The First Secret You Need to Know about God’s Will

Do You Actually Expect to Hear from God?

If you’re a Christian struggling with a decision right now, you may be asking a lot of questions about what God wants you to do next. But are you actually expecting to get answers or just going through the motions? This post is the first of seven in which I share some secrets I have learned about discerning God’s will for our lives when Scripture does not give us clear direction.

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In my book A Story Worth Telling, I share the story of how we decided to move to Atlanta after nearly four decades of living in Northeast Ohio.  I had sensed a pull in the direction of Atlanta for well over a month before I even mentioned it, first to my wife and then to my life coach Dick Savidge (I highly recommend him if you are in need of Christ-centered life-coaching.)

I’m not one to naturally put a lot of confidence in feelings. It’s just not how God has wired me. Nor are feelings all that reliable. But I learned through my years as a pastor and school principal to pay attention to the internal voice that might be the Holy Spirit or my subconscious trying to help me to see something important.

I had made a few trips to Atlanta. I had made a few connections in Atlanta. And I had another sound reason for considering the move — location. My friend Hugh Hewitt drilled the importance of location  into me through his essential book In, But Not Of. I had taught the book for years and even partnered with Hugh on the revised edition.

I was stepping out to serve God’s kingdom-at-large as a writer, speaker, and content strategist. There are few locations that rival Atlanta for Kingdom-related opportunities and no better travel hub with direct flights to everywhere so I could minimize travel time and maximize family time.

Sure, we would be leaving family behind. But Kingdom priorities always trump family loyalties.

We had reached an intersection, a point in life where a decision needed to be made — to stay or to go. My friend and mentor P. Andrew Sandlin was one of my prayer supporters who encouraged me to pray specifically for God to give us great clarity while I was on a trip to Atlanta. And so we did. We prayed for direction — and expected to receive it.

After the trip, I was pretty certain the wise move would be to relocate. I discussed it and prayed about it with my wife. She gave me the green light to go either way.  And so I prayed the prayer of Samuel, “Speak, Lord, for your servant listens.”

You might call it more of a waiting than a listening. After asking all the questions I shared in my eBook What God Wants You to Do Next, the move to Atlanta seemed to be a wise one. I asked God to show me what I was missing, a question I got from John Maxwell.

I sensed no nagging concerns, no suppressed voices I was trying to ignore. And I still recall the moment of decision when I told God, OK, Lord. I don’t know how this is going to happen or what it will mean for us. But I am willing to go. I sensed tremendous peace alongside the fears that always accompany such a step.  And so we stepped out. [You can read more of the story in A Story Worth Telling.]

I have never questioned whether we made the right move, partly because these decisions are not right or wrong decisions. They are wise or unwise decisions, and that decision was bathed in every source of wisdom I could find and aligned with the leading of the Spirit within me.

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are the sons of God. (Romans 8:14)

The First Secret You Need to Know

I learned a valuable lesson at that time about God’s will. It’s one I should have understood already. It’s the first secret you need to know when trying to discern God’s will for your life:

Secret #1 — If you don’t expect to hear God’s voice, you won’t attempt to listen.

Scripture tells us we have not because we ask not. I would suggest that when it comes to figuring out God’s best for our lives, we often hear not because we listen not.

We pray for direction, but we don’t actually expect to receive it. It’s more about checking the task off our spiritual emergency list than expecting to get an answer from God.

But when we truly expect to hear from Him, we become more aware of the many ways He may be leading us. We hold all of them up to Scripture as our final authority, but we become more sensitive to God’s nudges and prodding that could come from any number of directions as He sees fit. After all, He delights in using the foolish things of this world to confound the wise.

God guides each of us differently because — news flash! — He wired each of us differently. But none of us can be led by God in any direction and by any means if we’re not first expecting Him to guide us.

Question: Have you ever struggled to hear God’s voice when making decisions? What challenges have you faced to receiving guidance from God? You can share your thoughts with other FaithWalkers by clicking here.

