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At one point or another, most of us have asked the question “what should I do next?”. Maybe it was chasing which uni to go to, whether to take a job offer, whether to buy a house, if you wanted it super-sized or not…you know, all the major life questions.
For a person of faith who believe that God might also be a part of the decision making process and that He might wish to speak with them about any potential path, these choices can seem even more complicated. “I am not sure what I think, and now I am struggling to discern the voice of God too”.
Over the last couple of days we have seen some of the big hitters in the Bible, apostles and some of Jesus disciples, discovering the ‘way forward’ in a variety of ways.
First up is the question of circumcision. Should new converts to the Christian faith be made to undergo a physical rite of passage that God’s people have had to up till this point in history, or is that no longer the symbol of being one of God’s people?
The way they discerned the voice of God was to call a big conference. Get all the best heads in the same room, pray, seek the leading of the Holy Spirit, search the scriptures, discuss the pros and cons.
Next up is a straight-up disagreement. Unresolved conflict between two saints. Paul (who is responsible for most of the New Testament) and Barnabas (who has spent a while working with Paul already and is a highly valued leader n the early church) can not agree about whether to include a guy called John-Mark in their team.
They cant agree. They part ways (hopefully amicably) and both head in separate directions hoping that the part of Gods mission which they now find themselves serving, will be blessed by Him.
Then we flip back to the decisions previously made about circumcision. Paul gets a new wingman named Timothy and circumcises him! Imagine Timothy’s protests:
Tim: “But we just had that massive conference and everyone..EVERYONE decided that I did not need to do this any more!”
Paul: “Take this aspirin while I just sharpen this knife”
In this moment Paul is displaying total pragmatism. He has won the circumcision battle and convinced the apostles in Jerusalem that it was not a custom they needed to continue – BUT, he knows that in the area where Timothy is about to go and grow churches, he will get chased out of town unless he looks like “one of them”…so…theology is put to one side, grace is applied, but so is pragmatic sacrifice.
Then we get a direct vision given to Paul in the middle of the night – the Macedonian man, calling Paul and asking him to divert his path, change his plans, and come to introduce the people of Macedonia to Jesus.
Sometimes God guides us through dreams and visions (though perhaps rarely).
Sometimes God guides through the scriptures, through prayer and through the ‘wisdom of the saints’ – others who are in our community of faith who are wise and experienced and honest.
Sometimes God leaves us to make the wisest decision in the circumstances that we are able.
Sometimes we get it wrong…and yet there is still space for God to work in and through us.
The key is to keep your ears open.