Category Archives: In Practice

Discernment—Where to Start?

How do you discern the will of God for your life?

This is one of the most important spiritual questions to ask, yet one of the most difficult to answer. Just as you have to develop your own personal relationship with God, no one can do your discerning for you.

While there are no sure formulas, here’s a good place to start your discernment process that I have found very helpful in my own life:

1. Humble yourself before God.

“Let go” of your attachment to certain, set outcomes and ways of being in the world. In gratitude for God’s mercy, grace and love, open yourself to however the Holy Spirit may want to use you to serve Christ.

Jesus is our example. He surrendered whatever impulse he may have had to further his own self-interest. He voluntarily “emptied himself” and took the form of a servant, even to the point of giving up his life to obey God’s will and purposes for his life. (Philippians 2:5-11)

2. Offer yourself to God.

At the same time, bring yourself fully into the discernment process. You may think that surrender means emptying yourself of all your desires and everything that makes you “you” in order to discern the will of God. Not so. Discerning the will of God is not done in a vacuum.

To relinquish your will to God, you need to know your own will. To offer yourself in God’s service, you need to know what your unique self has been prepared to do. Your personal interests, abilities, personality, passions, and experience all go into the “you” that you are offering to God as a “living (not dead, not formless) sacrifice” (Romans 12:1).

You may want to lead a group, to create something, to start a new business, to do something nice for someone, or any number of other things. Don’t look for the “right” thing to do for God at this stage, but be honest with God about your will and vision, as best you know them. Ask yourself, “What is deep within my heart and mind that I want to do with my life?” (See Deut. 1:23; Luke 1:3; Acts 15:28 for a few biblical examples of leaders who sought to serve God by considering what seemed good to them, in consultation with God and others.)

3. Release your will and vision to the Holy Spirit.

Once you’ve specifically told God what you want, then release your will and vision as fully as possible. Ask the Holy Spirit to refine your thinking and heart’s desires for your life, or to replace them altogether. Pray to want what God wants, to see God’s vision for you, and to be able to align your will completely with God’s purposes for you. (See Mark 10:46-52; Luke 22:42.)

All of this calls for self-reflection and genuine openness to God’s working within you. The process requires time, prayer, and patience to learn how to recognize and yield to the voice of the Holy Spirit.

Discerning the will of God, then, is more a matter of walking by faith, a step at a time; than it is about getting a complete vision for the rest of your life all at once, and then going out to do it. In other words, to discern the will of God is not about simply getting God to answer to your question, “What should I do?”

Rather, discernment is the fruit of a process of personal transformation. As you repeatedly humble yourself before God, offer your body as a living sacrifice, and seek to renew your mind by soaking up Scripture and listening attentively to the Holy Spirit, you will grow in your ability to discern the will of God for your life.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12 :1-2, NRSV)

The Point: The best place to begin any discernment process is in extended prayer. However, don’t just seek an answer from God. Seek to be transformed by God. Humbly empty yourself of your own self-interest before God, while you simultaneously offer all of your unique self to God. Tell God what you want, while you keep asking, “But what do you want, my Lord?” Keep watching to see what happens as you continue to pray and listen for the voice of the Holy Spirit-within your thinking, perspective, feelings, and circumstances. And go from there.

A Prayer: “Heavenly Father, take my will and let it be completely conformed to your will for my life. Help me to see better what is in my heart and how you made me. Teach me how to offer myself fully to you, as a fully engaged individual, uniquely made and called. Teach me how to recognize the voice of the Holy Spirit, and use my life in ways that best serve Christ’s purposes. Amen.”

© Timothy C. Geoffrion, 2010. All rights reserved. Please share this article with as many people as possible, with proper acknowledgment of authorship and web-address.


Filed under Day to Day, In Practice, Prayer

Praying on Purpose

Moon over Chartres Cathedral

“Lord God,

please help me

to live fully

to love deeply, and

to give freely,

so that

all those I meet today

may know and experience you

through me.”

Every morning, I pray this prayer to breathe new life into my mind and heart. The words focus my attention outside of myself. They re-orient me and motivate me. They remind me that my life has meaning in relationship with God, and purpose as I reflect the light of Jesus Christ to others.

I created this prayer several years ago as part of a coaching exercise to help me to think more deeply about my purpose. Since then, its meaning and value for my daily life and relationship with God has continued to grow.

What does praying on purpose look like for you? If you don’t already have a set prayer to help you start your day, try jotting down simple phrases that express the desires of your heart and your vision for your life.

What do you most want out of each day? What do you think God is calling you to? What words or images evoke a deep feeling within you that will open your heart toward God and send you forward with renewed energy and anticipation?

I chose “to live fully” for my prayer because I want to experience the “abundant life” Jesus envisions for me. (John 10:10) I’m thinking about a life full of loving relationships, worthwhile work, helpful service, meaningful interaction with others, and doing all the good God intends for me to do each day. This means, I’m really praying that the Holy Spirit will fill me and lead me in every possible way.

I pray to love, because when I am loving others I am closest to God. To love is also the best way to make a difference in the world on a person-to-person basis. I ask to love deeply so that my attention to others won’t be superficial or contrived, but genuine, heartfelt, and pure.

