Hearing God When Making Decisions – 3December 17, 2008
For the most part, the only television show I watch regularly is “House”. I like the medical mysteries and the interplay of warped psychological profiles. In another post I will give my rationale for why I think the lead fictional character, Gregory House, suffers from a disorder called Aspergers. But in this post, I will use a typical House plot twist to explain how anyone can begin the process of hearing God when making difficult or important decisions.
During most episodes of House, the diagnostic team usually comes to a dead-end with their patient. They cannot figure out what the symptoms are telling them. At that dead-end point, they always go back to their assumptions and question every one of them. In one case, they had assumed the person was female and by questioning their premise, realized he was a male. Another time, they assumed the patient was one person when on closer examination they found he was actually two people (the DNA of an unformed twin was still affecting him). By challenging assumptions and not taking anything for granted, they wipe the board clean of all their agendas and inaccurate medical conclusions.
Apply this to hearing God. No matter what decision you are making, throw out all the assumptions you had previously made about the situation. A couple of examples will school us all on what this looks like.
Simon Peter was the leader of the Apostles. As the church grew in numbers and influence, the leaders of the early church were cast further from their geographical center point, Jerusalem. Jesus had predicted this would happen as he told them to expect to go to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the uttermost parts of the earth. This ever-expanding circle of influence was to be the norm, not the accident. One day, Peter found himself sitting on a roof in a foreign city, contemplating his future and the days ahead for the church he was leading. I can’t read his thoughts, but it doesn’t take a genius to know he must have been puzzling over what “the uttermost parts of the earth” meant.
That is the moment God chose to give him a waking vision. In the vision, he saw all sorts of animals coming down in a sheet. We can assume it was a large enough sheet to accommodate the zoo; probably not available at JC Penney’s…even online. God told Peter to “kill and eat”. The sheet contained animals that the Bible told Peter he was not allowed to eat. Yet God seemed to be ignoring the Bible. That challenged Peter’s basic assumption that God would always make sense. Then God drew the Truth Conclusion in Peter’s mind. “What God has called clean, let no man call unclean“. God repeated this vision three times for emphasis and then it was done.
At that moment, Peter had visitors from another culture. They were slaves and soldiers who had come from a Roman Centurion’s household. They asked Peter to accompany them to meet their master. This required Peter to travel geographically, but also to cross cultural, language and religious boundaries. Peter was still pondering the meaning of the vision when Holy Spirit told him to go with the men. As he entered the home of this Gentile leader, the vision and the situation came together in a fugue. It was the same truth: God had declared the Gentiles clean and Peter was being ordered to agree with God and serve the Gentiles. This startling epiphany changed the world forever. Yet it all started so innocently on the rooftop garden of a house.
For Peter to make the right decision, God had to challenge Peter’s basic assumption that salvation was only for Jewish people. In the same way, when each of us goes to God seeking information or wisdom, we are always carrying a load of beliefs in our intellectual bag. Our assumptions may safely fall into the following categories:
- Assumption of direction: We know which direction we are supposed to go just not the actual destination. Both may be wrong.
- Assumption of timing: We may be sure that this is when the decision must be made and not later. That may be very misleading.
- Assumption of resources: We assume that we know how many resources we have at our disposal. Perhaps there are many more that God is going to provide…or maybe less (see the story of Gideon).
- Assumption of fact: We assume as we try to make a decision that we have all the facts or that all our facts are correct. That’s a bad assumption to make.
- Assumption of history: We assume that God’s previous input is to be applied this time. Or, we assume that the way God acted with others is the same as how he will guide and speak to us.
- Assumption of fundamental factors: In this case, it is the assumption that we know the reason we are supposed to make a certain decision. This often leads to arrogance. As God says “Your ways are not my ways and your thoughts are not my thoughts”.
When I was in pre-med, my grandmother took me aside and told me “If you get into medical school, I will pay for it all.” I took this as a sign then that God wanted me in medical school. This assumed too many things. First, that God wanted what I wanted. Second, that my grandmother would be able to pay my way through. Third, that she would be alive to pay for me (as it happened, she wouldn’t have been). Fourth, that I could get into medical school (I thought it was a certainty, but that may not have been true). Above all, I never even considered that I might like something other than medicine. I had been planning to be a doctor since I was six years old.
But during one semester of pre-med, I discovered that I liked to helping people emotionally and spiritually more than I liked going to school. In fact, I experienced the greatest joy in my life leading my best friend from high school to Jesus. That challenged all my assumptions.
I read recently from a journal entry during that season of my life. I saw how all I had were questions. But during that question/answer phase between me and God, I stripped away all the opaque layers that were dimming the voice of God. As I laid each assumption aside, thoughts would come into my head that confirmed and guided me to the next step. Within six months of beginning the process I was in Bible College and had found my joy.
Here is the key for us all. If we need to make a decision where we want God to speak to us, it is best to look at the process with as few assumptions as possible. Then, as God speaks, each thing He says will not have to fight against our notions of what is best.
Next time, we will talk about how to evaluate the thoughts that go through our head during this process.