Would God Really Ask Me to Do That?

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Sometimes it's hard to discern whether our ideas come from God or from our own desires and motives. In this article from our series Risk Averse, we look at some processes of discernment and hear from various voices about what it means to step out of our comfort zones in the life of faith.

“One day, I had an idea,” I read, holding the book up to expose the illustrations. “‘Where did it come from? Why is it here?’ I wondered, ‘What do you do with an idea?’”

The kids in Mrs. Crum’s third grade class leaned in closer. I turned the page.

On Fridays I read to this class and another one down the hall. Today, we are reading a book written by Kobi Yamada and illustrated by Mae Besom called What Do You Do With An Idea? It’s a story about a boy with an idea. At first, he’s afraid of what others will think of his idea. He tries to ignore it, hide it, pretend it isn’t his. But the idea follows him wherever he goes. Soon, he realizes how happy he is when his idea is around. He begins to nurture it and spend time with it. The idea begins to grow until it transforms into something beautiful. In the end, he answers his own question: “ … I realized what you do with an idea … You change the world.”

That day in Mrs. Crum’s classroom, the kids and I talked about some of the big ideas that changed the world: Martin Luther King, Jr.’s idea of peace and justice, the Wright brothers’ idea of manned flight, Thomas Edison and his light bulb. We talked about the great obstacles these individuals had to overcome to pursue their ideas; we talked about discouragement and how frightening it must have been at times. I found myself wishing some of my grown-up friends were with me in that third-grade classroom.

We don’t all have big ideas that will change the world, but often, if we listen for God’s voice in our lives, we will be called to places of discomfort that feel risky. Places that just might change our little corners of the world.

Would God Really Ask Me to Do That?

Writer Ed Cyzewski says, “Conflict and difficulty aren’t unusual for people trying to follow God’s direction for their lives. In fact, the conflict and struggle associated with taking risks may be signs that we’re exactly where we need to be.” Cyzewski refers us to biblical stories of faith heroes and heroines called out of their comfort zones. In an article titled “Comfort Zone Deception,” writer John E. Waters wrestles with what that term really means.

“This is about risking and reaching out first to the other—the Other across the chasm that is your table, the Other that is your disagreement, that is your soapbox, that is the debate of the hour, reaching out to the other across party lines and lines drawn in the sand and across the aisle—and serving the Other,” Ann Voskamp says, about her decision to travel to Iraq despite her family’s objections.

“Faith always means risk,” says Pastor Rick Warren. “But the greatest risk of all is how we relate to other people and how we relate to God—the risk to do something about those relationships.”

Well-known researcher and author Brené Brown agrees. In her popular TED talk, Brown says, “We are wired for connection … In order for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen.”

One of the greatest risks many people face, Brown says, is allowing themselves to be vulnerable. “ … vulnerability,” she says, appears to be, “the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, and of love.”

You might enjoy some of these other TED talks from risk-takers. Often, the lessons learned from their experiences are universal.

How Do I Know It’s the Voice of God?

This is a question people have been asking since biblical times. Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556) formulated a process of discernment that has helped Christians determine an answer for centuries. Ignatius believed that our greatest fulfillment is found when we make choices in line with God’s will for our lives. His process of discernment involved examining two opposing interior movements of the soul: consolations, which arise when we make choices in harmony with God’s will, and desolations, which are the result of choices that are counter to God’s desires for us. Read more about Ignatian spirituality and his process of discernment here.

In her book An Altar in the World, Barbara Brown Taylor shares the story of a season of struggle to discern God’s call on her life. Finally, one night “when my whole heart was open to hearing God,” she says, she heard this: “Do anything that pleases you, and belong to me.”

“I was so relieved,” she says, “that I sledded down the stairs that night. Whatever I decided to do for a living, it was not what I did but how I did it that mattered.”

The Desiring God website has some good resources on risk-taking. With articles such as “Safety is a Myth,” “Risk and the Cause of God,” and “Risk and the Triumph of Love,” these are valuable resources on discernment.

But what about those who don’t feel a call to leave their current situation to honor God in high profile mission endeavors? Writer Kris Beckert gives us good thoughts to consider in her article "When Risking it All for God Means Staying Where You Are".

Whatever process you use for discernment, the Bible may be a good place to start. Here are some scriptures about discernment and on risk-taking.

Living into the Decision

Discernment is an ongoing process. Many times, we may not know the value of the risks we take until we live into them for many years. A wise teacher once told me that in the ancient languages, the word for discernment is translated desire. It is God’s deep yearning for us that we feel when we make wise choices, the imago Dei—the image of God we carry inside of us that resonates with his will.

I think Kobi Yamada may be on to something. I wonder about those ideas that won’t leave us alone, even when we ignore them or run from them or try to hide them. I wonder about those ideas that bring great joy and happiness when nurtured.

Only by risking pursuing them will we know if they will be transformed into something beautiful and change the world.