9For this reason, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God.
This past Sunday, I announced that our family will be moving this summer to serve as the next Senior Pastor of Chapelwood United Methodist Church in Houston, Texas. It was an emotionally difficult day announcing we are leaving Wesley at Frederica. We love Wesley. We love the people of the church. We love the community. Ministry together over the past five years has been deeply rewarding, encouraging, and powerful. As I shared with the congregation, I am better because I have served Wesley. Wesley made me better than I ever thought I could be.
I shared Sunday the difficulty of the decision. How do we discern God’s Will when confronted with two wonderful opportunities? Deciding between the clearly right and the wrong things should be easy (although, I recognize sometimes it can be a hard decision as well), but how do you go through the process of discerning between two great choices? Is there only one right path? Will God only bless the one and not the other? I didn’t do as good a job explaining Sunday as I hoped to due to the nature of the day. But let me explain a little more how I believe discernment between two good choices works.
As Wesleyan Methodists, we don’t believe in “determinism” – that God scripts every action, every step, and every move of our lives. Determinism says we don’t really have choice, we just have the perception that we choose, but God scripts everything. We see this in language when we say, “It’s all God’s Will,” or “God knows what He’s doing,” or “it’s all in God’s plan.” This understanding is rooted in a different strand of theological thought than Wesley’s theology.
Others believe God creates the world, sets it in motion and stands back never involved in the creation. It just operates like a clock that has been wound up and let loose. Called deists by some, they understand God to be the great Clock Maker. God is not involved in our lives. We have total freedom and we can choose any path we want.
A more balanced approach is rooted in our Wesleyan theology. We believe God is actively involved in our lives. But we also believe give gives us the freedom to choose. Freedom of choice can sometimes disrupt God’s purposes for us, but choice also allows us to love God more perfectly. After all, how can it really be love if have no choice?
Thomas Merton wrote, “A [person] who is afraid to settle their future by a good act of their own free choice does not understand the love of God. For our freedom is a gift of God given us in order that He may be able to love us more perfectly, and be loved by us more perfectly in return….He Who loves us means to leave us room for our own freedom so that we may dare to choose for ourselves, with no other certainty than that His love will be pleased by our intention to please Him.”
And that is the key…when confronted by two great choices; we are given the freedom to choose. I truly believe God is involved and can work with us in either choice. I believe God is pleased by either choice as long as it is our desire to please God. We use a lot of factors to make our decisions…meditating on scripture, prayer, contemplative listening, listening to wise counsel, watching for opportunities, and sometimes miraculous signs!
The hard part in my decision to leave Wesley and serve Chapelwood is that I had to choose. That can cause anger and hurt. This is why in the Methodist Church we Methodist preachers like to have the Bishop simply appoint us. That way we don’t have to accept any responsibility for moving. We can let all the anger project on the Bishop and Cabinet. It is also easier to talk with “deterministic” language about this decision. God desires this and God led me and it is God’s will. After all, you can’t be mad at me if God is the one pulling all the strings!
The complexity of discerning God’s will when we face good choices is evident. My counsel to you is to spend time in prayer, spend time in God’s scriptures, talk to those you look up to and admire spiritually (seek those who are on both sides of the choice), spend time listening to God, and listen to your family. Then, when time comes…make a decision, know God can work in and bless either choice.
This has been a difficult decision, but I truly see God in it. I am excited about going to Texas to serve with the wonderful people of Chapelwood, but I am also grieving at the thought of leaving behind the wonderful people of Wesley.
This is a part of the journey, my friends. As my friend Samuel Ghartey used to say, “I am struggling peacefully, my friend. I am struggling peacefully.”