scripture).
There are many tests and formulas. Some valid…some misleading…and some dangerous.
- The ‘closed door/open door’ policy (dashing to and fro looking for ‘open doors’ but finding only what seems to be ‘closed doors.’This is Invalid because:
- Looks for God’s will through a process of elimination rather than seeking God’s best first.
- Fails to employ our God-given Holy Spirit anointed sound mind.
- Allows elements of chance to influence a decision.
- Not all closed doors are really closed…not all barriers are erected by God…some are mirages authored by the enemy to discourage and misdirect..When Paul prayed for an open door in Colossians 4:3, it was not for guidance, but for opportunity. In 2 Corinthians 2:12 he actually chose to walk away from an ‘open door’ in order to find Titus. He chose to do so on the basis of the wise decision that finding Titus was of more value to the cause of Christ!
- Agrees with the Word of God.
- The end involved gives Glory to the Lord Jesus.
- It is reasonable (there are other voices our there).
The ‘God helps him who helps himself theory’
There is no such verse in scripture…God cannot help us when we are blocking His direction by ‘doing it ourselves’ apart from his guidance and power.
- Looking for some big ‘Forty Year Plan.’ Invalid because God’s will is that wonderful settled peace (assurance) that ‘I am doing what God has directed, where He has directed…at this time. God rarely gives more light than needed for the next step.
- Looking for God’s will in ‘Happenings.’ Invalid because although happiness may depend upon ‘happenings’…Joy depends only upon God!
- Looking for God’s will in some location or vocation. Invalid because God’s will is a Relationship (with Christ)…not a geographical or vocational search.
- What about a ‘fleece’ (Judges 6:36-40)? Gideon’s fleece was not for guidance because God had already given specific guidance. Gideon was not asking for circumstantial evidence, but for confirmation
- The ‘closed door/open door’ policy (dashing to and fro looking for ‘open doors’ but finding only what seems to be ‘closed doors.’This is Invalid because:
His will for our lives is not designed as a complicated mystery or puzzle which we have to decipher. He is a God of love.
Psalm 25:14…”The Lord Confides In Those Who Reverence Him. He Makes His Covenant Known To Them.”
John 7:17 “Anyone Who Chooses To Do God’s Will, Shall Know It.”
- Are you willing to do God’s will BEFORE you know what it is?
- Are you, right now, clean? …cleansed according to 1 John 1:9 (Spiritual Breathing). We cannot expect to know God’s will if we are knowingly harboring unconfessed sin.
- Are you surrendered …focused on Christ? (Filled with the Holy Spirit…according to Ephesians 5:18)?
GOOD NEWS: If Christ is on the throne of your life right now…you are in the exact center of God’s will for your life…because God’s will is not a location or vocation…it is a relationship. When we stay in that relationship, the vocation/location issues work themselves out in many natural and supernatural ways!
Why are We Here?
Our first and foremost ‘calling’ is a simple one. We are called to Jesus. That is, we are called to know Jesus more and more…better and better. We are called to an intimate relationship with the Lord of Lords.
Secondly: There is a unique calling common to ALL Christians? We are appointed as Ambassadors for Christ (2 Corinthians 5:20. The Great Commission to make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20) should be a continuous measurement of the use of our time, talent and treasure. Never lose sight of your primary calling.
II Timothy 4:5…But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist “discharge all the duties of your of your ministry.” This is not an instruction to be a ‘Billy Graham’…but simply to do the ‘work’ of evangelism as a valid portion of your daily lifestyle.
God is looking for full-time Christian architects, engineers, plumbers, postmen, butchers, policemen, carpenters, scientists, nurses, etc.
From time to time God will bring us to an ‘intersection’ in our life when an imminent change is obvious…He is about to open a new ‘chapter’ in our adventure and the Calling of following Jesus.
