I once read an account of the many political defeats Abraham Lincoln suffered before he finally got elected to the presidency. I wondered why he hadn’t given up. I decided that God must have continued to encourage and motivate him to pursue that path.
The apostle Paul, on the other hand, asked three times for the Lord to remove his affliction (which some scholars believe to be a loss of sight). God finally told him no, but graciously explained the purpose of the affliction: to keep Paul humble and to demonstrate that God’s grace was sufficient for him, and that His strength is made perfect through our weaknesses. Once Paul understood God’s purpose in the trial, Paul quit asking for deliverance because he lived to glorify God, not for his personal comfort and pleasure. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)
If our desire is truly to please and glorify God, He will reveal His will to us. He will show us when to persevere and when to give up.
This is the process I have discovered that works for me:
- Become very familiar with what the Bible says.
It is through the Bible that we learn of God’s character and what He considers right and wrong. When I started reading the Bible on a daily basis, I discovered that many things I had thought were ok were not ok in God’s eyes! He will never direct us to do anything that goes against His standards of righteousness.
- Prayerfully ask God to reveal my true motives to me.
The Bible says, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9, NIV) Our sinful nature is very good at self-justification. The only truly pure motive is to do something simply because God said to, with no expectation of receiving any human reward (not even thanks or appreciation). My reward in obeying God sacrificially is the joy I feel at knowing I’m pleasing Him. If I’m doing something nice so others will think well of me, that is a selfish, impure motive. So, I need to ask God questions like: Is selfishness my motive? Is there something I’m hoping to get out of this for myself? Is fear my motive? Am I doing something, or avoiding something, because of fear, panic, or anxiety?
Any sin that I have not confessed and repented of will hinder the work of God in my life: gossip, a lack of forgiveness, lust, rebellion, etc.
I must ask God to reveal my sin to me, so I can deal with it and be cleansed through repentance and His forgiveness. Many times, when I think I’m waiting on God, it turns out that Hes waiting on me!
Give God time to reveal my motives and sins to me. It also takes time to surrender my selfish desires and allow God to replace them with His unselfish desires. My sinful nature is most concerned about my comfort and what I feel is best for me. It takes time and prayer to surrender my selfish perspective and take on God’s perspective.
Sometimes the waiting period has nothing to do with my motives. It may just be a matter of God’s perfect timing in working out the details.
Or, the Lord may be waiting on someone else. For example, when our disabled son, Shon, was young, I was praying for a wheelchair for him, but my husband, Tom, insisted that the large stroller we had was adequate. So, I concluded that God intended to heal Shon and started praying accordingly. Instead of a healing, I eventually got a confession from Tom that he just hadn’t been ready to face the reality of Shon’s handicap. When he was ready, the Lord provided the wheelchair I had been praying for.
I also may need time to work through the surrender process–giving up what I want and yielding to God’s will, instead. Even though I know, through plenty of experience, that God is far wiser than I am, it’s still hard to let go of my dreams and desires and embrace His.
- Once I have surrendered to God’s will, take a baby step in the direction I feel led to follow, asking God to guide me.
- Listen for confirmation from other people, especially those I trust. Also, be humbly open to hearing that I should go a differentdirection. What message is coming through most consistently?
Pay attention to circumstances. Watch for open or closed “doors”, or things that seem to indicate that I should go in a certain direction.
I will now share one example of this process: my writing.
I have kept journals since I was a child. Sometimes, I would share a poem or a piece of prose writing with a few friends, but mostly I just wrote for myself.
I gave my life to Jesus Christ in 1983 and began reading the Bible daily. Gradually, I began to get the idea that I was supposed to share my writings with others. At first, I mainly wrote notes of encouragement and letters sharing my faith. Occasionally, I would share with a Bible study group some of the thoughts that came out of my Bible reading and personal experiences. When I did that, I was often told that I should share my writing with a wider audience. My husband consistently encouraged me in that direction.
