What do we do when we think God is calling us to move on? This is a particularly poignant question for me as we announced that I will be moving on at the end of the year to take on a new job in the UK.
One of the biggest questions many Christians wrestle with is, what is God’s will for my life? The general and broad answer to that question I believe is to love God and love your neighbour where you are right now, in the places, communities and friendships he has placed you in. As we do that then it might be that we then get a specific sense of calling to a particular group of people, ministry, work or whatever. My view is that some people will get a particular calling to a certain type of work or a particular place but generally speaking, as long as what we are doing is not against God and his ways, then we get on with doing our best to follow Jesus by loving God and neighbour where we find ourselves.
Sometimes though that question feels a bit weightier and we get a feeling God is prompting us to move job, town or country. How do we know and what do we do?
The first thing I would say is trust God, that might seem obvious, but our instinct is often to resist change and think of reasons why this cannot be God. Proverbs 3.5-6 says, ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight’. If you sense God is prompting you, what is a better approach, to ignore it and assume it is not God or to trust God and go with it? This can be particularly hard if it is something you don’t like the sound of. Often, God calls us to things that excite us, to use the gifts and skills he has given us… but not always. Think about Esther, who really didn’t want to go to the King to plead for the Jews; Jonah, who didn’t initially trust God and had to learn the hard way, or Ananias who the Lord asked to go and pray for Saul, the Christian killer. None of these people really wanted to do what God was asking them to do but they knew it is better to trust God.
When I was training at theological college and Jen and I were praying about where God might be calling us to serve, we prayed, ‘Lord, we will go anywhere in the world for you, but we have lived in Hampshire (an area of southern England) and we’d like something new and we don’t want to live in a village.’ Where did we end up living, in a village in Hampshire!! God taught us early on to trust him.
We don’t always have confidence though to go through with something based on a sense that God might be saying something, especially if it involves uprooting your own and possibly your family’s life. So, the second thing to do is test. Testing involves asking, does this make sense, does this make sense in the light of scripture, does this sound like something God would call someone to do, does it make sense given who God has made me to be. Remember though that Esther, Jonah and Ananias’s initial reaction was, this does not make sense, which is why testing it in prayer is so important.
Prayer is the best place to test: ask God if you are hearing correctly, ask God to open or close opportunities depending on his will, ask God to change your heart or see things from another perspective if it is something you are not keen on.
Also test it with other wise friends, who know you and know Jesus. Last Sunday I preached on what makes a great friend in our sermon series on Proverbs. What is their reaction? Remember though that friends initial reactions might be unintentionally negative because they don’t want you to move on, so ask them to pray about it too and see what they say after they have had a chance to pray and process the information.
With an attitude of trusting God and having tested it and continuing to test in prayer it is good to take steps. If this is God leading you, what do you need to do to make it happen. Is there an application to fill out, is there some training course you need to get on, do you need to initiate a conversation with someone…. Through this stage you can pray something along the lines of, ‘Lord, please close the door if it is not your will.’ That is what I do and God has answered them. There are two times I wondered if God was calling me to do something. One time I sent in an application form, but really wasn’t convinced it was right but I struggled to know whether that was God or my own fears. I got invited for interview but that news didn’t excite me but disappointed me, I knew then that it wasn’t what God wanted me to do. Another time, I was again invited to interview, I was really excited, I was convinced that this was my job and what God wanted for me. As the time for interview approached, situations outside of my control meant I could not get to the interview, no matter how much I tried to find a solution, it was just not possible. Even then I was convinced that they wouldn’t appoint and come back to me to rearrange an interview but they did appoint. I was gutted but after a small wallowing period, I remembered I needed to trust God, that I had been praying for him to open and close doors according to his will and he had answered. As I reflect on my journey to my new job, I can see that with every little push of the door, it got wider and wider until I knew God was asking me to walk through it.
I don’t want to seem like it is easy and I am in risk oversimplifying it with an easy three step guide of Trust, Test and Take Steps. Discernment is tough, Charles Spurgeon once described it: “Discernment is not knowing the difference between right and wrong; it is knowing the difference between right and almost right.” Ignatius of Loyola described the process of learning discernment like learning a new language, he called it the language of the heart. Nevertheless, I do think that these three steps are a good starting point but if you really want to get better in discernment then I recommend ‘What Do You Really Want?’ by Jim Manney who guides us through the writing of Ignatius of Loyola. Or ‘All That is Good – Recovering the lost art of discernment’ by Hannah Anderson who urges us to grow in true discernment by developing a taste for God's goodness.