As I talk to people about discerning God’s will, I find that most people have one big question. How do I know that what I am discerning is God’s will and not my will? How can I distinguish between God’s voice and my own voice? Here are 5 helps for knowing the difference:
1. An Assumption Challenged– First, I want to question the assumption that God’s will and your will are different. Why do you think those have to be different. If we each have the Holy Spirit at work within us then why can’t the voice in your head be fully human and fully divine? Why can’t God have prepared your perspective, assumptions, and intuition ahead of time so that you would be ready to discern when the time comes? I think that the distinction between God’s will or voice and our will or voice is much more messy than we assume that it is.
2. Another Assumption Challenged– Most people discern God’s will under the assumption that God has one will and that any alternative is wrong. Why do you think God has only one thing for you? Perhaps sometimes that is true, but more often than not I think that God could be more than one option. It is as if God in His sovereignty can fold our decisions and actions into His plans. The pressure is not all on you to discern God’s will. Pursue God’s will and expect God to either lead or to fix the problem later.
3. Wesley’s quadrilateral– John Wesley talked about how to know something theologically one should run it through the test of scripture, tradition, reason, and experience. Wesley thought that any knew knowledge should be compared to these four things. These four are also really helpful tests for discernment. When you believe you are feeling God’s leading, compare it with scripture, your tradition, your logic, and your experience.
4. Check with trusted people– Not everyone will see things the way you do. Still, a double-check with a trusted voice is never a bad thing in discernment. When you are not sure that it really is God’s will, ask someone to pray with you and hear you out. Ask them to be a sounding board repeating back what they hear in what you say. Sometimes hearing someone else tell you what you are saying can show you the flaws in your thinking and the blind spots in your plans.
5. Forget your own expectations– We do a lot of discernment based on what we thing is possible, what the right decisions should feel like, and how logical a decision should be. This criteria is a recipe for finding your will at the expense of God’s will. Try to become a blank slate with no expectation except that God wants to speak to you. Don’t limit how God speaks or what He should say. Just wait until God speaks and then do what God asks.