Speak, LORD. Your Servant Is Listening

Edwards_Speak_Lord_smOne day, I sat in the recliner in our cracker-box house and waited for God to speak. I was a seminary student, desperately seeking direction for my life, and I needed to hear from God. I had some big decisions to make, and I wanted to make sure I was doing God’s will. So, I sat in that recliner and waited.

I must have sat there for a couple of hours, begging God to come out in the open and give me the answers I wanted. But, as far as I could tell, God never showed up. I never got the divine revelation I was praying for. Finally, I gave up, got up from the recliner, and made the decisions that needed to be made. But I wasn’t sure at all that I was doing God’s will.

At some point in our lives, most of us ask God to speak to us. We’re standing at some crossroads, and we want to make sure we’re going the right way and doing the right thing. We want God to weigh in on our decision and give us divine counsel. We implore God to speak but, all too often, that doesn’t happen. For whatever reason, God doesn’t speak, and we’re left feeling very much alone.

For reasons yet to be revealed, God has chosen not to speak audibly and directly to most of us. So, we’re left with the possibility of hearing from God indirectly. That means we try our best to discover what God is up to in our world and in our lives. We’re spiritual detectives, trying to sniff out clues about the will of God.

Thankfully, there are some clues, and Christians have been seeking and finding these clues for a long time. If we can discover these four clues, we might be on the way to hearing the voice of God in our lives.

Clue #1: Does this make me ME?
In other words, will this job, this person, this move, this church, or whatever I’m considering enable me to be my authentic self? Does it match up with my personality and temperament? If I make this decision, will I get to have some of those glorious moments when I can exult, “For this I was made”?

Each of us is a unique creation of God, and a part of finding God’s will is finding jobs, people, and circumstances that enable us to be who we are. If the job is not you, don’t take it. If the prospective spouse will not let you be you, call off the wedding. If the church will not let you be you, don’t join it. A vital part of the will of God is being true to the differences to which we have been created and called.

Sadly, it often takes a long time to learn this. As we get older, we start to realize that the instruction manual we were handed when we were young, and told to live our lives by, is not going to build anything even close to resembling who we are supposed to be.

In her book Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake (New York: Random House, 2012), Anna Quindlen writes,

One of the greatest glories of growing older is the willingness to ask why, and getting no good answer, deciding to follow my own inclinations and desires. Asking why is the way to wisdom. Why are we supposed to want possessions we don’t need and work that seems beside the point and a fake tan? Why are we supposed to turn our back on those who have preceded us and to snipe at those who come after?…. One of the useful things about age is realizing conventional wisdom is often simply inertia with a candy coating of conformity. (42)

Not only is conventional wisdom simply inertia with a candy coating of conformity, it also keeps us from finding the will of God. Only when we listen to the still, small voice of uniqueness within us can we hope to hear God.

Clue #2: Does this make me love?
I have long been grateful to that unnamed lawyer who came to Jesus inquiring about the greatest commandment. That question gave Jesus the opportunity to condense all of the more than 600 commandments in the law down to their essence. The greatest commandment, he said, is that we love God with all of our heart, soul, and mind, and that we love our neighbor as we love ourselves (Mt 22:37-40).

In other words, the commandments are primarily about two things: loving God and loving people. That’s the essence of all of those Old Testament commandments and the essence of a life with God. It is God’s will that we love God and our neighbor.

That means that whatever we do, whomever we marry, and wherever we live, we are to love God and our neighbor. So, the second clue for knowing the will of God is, “Does this make me love? Does it stoke my love for God and my love for people?” If the answer is yes, then we have taken a definite step toward finding God’s will.

Clue #3: Does this make me glad?
I hate to admit this, but I grew up believing that my will and God’s will would always be at cross-purposes. My concept of God was so negative that I thought God couldn’t possibly want me to be happy.

It was a great relief to get to the place in my life where I could recognize a God who wanted me to experience joy. Instead of a God who wanted me to be faithful and miserable, I discovered a God who wanted me to be faithful and joyful. I even came to realize that my own gladness was a crucial part of finding God’s will.

What makes us glad? What do we really love to do? What do we look forward to? Answering those questions is a key part of finding the will of God. When we finally settle into the will of God, we will go there singing and dancing.

Clue #4: Does this make me useful?
This fourth question beckons us to look outward and consider how we can best make a difference in the world. How can we be ourselves, love God and people, find great joy in our lives, and influence our world?

The burning passion of Jesus’ life was the kingdom of God. He came into the world to announce that kingdom, tell stories about that kingdom, and get people excited about that kingdom. Then he told his followers to continue that work and to keep building the kingdom of God.

That means it is God’s will for each of us to be useful and to build the kingdom of God where we love, work, and play. As we love our families, serve our church, do our jobs, coach our teams, and do all of the other things normal people do, we do so with one overarching goal: to build a kingdom of grace, faith, gratitude, and humility where we are.

Don’t misunderstand: I still long to hear the audible voice of God. It has been a long time since I sat in that recliner waiting for God to speak, but I still long for that to happen. And maybe some day it will.

But in the meantime, I’ve been searching for clues. And on the more-than-slight chance that God has not audibly spoken to you either, I’m guessing you are searching, too. I hope the four questions I’ve listed help lead you to the will of God.

This article originally appeared in expanded form in the Formations Commentary (January 19, 2014).

Judson Edwards is the author of eleven books, including his latest from Smyth & Helwys Books, Quiet Faith: An Introvert’s Guide to Spiritual Survival. A pastor for more than thirty years, he is currently a freelance writer and speaker. He and his wife, Sherry, live in Cedar Park, Texas.

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