How Can I Know Where God Is Leading Me?
As I prepare to transition from life as a lead pastor at a growing church into the unknown of following where God is leading me as an author, speaker and online communicator, I’ve heard the questions and seen the quizzical looks.
That is, people wonder just how I know that this is God’s direction for my life? How can I be certain I’m doing the right thing?
It’s a question that beats in the heart of anyone who follows Jesus; how can I know for sure I’m following God’s voice and not my own?
I’ve pastored so many people over the years who were content to stay right where they are. “God’s planted me where he wants me,” we proclaim. The main thing that confronts me about a statement like that is my own cowardly heart. I know I would have been content to stay with what I know, and avoid the uncertain.
From the first move into ministry, and continuing to this very moment, every time I’ve contemplated a move, this same scripture has come back to the front of my mind:
“And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ Then I said, ‘Here I am! Send me.’” (Isaiah 6:8 ESV)
As I prepare to once again step into the breach and declare myself available to be sent, I realize that this whole process of going where God leads is an enigma wrapped in a mystery surrounded by a coat of fear for many people.
I’m still impacted by an experience I had as I was preparing to leave my beloved job in radio for the uncertainty of pastoral ministry. I was at a Chinese restaurant with the owner of a local business who I’d become friends with through my work producing his commercials. As I told him of my calling into ministry, I’ll never forget the way he actually pushed away from the table, and with a completely dumfounded look, and asked, “You mean you actually HEAR the voice of God?”
He seemed caught between the urge to crack a joke about it and the realization that if I wasn’t crazy, then I’d been in communication with the maker of the universe himself.
I had just assumed everyone understood prayer, and the divine communication that a believer can have with our Father. I often forget that many people, even churched people, have no idea what it means to hear from God. Clearly.
Just a few days ago, discussing my impending move into what some people see as insanity (which I would joke isn’t really a long trip at all for me!), a friend half-laughed his way through the comment, “Well, I guess you gotta do what you gotta do.”
I don’t want to disrespect someone’s inability to grasp what it means to know for sure that God is leading in a certain direction (because I believe that it’s not uncommon for Him to allow us to choose from several good directions… but that’s another article). Instead, I will share with you some ways that I use discern God’s directions. Many of these things are experiential in nature, but all come into harmony with the way God has directed us down through the ages. Here then, are the signposts that guide me:
1. THE FINGERPRINTS OF GOD
The Psalmist refers to God’s creation as being the works of His fingers (Psalm 8:3, for example). If God’s hands created this, then there must be fingerprints.
When searching out the answer to something puzzling, I look for the divine, sometimes supernatural ways that God is working at the given moment.
When I was struggling to decide what to do with my calling into pastoral ministry, God confronted me in supernatural ways on several occasions. I’ve told these stories elsewhere, but suffice it to say, I got the message.
As I prepared to speak with the denominational leader who I report to in our form of church governance, my mind raced with uneasiness about even speaking of the possibility of leaving a secure job, known income, and a comfortable house. But as I waited for him to arrive, my wife texted me with a clear answer to a big financial concern we’d had. It became crystal clear to me that God was already making the way clear for me to move.
Over these months, there have been other fingerprints I’ve noticed. I’ve been overwhelmed by the people of spiritual integrity who have affirmed that they too believe I’m taking the right steps.
2. NEW VISION
A wise pastor once told me that he knew it was time to leave a church when he no longer had a vision for where to take them, but seemed to be developing a new vision for a new challenge.
In Acts 8, we see that Philip got a vision for what God could do among the Samaritans, and he was proven right. Then, God’s Spirit opened his eyes to the need of the Eunuch, and he made a difference there. As quickly as the work was done, God lead Philip to Azotus to minister. The Spirit guided, gave vision, and Philip obeyed.
I once had a far-reaching vision for what needed to be done at Hope Church. I worked the vision, and followed God’s lead. But in the past few months, I’ve realized that the vision for the future of this work is gone, and has been replaced by clear vision for what I need to pursue now. And so, I will go.
3. THE PUSH
I’m not often wont to disrupt what is comfortable. I mean, really… who is? God has had to give me a significant push each time He has wanted me to be on the move.
Although this is certainly an extreme case, one could argue that God sure gave Saul the push he needed to receive Christ, and become the first Christian missionary under his new name, Paul. I’m no Saul. And I have no pretense that what I’m doing will be anywhere near as significant as what Paul did. But I know what it means to encounter God’s motivating presence when it comes to moving me in a new direction.
No one is forcing my hand to make this move. But I sense that God is leading it. I haven’t been blinded by a great light, but I definitely sense that God is shaking the ground I’m on. That leads to the next factor…
4. IT’S NO LONGER COMFORTABLE TO STAY WHERE I AM
Typically, people will accept change only when it’s more uncomfortable to stay where they are than to move somewhere else. I guess I fit the profile pretty nicely.
Saul’s transition to Paul involved a total change of identity. Every time I’ve had to make a significant change, my identity has changed as well.
Pride would have me be “who I am, where I am.” The determination to follow God means that I can’t possibly know who I am until I allow God to refine me and make me.
I confess that I’m not at all looking forward to the moving process, to finding a new home, to setting up an office away from a church environment, to breaking the known routines of ministry life in a church, and to being away from my current round of friends. But there is no home for me here now. I see that there is a new home, new hope, new people ahead that I must move towards. It’s the only place I’m comfortable now.
5. DECIDING WHO IS LORD OVER MY LIFE
Am I lord over me, or is Jesus my Lord?
Before the leper was healed, the Gospel writers tell us that He worshipped Jesus and declared him to be Lord. Then, he threw himself on the willingness of his savior.
I’ve observed, almost endlessly, that this is the great struggle of the church today. We prefer what we suppose to be the safety of idolatry (a certain church format, look, rule book, a perpetual sameness), over the wild and confusing journey of making Jesus Lord and walking into the uncertain. But when Jesus healed the leper, he broke a significant rule of the church at that time. He committed quite the holy no-no. He TOUCHED a man who had been declared unclean.
Knowing that Jesus did this assures me of several things. I know that I am not to unclean for him to touch, I know that he is willing to break a rule of man to do the stuff of God, and I know that he has His hands on me whenever I bow to His Lordship.
When I’m in turmoil over a big change, I worship, I pray, and I declare Jesus to be Lord over me.
OK, so I just made it sound like that was the first thing I do. No, sadly I’m much more frail than that. However, it’s at the point that I finally bow myself to God’s leading that I can see the most clearly where I’m going. Even if I can’t see clearly where I’m going.
What I mean by that is, I’m willing to walk into uncertainty because I know that the One who is Lord over all is directing my journey.
In my days of transitioning from radio into ministry, I had the offer to move to Nashville, Tennessee to pursue my dream job. Instead, I found myself pastoring at a small rural church in southern Illinois. If I was Lord over me, I would have taken my chances on the music business. With Jesus as Lord, my life found purpose and meaning that nothing else could have given.
I find that a careful analysis can always reveal a move designed to please Greg, and a move made to follow Jesus. It involves sacrifice, uncertainty, and probably even some form of persecution (I use that term carefully, aware that we see such mild forms of persecution in our nation). And it is good.
There are so many pieces to the puzzle of discernment. And frankly, I don’t have the patience for jigsaw puzzles whatsoever. But, as I allow God to lead, He also multiplies my patience. I guess that’s something like the fish and loaf feeding thing He is known to do so well. When I bring him what little understanding, peace of mind, and patience that I have, and I willingly give them to Him, He multiplies them for the journey ahead.
May God bless you richly as you seek to follow His lead as well.