He leadeth me: O blessed thought!
That’s the opening line from the old hymn many of us know and love. Indeed, there is great joy in knowing that God has promised to never leave us or forsake us. Of course, if God has promised to be with you, you can trust it’s not just to keep you company, or to smite you for every sin you commit (as some traditions might believe). The Holy Spirit, as the divine presence of God with you, leads you, leads us all, to God’s will. And that is what we want most, right? What better prayer can we have than that of Christ?
As Christ prayed in the garden for God’s will to be done, even though Jesus could probably think of a few other ways for all this to go down, he was showing us what is most important in our lives: Following God means following God’s will.
So, let’s talk a little about following God
Thankfully, I’ve found that many of us are good, or are getting better, at letting God lead. At first, for many of us, that means learning to trust God to lead you through. That’s a big faith-step forward because we’re learning to trust God even though circumstances are not playing out exactly as we had hoped for or expected. We have our gardens we pray in where we have a few ideas of our own to give to God. Sometimes we just find ourselves in the middle of a lot of chaos. Honestly? It’s a miracle that some of us are even turning to God, I’ve heard.
Still, it’s not that difficult to recognize when times are tough. And praise the Lord that we have been led through some difficult situations! Let’s praise God again because we are learning and want to be able to acquire the kind of faith in God’s lead that the psalmist so boldly proclaimed:
Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me;
Yes, following God takes faith.
Now, as a pastor, you might think I would just be happy with what you’re trying to do right now. Trust me; I am. However, I also think I should warn you. Following God only takes faith, but that does not mean it is always easy.
You see, when God is leading you through, chances are God has your attention. You know when you’re passing through a valley. For whatever reason(s), when we’re going through the dark valleys, it can be easy to find something of God to hold onto to pull us through. Maybe we should consider that ease a blessing. Some gods may not want to be found. Think how a favorite Bible passage, prayer, song or dream has encouraged you when you’ve needed it most.
What about when the valley is behind you? How much does God have your attention then?
So, let’s talk a little about following God’s will
Remember that bit about us all wanting to do God’s will? Yea, that’s still there. It’s always there. Remember that we are wanting the Holy Spirit to lead us to God’s will? Even after a few paragraphs, I hope that’s still true.
Here’s when it can be difficult. I’ve heard and know of many people who are learning to trust God to lead them through life’s storms and valleys. Actually, for many of them, it’s getting easier to do so. Amen to that! I know many more, though, that are finding it more difficult to figure out what God is leading them to.
Some of you are finding it difficult to get passed me ending a sentence with a preposition. If that’s you 1) It’s not really a big deal and 2) it may actually help describe how many people feel: incomplete, desperately searching for what comes next.
Easy example. Sister Santos or Brother Bradley loses a job. S/he is not all that concerned because s/he knows God is going to lead them through. In the time s/he has lost the job, however, options have surfaced, and they all sound good enough to be God’s will. Which job is God leading them to?
Sure, there are more serious examples, but, hopefully, you understand where people are having trouble. Whereas knowing that God leads you takes trust, knowing where God is leading you takes discernment.
And there’s help for that!
With that in mind, and with all that said, I want to offer you a few ways to deepen your spiritual discernment. None of these are novel. I can claim no originality in producing this list. In fact, one of the best parts about my job is that I don’t have to be original. I’m a preacher of the Good News of Jesus Christ. That Good News hasn’t changed! I just get to share with you what smarter people than I have passed to us.
What I’ve found is that as much as Christians talk about some of these things, and expect me to talk about them, we’re not always good at putting them into practice in sustaining fashion. Hit and miss describes a lot of us when it comes to this list.
So, here goes:
1. Read the book!
Bible reading isn’t just for Sunday mornings, or whenever your church meets. And it’s not just for devotionals. Yes, we read scripture to learn, but we’re not just learning facts. We are trying to learn the will of God. Scripture opens us to the things of God and shows us what is important to God. Don’t just read it, ask God to allow the words to speak.
Commit to reading a book of the Bible. Memorize a passage. Write a song that describes what you hear in the text. Buy a commentary to help you understand more of what you’re reading. Re-listen to a sermon. Download a Bible study podcast. All your cool Christian friends have downloaded the Bible app. When you do you’ll notice it will even read the words to you!
You know how annoying it is when a jingle gets stuck in your head? Yea, and so do advertisers. Even though you may say it’s annoying, you’re remembering what they want you to remember. So, use the technology around you to saturate your hearing with scripture. Eventually, you can’t get verses out of your heard. You keep thinking about that passage you heard and reheard. There’s nothing annoying about that!
2. Haven’t we been here before?
You’re special, but you’re not all that. What I mean to say is that chances are there are others who have lived through your life before. We’re still looking, but it seems to be that there’s truly nothing new under the sun. Names and toys have changed, but people are people are people are people. Maybe then we can learn from what others have learned. Now, that might mean we have to open up to other people about our lives. The Christian horror!
We might even have to admit things aren’t all that bad, or that we’re making mountains out of holy mole hills. Sometimes we need people to remind us of that.
Oh, and did you know that dead people can teach us, too? Read someone’s biography to see how they’re faith impacted them. Learn about your church’s history and learn about the people who followed God to make sure you have those comfortable pews to sit in every week.
3. That’s using your noggin
Actually, I never use the word noggin unless I’m repeating the phrase, “That’s using your noggin.” Use the brain God gave you to think through what is most important and faithful. Ask yourself questions about God’s will and where you’re going. Answer your own questions out loud to hear them to see if they make sense. Sure, Proverbs tells us to not lean on our own understanding, but it never says to throw it out completely.
Doing a little imagining. Your Creator made you in his image. So, you’ve got some creative genius in you, too! Use it to be sensible about what is happening and what could be in the near future. Imagine the worst-case scenario. Imagine the blessed-case scenario.
4. You gotta live a little
Be open to the experiences God has given you.
Our worship and our prayers connect us to God. Never forget that. Don’t bail on worship because something else is going on that morning. Don’t constrict prayer to a meal prelude. Too often, we’re preoccupied with what we get out of church. If we’re truly worshiping, we’ll be able to leave our lives to God so that God can ask what he’s getting out of this deal.
It’s easy (and typical) for people to pray when they’re in need. Not you! You know to pray for more than the things you want. You know that praying is a regular part of the Christian life and not just a spiritual wish list. You know that fasting is not a supped up prayer mode; it’s something we do regularly to connect to God’s will. You know all those things. I was mainly talking to the people who sit next to you in church, but thanks for listening.
What did the psalmist say:
Taste and see that the Lord is good
That’s how you experience life and remain in constant communion with the God who has promised there isn’t a step we can take that isn’t in his care.
So, thank God for the faith you’ve been divinely given to see you through. And continue to trust that through the gift of grace, God will lead you to his will.