“Who can know God’s counsel, or who can conceive what the Lord intends?” These opening words from the Book of Wisdom are a question that many of us have asked as we try to discern the will of God in our lives. It can be difficult to know what God is asking of us and even harder at times to follow it. There are however a few guideposts that we can stake out in our efforts to begin discerning God’s wishes.
For one, we can say with confidence that it is never God’s will that we sin. Sin leads to sorrow and hurt in other people’s lives and our own. It is never God’s will that we sin. So if we are aware that some action, attitude or decision is in the direction of sin, it is not God’s will that we pursue it and we should pray for the grace to go a different way.
Secondly, we can also safely mark out the boundaries of truth. This is truth as it is proclaimed, defined and shared with us through the gift of his risen voice in the church. We can see why then it is to our great advantage to learn as much we can about the guidance and teachings of the church. This guidance and teaching is essential in our discerning of God’s will. It is never God’s will that we choose actions or directions that are in conflict or contradictory to truth as defined and proclaimed by him through the church.
Thirdly, the discerning of God’s will emerges in prayer. Once we have ruled out sin and set the boundaries of truth, then we are able to engage God with the realities of love, prudence and peace. While staying free of sin and within the boundaries of truth, what is the best path of love, prudently chosen and timed, that best yields “peace of heart” for ourselves and ,please God, also for others. This peace that we receive does not necessarily mean that our lives will be any less tumultuous, but it does mean that God will grant a peace of knowing that we are walking with him. His presence gives this “peace” even if we are enduring the cross.
We should expect to be surprised at times as to how God is using things. In the second reading, Paul is sending back the run-away slave Onesimus to his owner, a fellow Christian. Paul reveals to the owner that his former slave has become a Christian and asks that he now welcome him as a brother. Sometimes you and I too are in the midst of far greater things being played out, and it is only looking back in prayer sometimes that we see how God used this or that.
Lastly, Christ challenges us to be aware that there also some even more difficult realities in diserning God’s will, times when we especially need his supporting grace. He encourages us to plan and be smart but to remember also that God’s will includes carrying one’s cross and not planning to avoid it. He reminds us that there is a certain renunciation of this world and its things. A renunciation that means we allow the things of this world to be brought into our discernment and to be placed into God’s hands to be gifted according to his desires and wishes as discerned in prayer.
Questions for Prayer
1. What are the boundaries of my discernment?
2. Where do I most need God’s guidance?
Fr. Vander Steeg is pastor of St. Bernard Parish, Green Bay.