As we seek to discern His will in regard to an approaching ‘change, it is often helpful to remember the following:
- Do Our Homework (gathering the facts). God specializes in the impossible (doing for us what we cannot do). But He will not do for us what we can clearly do with our own Holy Spirit-empowered mind…i.e. investigate fully all ‘options’ He has opened before us (there is always more than one and usually at least three potential ‘good’ options).
Evaluation. Each option should be evaluated and measured by the following criteria:
- Prayer. Ask God to guide and thank Him for wisdom.
- Make a ‘pro and con’ list evaluating the opportunities each option offers for spiritual ministry (point V-b above).
- A comparison to ‘heart’s desire.’ If you have been walking with the Lord (Christ on the throne), then the ‘desires of the heart’ are a valid confirmation. Psalm 37:4…”Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.” ‘Delighting yourself in the Lord is another way of describing ‘Christ on the throne’ lifestyle…a focus and close relationship with God which gives Him access to our heart (decision-making center) and…to implant a desire for that very thing in our heart…the ‘next chapter’ which he is about to open to us.Since only God, our Creator, knows what will enable us to be fruitful, fulfilled and foster maturity, only He can design a future tailored to our unique needs, talents and gifts. John 10:10 says Jesus came to give us abundant life. Thus…when the Lord reveals the next ‘chapter’ prepared for us and we say, ‘Thank you, Lord, that is just what I want’…is that not a manifestation of the abundant life?…doing what we were created to do and doing it with all our heart!
- Take the counsel of men and women-of-God whose testimony and walk-with-the-Lord you respect.
- The inner voice of the Holy Spirit.
- Convergence and timing of circumstances.
Step of Faith. When there is a certain synchronization of the above evaluations on one of the options, then is the time for a ‘Step of Faith.’ Not a ‘leap’ or ‘jump’…but merely a step…in the direction of that option.
Psalm 37:23, 24…“If the Lord delights in a man’s way he makes his steps firm; although he stumble he will not fall for the Lord upholds him with His hand.” The step may be a very small one…such as filling an application…or going for an interview.
But a ‘step of faith’ is very important. Some Christians commit the error of doing their homework and evaluation but then sitting and waiting on God to give a sign or otherwise overtly confirm. But if that were the way God leads, faith would not be needed.
“Without faith it is impossible to please God.”…Hebrews 11:6
Confirmation. The ‘step of faith’ allows God to confirm the direction of the ‘step’ by delivering His Perfect Peace (the Peace that transcends all comprehension…Philippians 4:7)…or…a perfect lack-of-peace.
The difference between these two is unmistakable. If the peace is there, keep stepping…in the direction toward that option…and God will continue to confirm. If the peace is lacking, re-evaluate and pray again about the options.
Then take another ‘step of faith.’
“How can I Recognize my Destiny?
First it’s a desire that won’t let you go. Paul cried, “woe to me, if I do not preach…(1 Corinthians 9:16). Being queen was Esther’s position, but saving god’s people was her destiny. That’s why she risked everything and said, “…If I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16). We’re not important–God’s purpose is!
Second, your destiny will be more than a job, it’ll be a joy. Yes there will be sacrifices but through it all you will say, David,“I delight to do thy will, O my God.” (Psalm 40:8) What a way to live!
Third your destiny will unlock your creativity. It will open doors and bring the right people to you. God’s purpose always carries with it God’s favor!
Finally, your destiny fulfilled is the only thing you will want to face God with. He won’t say ‘well done’ over the money you’ve made or the reputation you’ve built. He’ll only say it because you found and fulfilled His purpose.
This world delivers doubt and deathBut we are dying tooFor no bomb is so surely mortal
As death inside of you.
Learn to Discern the True Way From False Ways, and Welcome Jesus
Hello brothers and sisters of Spiritual Q&A:
In the last few years, the pastors and elders often told us, “Now all sorts of disasters have occurred and the prophecies of the Lord’s return have basically been fulfilled. This shows that now is the end of the last days and the critical time for the return of the Lord.
