What is God Asking of Me?

“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”

This was Thomas Merton, one of the most prominent theological thinkers of recent history. Even he struggled with discerning the will of God. Whenever I feel that God has stopped directing me, I stumble across this quote. It comforts me to know that I’m not alone in feeling totally lost. Sometimes it feels like I’m just making it up as I go. Nothing goes according to plan, but I’ve never been one to do what’s expected of me. As frightening as it seems, I actually enjoy the unpredictability of following an unknown path.

So how does one discern the will of God?

First, God can communicate to us through our desires. This is probably the most common way He communicates. However, people can have all kinds of desires. Not all are from God. One way to tell the difference between a desire that’s from God and other desires is whether or not it’s consistent with the pursuit of virtue. For example, I would love to have lots and lots of money, but that doesn’t mean I should steal from others. And if I do happen upon a large sum of money, I should use it prudently, and not hoard it greedily for myself. Simply put, any desire to sin is antithetical to the will of God.
However, if you have a desire to pursue a certain career, ministry, or religious vocation, those desires were very likely placed within your heart by God Himself. If you still aren’t sure, pray the simple prayer, “Lord, conform my will to Yours.” Then, you can trust your desires insofar as you trust God to answer your prayer. 

Second, God communicates through other people. Whether you’re speaking with a close friend, listening to the priest or minister at church, or reading your favorite author, the Lord can use those people to speak His truth. If someone says, or writes, or sings something that resonates with your particular circumstances, do not chalk it up to coincidence. It could very likely be God’s way of reaching out to give you the answer you’re looking for.

Third, God communicates through outward signs. Outward signs could be anything from finding a rose in a desert to finding a specific sign you asked God to give you. When my mother was unsure about a decision she had to make, she asked God to give her a bouquet of flowers if she should decide one way, but to send her only one flower if she should decide the other way. A couple days later, she returned home to find a bouquet of flowers on her dining room table.

Sometimes praying for signs will work, but a lot of the time, God wants to see how much we’re willing to leap without any certainty that we’re making the right decision. He wants us to trust the still small voice within us.

Now with all of that said, there are some things that can disrupt our discernment.
The first is an unwillingness to accept God’s will. It won’t matter how much we pray, if we don’t listen to what He actually tells us. It sounds obvious, but people believe what they want to believe. If you pray hoping for one outcome, then you will clog your ears as soon as you hear something different.

When I got into a car accident on the morning of the LSATs, I could have chosen to believe that the evil one was just trying to prevent me from pursuing law school. But that wouldn’t have been the truth. That would have been what I wanted to believe, but deep down, I knew what God’s still small voice had been telling me for months leading up to that morning. I had to consider the outward sign in light of my intuition.

Another block to discernment is living in sin. Here is the most succinct way I can explain this: God is love; sin is the absence of love. Therefore, sin separates us from God. The two simply don’t mix. If we do anything to sever our relationship with God, we cannot hear Him as clearly. The same is true of any human relationship. If we do anything to damage a relationship with our loved ones, communication slowly disintegrates. We aren’t interested in hearing their side of the story and they aren’t interested in ours.

If you truly wish to discern the will of God, go to confession or prayerfully ask God to forgive you according to your religion or denomination. You should reflect on every sin you’ve committed and your repentance should be genuine. Then you can feel true closeness with God and will be in a better position to listen to Him.

Once pride and selfishness are cleared away, you can listen to your primordial instincts, taken together with outward signs and advice from others. Remember that ultimately, God wills your sanctification. He wants you in Heaven and He is going to do whatever He can to get you there. Therefore, expect that God will ask difficult things of you. Expect to encounter situations that will stretch you as a person. But most of all, expect adventures. Expect mystery and romance. Expect to fulfill dreams you never even knew you had.

Now, it cannot be ignored that the above is merely a set of “pointers” for those who truly do not know where to begin in their discernment. The truth is, we learn God’s will by maintaining a relationship with Him. Take time each day in meditative prayer, therefore. Simply listen, and He will not abandon you. He may cease to provide clear answers through visible signs, but only because you will have united yourself with God so much, that there is no need for outward signs. You will know that God dwells within you and is guiding you through even the smallest encounters.

Even when you don’t see Him, He is there.

To God be the Glory!


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