What I Learned from Thirty Days of Discernment

When we have to make decisions that will profoundly impact the trajectory of our lives, the stress of such choices can feel crushing.  As Christians we want to take the “right” path.  But when no options scream, “This is God’s will” the indecision can be overwhelming.

discernment road sign

I’m two semesters from finishing my Master in Divinity degree from seminary.  The “real world” looms yet I still don’t know what I’m going to do for a living after I graduate.

I read in the Bible that when some believers faced significant decisions they “sought the face of the Lord” (Ps. 27:8; 2 Sam. 21:1; 2 Chr. 20:3; Acts 14:23).  They spent time in prayer, fasting, and spiritual vigilance to discover God’s will.  So I decided to try it.

I’ve spent the past thirty days purposefully pursuing God to determine His plan for the next phase of my life. Here’s what I learned.

1. I Can Be Patient with Not Knowing 
Before I started this season of discernment I had been impatient for answers. I wanted to know what the future held for me and I wanted to know right now.  In the past several weeks, God has shown me the arrogance of this attitude.  The future is God’s to know, not mine (James 4:14).  He may graciously choose to clearly reveal what He wants me to do next, but He is not obligated to do so.  This is not a polemic against planning, rather a restriction against impious prying.

2. There Are Patterns in My Thinking and Desires
As I pondered what might be next for me in life, I never stopped collecting new information.  I kept getting advice, researching job opportunities, and constructing elaborate schemes about what I might do after graduation.  This flood of information prevented me from pondering what I had already learned.  Just like water gets muddy when you stir it up, my mind was clouded with too much data.  I had to let the waters grow still and then I was able to see more clearly.  I started to discover patterns in my thinking and desires that I hadn’t noticed before.  These patterns helped me determine what factors were most important to me as I consider options for the future.

3. God Draws Near When I Seek Him
Prayer marked my period of discernment.  Every time I felt tempted to chase another possibility, I leaned on God in prayer.  I offered up my frustrations, my confusion, and my grief.  I experienced some profound moments of honesty when I realized the depth of my longing and shared them with my Savior.  As I spent time with God, He drew nearer to me (James 4:8).  Through this sometimes agonizing trial of uncertainty, I felt a deeper sense of intimacy with God.  The Holy Spirit encountered me in my time of darkness and comforted me.  Thirty days of focused prayer didn’t give me the answers I sought, but it gave me something better…God Himself.

The God Who Calms the Storm
The Gospel reminds us that we have a Savior who holds our future in His hands.  When Jesus and HIs disciples stepped into a boat and got caught in a storm, the Messiah lay asleep in the stern.  The disciples, concerned for their future and well being, woke him and said, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” And Jesus got up and said, “Peace! Be still!  And the wind ceased and there was a great calm.”  Then the disciples marveled (Mark 4:35-41).

Thirty days of discernment taught me that we still serve a God who can calm storms with but a word.  The disciples’ fear of the storm stemmed from a lack of faith.  In the same way, our fears about the future come from a failure to believe in God’s power and personal care for us.

So much of our anxiety about the future comes from the nagging question in our hearts, “Does God really care for me?”  Yet we know that God cares for us because He sent His own Son to die on the cross and take our sins so that His righteous life could be credited to us through faith.  In remembering God’s care for us on the cross we can be certain for God’s care for us in the future.

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