However, all manner of heresies and false ways will appear to deceive us as well, so we should watch and pray and adhere to the name and the way of the Lord.
If someone is preaching that the Lord has returned, we should refuse to listen to, read, or get in touch with it, lest we be deceived and thus be abandoned by the Lord.
” But some believers in God said, “If we do not listen to, read, or contact it for fear of being deceived—giving up eating for fear of choking, can we welcome the Lord?” So I want to ask a question: Is it right that we close our door and wait alone for fear of being deceived? What are your opinions on this question?
Hello Brother Guangming:
This question you’ve brought up is crucial, because it is connected to whether or not we can welcome the Lord. In fact, it is also the confusion of many brothers and sisters in the Lord. Now let’s have a fellowship about this question.
Things That Come From God Make Us Firm and Courageous; Fear Comes From Satan
It is a fact that all manner of heresies and false ways will appear when the Lord comes again in the last days. At such a critical time, for fear of being deceived, we refuse to listen to and read anything related to the Lord’s return, or contact anyone who preaches the Lord’s return.
In this way, although we won’t be deceived by false ways, we could easily miss the chance to welcome the true God at the same time. This is Satan’s plot. We believers in the Lord all know that God is almighty and that everything in the world is in God’s hands. Jehovah God said: “And lest your heart faint, and you fear for the rumor that shall be heard in the land” (Jeremiah 51:46).
2 Timothy 1:7 also says: “For God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” From these verses, we can see that what God gives us are strength and courage, rather than timidity and fear. Fear doesn’t come from God but from Satan. The God we believe in is the only true God, and He is the greatest among everything.If we have God’s care and protection and have the presence and leadership of the Holy Spirit, is there any need for us to be afraid of being deceived? As long as we sincerely believe in God, rely on and look up to God, we will obtain God’s leadership and guidance and be able to discern between true and false and right and wrong.
If we dare not listen to the message about God’s return because all manner of heresies and false ways will appear in the last days to deceive people, aren’t we being fooled by Satan? Haven’t we fallen into Satan’s tricks?
Faith Comes by Hearing, So Only by Seeking and Investigating Can We Welcome the Lord
The Bible said: “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17). So we must hear the way first before believing in it. Only through hearing the way can we judge whether or not it is the true way and the work of the true God.
Thinking back to the time when the Lord Jesus did His work, the Pharisees widely slandered and condemned the Lord Jesus. They said that the Lord Jesus was not the Messiah and that He broke the laws to heal people and work on the Sabbath, and even blasphemed Him, saying that He cast out demons with the help of the demon king, etc.
Not only did they deny that the work of the Lord Jesus is the true way, but they misled the Jewish commoners and prevented them from seeking and investigating the true way.
But some people, such as Peter, Matthew, Mark, John, the Samaritan woman, and so on, didn’t believe the rumors of the Pharisees, nor did they allow the fear of being deceived prevent them from hearing the gospel of the Lord. Instead, they desired to hear the Lord Jesus’ sermons, and followed and listened to the Lord Jesus wherever He was preaching.
It was because they had a seeking and yearning heart that they recognized that the Lord Jesus’ words are the voice of God and saw the appearance of Messiah. At last they went out from the law, and accepted the work of the Lord Jesus, thus gaining the salvation and blessings of God. Was all of this not because of their going out to hear sermons?
It is mentioned many times in Revelation: “He that has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Revelation 2-3). The Lord Jesus also said: “Seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7). The Lord Jesus told us that God would speak again when He returned in the last days.Only by paying attention to God’s voice and actively seeking and investigating can we welcome the Lord’s return. Yet the pastors and elders ask us not to listen to and read anything related to the Lord’s return, or contact anyone who preaches the Lord’s return.
Are they not betraying the words of the Lord Jesus? If we listen to the pastors and elders, how can we welcome the Lord’s return?
