Think about some moments in your life where you felt called by God to do something and you didn’t know what the outcome would be. What is it about these moments that make them significant for you? For me, these moments involve conviction. When you have conviction about something, you know deep down in your gut that it is true and good. Conviction awakens and compels your conscience. A failure to respond would be a failure to follow the leading of Jesus.
These responses to conviction involve risk, which usually begets fear. When we are faced with an uncertain outcome, we experience fear. Why? Because uncertainty means we lack the ability to prevent loss and pain. The risk of awkwardness, criticism, emotional and physical pain, as well as the loss of comfort, status, relationship, and self-worth are so vivid that our anxiety can taste them. Being called by God to deeper obedience involves a convergence of conviction and fear. These elements throw us into a tug of war for our souls. We become burdened by the knowledge of what we need to do but have not yet done. How do we respond to these moments of conviction and fear so we can put ourselves in the best position to obey God’s call and give him glory, rather than shrinking back in fear?
I claim that we must walk a journey of discernment in community as followers of Christ. This discernment journey involves three steps: examination, listening, and faithful action. These steps occur in both a linear fashion and a circular fashion.
For the first step we must engage in examination, which is best done in response to questions. One way to examine is to process our emotions. How do I feel? What happened that made me feel that way? Why does that make me feel the way I do?
Another way to practice examination is to reflect critically on our thoughts. What are my assumptions? Are my assumptions truly in accord with Scripture? Are they based on good thinking and evidence? Do they lead to good and wise action?
Finally, we must examine our hearts before God. Am I in denial or evading what God wants me to do? Am I being stubborn? Why might I be tempted to not believe or obey? What am I afraid of? To what extent are my temptations and fears preventing me from seeing and doing what is true? What does the gospel have to say about my fears and to my heart? These questions are much harder and require prayer.
The second step is to engage in listening to others for wisdom. In my opinion, this is the most important step and typifies the “in community” part of discernment. This process of listening requires building relationships of trust, which may require vulnerability, humility, reorienting your priorities, and speaking with those of different perspectives. Share what is on your heart. Be compassionate. Ask clarifying questions. Provide clarifying feedback. Trust. Empathize.
The third and final step is to practice faithful action. If we truly want to follow Christ, we must pray for the wisdom and discernment of the Holy Spirit to do what pleases the Lord. We must ask to see what is true and to receive the strength and love from God that is needed to respond in obedience. To conclude this step, we envision our next action step and follow through with our planned action. The point is not to know the whole journey in advance, but to set one foot in front of the other, knowing that God directs our path.
Is there something that God is calling you to do in this season? Take the next step in faith.