Discerning God's Direction
How Do I Know God's Direction For My Life
Some students won't ever find their way to the right path God has for them, not because of disinterest or disobedience, but because of debilitation: the paralysis caused by too many options. Paul Borthwick calls this the problem of "overchoice." With the whole world before you and a passion to reach it, where do you dive in? Choosing one path seems like leaving behind several other great options. To a generation where keeping your options open is a high priority, fitting yourself somewhere into God's global plans seems like an overwhelming task. I've began to give students this advice, which is more of a principle based approach to finding direction from God on the journey He has for you. The process must follow these decision-steps in the succession they are laid out to ensure meaningful Great Commission decisions and to protect us from selfish distortions. I just call it the telescope.
In this "telescope," the first lens we look through is leading. This is the hardest to describe, but the most confirming in our spirit - because it comes from God. When I say leading I do not mean that you feel "called" to missions and some are not called. Us missions mobilizers get on edge when you start using this kind of language, because we maintain that everyone is called to be on mission with God in reaching the nations. We are all commanded to go - leading just tells us where to stop. Two main "leading" demographics to begin with would be 1) a religion group or 2) an area of the world. Do you see yourself working among Muslims, Tribals, or in an area such as China or Africa? Many times this decision lens of leading must be learned by experience. That is why every believer should determine to take at least one meaningful short-term mission trip in their life. Leading comes from experience because God clarifies in the midst of obedience, not beforehand. The apostle Paul tried to get into six cities before God clarified his Macedonian "leading" to him in a vision (Acts 16:6-10). As Keith Green said, "God can't steer a parked car." The idea is that we need to move forward, the rest of the details will come along the way. "Your ears will hear a word behind you, 'This is the way, walk in it,' whenever you turn to the right or to the left" (Isaiah 30:21)
When you are obeying and delighting yourself in the Lord's will, there is a sense in which you can trust the inner leading of your desires - because the Lord will give you those desires. In the Psalms David writes, "Delight yourself also in the Lord; and he will give you the desires of your heart" (Psalms 37:4). The reason God can give David the desires of David's heart is he had delighted in the Lord enough that he had become a man after God's own heart (Acts 13:22, 1 Sam 13:14). They were really God's desires within David. God is not out to crush your joy in life. If you find yourself desiring to reach a particular area or religious group with the gospel, the chances are that it is God's heart being evidenced through yours. Some people get worried about bad motivations for missions, but Jesus used at least eight motivations for His disciples to get engaged in reaching the world: Love (John 14:21), Guilt (Acts 20:26, Ezek. 33:6), Hell (Luke 12:5, Matt 13:41-42), Obedience (Matt 28:18-20), Compassion (Matt 9:36, Mark 1:41), Rewards (Luke 18:29-30), Purpose (Matt 16:26-27, 1 Peter 1:24), and His Glory (John 15:8, John 17:4). When we love God, we begin to love the things that He loves. You may find that God is leading you by the joy you feel in considering a certain path, and joy is not a bad motivation. "…fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross" (Heb 12:2). This leading is only the first lens and we get clearer direction from the next lens. Being strategic?
The strategic lens is what ensures that we are not "building on another man's foundation" and that we are "finishing the race and completing the task" of reaching the unreached peoples of the world. The strategic lens asks the question, "Where in the area or religion group (first lens) is the most strategic place I can be used." Where is the greatest need for the gospel or greatest opportunity for its spreading? You might feel the Lord "leading" you to Fiji - "Yep, I can see myself there." But that might not be the most strategic in reaching the unreached. I may want to work among Muslims but just because there are Muslims in Kansas doesn't mean that is the most strategic place to reach them or that it will impact the unreached peoples of the Muslim world. Leading is gained mainly by experience, where "strategic" may be gained by education. This is the lens that filters out a wasted life. There are strategic ways to be anywhere in the world. Instead of just defaulting to America, we must move forward in obedience and in that process many may end here for a purpose bigger than Americans, because of strategy.
The next lens I call "gifting." This is the question of, "Can God use my talents, career, degree, or skills to serve in this strategic area where I feel Him leading me?" Right here is where most Christians and students will err, because they want to flip the telescope. They want to look through the lenses backward. I remember Steve Hawthorne, a mission mobilizer, relating a long conversation he had with a young lady about how she could use her Spanish among unreached peoples. After Steve had exhausted all of his knowledge of possible unreached people groups in South America, etc., he finally responded to her saying, "Why don't you stop telling God what you want to do for Him - and begin by asking God what He wants you to do." You can't look through the telescope backwards or you get a very small, narrow, limited view of how God may want to use you. He may want to use your talents, He may not. It is not a bad question to ask - we just need to ask it third and not first.
Finally, would be the agency lens. What mission agency or sending entity can train and send me to this area, whether using my degree or not. Again we can be tempted to look through the telescope backward if we only know of one mission sending agency, which many only do. It is a good idea to get familiar with several other agencies that work there just so you can allow God to lead you based on choice and not default.
These principles for allowing God to lead you should help you in making a good decision about what to do with your life. Don't give your life to the things that others can and will do, but to the things that others can't and won't do. The best thing you can do as you begin to work through each of these is pray for God's guidance as you plan. Surround yourself with Godly counsel who share a vision for the world and will be honest with you if you are trying to serve your own agenda. Allow God to make the North Star of reaching people from every tribe and tongue the guiding force for all your decisions. With the end firmly rooted in your heart, and saturated with God's word you can live life by the compass - making His agenda to reach the nations the decisive factor in choosing your steps along the journey.