Knowing what to do as a creation of God, a child of God, and a lover of God involves a few really important ingredients. The first thing is a Biblically saturated mind. Everything flows from that. Once that is a priority and an anchor, the rest can be trusted for the most part (we will talk about a few more things that can aid in discernment in our last post). Back to this post!
After the foundation of a Biblically defined mindset, we said that desire is a fundamental part of the process. It is the first leg of the three-legged stool, if you will. So, we ask ourselves the question when faced with a decision: Do I WANT to do this, assuming my desire has Scriptural priorities in mind? God uses our desires and only rebukes sinful desires. Once desire is determined (perhaps over time as we sort through competing desires), we move to the next essential issue: Ability.
After we ask ourselves the question ‘Do I want to do this?’, we must ask ourselves the related question: ‘Can I actually do this?’ In fact, our desires mean very little if they are not backed by ability. For instance, I may want to give a $1000 to a friend in need, but it means very little if I do not have that money. Likewise, I may want to run a mile in 4 minutes and 26 seconds, but the only way I could do a mile in that time is in a car!
The corollary to this is that you can have the ability to do something, but if you don’t have the desire, you won’t do that thing, unless you are being coerced and then that is a different issue altogether.
Now, ability is an interesting thing. Some things are very easy to determine in terms of our ability. These would be issues defined by or highly qualified by the physical. I’m limited in my athletic ability by size, age, the type of body God gave me (not naturally athletic), and so forth. I have no ability to be a woman, no matter what surgical and chemical lengths I go to. I am simply a man, by God’s design. But then there are things that are less physical and more about character, emotion, intellect and other less physically defined attributes that constitute one’s ability factor.
So how do we have a strong sense of our abilities, strengths, gifts so we can make good decisions?
One, we just live life in the circumstances God provides and it becomes apparent what we are good at? Some strengths just fall into place – speaking, academics, leadership, creativity, aesthetics, etc. Yes, desire has a lot to do with some of this. As we desire or are intrigued by certain things, like schoolwork or music, we invest the time and energy to master those things. But there is something to be said about God simply putting that all in the mix in gifting us in certain ways and that becomes apparent, even in childhood.
Two, we need to listen to others as they watch us and give informal and formal feedback. People, especially other believers, are part of the way God tells us how he has gifted us – both positively and negatively. Part of the reason a main focus of my calling is Bible preaching and teaching is that, almost from day one of intentional ministry, people have told me that they are blessed by my teaching and they believe God has gifted me in that. OK, a quick caveat…
This is not to say everyone will enjoy your gift or even agree that you are especially gifted in a certain area. When I first got to CHBC, there was a man who truly despised my preaching. He truly believed I could not preach my way out of a paper bag. And this guy was a recognized expert in a certain angle of mass communication. Ouch! As I process that with others, they recognized that it was not really about my communication ability but other things that were communicated to him that were off-putting to him. He viewed me through a lens of suspicion and hyper-criticality as a result. All that to say, listen to people who know you and love you when it comes to feedback. These trusted people will also tell you where you are not so gifted. No one has ever told me I am a phenom at micro-administration and day-to-day management!
Three, there are evaluations you can take that help one discern one’s gifting. These can be helpful. I find that these evaluations are limited, however, but they can help direct you. Take into account they generally will not tell you something you and others already don’t know by means of actually living out certain actions, time, feedback, and experimentation.
One more thing… Ability can grow over time. You may find that in your 40’s you are really good at something that was undeveloped and undetected in earlier years. Also, people change, even in abilities. Some decisions must be made out of duty in light of a need and external requirement and competence must be learned. I believe competence can be learned and even mastered over time, even if the starting point was not natural gifting and evidence of gifting in youth. I am disagreeing with lots of leadership and organizational theory here and even ideas shared with me by seasoned leaders. A lot of people don’t change, true. But I do want to encourage some of you who have a God-given pebble in your shoe about something like leadership, requiring such things as public speaking or quick thinking or people skills, and currently you don’t seem to possess those skills, or people don’t feel you are strong in those areas yet. You may not be ready to head in that direction now, but I do think you can grow in ability to the point you can be ready and even quite effective for a task requiring competencies you don’t currently possess. Give it time, invest in growth, and see what God does.
To sum up, we have a general disposition to please God, then we take into account desire, then ability, and next week we look at the third of the stool legs – opportunity.