When trying to discern God’s will for our lives, it is tempting to spend all our our time in prayer. God, what do you want me to do with my life? Should I take this job? Should I move to that city? Should I enroll at the school? Should I marry him? Should I break up with her?
The list of prayers could run on till eternity. But what if the key to discerning God’s will for your life was to stop praying so much about it?
I went through a season a few years ago when God was eerily quiet. When I prayed for direction or insight, there was nothing but silence. The conversations typically went like this. Maybe you can relate.
Me: God? What do you think I should do?
Me: God, I really want to do your will. Can you tell me what that is?
God: (the sound of crickets)
Me: God, will you give me clarity on what I should be doing?
God: (more silence)
Me: God? Are you even listening? I can’t hear you. Will you answer me?
Day after day, the conversations continued in the same fashion. I would ask God for an answer on a decision, and in return, I would hear nothing. I was at a crossroads, and honestly didn’t know what God wanted me to do. I prayed. I sought counsel. I prayed more. God was incredibly silent.
Early one Saturday morning, I snuck away before anyone in my house was awake and went to a favorite spot in downtown Greenville. The Reedy River cuts through downtown and cascades down multiple waterfalls. At the top of the falls are numerous benches and tables. I love to watch the sun rise above the falls and enjoy the quiet of the morning while reading and drinking a latte from a local coffee shop.
As I was reading the Bible that Saturday, I was again struck with the frustration of not knowing what God wanted me to do. I prayed, God, I really want to do your will. And I will do it, but first I need to know what it is. I mean, how could God expect me to do His will if He wasn’t telling me what it was, right?
As I was praying and reading, I was struck by a simple word from the Lord. It was great on the one hand, because it was the first time in months I’d felt anything fresh from God. But it was frustrating on the other hand, because it was nowhere near the level of detail I desired.
God reminded me on the bench overlooking the waterfall that He had already given me many insights into His will.
In fact, I was currently reading part of His will for my life. In front of me, my Bible was open to the book of Philippians. I continued reading, but this time, the words on the page jumped out at me. I heard God say, “You want to know what I want you to do? Start by being obedient to what I’ve already commanded you. I’ve given you a lot to do. I want you to have my attitude and mindset. I want your life to look like mine.”
I looked down and read Philippians 2:14—“Do everything without grumbling or arguing.” It was like an explosion of dynamite. In an instant, God’s Word burst through the fog of silence. God had spoken clearly about what He desired from my life.
I kept reading and wrote down all the actions and commands I could implement immediately in my life, along with the corresponding Scriptures.
After a few minutes of reading and writing, I had pages of decisions and actions I knew would take a long time to implement. I was overcome with joy that God had spoken!
Here are a few of the entries I wrote in my journal:
– Imitate him (Ephesians 5:1).
– Think about what is pure, holy, and right (Philippians 4:8).
– Be joyful (1 Thessalonians 5:16).
– Pray continually (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
– Give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
– Let the word of Christ dwell in me (Colossians 3:17).
– Be kind to the poor (Proverbs 19:17).
– Focus my heart on heavenly things (Colossians 3:2).
– Be kind and compassionate (Ephesians 4:32).
– Be devoted in prayer (Colossians 4:2).
– Live above reproach (1 Timothy 3:2).
– Make the most of every opportunity (Colossians 4:5).
I spent the next few mornings doing the same exercise—reading through Scripture and writing down the things God wanted to be present in my life. I stopped after writing 74 entries, knowing that I had plenty to work on, for God had clearly spoken.
Then something interesting happened. I had been frustrated with God for so long, but when I read back through my list, I realized I wasn’t coming close to living out what was there.
Was I really imitating Him? Was I always thinking about what was pure, holy and right? I was joyful sometimes, if you didn’t count being stuck in traffic, waiting in slow lines at the airport and paying the bills. I wasn’t praying every day, much less continually. I honestly couldn’t even comprehend the thought of giving thanks in all circumstances. I was thankful sometimes, but in everything? That didn’t make any sense. How was I being kind to the poor? Was I living above reproach and making the most of every opportunity?
After my quick self inventory, I realized that my issue was not not hearing from God; my issue was relying on God to make me obedient to what He had clearly spoken, for all these commands were part of me fulfilling God’s will for my life. Paul encouraged us to “only let us live up to what we have already attained” (Philippians 3:16). God has spoken through His Word, and He continues to do so.
I encourage you to make your own list. Spend time reading through the Bible and writing down how you can implement what you read. When you go through a season of not knowing what God wants you to do, revisit your list and start doing what you’ve written down.
Adapted from Wasted Prayer, Thomas Nelson Publishers (c) 2014. This post originally appeared in January 2016.