It Is Key to Learn How to Distinguish the True Way From False Ways
Now we know that if we want to welcome the Lord’s return, we need to actively seek instead of passively defending. In addition, the most critical aspect is that we must grasp the principles of distinguishing the true way and the false way. Only in this way will we never be deceived.
So how should we discern between them? Let’s take a look at God’s words and see what He says about this: “And so, in distinguishing whether or not it is the true way, above all you must look at whether or not there is the work of the Holy Spirit, after which you must look at whether or not there is the truth in this way.
This truth is the life disposition of normal humanity, which is to say, that which was required of man when God created him in the beginning, namely, all of normal humanity (including human sense, insight, wisdom, and the basic knowledge of being man).
That is, you need to look at whether or not this way takes man into a life of normal humanity, whether or not the truth that is spoken of is required according to the reality of normal humanity, whether or not this truth is practical and real, and whether or not it is most timely.
…There is one other principle, which is whether or not man has an increasing knowledge of God, whether or not experiencing such work and truth can inspire a love of God in him, and bring him ever closer to God. In this can be measured whether or not it is the true way.
Most fundamental is whether this way is realistic rather than supernatural, and whether or not it is able to provide the life of man. If it conforms to these principles, the conclusion can be drawn that this way is the true way.”
From this passage, we can see that if it is the true way, there must be the work of the Holy Spirit. This is the key to distinguishing the true way from false ways. Since it is the true way, it is surely the work of God Himself, and it must be upheld by the Holy Spirit.
For example, when the Lord Jesus was working in the Age of Grace, He was subjected to the frenzied persecution and condemnation of the Roman government and the Jewish religion. However, nobody could hinder God’s work from advancing: The gospel of the Lord Jesus was increasingly prosperous. This was achieved by the work and the leadership of the Holy Spirit.And all those who had followed the Lord Jesus obtained the work of the Holy Spirit. As long as they prayed to the Lord Jesus, they would be filled with peace and joy, and see God’s blessings and leadership.
Because the true way is the work and the word of God in a new age, and is definitely upheld by the Holy Spirit, people who have accepted the true way can enjoy the work of the Holy Spirit, and their faith and love toward God become greater and greater.
If it is not the true way, it won’t be accompanied by the work of the Holy Spirit or upheld by the Holy Spirit, and its followers won’t have true faith or love toward God. We often say: That which stems from God must prosper and that which stems from man must be defeated. Thus, we can discern whether it is the true way according to whether there is the work of the Holy Spirit or not.
In addition, if it is the true way, there must be the expression of the truth. This is because only God is the truth, the way and the life, and only He can give us mankind life and supply us corrupt mankind according to our actual need.
For example, when the Lord Jesus came, He ended the Age of Law and initiated the Age of Grace.
He brought people grace in abundance and bestowed upon them many truths: One can be forgiven of his sins by confessing and repenting; those who are humble, who hunger and thirst for righteousness, and who are persecuted in the name of righteousness are blessed and can enter into the heavenly kingdom; one should be tolerant and forgiving of others and love his enemies; one should bear the cross; one should worship God with heart and honesty, etc. These truths are what people of that time didn’t understand, what people needed in life, and the path to practice in the new age. That’s to say, if it is the true way, it can bring people new paths of practice; if it can’t bring people new paths of practice but repeats the previous work and word of God, it is not the true way; maybe it is the old way or the false way, or maybe it is the work of the evil spirit and Satan that imitate God’s past work to deceive people.
What’s more, in weighing whether or not it is the true way, we must look at whether it can enable us to have more and more knowledge of God and whether it can arouse our love for God. As is known to all, when God comes to do His own work, He certainly expresses His disposition and all that He has and is.
After experiencing the work of God, people will naturally gain true knowledge of God. For example, in the Age of Law, God decreed laws to guide man’s life on earth.By experiencing God’s work and guidance, people knew that God is present everywhere; God looks upon the entire earth; God’s disposition is majesty and curse and is inviolable by any man. So, they developed a God-fearing heart. In the Age of Grace, God was incarnated into the world and did the work of redemption of mankind.
