Wednesday, July 25, 2007

More on As Way Opens

As I wrote on my other blog (, Nancy and I hosted the second gathering of our new worship sharing group last Sunday evening. Much of our talk centered around the topic of spiritual discernment. Besides the personal searching of this topic, it's also of interest because I'm writing a book on the topic.

We spent time talking about how you know a leading is from God -- and not your own ego. Are the voices we hear from the Divine or from Legion inside us? And why are we so fearful at times that we distrust our leadings -- testing them over and over again, afraid to act. One Friend suggested that it was time to put away false modesty and lay claim boldly to the leadings God gives us. To say, ala' Luther, I guess, "Here I stand, I can do no other."

We also talked about whether leadings were always personally rewarding -- or could a true leading take us to dangerous places emotionally or soulfully. As we talked about that I thought of what writer/theologian Frederick Buechner says, “The vocation for you is the one in which your deep gladness and the world’s deep need meet -- something that not only makes you happy but that the world needs to have done” and Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s dictum that “When Christ calls a man he bids him come and die.” Perhaps both overstate sides of leadings. Or perhaps both are true -- ultimately. Perhaps the idea that we are called to die somehow leads us into deep happiness -- as we die to self and live for God.

One of the few things I do know (how's that for boldly proclaiming a leading!) is that discernment is a lifelong process. And as one Friend mentioned the other night, it takes the ability to long backward over life more than it does to look forward. In the case of spiritual discernment, hindsight being twenty-twenty is a very good thing.
-- Brent Bill


MartinK said...

I've sometimes been surprised at the Friends I known who have discounted the possibility that they've experienced direct divine communication. From my reading of olden Friends and from my own experience I suspect Jesus is always trying to reach us. A line from Barclay sung out at me when I read it last year. Taken from Revelations 3:20: "Behold I stand at the door and knock; if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and sup with him, and he with me."

Christ's guidance is always at hand, even in those moments He seems silent. Patience and faith will bring His words into our hearts. We are His servants when we open that door and He's always ready for us. I wonder if our rationalistic society has made us doubt a simple experience that is always close at hand?

Re: leadings and personal rewards, I seem to recall that one of the classic tests of a leading is that it should be something you really Do Not want to do. If it's an act you're looking forward to too much then you might just be fooling yourself with bloated God talk.

MaryM said...

I experienced my first leading from God the day I met my husband. I knew I would marry him. (this is the first I am aware of) This dumbfounded the introverted 14 year old I was at the time. The short story is that we met again 5 years later and have been married 32 years. Since then, we've become convinced Friends.

I've learned that though a number of the Friends I love and respect have a verbal relationship with Jesus, I don't. I've also learned to respect the leadings he does send. and yes, sometimes they are things I don't want to do. Others are answers to prayers. For me a clear indication that I have followed a leading is the deep sense of wellbeing that follows. When I take myself to the place where God intends for me to be (last time was the Harris Teeter grocery), I am expected to be with someone and to share something, usually help them with some large or small issue. At Harris Teeter I was asked where the Quakers met. Sounds silly when I retype it. But over the years, I've learned to discern a little better, and my husband supports my sudden announcements that immediate plans are changed, that I need to be somewhere else. God has never asked me to cross the continent, or the oceans or to do things that many see as big. But I have been asked to sit in hospital waiting rooms with total strangers. I prayed for a job, while in the car running errands and came to home to an offer of a job I hadn't known existed. Most recently I recounted experiences at yearly meeting (didn't want to) and found later I had delivered a message from God to someone else. So I don't doubt that God expects us to do his work, even the little jobs.

The things you do for the least of my brethren you do for me.

Anonymous said...

I've often heard that the true test of a leading is that it is something you wouldn't otherwise do, but I've found that this is not always the case.

One of the most powerful leadings of my life involved a decision about whether or not to change jobs. In my heart of hearts, I wanted to accept the new job offer, but I worried that I desired the new job because it would be more comfortable than the one I had, not because God was leading me to it. It didn't help that I had been in my current job than a year and that taking that position had been a very clear leading!

In an amazing middle-of-the-night encounter with God, I was told that God indeed wanted me to change jobs yet again and, what really blew me away, God actually wanted me to be more comfortable! I was overwhelmed to the point of sobbing because of the love God showed me that night.

Sometimes leadings match up with our desires and sometimes they don't. I think the lesson to be learned is that there is no bright-line, foolproof test. It's always a matter of discernment. Thus, the great need for Brent's new book!

Cathy Habschmidt

RichardM said...

I like to test leadings in three ways whenever possible. First, there is the internal discernment. What does the leading feel like? Does it give you a sense of pride at thinking about how you are the right person for this job? If so, then it's probably an ego-prompting not a genuine leading. Do you feel like you are being told to do it? Do you feel a burden (however slight) that feels lifted when you start to act? Then it's probably the real thing. Also if the leading seems a bit illogical that's also a plus. For example, if it is to suddenly go to the "wrong" grocery store or to take up some volunteer activity for which you are not ideally suited, then it's more likely from God who knows better then it is from you. But this last isn't hard and fast. Sometimes a genuine leading can seem like the logical thing to do. These will usually be cases where there is some emotional resistence to doing it that the leading has to work to overcome.

Second, if it's important and there's sufficient time, talk it over with whatever weighty Friend is available. In some cases a full-blown clearness committee is appropriate but more commonly just a word or two with someone who knows the difference between an ego and God. If they concur that this is a genuine leading it probably is.

Third, look for "way opening." That's the traditional Quaker language but you could also call it sychronicity. Something will happen that is not under your control that will enable you to act on the leading. A job offer will suddenly materialize, or someone will offer to take over some project you had been working on, etc. This is God's way of showoing you it is not your idea, it's his.

Finally, after you begin to act on the leading you can look again. Same three steps. Does it feel light or heavy? Do weighty Friends approve? Do synchronicities occur that help the leading along? If the leading was genuine the signs will continue to confirm the leading.

People who have bought into a materialist ideology that God either doesn't exist or a deist theology that God doesn't get involved will right all these signs off to coincidence and wishful thinking. But those of us who have hung around with Friends for a long time know that this stuff is real and it works. And yes, I've learned that it is wise to listen to my wife's "illogical" leadings.

Brent Bill said...

One of the things I've been rereading is the old version of Christian Faith and Practice by London Yearly Meeting. The stories of early Friends and their leadings are just amazing. I am awed by their seeming clarity of God's leading for them. We talked about that some the other night and I wondered alound whether they were as clear while the leading was occuring and being lived out or did they reach that clarity after being obedient to the leading? Or both?

Like Martin, I fear our rationalistic age has made us suspicious of "God-talk" -- either God talking to us or us talking about our experiences of God's movement in our lives. After all, this kind of stuff doesn't fit scientific models. And while, as Richardm points out, there are some important steps in testing a leading, it does seem to me to be, at best, an art rather than a science.

And for that I'm grateful. I've always done much better at art than science. And an artits's mistakes are rarely fatal, whilst that's not always true of scientists!