Discerning the Will of God?

A lot of attention is given in Pop American Christianity to discerning the will of God. This mostly comes from Evangelicals, but the sensibilities have crept into all denominations. You hear talk of an individual trying to discern the will of God for their life in such things as which school to attend, what vocation to choose, who to marry, and where to live.

Some individuals talk with a great deal of certainty in having discovered God’s will in some of these areas. They can speak of specific answers to prayer, of signs, or of orchestrated circumstances, and the like. Other individuals will confess to frustration in being less certain and lacking in direct and clear indications of what God wants them to do.

This piece will necessarily be too short to address this sense, often with urgency, of discerning God’s will for one’s life. And I do not want to entirely rule out the possibility that God can so direct. But I do want to say that I think the attempt at such discernment can be misplaced.

I believe that talk of “discernment” should be replaced with talk of “learning”. Largely, we are taught what God’s will is. The Psalmist intones, “Teach me to do your will, for you are my God” (Ps. 143:10). Especially in the Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, and in the Lord’s Prayer we learn what God’s will is, although we will spend a lifetime learning it well! We don’t have to be unclear about it. We can know “God’s Will” because he reveals it to us in Scripture! Our concern should rather be in doing his will instead of doing our own will. Little wonder we are taught to pray, “Thy will be done.”

Concerning decisions we make we are instructed to ask for wisdom (cf. James 1:5). We should make personal decisions with an eye to asking what best conforms to God’s will revealed in his word. Next week I will flesh out a few things we can know about God’s will.

Since You Asked…

What is the purpose of the Psalm Reading? And why do we often sing (chant) the Psalm?

“The appointed psalm is sung as a meditation on the First Lesson, a response to it, and a bridge to the Second Lesson. … Hearers of the lessons need a chance to assimilate the First Lesson before the Second Lesson begins. The required use of a psalm between the lessons provides for the restoration of psalm singing to its traditional place in the life of the church and gives the worshiper the opportunity to participate in the singing (or reading) of a portion of Scripture…” (from “Manual on the Liturgy” companion to the LBW, from Augsburg Pub.)

Chanting can be thought of as “exalted speech”. It sets the speech apart from regular speech and the slower cadence allows for reflection.