March 25, 2008

The Harder Way

But Moses said to the LORD, "O my Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor even now that you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue."
Exodus 4:10

Occasionally, someone asks me how they can "discern God's will" for his/her life. That's a tall order. Inevitably, the prophet's words in Micah 6:8 pop into my head—a verse that was sealed in my memory during youth group days. "O people, the LORD has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God." (NLT) Over the years, this verse has invited me to imagine that, more often than not, "God's will" for us is less a strict, preset path and more often about the way we walk with Jesus Christ. In whatever work or play you choose to take up, wherever you choose to take it up, do it with justice, mercy, and humility before God.

Still, that's not what people mean when they ask. We want to know what path to choose, which course God would have us take, which route we should follow at this or that juncture in our lives. And it's a reasonable request, I think, as most of us will face more than a few difficult choices in our lifetimes.

I suppose there are the obvious guidelines for faithful discernment: Pray … a lot. Immerse yourself in Scripture, as what you read there will inevitably shape what you finally discern. Talk to people you trust; hammer out your decisions on the anvil of good, honest conversation with fellow pilgrims. After these measures, "wait patiently on the Lord" (Psalm 37:7). All of this is good advice, and I've both given it and received it over the seasons. The Lord will not turn a deaf ear to our earnest prayers for guidance (Matthew 7:7).

But still I think there is one other way for the Christian to discern God's will for his/her life. Faced with a choice of this path or that path, I suspect that the place Christ will usually call us is precisely the place that's harder to go. (I know, I know … this is not what you wanted to hear.)

But consider Moses, the stuttering leader-hero of the Hebrew slaves. Trying to run from his troubled past, God slips up on him in the enigmatic burning bush (Exodus 3-4) and summons him to return to the same Egypt from which he had earlier fled. Why? God has something he wants him to say to Pharoah (the superpower of the land, whose thumb keeps God's people from freedom). Something to say?! A stutterer? This is some kind of joke, right?! So, Moses protests … a lot. But God insists … a lot. God's will: Moses can no longer hide out there in the lonely comfort of the Midian wilderness. God's calling turns out to be the harder way, and Moses' must choose between comfort and trust. As Sara Groves sings, "I am caught between the promise and the things I know."

It is not that Christ somehow takes pleasure in our pain, or revels in the burdens of a harder path (Matthew 11:28-30). It is rather, I think, that Christ will not have us worshipping our securities. It is the will of God to keep us alive to his constant calling—our faith fresh, our responsiveness to the Spirit supple. Too often we find our sanctuary in the predictable routines of a rather settled life, not in God's sheltering grace. This will not do for a God who has audaciously set out to redeem the world (1 Corinthians 15:20-26) and invites us to lend a hand.

So, we should not be surprised when we sense a tug down a new, challenging path. After all, we bear on our lives the baptismal mark of a Jesus who is always calling his people farther down the path of discipleship (Matthew 16:24-25). The Christ way (and therefore Christ's will) often turns out to be the harder way, if for no other reason than along those Jesus-paths we learn how to trust more deeply in this saving-sanctifying-sending God. Moses goes to Pharoah; Jesus goes to the cross; we go more faithfully into our lives, looking for those moments when we are called to walk in greater trust.