It’s 8:45 and the boys are outside playing and one little girl is begging for a tea party and I’m sweeping a combination of Cheerios, sunflower seeds, and a whole lot of dirt into a dustpan. The light is streaming in from the window outside at just such an angle that my kitchen floor is really showing me what’s on it.
It’s only at a certain time of day, during certain times of the year, that the light comes in just right and illuminates this floor to show me just how often I ought to be pulling out the broom.
If I waited only for moments of illumination to get it done… my goodness, what a mess we’d be walking through.
If you read the post I shared last week, you might be giving some thought to numbering your days to gain a heart of wisdom, knowing that Being Mortal means you have a finite amount of time to achieve your goals on this Earth.
But sometimes that kind of realization can be an “Okay, well now what?” sort of moment. You realize the hourglass is on the table and the sand is pouring — so what are you gonna do about it?
Years ago, I was praying about whether this crazy tug on my heartstrings to move to Scotland and help start a church there was a figment of my imagination or the actual voice of the Lord saying, “This is the way, walk in it…”
I sat across the desk from a pastor I deeply respected and asked for his advice about hearing from God. He gave me a word-picture illustration (obviously the perfect way to explain something to me with my love for words and visual analogies) of a series of lights lining up in a harbor to indicate safe passage to a vessel wanting to navigate their way through. He spoke to me very clearly about four unique ways we often hear from God, and said that in his own life he often looks for these things to line up to get a good sense of the Lord’s leading.
I’ve thought lots and often, and even studied a little further, on those leading lights that vessels will look for to help them navigate shallow waters or dangerous channels. In the years since that conversation, instead of waiting for the light to shine through the window onto the kitchen floor of my soul, these guide-markers have served as ways that I could press into God, with all my heart and all my mind — in hopes of hearing His voice to do His will.
First, the Good Word
God will never lead you to do something that contradicts His Word. It would be a contradiction of His very nature — since the Word of God is something He so clearly spoke into existence with the idea that no matter which way the world might tug us, we could learn His heart and hear His voice in the gift of the Bible.
Don’t cross it off as a fad for bracelets only appropriate in the 90s — What Would Jesus Do is still a valid question for 2016. What can you learn about the heart of God by reading about how Jesus interacted with the world He lived in? What wisdom can you gain from pouring over the Proverbs and considering how they apply to your life right now? What can the honest hearts and passionate worship of the Psalmists inspire you to step into? Paul Harvey can’t tell you the rest of this story — you will have to dig into the Word for yourself to find it.
Next, the Holy Spirit and Prayer
Jesus put it this way: “My sheep know me, and they hear my voice.” Sometimes there’s a whisper that you don’t hear with your ears — you hear it with your heart, with your soul, and you somehow recognize that it’s not your own voice, the one you hear in your mind when you’re reasoning things out for yourself, but it’s a very good voice. And sometimes that voice tells you to do things that scare the mess out of you and require all kinds of courage. It calls you to love fearlessly. It calls you to reach forward when you want to draw back, or to hush when you want to shout. And it leads you toward a greater sense of purpose, often a sense of hope that you can when your own mind says you can’t.
That voice — the voice of the Holy Spirit — is a gift to the believer. This mysterious and glorious third person in the Trinity will lead you on the adventure of a lifetime if you’re willing to hear Him. And sometimes, it’s the voice of the Holy Spirit that you sense in your heart when you just “know in your knower” that you should go this way, even when you want to go that way. He will not lead you on paths that contradict the Word of the Lord. He’ll whisper conviction when you choose not to tell the truth. He’ll whisper hope when your heart has nothing but doubt. He’ll always whisper words from the heart of the Father — He cannot do otherwise.
Talk to God, be as honest as you can be, and don’t be afraid to just sit tight and quiet, listen and wait. Give thanks and remember His goodness — in your heart and with your words. Let your soul get still enough for the world to fade away in the light of His glory and grace.
Third, the Counsel of Godly Believers
Christianity is a team sport, and the great cloud of witnesses who’ve gone before you are like teammates and in many ways like coaches for the journey. Just like the pastor who encouraged me to get alone with the Lord and study and pray and listen for His leading, there are times when each of us need another brother or sister to look at our lives and tell us what they see. You cannot hold the counsel of other believers above the Word of God or the deep sense of conviction you might sense from the Holy Spirit. If there is contradiction here, choose God’s Word. If the lights don’t line up, be patient and wait.