Through experiencing the work of the Lord Jesus, people realized that not only is God’s disposition majesty and curse, but also love and compassion. They also saw that not only is God a Spirit but He can also become flesh and humble Himself to be a man. He can talk with people face to face and He is full of love and tolerance….
All the work the Lord Jesus did brought people a new knowledge of God and aroused more love for God within them. Therefore, if it is the true way, it can bring man more knowledge of God and His disposition.
If we grasp these principles of distinguishing the true way and the false way, we’ll not fear being deceived.
The Lord Jesus said: “And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom comes; go you out to meet him” (Matthew 25:6).
The Lord reminded us that if we want to welcome His return, we first need to actively seek and investigate, and need to grasp the principles of distinguishing between the true way and the false way and pay attention to listening for God’s voice to see if it contains God’s utterance. Only by doing so can we be the wise virgins.
If for fear of being deceived we still hold on to our conceptions and do not listen, read, or get in touch—giving up eating for fear of choking, we’ll never be able to welcome the return of the Lord.
Brother Guangming, I hope this fellowship will be useful to you. If you have any other problems, please write to communicate with us!
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7 Steps to Discerning God’s Will in Difficult Situations
- Meadow Rue Merrill
- 2017Apr 24
What happens when life’s reality differs from our expectations—and prayers? Did God ignore our heart-felt petitions? Or was His answer just different from our expectations? How can we discern what is truly God’s will for our lives compared to the curve balls that sometimes take us by surprise?
From the time I was little, I’d planned my life in measured detail. I’d go to college, get married, become a writer, and have two boys and a girl—in that order. Then my husband and I would adopt. “God is going to give you the desires of your heart,” three separate ministers had told me on three separate occasions, and I believed them.
Two weeks after graduating from college, I married my high school sweetheart, Dana. The day we returned from our honeymoon I landed a job as a reporter for a small Maine newspaper. Three years later, our son, Judah, was born. We welcomed our son, Gabriel, and daughter, Lydia, soon after. God had indeed given me the desires of my heart, with one exception.Over the years we’d been married, Dana and I had often talked of adoption. But he wasn’t sure we were ready. So, together we prayed, “Lord, if you have another child for us, you will have to bring that child to us.” We wouldn’t pursue it.
Sometime later, I walked into a friend’s church for the last night of Vacation Bible School. Our boys had been coming all week. Judah, six, and Gabriel, four, darted through the packed sanctuary to join their classmates. Towing sixteen month Lydia through the crowd, Dana and I slid into a pew beside my friend Theresa.
“Do you want to meet Ruth?” she asked.
It took me a moment to remember the baby that Theresa and her family were hosting from an orphanage in Uganda. Ruth, who had cerebral palsy, was here for six months of physical therapy. Then she was scheduled to return to her orphanage, Welcome Home Africa, unless someone wanted to adopt her. Theresa had told me about her several weeks before.
Since leaving our decision to adopt with God, Dana and I hadn’t talked about it. Not once. But in a quiet moment alone, I’d offered up this feeble prayer: “Lord, if you want us to adopt, you will have to put it in Dana’s heart too.”
That night at church, people squeezed against the pews as Allen made his way up the crowded aisle. Then I saw the baby dangling from his arms.
She was scrawny and limp and dressed in a shapeless pink onesie that sagged where a round tummy and chubby thighs should have stretched it tight. Dana was looking too.
I couldn’t see his face, couldn’t tell what he was thinking. But my heart was doing flips. I couldn’t take my eyes off her.
“This is Ruth.” Theresa beamed.
“Want to hold her?” Allen dropped Ruth into Dana’s arms without waiting for a reply.