Photo credit: Paul Jarvis

You Too Can Experience the Power of Intentional Prayer

Why Multi-tasking Prayer Leaves Us Weak

The truth is that prayer changes everything, especially you. Yet many FaithWalkers take an accidental approach to prayer rather than carve out time and space for intentional communion with God.

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They pray as they go through life, sort of like grabbing whatever food is handy throughout the day. That practice may quench the hunger pangs at the moment, but it doesn’t make for a healthy diet. I call it “multitasking prayer,” and it can have disastrous results.

Like texting and driving, it is deceptively dangerous because we appear to get away with it many times before disaster actually strikes. Much research has now demonstrated that texting and driving can slow the reaction time of a driver to the same extent as if he or she were drunk.

I can’t help but think that God must hear our hurried, distracted prayers at times and wonder whether we are more than slightly inebriated.

I’m sure you’ve heard the common defense for multitasking prayer: Scripture tells us to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17), keeping an attitude of nonstop prayer, as stuff comes to mind throughout the day. Yet many use this as an excuse to turn from intentional, continual prayer to a set of accidental prayers, which don’t form a full communion with God.

When that happens, we quickly become like the hiker who snacks on energy bars all day instead of pausing by the trail to prepare balanced, nutritious meals. The quick bites of fellowship with the Almighty may satisfy some immediate hunger pang, but if that’s the complete diet, your faith will soon become lean and malnourished, unfit to respond when tested.

The Power of Intentional Prayer

Imagine how your life would be different if you spent three hours every day in focused, intentional prayer.  Most of us believe we wouldn’t get much else done.

And yet here is the counterintuitive way one man described his take on focused, intentional prayer: “I have so much to do today that I will spend the first three hours in prayer.”

The man’s name was Martin Luther. As a key figure of the Reformation, he lived a story of tremendous worth. His thinking leads us to this conclusion: if you think you don’t have time to pray, that’s exactly when you know you should.

Another person who accomplished great things for God, most notably helping to bring an end to the horrific slave trade of his day, was William Wilberforce. Though he seemed to be always in motion, this dynamo for justice recognized that he was too weak to do worthy work when he failed to make time to pray: “The shortening of private devotions starves the soul; it grows lean and faint. I have been keeping too late hours.”

Most revealing of all, Jesus himself regularly took time to step away from the crowds and hurried pace in order to pray (Mark 1:35; Luke 11:1; Hebrews 5:7). Let the weight of that truth sink in.

When God himself, “who was tempted in every way that we are, except without sin” (Hebrews 4:15), walked the earth as one of us, he considered uninterrupted seasons of prayer to be essential for his earthly journey.

The bottom line is this: the FaithWalker who longs to live a story worth telling knows it simply can’t be done without intentionally investing time for faith to find its voice in prayer.

Question: How what place does prayer have in your faith journey? What prayer tips do you have to share with other FaithWalkers? You can share your thoughts with other FaithWalkers by clicking here.

This post first appeared in my book A Story Worth Telling: Your Field Guide to Living an Authentic Life. Thanks to all who gave input on my recent survey. My new series begins on Monday — 7 Secrets You Need To Know about God’s Will. Be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss it.

Photo credit: Dingzeyu Li

How to Stop Being Too Tired for God

7 Ways to Restore Rest

After my last post [Are You Too Busy to Hear What God Wants Next?], I heard from a friend on the other side of the world who had just received a copy of my latest book A Story Worth Telling — but was too tired to read it.

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So even though he knew he needed to make some changes in order to live a story worth telling, the pace of his life was leaving him too tired to do it. So he asked an obvious question I think we all ask at times: what can I do when I am too tired for God?

How to Overcome Impossible Obstacles

Mountains You're Facing May Be Smaller than You Think

One thing I’m still learning on my journey of faith is not to make assumptions about mountains, or obstacles and challenges I encounter along the way. For one thing, mountains are not always what they appear to be.

