Up until May 25 2001, it felt like my career was just me wandering in the desert with no destination in mind. I knew that God had promised to answer us when we asked for wisdom, and that he had promised to instruct us in the way we should go, and that he already had good works in mind for me to do, so I finally asked God a very direct question, “Why don’t you give me any vision for me?” and then I waited silently for an answer. To my astonishment, God answered in a way so clear that it could have been an audible voice, but it wasn’t. What I “heard” was,
“I’ve already told you what to do and you haven’t done it yet. Why would I tell you to do anything different now?”
That was it. That’s a direct quote from God! It took me less than 30 seconds to know what He meant. I felt called to ministry as a teenager but had to get an undergrad degree before going to seminary. While in my undergrad, I realized I only wanted to preach and teach and not do all the other pastoral work. I decided I couldn’t inflict myself on a congregation and not do the full job wholeheartedly, so I decided I had heard God wrong and continued on with the undergrad degree and the career that naturally followed.
But now I had heard from God. It seemed clear that the next step was seminary, but was I really to drop everything and go based on a single thought? We were a one-income family. How would we support ourselves? I was already middle-aged. Who would hire a first-time pastor my age? This was risky business indeed!
I needed to do some serious discernment! I needed to test that my interpretation was correct. So I sought the counsel of family and friends:
- – I told my wife that I thought God wanted me to go to seminary, and her response was, “Finally! I always knew you would!” No one knows you better than your spouse, and if God calls one, He calls the other as well.
- – My siblings also thought I was a natural for the ministry.
- – I spoke with Pastor Marshall, who had known me for fifteen or so years and he affirmed the call. Your pastor can provide a very mature Christian perspective based on personal knowledge of many more cases than just yours, and with their knowledge of you, you will get good, objective help.
- – I met with three mature Christian friends who had known me for many years, and they also affirmed the call.
From then until June 2003, I sought God’s will for what should come after seminary (pastoral work in a church or other work in a specialized ministry) using spiritual practices that have served the church well throughout the millennia:
- – silence and solitude (usually 3 or 4 hours at a time), guided spiritual retreats (extended time of silence and solitude, one to three days at a time and once a seven-day retreat),
- – journaling (to track my thoughts on everything I was discerning about myself and my future and help me see patterns),
- – meditative Scripture reading (known as lectio divina/holy reading,
- – dream analysis (I learned how to do this responsibly at seminary and it was most helpful in understanding what God was doing in my life), and
- – several sessions with a spiritual director.
In addition, the following proved very helpful to support my interpretation of God’s message to me:
- – I had a physical feeling of “rightness” throughout my body about going to seminary. It made sense with who I am.
- – God gave me a calm spirit about all the unknowns where normally I would have had some anxiety over such a big change.
- – And when I thought about “Where is God in all this?” I found him in several episodes of my life since childhood where he was nudging me this.
The result is that I was hired straight into the CEO role of a Christian ministry – the Canadian Council of Christian Charities and started on September 15, 2001. I am still there 17 years later! I have an overarching purpose to my career and God redeemed those wanderings so that every experience, every job, was useful to what I’m doing now.
My takeaway advice for you to discern God’s will?
- 1. Ask God a direct question and then be ready to receive an answer.
- 2. Since God speaks in many ways, be observant. God will reveal His will.
- 3. Test your understanding of His will in community with others.