“…we haven’t stopped praying for you, asking God to give you wise minds and spirits attuned to his will, and so acquire a thorough understanding of the ways in which God works.” (Colossians 1:9-14)
I’ve been thinking about this verse for a few months now, ever since I read it in The Message last spring.
Right next to that verse, I wrote in the margin: This is a good prayer! You need to pray this for yourself!
I knew the instant I read it that I wanted exactly that: a wise mind and a spirit attuned to God’s will. The problem was, how to get there?
After thinking about it long and hard, I came up with four steps I think are key in learning to discern God’s will. Granted, this isn’t magic. You won’t be blessed with instant clarity and conviction. But I do think these steps offer some guidance or a framework as we navigate the often-murky, always circuitous path of faith.
1. Pray It – Just as Paul and Timothy prayed this desire for the Colossians, we need to pray it for ourselves. Ask God to give you a wise mind and a spirit attuned to his will. Ask him for clarity, for the ability to recognize his will for your life. And keep asking. His answer doesn’t always come right away.
2. Practice It – Recognizing God’s will is tricky business, if you ask me. It’s not always clear – God doesn’t use sky-writing or billboards to convey his message. And so we need to practice it, daily, hourly, sharpening our ability to hear and see.
Maybe practice means stopping and being still for five or ten minutes a couple of times a day. Busyness and distraction drown out God’s quiet voice.
Or perhaps it means being more diligent about studying God’s word. Paul says, “As you learn more and more how God works, you will learn how to do your work.” (Colossians 1:9-12) And how do we learn how God works? It’s all right there, laid out in the Bible.
Or maybe it simply means listening to your instincts. I’m a big believer in the Holy Spirit nudge. When I get that tell-tale feeling in my gut, prompting me to act, it’s often God speaking to me. Of course, whether I follow through on the gut-nudge is another story … which brings me to the next step…
3. Brave It – Sometimes we recognize God’s will, but we don’t want to heed it – out of fear, awkwardness, inconvenience or plain laziness. Sometimes our hearts are attuned to God’s will, but our heads chicken out. As Francis Chan said, “The Spirit of the living God is guaranteed to ask you to go somewhere or do something you wouldn’t normally want or choose to do.” The choice is ours. Will we be brave enough to say yes?
4. Repeat It – I wish I could say the previous steps have become second-nature and that I now walk with God in perfect sync. But the truth is, I’ve fallen off the God-will wagon more times than I can count. I’ll be diligent with this practice for a while, and then I’ll forget about it, inevitably left wondering why God’s will seems foggier than ever. The only solution, I’m afraid, is to start at step one and begin the process again.
Pray It. Practice It. Brave It. Repeat It.
It’s not foolproof. It’s work, for sure. But it’s good work. It’s rich work. It’s work that will yield contentment, peace and true joy. The key is to stick with it.
Questions for Reflection:
Do you feel like you’re pretty adept at discerning God’s will? Or are you often caught in the fog, never quite sure if you’re hearing from God? Which of these steps do you think would be most helpful for you?
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