As I became more aware of my vulnerability to pride, I decided against sharing because I didn’t trust my motives. It took several years for the Lord to show me that He’s quite capable of keeping me humble if I stick close to Him. I still have a healthy fear of pride, but I now trust God to be able to deal with it if I’m doing His will.
Circumstances also prevented me from pursuing that goal. I was raising three children, one with special needs, getting acquainted with the Lord and trying to learn how to be a godly wife. That kept me plenty busy!
As the children got older, I would sometimes write, and lead, a Bible study for women, again getting confirmation that I should consider sharing my writings more publicly. But I felt impressed to wait until the children were grown and out of the house.
Once the children were grown, my husband again encouraged me to consider publishing my writings. I appreciated his encouragement, but I felt overwhelmed and confused about how to go about it.
In 2011, I wrote a poem about our son. My husband felt I should turn it into a song. I wrote out the lyrics and prayed for God to provide a musician, since I knew nothing about music. About two weeks later, we were hosting a retreat and I met a young man named David Shay. He and I then created “The Blessing (On Eagles Wings)”: see www.SingerShonStewart.com . We later teamed up to write a few more songs.
But song writing was never my goal, nor something I’m passionate about. My heart’s desire is to help people improve their relationships.
I had an opportunity to meet with a publisher of a magazine, and I later sent him a few articles. I followed up with a couple of emails and then dropped it. I suspected the Lord was closing that door.
I lost interest in pursuing a publisher. I felt unsure of my direction: like a person trying to write a term paper when they only have a very vague idea of what the topic should be.
I sought the Lord for direction and then thought of beginning a journey of re-reading my old journals. That is an overwhelming task, but at least I felt I finally had a specific assignment that I could do. So, I began that journey.
Along the way, my husband suggested the idea of a blog. Since I had limited computer knowledge, that idea was not at all appealing to me. I sort of prayed about it. Awhile later, my son-in-law suggested a blog. I again said I didn’t feel ready for that, but I’d pray about it. Finally, my daughter suggested a blog. At that point, I said, “OK, Lord, I get the feeling You want me to attempt a blog.”
Thus, in January of 2013, with the help of my computer savvy son-in-law and the encouragement of my family, I entered into the blog world. (See www.jorjastewart.com) I was also a contributing author to the devotional Wisdom for Everyday Living (Steve M. Woods). In 2018, I began to sense that God might be calling me to write a book but the thought of going through a publisher felt overwhelming to me. When my son-in-law mentioned self-publishing a book (and said he’d help), I was ready to get started. When I prayed for an editor, the Lord provided a friend who is gifted in that area. Thus, I began working on this book.
So, let’s apply my steps to this situation:
- I spent 35 years reading the Bible and growing in my relationship with the Lord. He taught me how to improve my relationships with people.
- I asked Him to reveal any sinful motives.
As a new Christian, that was pride. Later, the pride was replaced with fear: a lack of faith. At first, I failed to believe God could keep my pride under control, and later I failed to believe He could help me with computers.
- I waited–35 years!
This allowed me time to mature and go through the necessary surrendering process: in this case, I had to surrender both my pride and my fear and learn to trust Him.
- Once surrendered, I took baby steps of faith.
I began by sharing with close friends and small groups, reading my journals, following (sometimes hesitantly) my husband’s suggestions, meeting with a publisher (closed door), launching my blog, and finally, writing and self-publishing this book.
- I received plenty of human confirmation that I should pursue this.
– I allowed the Lord to use circumstances (opened and closed doors) to direct me.
I still find that, when the waiting period is long, it’s easy to wonder if the Lord wants me to persevere or give up. I have found that when He wants me to give up, He will remove the desire from my heart (if I’1ve surrendered to His will), and when He wants me to persevere, He will re-kindle the flickering desire. When I seek the Lord and wait patiently on Him, He always proves Himself faithful!