My congregation is in the midst of finding its next pastor, and I’m on the committee. It’s been a real learning experience, believe me. The whole process looks like an executive search, but it’s not. It’s all about discerning God’s will for our community.
Discerning God’s will sounds big and scary, especially for those of us who aren’t trained in things like that. How do we go about it? How long will it take, and can we make it go faster? How will we know if we’re doing it right? What if we get it wrong?
Here’s some of what I’ve learned and experienced together about discerning God’s will. Maybe it’ll be useful for you, too.
12 ways to pray for God’s will
- Discerning God’s will is going to take as long as it needs to take. We can’t fit it into a schedule.
- A lot. All the time. If you have a copy of Evangelical Lutheran Worship, you’ll find a lot of excellent prayer texts in the “Additional Prayers” section that begins on page 72. I especially like the prayer of those seeking deeper knowledge of God, at the top of page 76, and just about all the prayers on page 86.
- Do the homework. Study the question, study the evidence, get all the information you can and soak it all in. Work as if it depended on you alone and pray as if it depended on God alone.
- A lot. All the time. Pray for openness to God’s will.
- Relax into not knowing yet, hard as that may be. It will take as long as it needs to take.
- Examine your own feelings about the choices. Does something look appealing for selfish, irrelevant, or just plain bad reasons? (For example, I liked one candidate because he reminded me of an old boyfriend. Not a good reason. Really not a good reason.) Ask God to help you recognize and let go of those unhealthy reasons.
- A lot. All the time. Pray for humility.
- Talk it over with a wise friend or among committee members.
- A lot. All the time. Pray for a deep love of God and of the people who will be affected by this decision.
- If you conclude that a particular choice isn’t God’s will for you, pray about that for a day or two before acting. Don’t make that rejection phone call just yet.
- If you decide that none of the choices before you are God’s will for you, pray about that for a day or two before acting. Go back and make sure you’ve done all your homework. Pray for clarity, humility, and openness to God’s will. Talk it over again. Pray some more. And don’t despair.
- If you come to the conclusion that a particular choice is God’s will for you, pray about that for a day or two before acting. If you feel a deep sense of calm and rightness, if you feel that this choice grew out of the best part of your heart or your community’s heart, that this choice gives glory to God, then you just might have discerned God’s will. And your life is changed forever. Thanks be to God!
Audrey Novak Riley is director for stewardship for Women of the ELCA.