A couple months ago I posted five consecutive articles on a theology of guidance, which included 5 criteria to apply when discerning the will of God: the Word, prayer, providential circumstances, Scripture-informed conscience, and counsel from others . Later, someone asked for further clarification as to what this process actually looks like in real life. Perhaps my answer will be of some encouragement as you look ahead to decisions and goals for the coming year.
Here’s what I wrote:
Let me illustrate how all these factors have recently functioned in my own decision-making process. This past summer I was offered a leadership and teaching position at a seminary, which to accept would have required my leaving the pastorate where I’ve been for almost twenty years. There is no chapter and verse of Scripture that could specifically make this decision for me (nothing clearly ‘objective’). However, after two months of seeking the Lord’s guidance, I declined the position offered. But how did I come to that conclusion? And why am I confident I was walking according to the will of God, that the Holy Spirit gave me guidance for this decision?
First, I determined that to go there or stay here were both biblical options. There was clearly no sin or disobedience involved, which of course would have immediately eliminated one option. However, since the invitation came about with no effort on my part I concluded that it could possibly be the working of the Lord’s providence and, therefore, I should not make a snap decision just because it was not my idea in the first place. So, second, my wife and I prayed over the matter and evaluated our life’s situation, finances, family needs (including special medical issues/care with our hearing-impaired children), etc. Third, while praying and having a co-leader pray too, I sought counsel from three brothers in other parts of the country who I know fairly well. One is a pastor, another had left the pastorate to teach at a seminary, and the third is both a pastor and an adjunct seminary professor (like me). I chose these men because I believed they would give me honest counsel, rather than simply affirm whatever they might imagine I might want to hear. The counsel I received from them differed, but in talking through issues with these men and answering their heart-searching questions, I became firmer in my own conviction as to where my deepest ministry passions remain—here. During this time of seeking God in prayer, I also received unsolicited affirmation from some of my co-leaders at our church that my leadership is still needed and appreciated here.
Finally, in light of Psalm 37:4, “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart,” I evaluated what I wanted to do. In other words, as I prayed, examined all angles I could think of, and sought counsel, my desire to remain where I am became stronger while at the same time the desire to go to the other place did not increase, but diminished. I am now more determined than ever to remain serving as faithfully as I can where I am. Thus, in the end, I guess you could say I based my decision on what I trust are “sanctified desires.” All of this was, I believe, according to the workings of biblical wisdom, the application of biblical truth and principles to the decision-making process, though I cannot point to one verse of Scripture and say, “This is why I decided to stay here.”