But don’t discount the wisdom of those who are wiser and who’ve walked the road you’re walking already. Seek out the guidance and advice of mature believers you respect. If you want a marriage that honors God, look for a couple you see whose marriage you’d like to observe. Ask how you can serve them and take every opportunity to ask good questions. If you’re thinking about stepping onto the mission field, speak to someone who already has. Ask what they wish they’d known starting out, or how the Lord confirmed His will to them.
We overcome by the blood of the Lamb and the words of our testimonies. We encourage each other to keep running the race with our eyes fixed on Jesus. Jesus is behind us, before us and runs alongside us in this race, and our fellow believers can teach us more about Him by sharing about what He’s done in their lives. If anyone says fix your eyes on anyone but Jesus — look for a new mentor.
Last, The Present Circumstances
While we want our hearts to dwell with God in heavenly places, our feet are still firmly planted on planet Earth right now. That means that our circumstances can also be an indicator of God’s will. God can change our circumstances to make anything possible. And He can lead us in ways that will help to change our circumstances, too. But sometimes, He chooses not to change our circumstances, and instead our circumstances are one of the ways He can “set the boundary lines for us in pleasant places.” This often requires trust and wisdom on our part.
Now that I’ve explained those four leading lights, let’s put all this into practice as an illustration.
A Plane Ticket to China — Good Plan, right?
Why am I not buying a plane ticket to answer a call to minister in China today, even though I love the Chinese people, have a desire to see that nation love God, and have even studied Mandarin a little? First, I’ve been reading my Bible, and while I do see God’s heart for the nations throughout Scripture, I do not have a sense that He is specifically drawing me to places in His Word to step out and move to China. So I don’t have a sense that that first light lines up. Is His Word leading me there? Not today.
Second, He has been speaking to me about faithfulness this year — and I’ve constantly sensed the Holy Spirit saying “be faithful, where you are with what you’ve been given.” This leads me to believe God’s calling me to faithfully serve Him where I am, instead of jumping on a plane to go somewhere else. What’s the Holy Spirit’s whisper? Stay put right here.
Third, no one I respect or admire as a Godly believer, in fact no one at all, has suggested I buy a plane ticket and head to China. I imagine if I sat down with my pastor and said, “I want to buy a plane ticket to China to go minister there today,” he’d have a confused look on his face and discuss all the things I’m involved in (like parenting four children) right where I am, and he would NOT say “You’ve got my blessing for the journey!”
Last, nothing in my circumstances leads me to believe this is the will of God. My husband would not be in agreement with it. We are in no way prepared to pack up our house and lives to move to another country today. Financially, we would have a lot to figure out in terms of finding people to support this mission. And yes, money can be an indication of the will of God. He does make provision for the journeys He ordains.
While this might seem like a bit of a silly illustration, I hope you understand the meaning behind it. God is good enough to clarify and verify His will for us in many ways. If you’re choosing between peanut butter and jelly and ham and cheese, you probably don’t need to stress whether the leading lights are lining up too much — but if you’re thinking about which college, which church, which job, or a plane ticket to China, it’s a great idea to actively pursue God’s heart through studying His word, talking to Him in prayer, seeking out counsel from other believers, and even taking your present circumstances into consideration.
When it comes to figuring out what to do with this one wonderful rare and precious life you’ve been given, these four areas are a great place to start. In my next post, I’d love to share some specific resources with you that have been great for me as I’ve looked at figuring out how to wisely use my time for the journey to faithfully serving God with the life He’s given me.
It is SO good to hold things up to God’s light and ask Him to illuminate the path for you. Don’t wait for a sudden burst of illumination to tell you which way to go. You’ll probably be wandering aimlessly, and you won’t have a clean kitchen floor.
“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10) … and the best way to figure out what those good works are God created us to do is to ask Him.
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So beautiful and wonderfully articulated! Thank you for your faithfulness and witness, Caroline! Bless you! (I met some young couples this weekend who have been ministering in Syria and Iraq with their young children as part of the Burn 24-7 movement. Powerful.)