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In the late 1800s, Half Dome was described as being “perfectly inaccessible.” Until someone blazed the trail and installed eye bolts into the granite. Now tourists regularly accomplish what was once considered an impossible feat.

When the Hebrews faced the Red Sea, they thought it an impassable barrier. It wasn’t. When we were homeless and without money, buying a house seemed impossible. Not so. [Get some encouragement and read more of our story in my new book A Story Worth Telling.]

Whatever challenges you may be facing today, rest assured that they only seem like mountains from your perspective. And perspectives can change.

A Story of Overcoming Mountains

My friend Daniel Buell was the co-founder of Cornerstone Christian Academy where I served for a dozen years before stepping out to answer God’s call to write as a Kingdom catalyst. He too faced a seemingly impossible task in the summer of 2000 when he agreed to lead the effort to launch and open a college-prep school for grades 7-12—in less than two months!

At the time, only eleven students were enrolled, I was the only teacher with a contract, and the school had not yet been charted by the state of Ohio. Anyone with any experience in education will tell you that these barriers Dan faced were insurmountable. Perhaps with an additional year—and a lot of money—the task could be done. Maybe.

But Dan persisted by faith, believing that God had called him to run toward the seemingly impossible to establish a vibrant Christian school for God’s glory. He built a dedicated team quickly and spent a lot of nights in the office, watching the sun come up on yet another stack of completed paperwork.

Nothing came easily. And that is often why choose to walk away from the challenge of a mountain. Overcoming them is never easy. But mountains make the ideal settings for the best stories to reveal the majesty of God.

Incredibly, when the first bell rang, the school opened with full faculty, an enrollment of 131, and state-charter status in record time—an accomplishment that was nothing less than a bureaucratic miracle.

Today the school is thriving. It consistently enrolls around four hundred students annually in grades K-12 and sends graduates to the best colleges and universities throughout the nation. Where most saw impossibility, Dan saw something different: opportunity. Here’s his perspective: “A mountain is merely a change in the terrain you must travel, so keep hiking.”

And that’s the other funny thing about mountains. From God’s perspective, there are none.

You may have heard the expression that someone is “making a mountain out of a molehill,” making a big deal about something that is truly insignificant. We all too easily forget that God sees no mountains, only molehills.

If we can remember God’s perspective as we answer his call to live a story worth telling, we can patiently be still and watch him work, like Moses, even while we keep moving forward–even running toward–the mountains we encounter and overcome by faith.

Question: What mountains are you facing now that seem impossible to you? How might your perspective change if you could see them as opportunities for God’s glory to be revealed? You can share your thoughts with other FaithWalkers by clicking here.

The One Thing Every FaithWalker Must Do

And Why Each of Us Easily Qualifies to Do It

Every Christian wants to one day hear the words, “Well, Done!”  Each FaithWalker wants to do great things for God. But most of us think we just don’t have what it takes to qualify for the Faith Hall of Fame.

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We’ve all got stories we tell ourselves about why we don’t belong on the field with those “Major League Christians” we meet in the pages of Scripture. [See my post The Myth of the Minor League Christian.] It’s as if we think we must be perfect in order to qualify for walking by faith.

But nothing could be further from the truth. Thank God!

In fact, do you know the one thing every FaithWalker in Scripture seems to have had in common? Failure.

What to Do When Regret Makes Its Move

6 Healthy Responses to Making a Mistake

No one enjoys making a mistake. But it’s especially tough to respond well to regret when we hear our harshest critic screaming inside our own heads: “LOSER!”

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Often the most debilitating part of making a mistake is how we beat ourselves up afterwards. When regret makes its move, we’re lucky if we can still see straight.

I experienced this when my team and I debriefed recently about the launch of my latest book A Story Worth Telling Your Field Guide to Living an Authentic Life. In addition to celebrating what went well, we discussed mistakes made so we could learn from them.

But I must confess that I focused on my mistakes way more than I should have. And thinking about those mistakes left me more than a little discouraged.