I never cared for discernment in my early years of being a Christian. All that mattered to me was love and passion. As long as I loved God and was passionate about reaching people, I was on the right track.
However, a few years into ministry and leadership roles, I learned that passion was not enough to accomplish the things that God was calling me to do. It’s only in recent years that I began to value discernment.
Through this process, I have come to learn there are three stages of discerning the will of God: discerning His will, His timing and His ways.
Discerning God’s Will
How can you know if something is from God or from your own imagination? Many people come up to me and ask, “Pastor Will, there is something on my heart that I feel like God wants me to do but how can I know if it’s from God or just my own desire?” To this I answer, there is a difference between a good thing and a God thing. A good thing comes and goes, a God thing comes and stays. A good thought is a momentary passion that fades in time. A God thought will grip your heart and as time goes on the desire continues to burn with a greater passion. A God thing will only grow as time goes on but a good thing will become a distant memory.
Some practical tips? First, pray. Pray and see how God speaks to you during your time in prayer. Second, seek confirmation by asking God. Third, seek counsel. Ask a mentor or pastor what their thoughts are on how you sense God is leading you.
Discerning God’s Timing
“Discerning the will of God is one thing, discerning God’s timing is something entirely else. ”
Now just because you discern that God is telling you to do something, it does not mean God is telling you to do it now. Joseph had a dream that God was going to raise him up to be in a position of great influence and leadership. Little did he know that dream was to be fulfilled nearly 13 years later. David was anointed King but he did not step into power until roughly 20 years later. David was anointed king (God’s will), roughly 20 years later David was made king (God’s timing) then David led according to God’s heart (God’s way).
However, there were a few times David failed at leading God’s way. One example is when David counted his army. After a battle with the Philistines David decided that he would count his army. To which his servant Joab responded: “May the LORD add to his people a hundred times as many as they are! Are they not, my Lord the king, all of them my lord’s servants? Why then should my lord require this?”
The story unfolds with David forcing Joab to count the army and in doing so, David did it his way rather than God’s way. Instead of trusting in God’s power and sovereignty David trusted in his army. And as a result, God punished the Israelites because David did it his way.
Discerning the will of God is one thing, discerning God’s timing is something entirely else. Discerning God’s timing requires a more mature and surrendered heart. A heart that is not gripped by ambition but by the Holy Spirit. The one who desires to do God’s will must yield him or herself to God’s timing.
How can you discern when it’s God’s timing? It flows. When God’s time is right, it just happens. You don’t need to force it, you don’t need to make it happen; God makes it happen. When God makes it happen, He sustains it. When you make it happen, you have to sustain it.
Ask yourself, is it premature to move forward? Am I trying to force something to happen or are things flowing? Are the right resources and people around me to do what I sense God is calling me to do?
Discerning God’s Way
Once you discern God’s will and God’s timing, then it’s time to do it His way. Doing things His way requires another step of maturity and dependence on the Holy Spirit. In order for you to do things God’s way, you must be walking with the Holy Spirit every day. Doing it God’s way is to seek His guidance and voice every single step. Many have heard from God but they no longer hear from God. One is past tense, one is present tense. Doing things God’s way requires a person to be completely yielded to hear His voice. This is so much harder than it sounds.
How can you examine your heart to see if you are doing it God’s way? Search your heart. Rid yourself of ambition and selfish gain. Are you compromising your convictions and disobeying the Word of God? Are you grieving or quenching the Holy Spirit?