DISCERNING GOD’S GUIDANCE

How do you make important decisions? Do you know how to listen for the leadership of God, how to discern his direction for your life? Now I’m not talking about those puzzling grocery store conundrums like, “Which should it be, dark chocolate mint chips or classic Klondike bars?” I’m talking about expensive, long term, even life changing decisions like: where to go to college, what to major in, which house to buy, which job to take, which person to marry. These and many more decisions affect us for the long term, contributing either to personal happiness and effectiveness in life or to dissatisfaction, distress and even misery.

Jesus promised us that God loved us and was listening to our requests, that “if we asked him for a piece of bread he would not give us a stone.” He encouraged us to keep asking, keep seeking, keep knocking and the answers we need would be given to us. So what does that process look like? How are followers of Jesus Christ to discern his directions?

There are at least three steps to discerning God’s direction today. And like a three-legged stool, or finding your position using three points on a map, each one is important. The three legs are:

  1. The Word of God speaking to our minds, teaching us many, many things that give us clear directions in areas like money, work, marriage, authority, charity, mercy, and managing conflict.
  2. The Gifts to the Church – We also have, according to Paul’s list in Ephesians, gifts to the Church – “Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Eph 4:11-13 NIV). Every member of the Church is gifted or experienced in some area of knowledge. We make our best decisions when we seek the wisdom of other members of the body of Christ.
  3. The Spirit of God. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever– the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.(John 14: 16-17 NIV). As we develop the discipline of quietness before God we learn to perceive the direction of the Spirit much as we would a gentle breeze blowing on our face.

Are you faced with a serious, life changing decision? Consult the Word. It will teach you to think Biblically about your values and priorities. Consult the Body of Christ, your gifted brothers and sisters for their wisdom. And ask the Spirit of God to show you which path to take. Then make the decision and act on it, step out in faith and don’t second guess yourself. Trust God to provide one day at a time. I have seen him do so, over and over again. He will do no less for you.

DISCOVER YOUR SPIRITUAL GIFTS

I do the work of administration, but I’m not gifted at it.

A couple of years ago I ended up being the “Table Host Administrator” for the local Young Life Banquet. In a nutshell that means: ordering, arranging, and tracking hundreds of names with dozens of tables so that everyone has a seat, and each seat has a name, and it all flows smoothly so that the guests have a good time.

I almost pulled my hair out. Everybody got a seat, and everyone got fed, but it wasn’t pretty.

The next year my friend Gail was available to do it. Gail has the gift of administration. Everything flowed like clockwork; no traffic jams, no people wondering where they were supposed to sit. It was beautiful. It was so stress-free for me I almost kissed her.

Have you discovered your spiritual gifts, those things that energize you and bless others? Would you like to? Then read on.

What are spiritual gifts?

A spiritual gift is an extraordinary spiritual ability, brought to us and made operational in us by the Holy Spirit when we are born again, which distinguishes one Christian from another and enables them to serve the church.

There are different kinds of gifts, “varieties,” according to the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 12:4. Some have the gift of service. Some have the gift of administration. Some have the gift of prophecy, some the gift of wisdom. Paul’s writings include three lists of gifts: 1 Corinthians 12 and 14, Romans 12:3-8, and Ephesians 4:7-13. None of the lists are exhaustive.  Only one gives any idea of ranking in importance. The gifts are as varied as the God who gives them. The gifts Paul ends up talking about are usually the ones over which there was some dispute.

Sometimes believers tell me, “I don’t think I have a spiritual gift because I don’t have mystical experiences, and I don’t seem to have anything in Paul’s lists.” But if you can say, “Jesus is my Lord,” then you have the Spirit of God and you have a spiritual gift (1 Cor. 12:3).

Discovering your gifts.

In 1 Corinthians 12:5 Paul wrote, “There are different kinds of service …” Service translates the Greek word diakonia. It’s where we get the word deacon and it can mean “attendant.”

There are hundreds of ways to attend to things. A person with the gift of administration might serve in a school. But she might also organize a business. She might be an executive secretary, or she might be a CPA, or she might be a Mom with lots of kids, or a fantastic table host administrator.

If the Spirit of God lives in you then you have a spiritual gift. It should be used to help the church, but it isn’t limited to Sunday mornings.

One of the ways to identify your gift(s) is to determine where you excel and work at developing it, discovering the varieties of how that gift might come into play. Ask yourself, “What do I really enjoy that helps others?” We think sometimes that if we are enjoying something it must not be spiritual. Or if we are naturally good at something then it isn’t spiritual. The point is that there isn’t just one way that your gift can come into play. There are “varieties of service”, multiple ways that your particular gift might serve the Kingdom of God.

A good way to discover your gift is to take one of the many online assessments, like the one available at Lifeway.com: http://www.lifeway.com/Article/Women-Leadership-Spiritual-gifts-growth-service.

Employing your gifts.

Another fascinating word appears in 1 Corinthians 12:6. It’s from the Greek word Energema, from which we get the word energy, and is translated “working”. It means “effect,” the effects produced by the exercise of your particular gift. Two people with the same gift will not produce the same kinds of effects.

You may have the gift of teaching, but different effects from C.S. Lewis, or the gift of leadership, but different effects from Mitt Romney. That doesn’t mean you don’t have a gift. Your gift has different effects.

The thing is to put your gifts to work, asking: “What kinds of effects do I have when I serve in this particular area? Are they positive? Do people respond well? Are the effects helpful to the mission? Am I energized by it, or drained by it?”

If you are energized, the effects are positive, and people affirm you, you’ve discovered your spiritual gifts.