Ruth’s head flopped against his shoulder. Tiny fingers curled into her palms, but she was smiling—a lopsided, baby-toothed “Here I am” smile that creased her cheeks and made her dark eyes gleam. Ruth’s head was fringed with a thin scrub of curls.Her skin was the color of gingerbread, and she was beautiful, stunning, with a high, rounded forehead and a fat little pucker of a nose. Dana wiggled a finger, holding it out for Ruth to grab. Instead, she wrinkled her nose and let out a deep “hee-hee-hee” that stiffened her entire body.
For being so weak, Ruth’s happiness was contagious, and we laughed too.
“Can she talk?” I asked.
Theresa shook her head.
“Will she? I mean, will she be able to?”
“It’s too early to tell.” Theresa shrugged. “Ruth only started therapy a couple of weeks ago.
“Want a turn?” Dana held Ruth toward me.
“Sure.” I nodded.
Dana slid Ruth into my arms. Her body was alternately stiff and then limp, as if someone had forgotten to tighten her muscles. Her right eye turned weakly toward her nose. Ruth’s head rolled forward and back, forward and back. A sudden urge to protect her overwhelmed me. Don’t say it, I thought, handing Ruth back to Dana. Don’t say a word.
Amazingly, Dana said it for me, “So, do you want to adopt her?”
“Are you joking?” He had to be crazy.
I had been praying and dreaming of this moment for decades, but not once had I imagined adopting a child with disabilities.
The thought of spending the rest of our lives taking care of someone who might never be able to take care of herself scared me. Yet here Ruth was, smiling from the cradle of my husband’s arms.
Was this God’s answer to our prayers? If so, it looked radically different from what I expected.
Maybe you’ve faced a similar predicament. That long prayed for job or ministry opportunity lacks the outcome you imagined. Or that wonderful man you felt called to marry left you feeling lonely and disappointed. Or perhaps the path you felt God directing you to follow now seems barren and barred by obstacles.
In such situations, our choice is to trust God and draw closer to him or to trust ourselves and potentially miss the fullness of his plans and blessings. That was the decision Dana and I faced after meeting Ruth. Trust God? Or trust ourselves? And how do we really know whether we are in step with God’s plan when it appears so different from what we expected?
I was blessed to grow up with a God seeking, Bible-believing, Spirit filled mom who encouraged me to search out God’s plans for my life. Early on, I felt drawn to Africa and helping orphans.I also felt called to write, but I had no idea how God would bring these paths together. That part of the puzzle was God’s.
Mine—and now Dana’s—was to rely on the Holy Spirit and walk in faith as we sought to discern that plan.
Rather than impulsively leaping forward or fearfully turning back, we took seven crucial steps—one at a time.
No matter what decision you are facing or what obstacles stand in your path, these seven steps will help you discern God’s will in difficult situations.
1. Recall what brought you here.
For Dana and I, the idea of adopting wasn’t the blue. God had planted a love for orphans in my heart from childhood. While Dana’s experience was different, as soon as he held Ruth, God awakened that love in him in a clear answer to my previous prayer. When facing a decision that doesn’t look the way you expect, take time to reflect on whether this fits your passion and prayers.
“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, so that we should walk in them,” Ephesians 2:10 says. Before you were even born, God created you with a passion and a purpose, and he will prepare you.
2. Set aside time to pray and seek God’s will rather than your own.
Instead of giving in to fear and doubt, Dana and I set aside two months to pray while waiting to see whether another family would step forward to adopt Ruth.
When none did, we took this as God’s leading to spend more time with Ruth and see what caring for her was . To discern God’s will, designate a specific period of time to pray.
“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives to all men liberally without criticism, and it will be given to him,” says James 1:5.
3. Search for confirmation in God’s Word.
While my emotions were all over the place—one moment excited, another moment scared at the possibility of adopting Ruth—God’s Word is unchanging.
As Dana and I sought God’s will, he led us to Scriptures encouraging us to share with those in need, feed the hungry, and care for orphans. Clearly, adoption is in keeping with God’s desire. “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path,” Psalm 119:105.
