Listening for the Holy Spirit
The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace. Romans 8:6 (NIV)
In 2004, I was offered a faculty position at my undergraduate alma mater in Southern California. When we analyzed the pros and cons, the costs seemed to outweigh the benefits like an elk outweighs a squirrel. Even a fat squirrel wouldn’t stand a chance. Here’s what we were facing: on the pro side, (1) it rarely snows in San Diego (we can’t say “never” because it snowed here this past winter) and I was tired of shoveling and scraping windshields; (2) I am passionate about the people and the mission of my alma mater; and (3) it offered an opportunity for my training and ministry to merge directly. On the con side, (1) we’d be walking away from one of the most beautiful landscapes in the US, not to mention the most wilderness outside of Alaska; (2) San Diego has few trees taller than 10 feet; (3) southern California has few year-round streams that can support fly fishing and no big rivers; and (4) the cost of housing is about five times that of rural Idaho. Five times. No joke.
So how did we make the decision? It started with a lot of prayer. And not the usual sort of prayer that sounds more like a list of hostage demands. This was the kind of prayer where you asked questions and listened for answers. Listened, not watched. We weren’t asking God to open doors – an offer awaited us when we got home, so the door was open. We needed to know if this was a good idea for us, for our kids, for the University. And the only way to pray this kind of prayer is to ask questions, and actually listen for answers. Now, I don’t know about you, but my prayers tend to be much more monologues than dialogues, so this was a difficult task for me.
While we waited for answers, we took some practical steps too. I crunched the numbers – they didn’t add up. Not even close. Not even with one eye closed. And we met with our pastor and his wife, who were from LA. They put our minds at ease about raising our kids in southern California. Well, sort of. They told us that raising good kids is difficult and scary and darn near impossible anywhere you live, and southern California was no exception. The pastor, a like-minded pragmatist, said that as long as the numbers added up, nothing should stop us. I didn’t tell him that they didn’t add up.
But faith is not based on circumstances. In the end, we both felt a strong calling to say yes. We both, independently, felt the Holy Spirit saying that this was indeed one of the good works God had prepared for us (Ephesians 2:10), and that we needed to go in faith. Some might say we acted rashly, or simply based on emotion. After all, it was my beloved alma mater, and it was 65oF in February! Who wouldn’t have been swayed?
I won’t deny that it was a calculated risk, and it certainly wasn’t an easy transition. But we can honestly say, with the 20/20 vision of hindsight, that it was the right decision. We now have a home, a great church family, and a school system where our kids seem to be thriving. And my work at the University has been richer than I ever imagined possible in a career. Could we have found similar “success” at one of the other colleges? Maybe. Would the Lord have been with us there just as He is with us here? Certainly. Did we find our “calling”? I like to think so. Was it all black and white? Not a chance.
So what’s the point? Well, the point, I think, is that finding your purpose in life is messy. There are universal purposes we can all embrace and pursue. And there may be opportunities to meld your job with your ministry into something called a vocation. But then there are all those pesky decisions, some tiny and seemingly inconsequential, and others grand and life-altering. Those are the toughest to make. But without a heart tuned to the still small voice of the Holy Spirit, which is, in itself, only possible in a life striving to constantly be aware of God’s presence in everything around us, the task becomes nothing more than a guessing game.
In his book God Hides in Plain Sight1, journalist Dean Nelson writes, “How often does God use the occurrences throughout our day to point us to himself? My sense is that he does it continuously. The biggest variable is whether we are alert enough to get it.” Don’t wait for a “God moment.” All moments are God moments.
Do you want to know why you are here on this planet at this time in history? Do you want to know your purposes in life? To figure it out you’re going to have to be alert. You’re going to have to be paying close attention. And you’re going to have to lean hard on the Holy Spirit.
Take-home point: Finding God’s will requires prayer, Scripture, and wise counsel.
Take-home verse: The mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace. Romans 8:6
Questions for thought
If someone asked you today what your purpose in life was, how would you answer them?
What purposes have you discovered at this point in your journey? How did the Lord reveal them to you?
Are you paying enough attention to God’s hand all around you to see Him at work in the big things as well as the little things?
God, you have purposes ordained for us in this life. We are here for a reason, or for many reasons. Start by instilling your universal purposes in our hearts, then reveal to us by your Spirit your specific purposes. Train us to be aware of your presence, your hand, your grace in everything and everyone around us. And may we find that sweet spot where we are truly living in your will. In your name we pray. Amen.
1 Dean Nelson, God Hides in Plain Sight: How to See the Sacred in a Chaotic World. Brazos Press, 2009.