Discernment: A Way of Life
Discernment: A Way of Life
For the next several months, we will be exploring the topic of spiritual discernment. I began the year by presenting the prayer of Examen or what I like to now call the awareness Examen. The awareness Examen [capitalize] is designed to help one learn to listen to and become aware of the inner movements of the Spirit, which helps us to live discerning lives. Then last month I turned my focus on our tendency to live our lives as practical deists, those who believe in a God who is not truly involved in our lives, a God who got this whole thing going but has now stepped out of the equation and leaves us to our own devices, dependent on using reason alone to arrive at the decisions of life. During the coming months I will be sharing with you my perspectives on Godís will, what it is, the biblical foundation for the belief that God does guide and direct us, as well as an exploration of the presuppositions I believe form the foundation needed for a lifestyle of discernment. I offer these musings so you can begin to think through what you believe in terms of Godís will, Godís involvement in your life, while also offering you insights that may help you live a discerning life and begin to hear and follow the voice of Jesus.
As I have studied and pondered these things I can already see subtle changes taking place within my heart and the living of my life. My hope is that this may encourage you to think through this important topic of spiritual discernment and take steps to order your life in ways that are consistent with your own view of God and the role God desires to play in your life.
As you read this musing and those to follow, please bear in mind and hold firmly in your heart the following Ė this is not about condemnation, but awareness and the ability to choose as you discover truth and begin to embrace the freedom that truth offers to you.
So letís begin
As we look at spiritual discernment and Godís will there are many areas that vie for our attention. It can be difficult to even determine where to start. For our purposes we will start with Godís will, for here we run into immediate resistance to the idea of the possibility of there even being something one would refer to as an individual will of God.
When it comes to the will of God one question that needs to be answered is how many wills of God are there? There is a general agreement that God has two wills: Godís sovereign will and Godís moral will (both defined below). There are also those, I for one, who would add third will, the individual will of God which will be our focus over the next several month.
a. Sovereign Will - This expression of Godís will focuses on the fact that God ordains everything that comes to pass. There is nothing that happens that is outside of Godís sovereign will. Godís sovereign will is not necessarily revealed before the fact.
b. Moral Will Ė This is Godís declared will as found in the scriptures and concerns what we should or should not do.
Now when it comes to the existence of a third will of God we run into disagreement.
There are many that believe there is no individual will of God. These writers believe that God has expressed his will for us within Godís moral will and thus to do Godís will is a matter of applying those scriptural truths to the circumstances of our lives using wisdom and reason. However, even from a cursory look at scripture it seems pretty clear that God does lead many people in very particular and unique ways, even telling them what to do.
Now those who argue against the existence of an individual will of God do acknowledge that God DID individually lead SOME individuals but those individuals were exceptions to the way God works, and are relegated to a certain period of time, generally before the indwelling of the Spirit and certainly before the completion of the Bible. The argument is that since we now have the completed scriptures that reveal to us Godís moral will to us we are no longer in need of the direct leading of God.
Two major concerns for those who reject the individual will are first that itís subjectivity and that it cannot be established by reason, experience, biblical example, or biblical teaching (Friesen p. 145[i]) which we will deal with in the months to come. But I also believe part of the problem is the way those who reject Godís individual will define it. One strong opponent to the concept of Godís individual will is Garry Friesen (quoted above). Friesen defines the individual will in the following way:
Individual Will is that ideal, detailed life-plan which God has uniquely designed for each believer. This life-plan encompasses every decision we make and is the basis of Godís daily guidance. This guidance is given through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit who progressively reveals Godís life-plan to the heart of the individual believer. Friesen p. 35
Now although I firmly believe that there is an individual will, I do not agree with the above stated definition. Although there are many aspects I agree with in Freisenís articulation of the individual will, there are significant things that I do not agree with and would not include in my definition of the individual will of God. I do believe that guidance is given through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit who communicates to the heart of the believer, a guidance that is uniquely designed by God for that person, and that these communications are given to help the individual to make God-honoring choices regarding the living of their life.
However, when Friesen writes of the individual will as a detailed life-plan that encompasses every decision an individual makes, then I would object that this is making the individual will of God too expansive (every decision) and too precise (detailed life-plan). This portrayal of the individual will of God sets it up to be bulls-eye we need to hit each time - a view of Godís will which I strongly reject.
When it comes to Godís individual will for us I do not see it as a bulls-eye that we must take painstaking aim at with each and every decision, hoping we will always hit it dead center, but rather I see Godís will as a spacious meadow we are invited to live in, explore, even enjoy. The meadow is contained within the fence line of Godís moral will and as long as we are in the meadow all is good. We are free to roam, graze, bound, romp, scamper, napÖ. This is a place of freedom where much of life is lived. However, I do believe that there are times, quite possibly more times that we realize, when God invites us to a particular place within the meadow and this is what I refer to as Godís individual will. It is a will uniquely conformed to the person we are and the person God has created us to be and is communicated to us by God through the Holy Spirit (in a variety of ways we will explore in the months ahead).
I conclude with Dallas Willardís comments regarding those individuals who do not see or have a place for the personal guidance of God in the lives of individuals: it seems to me that one of the most damaging things we can do to the spiritual prospects of anyone is to suggest or teach to them that God will not deal with them specifically, personally, intelligibly, and consciously or that they cannot count on him to do so as he sees fit. Once we have conveyed this idea to them, it makes no sense to attempt to lead them into an honestly personal relationship with God. (Willard p. 107[ii])
What are you thinking? (please do take some time to reflect on the following questions)
1. As you read scripture do you see an individual will of God demonstrated?
2. If you do see an individual will of God do you view it as a meadow you are generally free to roam in or a bullís eye you better hit? Why?
3. Do you believe God still uniquely guides and directs us or is the moral will of God all we need to live a God-honoring life each day? Why/Why not?
4. How about in your own life: have you experienced the personal guidance of God? If yes, how did you know it was God? What was it like to hear from God in a personal way? When is the last time you had a sense of God leading you? If no, why do you think this is?
5. What is your response to Dallas Willardís quote?
6. How would you define Godís individual will?
[i] Gary Friesen. Decision Making and the Will of God.
[ii] Dallas Willard. In Search of Guidance. (now called Hearing God)
Back to Food for Thought