Discerning the Will of God?

Are you never even a bit uncomfortable when someone claims to have discerned God’s will in this or that decision of their own? I certainly am. It is one thing to pray for discernment, but quite something else to announce being in receipt of it.

When anyone tells me that, after much prayer, they have determined that God wants such-and-such from them—however worthy the suchness—something in me backs away. It is the telling that feels all wrong. It seems an impertinence. The broadcast of it is a trespass on the loneliness of prayer. A solitude has been profaned. Egotism lets slip what grace would hold in silence.

Yes, pray for discernment. Pray unceasingly. But do it in the dark. Please do not tell me about it. A pious snitch is treacherous company.

Jan Bulhak-Evening prayer
Jan Bulhak. Evening Prayer.

The Spirit Who moves where He will acts in unimagined measures, at His own pace, and for reasons not our own. “How unsearchable are His judgments and unscrutable His ways.” Paul’s ecstatic cry in his letter to the Romans echoes Isaiah:

For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts.

Those are words to make us shudder. A tremor runs through them. They shake our own assurance, warn us against confident presumptions. We have it on good authority that we see but through a glass, darkly. Who holds that distorting glass up to us? Might the Tempter do it as easily as the Spirit? Can he hear our prayers as well?

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Arthur Szyk. Illustration for Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen.

Given the nature of temptation, there is good reason to think he can. Pure intelligence, he hacks into our system, monitors the network, scrambles the frequencies. All craft and cunning, he takes demonic delight in whispering to us what we want to hear. He knows how keenly we ache to hear we have discerned the will of God. We are pleased to boast that the Spirit has illumined our choices. Divine light shines on our decision; our feet are on the straight way.

And the Tempter has mocked the angels one more time.