I want to give freely so that I can be more selfless, and less grasping and greedy. I don’t want to be so possessed by my possessions, but to be free to share generously. I want to be more like Jesus, who came “not to be served, but to serve.” (Mark 10:45)

My prayer benefits me greatly, but the ultimate focus is not on me. I am praying that God will enable me to experience more of Jesus, and through him, more of life—true life, eternal life, purposeful life— to motivate others to come to know Jesus better, too.

I want others to see how my faith and relationship with God has come to permeate more and more of my life, and how much better my life is with God than without God. If other people can see Christ’s love, care, joy, power, peace, and purpose at work in my life, perhaps they will seek a closer relationship with him for themselves.

That’s my prayer.

What’s yours?

I pray that out of [the Father’s] glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:16-19, NIV)

Point: When you align your prayers with God’s purposes for your life, you will experience a more intimate relationship with God and greater energy for daily living. The Holy Spirit can use your words to give you more motivation and inspiration to get outside of yourself and your own problems, so that you can live with more purpose and joy.

Prayer: “Loving God, thank you for the life that comes from being in an intimate relationship with you. Please help me to experience more of Jesus, more of your love, and more of the Holy Spirit, so that I may increasingly know you and reflect your grace and love to others.”

© Timothy C. Geoffrion, 2010. Please share freely with others with proper acknowledgment of source!


Filed under In Practice, Prayer

All In

Jill on the Camino

How does uncertainty affect your faith and your passion for serving Christ? What happens within you when you’re anxious or afraid about the future? When life starts to collapse around you, what’s your instinctive response?
We may suddenly feel abandoned by God and desperate to take matters into our own hands. We may feel that God isn’t coming through for us, or we may question God’s activity in our lives. In our fear, frustration or discouragement, we may back off our commitment to Christ or lose our passion for ministry. We may find ourselves more easily get distracted or unable to focus on God or on our priorities. Or worse. We may slide into trying to comfort ourselves or satisfy our needs in ways that feel good at the moment, but wind up harming ourselves or others.

At such times, we need to make a move. Our discombobulating circumstances are giving us an opportunity to go deeper in our spiritual life, but the decision about which way we are going to go is ours.

We have to make a choice. We can succumb to our instinctive reactions and continue drifting, playing it safe, or making self-defeating choices.  Or, we can go the other way.

We can seize the opportunity to go “all in.”

I’m alluding, of course, to the moment when gamblers decide to wager all that they have on the game at hand. They cannot possibly know for sure if they will win, but in order to be successful they must put enough money into the pot to stay in the game and enough to make winning worthwhile. And sometimes, this means going all in, risking everything on their bet.

In life, all of us are placing bets every day. We invest ourselves and resources into a relationship, a job, an experience, or any number of other things. With each investment, we are betting that this way of living will pay off for us in one way or another—yielding more love, more money, more opportunity, more fun, more satisfaction, more meaning, more something—better than if we invested in someone or something else.

With each decision, each of us is making bets related to our spiritual life, too. The more we wager on what we can get out of this life for ourselves, the less we are investing in God and in Christ’s call on our lives. And vice versa.

Following Christ is not a game, to be sure, but, to use Pascal’s language, living by faith does require a wager. Since none of us has ever seen God or been resurrected from the dead, we cannot know for sure that there is life after death or if faith in Christ is the key to eternal life. But we can place our bets.

We may not know for sure if the Holy Spirit is really at work in our lives or how God is going to provide for our needs, but we can choose to trust and live accordingly. We can resist the temptation to slide away from God or stay stuck in the quagmire of doubt and fear, and put our faith into action in concrete ways. We can say “yes” to the Holy Spirit and deepen our commitment to Christ and others, and “no” to competing impulses and loyalties, letting the chips fall where they may.

Where the need to make spiritual choices becomes real to me is when I start to freeze up because I feel anxious about the future or about my ability to preach, teach or write effectively. I feel it when I’m talking to those who are suffering or who are struggling with intense, honest intellectual questions, and I have to decide if I am going to melt away out of fear of upsetting them or openly affirm my faith in God’s goodness and activity in our lives.

I feel great inner tension when I am invited to minister in a country where I may not be safe, and I have to decide if I will accept the call or hold back out of fear. Like many people, over this past year, my investments and the market value of my house dropped significantly, and contributions have failed to keep up with expenses. Do I pull back to protect my interests or press forward with the ministry with fewer assurances for myself?

In each situation, I cannot remain neutral or passive. I have to make decisions.

What about you? Are your circumstances right now forcing you to make some choices? Is the Holy Spirit calling you to stop hedging your bets and go all in—or, at least, more in than you have been willing to go up to this point?

Today is the 25th anniversary of my ordination. On June 3, 1984, the pastors and elders of my church laid hands on Jill and me as we knelt in front of the congregation. We were committing ourselves to serve Jesus Christ for the rest of our lives as ministers of the Gospel.

Now, twenty-five years later, I humbly rededicate myself to this calling. By God’s grace, I want to live my life for Christ as fully and faithfully as possible, all in.

[Jesus] called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? (Mark 8:34-37, NRSV)


Filed under In Practice, Prayer