1 John 4:1
Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.
There are many voices clamoring for our attention. With the expansion of the internet and social media, we are overwhelmed with messages, often contradicting one another. We are faced with the question, to which voice will we listen?
I have been struggling with this question this past week. Not all of the voices that are speaking forcefully to me are evil. Not everything that they are saying is wrong. The problem is one of discernment. It is the age old challenge of determining the best from the good. Paul raises this dilemma in 1 Corinthians 10:23. "Everything is permissible"--but not everything is beneficial. "Everything is permissible"--but not everything is constructive.
One of the issues that complicates the task of discernment is our desire to please others. All of us like to be liked, at least most of us do. Alright, I do! But in our effort to please the people around us, we find ourselves saying yes to things that we should say no to. After we have said yes, we follow through out of duty and guilt, not because it is what God would have us do. Yet the pressure is great to give in to the loudest and most forceful voices.
Peter and John faced this dilemmas big time when they were brought up before the Sanhedrin for preaching about Jesus. These were the respected religious leaders of their day. They had power and influence. They commanded Peter and John to stop preaching in the name of Jesus. They were under enormous pressure to give in. Instead they responded with boldness. But Peter and John replied, "Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God's sight to obey you rather than God. Acts 4:19
Now I want to be true to the text. What the Sanhedrin was demanding of Peter and John was clearly against the will of God. You could say that, for Peter and John, it was a clear choice, although not an easy one. The problem I face regularly is that the choices don’t seem to be quite so crystal clear. More often, the things I’m asked to do are positive, and possibly God honoring, yet they add weight and responsibility to my already packed life. So I struggle with the question, who am I listening to?
So let me try to discern some steps to take to decide if this is something God wants me to do. The very first question to be answered is, is this really something that honors God? There are many false teachers who are very persuasive, but are leading people astray. Their message seems spiritual on the surface, but after close examination, we discover that it is not from God. Peter warned us about such people who will use the church as a disguise for their own purposes. But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them--bringing swift destruction on themselves. 2 Peter 2:1
The second question to be answered is, is this something that will advance the Kingdom of God? There are many good programs and ideas that honestly desire to serve the Lord, yet are ineffective or marginally effective. They are often driven by mixed motives to meet some social need or to “do something significant for God.” These tend to be cause focused, time consuming, and narrow in effect.
The third question to ask is, is this the best use of my time and resources. There are unlimited opportunities to serve the Lord effectively. The problem is that each of us has limited resources to put toward them. The answer to this question is found, not in our circumstances or surroundings, but within ourselves. The better we know our gifts, talents and passions, the better equipped we are to answer this important question. This takes genuine discernment from God about who He has created us to be.
The final question to ask is, can I say yes to this with joy & enthusiasm? The best way I can illustrate this is with an example from my own experience. When I came to my current church, my predecessor had been a part of a group of pastors who ministered regularly in the local jail. I was approached to take his place. I agreed out of a sense of obligation. On the first Saturday that I was scheduled to lead a Bible study in the jail, I arrived with a sense of fear and apprehension. I made my way to the appropriate room and waited anxiously for the inmates to arrive. No one came. The jailer was shocked and surprised by this. I was relieved. I exited as quickly as I could, before someone changed their mind. As I sat in my car, preparing to leave, I could hear God saying to me, do you know why no one came today? It was because I could not use you. Your heart was not right. I repented right there and then. I continued to minister in the jail for a time, with a different attitude, until I was able to turn that task over to someone who really had a heart for it.
We can say yes to a wide variety of positive things out of a sense of guilt or a desire to please the person who has asked. But if we go into it for those reasons, we will be ineffective and we will resent the effort that it takes. God has gifted each of us in different ways. He expects us to use our gifts for His glory. There will be many times that He will move us out of our comfort zone to stretch and refine us. But He wants us to serve Him willingly and with joy. Paul wrote about this in the context of giving financially. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Corinthians 9:7) Although he was talking about money, the principle applies to every gift we give to the Lord. When God calls us to act, something within us resonates with the call, even if it accompanied by some fear and trembling.
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men,