Discerning the will of God is one of the most pressing tasks in the Christian life. For many Christians the quest for God’s will feels like a never-ending treasure hunt. One reason for the perpetual feeling of the quest is that it has different seasons. In late adolescence/early adulthood, questions of direction swirl in a storm of hormones and societal pressures. What will I do with my life? Should I go to university or begin my working life? What career should I choose? Will I meet someone to share this life with? In the middle of life, questions of life’s detail emerge. Should I take this new job? Should we move our family to a new city? How many more children should we have? And the same for later in life. Each new season offers new and unknown questions and requires us to seek again and again the will of God.
When we imagine God’s will we often think in terms of specific details. Where should I live? What career should I choose? (any from that list of questions above.) We think in terms of Modesto versus Los Angeles, a career in agriculture verses architecture. etc.
Instead of picturing God’s will as one of a hundred different arrows, I want you to imagine just two arrows, each moving in the exact opposite direction of the other. One arrow represents your will and the other God’s will. The first step in discerning God’s will is choosing in your heart to orient your life towards the direction of God’s will. This is the either/or choice of God’s will. It is a declaration of the heart that says I want God’s will above my own will. It is a general, directional choice where the specifics are still unknown.
While I was in college, I looked into this topic with a mentor and he presented to me some work from theologian Henri Nouwen who provides four characteristics of the call of God that greatly helped me (still does help me today) and I think that it could help you as well if you’ve ever asked the question of “What is God’s call on my life?”
First, Nouwen notes that the call of God is simple and not complicated. We often miss the call of God because we are looking for a detailed plan of what’s to come. God’s call may be as simple as the name of a city. It may be as simple as a direction to start walking like pursuing more education or joining the workforce. The simplicity comes with a lack of detail. Details complicate things. Details bring up more questions than answers. But the simple call of God beckons us to follow without all of the answers.
Secondly, Nouwen asserts that the call of God is persistent. It is not a one-time occurrence, a momentary feeling that does not return. The call of God continually beckons, continually fights for our attention. It may begin as a simple feeling. Then in general conversation a friend will bring it up. Then an article you read will mention it. The sermon on Sunday. If you are open and looking, the call of God will surround you. You may be thinking of that reoccurring feeling that you cannot shake. Perhaps God has been calling you to something for a while now.
Thirdly, Nouwen notes that at first, the call of God will seem impossible. I remember when God first called me into ministry. At first, my initial reaction was, “no way!” I was comfortable where I was in my faith and didn’t want to pursue full-time ministry! This required that I would go to a private Christian school (not a D1 school like I had planned), and required that I change majors. All of this seemed like there wasn’t even the mere possibility, but it happened. Looking back, it came at the perfect time for me to change majors and the trajectory of my life.
Lastly, Nouwen stresses that the call of God will always concern others as well as yourself. The call of God will not be self-serving. When surveying life opportunities it is vitally important to keep this characteristic in mind. This characteristic will help you decipher between your will and God’s. One opportunity may provide great financial gain, but provide little time for you to spend with your family. Another opportunity might fulfill a life-long dream but would disconnect you from spiritual community.
These characteristics: simplicity, persistence, initial impossibility, and consideration of others will help us as we continue to seek God’s call for our lives. It’s not an easy thing to navigate, but a very important thing for us to consider and be sensitive to.