Time for a book review! I’ve written about Gordon Smith’s book Courage and Calling several times on this blog because it had a huge impact on my life. Awhile ago, I also read his Listening to God in Times of Choice and it was a gem! It’s short but packed with thoughtful, balanced discussion about discernment and decision-making. Three themes really struck me.
1. We can hear God
Smith emphasizes throughout the book that God does speak and that we can hear and respond to him. While this seems so basic, many of us have seen people abuse this idea and end up shying away from listening to God. You’ve probably met someone who starts every sentence with “God told me to” – in college it was a common excuse for breaking up with someone. So, in another classic example of our human inability to balance things, we tend to swing from that extreme to the other – deciding that God doesn’t speak to us personally and individually but instead speaks only through the Bible. God did give us the Bible as his word to us, but that doesn’t mean we should cut off the possibility of him speaking to us directly. Instead we have to practice discerning God’s voice from all the other messages in our minds. Smith writes, “The words of the apostle in 1 Thessalonians 5:19, ‘Do not quench the Spirit,’ are followed in verse 21 by the exhortation, ‘Test everything.'”
Of discernment, he writes,
“Discernment is the most effective where there is a healthy balance between a Calvinist self-suspicion and a Wesleyan self-confidence. We see through a glass darkly, we are sinful, and our motives are never pure. On the other hand, we have the assurance of our Lord that he will be our Shepherd and the promise of Christ that the Spirit of God will be with us and in us.”
2. Our expectations and God’s will for someone are not the same things!
I think most of us have thought, at some point or other, that we really knew what someone else should be doing with their lives (or you’ve had other people tell you what they think you should be doing!). Maybe we’ve had a similar experience and think their experience should follow ours. We really might have valuable advice to give, but sometimes we’re just exalting our own preferences or methods to the level of God’s will. Smith writes,
“We must free one another to choose. We need to enable each individual to respond to God for themselves and resist the temptation to be God to one another or assume that we know what God’s will is for our neighbor . . . we can be discerning communities only if we make it clear and state it often that we believe in the capacity of each Christian to hear the voice of God and that we do not equate the voice of God with the expectations we have of one another.”
3. God’s silence or “absence”
Smith discusses this several times throughout the book. We want answers in these times of choice and what happens if we don’t hear anything?! Smith writes that God doesn’t necessarily always guide us clearly or give us a simple answer because letting us struggle to figure it out is part of our growth. As we wrestle with decisions, we have to develop our trust in him, be honest with ourselves and mature. I’ll leave you with this quote to chew on,
“The cloud of uncertainty that many Christians feel about their decisions, Tozer says, arises out of a failure to see that God has given them the freedom ‘to follow their own personal bent, guided only by their love for Him and for their fellow men.’ Tozer stresses that this kind of decision-making is not inherently less spiritual. We actually honor God by exercising our judgment and even our preferences.”
Agree? Disagree? What do you think of these concepts?