Sunday, March 12, 2017

Follow the Yellow Brick Road: Using Discernment When You Don't Sense God

When it comes to movies, a family favorite is definitely The Wizard of Oz.  I’ve been watching this movie since I was a little girl and I’m always amused to uncover new lessons or details from each viewing.  If you haven’t heard of this classic- it details Dorothy, a farm girl from Kansas, whose house gets caught in a tornado. The tornado transports the house (with Dorothy and her dog inside) to a different land, and in a nutshell, she spends the rest of the movie trying to get back home.

 One notable detail throughout the movie is the route she must take in order to get home: in the beginning, she’s kindly instructed by the singing-dancing munchkins that she must seek the assistance from the Wizard of Oz in Emerald City.  In order to get to Emerald City, she must “Follow the yellow brick road!”

This bright road was very distinct and could be seen for miles and miles.  Although at some points Dorothy had to make decisions on which direction to take whenever she came to a fork in the road, she knew to “follow the yellow brick road.”

Talk about clear instructions!  Dorothy knew how to discern the path that would ultimately get her home.

But what happens when the path isn’t clearly defined?  What do you do? How do you decide?

The topic of discernment has been weighing on me for the last two weeks, and I’m so excited to finally be able to talk about it!

First, I want to start by defining what discernment is.  Overall, discernment implies the ability to judge well.  From a biblical or spiritual context, we’re taught discernment is the ability to use proper judgment regarding direction or counseling.  In Scripture we’re also taught to use discernment to determine spirits, character and/or fruits of a person, and information (whether it comes from God or the enemy):

Test all things; hold fast what is good.
~ 1 Thessalonians 5:21

And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ,
~Philippians 1:9-10

In order to have discernment, we must have wisdom.  The two go hand in hand.  Thus, we should always be in fellowship with God, especially about judging or making decisions, because our wisdom comes from Him:

Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths.
~Proverbs 3: 5-6

The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD,
And He delights in his way.
~Psalm 37:23

But what do you do when you don’t sense God’s presence?  How do you know which path to take?

I’ve pondered over these questions over the last few weeks.  With my book in its final stages- and additional things in both my personal and professional life garnering my attention- I’ve received numerous opportunities to make decisions, which required discernment.

As I’ve previously mentioned, I haven’t really sensed God’s physical presence in several weeks.  I haven’t heard His voice.  At first, I contributed this to my transition from a “baby” Christian to an “adult” Christian, where I would rely on the guidance from the Holy Spirit. 

Still- I missed my Father’s voice!

I can still recall the last time I felt God in my room.  It had been frightening, yet comforting.  I knew sovereign power had been there with me in that room and let me tell you- once you’ve been surrounded by God’s loving presence, you want to immediately find your way back to that Presence again, back to Him.

So why can we greatly sense God at times and at times we can’t?

Good question!

Only God truly knows why He reveals His presence during certain moments.  BUT- I truly believe He shows Himself to those who truly and earnestly seek Him:

And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.
~Jeremiah 29:13

For my blog today, I want to break my entry into two parts.  In the first part I’ll disclose my own personal observations on why it has been challenging to sense God’s presence at times.  In the second part, I’ll talk more in depth about discernment and how to make decisions when you don’t sense God.

So, let’s get started!
 Part One:  Possible Reasons for Not Sensing God’s Presence
  1.    Sin - This is probably the most obvious reason.  God cannot be where sin is.  Genesis, chapters 2 and 3, details how Adam and Eve were kicked out of the Garden of Eden because of sin.  God couldn’t even travel with the people of Israel along their trek to the Promised Land because of their sin (Exodus 33).

God did send Jesus to remove us from our sin so we could have a connection and relationship to Him.  While we have the gift of salvation through Christ, our constant acts of sin serve as barriers to God, and the only way we can reconnect to Him is to repent each and every time we commit sins.

2.  Testing- Simply put, you’re being tested.  Like a teacher tests your competence on a subject, sometimes God allows testing so we can see where we truly stand with Him.  Testing can show our spiritual competence, if you will.  Now on a positive note, by going through these trials and testing, God is able to purge any impurities from our hearts and make us stronger and better.  Personally, I’ve realized I’ve struggled to sense God’s presence during moments of testing,

You know, I’ve always been fascinated with the book of Job, which narrates the story of one particular righteous and good man.  Job garners the attention of Satan after God mentions Job’s strong character.  God, knowing Job’s character, allows Satan to test him.  Though he loses everyone and everything around him (wife, children, status, wealth, and health), Job continues to have faith in God and His sovereignty.   As the testing continues, Job does stumble and sins (he questions God’s righteous execution of His power). In the end, because of God’s great mercy and grace, He blesses Job’s latter part of life more greatly than the first part of life. (Please note: Job did repent and humbled himself).

3.  God is trying to take you higher-  Like testing, God will use moments of discomfort to push you forward.  One of the things I’ve learned over the past few weeks is God has been doing this very thing to me.  He’s been pushing me toward the next level, which includes the next level of blessings.  Because every new level of blessings also comes with a new level of devils, God has to strengthen us.  He has to prepare us.  Because my current level of spiritual competence would not be sufficient in my new level, God challenged me to go deeper in my spirituality.

Think of it like this: let’s say you participate in a 5k race.  Then, let’s say the next race requires you to run 10k.  Would you simply continue training on a 5k level?  No! If you restricted yourself to the training standards for a 5k race, you would not have the stamina to successfully complete the 10k race.

As I reflected over these last few weeks, I found that God had extended the distance to be in His presence so that I would increase my spiritual stamina.  My ways as a “baby” Christian were no longer sufficient now that I matured into an adult.  God required more of me.

Now, let me preface this last one by disclosing this is something I always come back to because God continues to remind me-

4.  He’s never gone-  We are never without God.  If you can, recall the blog where I described the nurturing parent who may let his baby cry because he’s able to discern that the child isn’t in any real danger.  Over the last few weeks, I’ve really started to focus and internalize the fact that my Father is always with me.  Although I may not be able to sense His presence all the time, I know God is with me.

In the world of psychology, this is called secured attachment.  Taken from “The Strange Situation” experiment conducted by Mary Ainsworth (expanded study on John Bowlby’s attachment theory) this concept describes the ability for a child to ultimately play safely and explore an environment because s/he knows their parent is nearby and able to help/protect/guide if needed.

 Spiritually speaking, this type of secured attachment to God (ie TRUST and FAITH) is a clear indicator of one’s spiritual maturity.  I believe God has allowed me to be tested so this very concept could be embraced and internalized.  I can live, and develop, and explore safely because I know my Father is nearby and able to help/protect/guide if needed.  I’ll share a quote given recently by a fellow church member: “You have to know that you know that you know!”  True faith is “seeing” when you don’t see… it’s believing despite what is being shown (Hebrews 11:1). 

Even earlier today, I had to say that quote aloud: “Today, I know that I know that I know God is with me.  I know He is for me.  I know His plans are to prosper me.”

There comes a point (which has been in my case) where God says, “All right!  Do you really trust Me?  Don’t say you do- show that you do!”  Like how God encourages us to try or test His goodness so He can prove to us how good He really is (Malachi 3:10), God also wants that same reciprocity.  He wants us to talk the talk and walk the walk:

But be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.
~James 1:22

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