One of the hardest parts about learning to recognize God’s voice is discerning when I’m hearing him say yes or no, stay or go or whether it’ s my preferences that are guiding my decisions. I’ve learned I can’t always depend on whether a choice makes sense or seems logical. If I’m going to try to obey God every step I take I need to figure out how to live by faith, and that includes developing the discipline of discernment.
In Romans 4:13-18 Paul writes from house arrest to the citizens of Rome: “It was not through the law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. For if those who depend on the law are heirs, faith means nothing and the promise is worthless, because the law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression. Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all. As it is written: ‘I have made you a father of many nations.’ He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed—the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not. Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’”
God established a covenant with Abraham because of Abraham’s faith. But Abraham wasn’t perfect and his faith waivered causing many detours along the path that God directed him to walk. Regardless, God counted him as an heir and followed through with his promises.
Abraham’s missteps weren’t insignificant. In Genesis 12:1-2 God begins to breakdown Abraham’s calling.
- Go forth from your country
- And from your relatives
- And from your father’s house
- To the land which I will show you
- And I will make you a great nation
- And I will bless you
- And make your name great
Abraham (then Abram) took his wife and cousin Lot and went to Egypt obeying God’s directions. But he doesn’t trust that God will protect him from the Pharoah in Egypt, so he lies and says his wife (Sarah) is his sister. This is a situation Abraham encounters twice and both times he responds out of fear rather than faith. This process of taking a step of faith only to backtrack is one we see Abraham repeat multiple times throughout his life. It’s common for us as well, isn’t it?
We also see Abraham backtrack in faith when he moves forward with producing an heir with Haggar rather than trusting God to open Sarah’s womb. Abraham looks at the situation logically and makes a decision without pausing to inquire whether or not God is guiding him down this path.
God didn’t say go have babies with whomever you want. He said go have a child with your wife. God didn’t say go to a king and lie about who your wife is, he said go, I’ll protect you. God’s grace covered these missteps along with all of Abraham’s other missteps as well. His grace covers our sin as well.
Similarly to all that surrounded the births of Ishmael and Isaac, our missteps have consequences. God promised Abraham he would be the father of many nations and that his descendants would be more numerous than the stars in the sky. Sarah didn’t think she was meant to be part of the promise because it wasn’t logical. Ishmael was not the son God intended to establish the nation of Israel through, that was Isacc.
Abraham’s choice to do his own thing caused a lot of conflict and disharmony for his family. Even though Sarah originally suggested Abraham have a child with Haggar, it was still his personal decision to take action without inviting God into the decision.
In Genesis 17:18-20 God and Abraham have a conversation. Haggar had already given birth to Ishmael, but Sarah wasn’t pregnant with Isaac.
“And Abraham said to God, ‘Oh that Ishmael might live before You!’ But God said, ‘No, but Sarah your wife will bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; and I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I will bless him, and will make him fruitful and will multiply him exceedingly.'”
Abraham was imperfect, just as we are, yet God still called Abraham his heir. We all take missteps in our lives. We have moments of weak faith, but God’s grace is always waiting to cover us with forgiveness.
Go in Christ
Go, but Go in Christ reminds us that when we partner with God we follow his direction even when we don’t understand the outcome. As we develop a sharper ear for God’s voice we’ll find ourselves confessing our fears rather than acting out of them.
Sometimes “Go in Christ” will actually mean stay put! God’s call to “Go” could mean going someplace far from your extended family, to a place they prefer you don’t move. Go in Christ could mean speaking up on a subject you know others will push back against, or holding your tongue when all you want to do is defend yourself.
As we move forward in our relationship with God and choose to obey him, he will direct our path. It’s possible we’ll find earthly successes won’t satisfy us the same way they once did. Our joy, confidence, and comfort should come from the knowledge that God delights in our obedience. The more our focus stays on God and we reflect him the more likely we will find contentment in reflecting Christ. As we have “faith against hope” as Paul describes in Romans, God increases in our lives. As we move toward God and with God, we take our place as an equal heir in his kingdom.
Moving Forward “in Christ”
So, how do we move forward “in Christ”? I think it’s important to remember that the journey with Christ isn’t a burden for us or for him. God pursues relationships with us because he loves us and he wants to spend eternity with us.
Like Abraham, we’ll make mistakes throughout our lives and in our relationship with God. We’re human. We can always trust that God will extend grace to us when we move toward him. But, we also have the benefit of reducing the frequency of our missteps the better we know God because, just like in any relationship, the more time we spend with someone the easier it becomes to know their preferences and intentions.
We will improve our discernment when we are disciplined about taking the time to read, study, and understand the Bible. Scripture is one of the ways God presents his character to us and God never contradicts Himself. God also never asks us to live our lives in a way that contradicts scripture. When I remember this it helps me to focus on the consistency of God’s character and gives me additional courage to go with Christ even when I can’t see how the story ends.
I’ve also discovered that I’m more likely to discern the ways God pursues me to follow him when I am consistent in my prayer time. Creating space for God to draw my attention to situations in recent days, revealing himself through nature, bringing people to mind to spend time praying for; these things all require life to pause so I can shift my attention from things around me to God.
Obedience is never easy, but over time the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that God’s path is always more fulfilling because he knows me better than I know myself. As I walk through life WITH God life is filled with a calmness even in the hardest situations. Ultimately, to me, that’s the blessing of a life that encompasses “Go, but God in Christ.”