Use God’s word as a guide when seeking God’s purpose. Do your plans line up with his? Then proceed to the next step.
4. Pursue wise council.
Since neither Dana nor I knew much about cerebral palsy, we talked to our pediatrician. We also got to know several families with children who had cerebral palsy, asking them their experiences and learning about local programs for children with disabilities. And we talked to adoption agencies and lawyers to find out what steps adopting Ruth would require.
“Where there is no counsel, the people fall; but in the multitude of counselors there is safety,” says Proverbs 11:14. While we don’t rely on man’s wisdom alone, God often uses people to increase our wisdom. These might be prayer warriors, ministry leaders, or others with experience in the area about which you are seeking to make a decision.
5. Seek unity.
If God was calling us to adopt Ruth, we knew he’d call our children as well. As we spent time with Ruth, we carefully observed our children’s reactions. Surprisingly, our children were Ruth’s biggest advocates, always encouraging her and cheering her on.
“I ask you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all speak in agreement and that there be no divisions among you. But be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgement,” I Corinthians 1:10 says.
While we knew that adopting a child with disabilities would not be easy, we knew that God was guiding us together.
6. Rely on the Holy Spirit to reveal what your natural understanding cannot.
God faithfully directs his children. He does not leave us wandering about in doubt and confusion. “When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all truth,” John 16:13 says, “… He will tell you things that are to come.”
Two years before we met Ruth, God gave my mother a dream in which Dana and I had twin girls. “Two girls were diving off a dock into the water,” she’d told me.
“They sprang up—way, way up—into the air Olympic divers. Then they crossed their arms over their chests before spinning down and disappearing into the water with a splash.
They were strong and athletic and very graceful. I knew they were yours.”
Unknown to my mom, I was pregnant with our third child. An ultrasound later revealed only one baby. The following March, we joyously welcomed our daughter, little imagining what God had in store.
More than a year later, as Dana held Ruth in church, I asked Theresa how old she was.
“Fifteen…sixteen months?” Theresa ticked off the numbers on her fingers, looking to Allen. “You remember, honey?”
Everything else faded—parents filling the pews, Lydia leaning against my knee, our children lining the front of the church.
“When’s her birthday?” I asked.
“April,” she said. “April 17.”
Two weeks after Lydia’s. It struck Dana the same way it struck me. “Twins?” he mouthed silently.
With the astonishing revelation of Ruth’s age, Dana and I felt emboldened to pursue God’s plan. Yes, we still walked through all the other steps of discernment, but we did so with greater confidence.
7.Walk in faith.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding,” Proverbs 3:5-6 says. “In all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”
All the other steps are pointless if we don’t follow up with action. To adopt Ruth, our family faced numerous hurdles. There was money to raise. Lawyers to hire. A whirlwind trip to plan to East Africa. Tests that would reveal further disabilities. But through it all, we kept walking faith, confident that adopting Ruth was indeed God’s plan.
Along the way, God blessed us with a love for Ruth as deep as for our other children. Watching her learn and grow was a greater delight than we ever anticipated. Submitting to God’s will challenged us in ways we never expected and opened our hearts to other children with disabilities. And we almost missed it, all because Ruth wasn’t quite what we expected.
So when God’s plans differ from what you expect, don’t despair. As you begin walking in faith, the path will become clearer—as will your blessings and the ability to see with greater clarity His hand and guidance through our difficult situations.
Image Credit: ©Thinkstock/mavoimages
Meadow Rue Merrill is an award-winning journalist and the author of the memoir, “Redeeming Ruth: Everything Life Takes, Love Restores,” which releases with Hendrickson Publishers in May 2017. She and Dana are the parents of six children and live in a little house in the big woods of midcoast Maine.You can contact Meadow at firstname.lastname@example.org or sign up for her weekly blog, Faith Notes at www.meadowrue.com.