Monday, January 27, 2014

OnFire #310 Discerning God's Will

OnFire Encouragement Letter
OnFire #310 Discerning God’s Will

Hi Folks:

I’ve got some neat news. On Feb 17, one of my devotionals appears in the Upper Room. The Upper Room is the largest publication daily devotional in the world, so I think that’s pretty cool. On Feb 17, my devotional is in both the print and online editions. If you visit the online version, you can also access my follow-up blog post.

Here is the link to the Upper Room.

Twitter users will be pleased to know I’m now on Twitter. Follow me @DTroyDennis

Ian has started interviewing for jobs. He will graduate from his forestry and wildlife program in May, so this is important. We appreciate your prayers for him in this.

OnFire is perhaps a little different this time, more teaching oriented. However, these are some of the principles that we have used to discern God’s direction and will for us. I pass them along hoping they are helpful.  There is always more to clarify or add. Feel free to email.


Changing jobs, moving, a major purchase or sale such as a car or house, education choice, career direction, time commitments, and change in marriage status are all examples of major life decisions about which we ought to be concerned for God’s direction in our lives.  You may have your own concerns and life decisions to fill out my list of examples.

I’ve put together some of the principles we use to help us discern God’s will.  I’m not going to claim to have some kind of perfect handle on this. As always, we need to move forward in faith and humility.

This is a Process
When I say process, I’m thinking a few things. It is not linear, and there is no way to predict how long it will take. “Do these five steps in order, bake at 350 for 10 minutes, and Ding! You have a decision.” Please read mild sarcasm in this. We’re not making muffins. We’re making major life decisions. 

Seek Holiness
Holiness is fast-becoming an old-fashioned term, but comes from passages like 1 Peter 1:15, “just as he who called you is holy, be holy.…” Sin creates spiritual noise and complication which makes it hard to hear God.  As the Spirit convicts, confess and repent (1 John 1:9).

Slow the boat
When a friend and I first began running rapids in a local river, we got stuck on almost every rock. After a while we realized if we slowed the canoe it gave us time to form a plan and line up the boat for the best angle of attack.

The same principle works in life. We often feel anxious about the future and we just want to make a decision so we can get on with life and get rid of our worry. Most situations, however, do not need an answer right now, and in fact, would benefit from slowing down the process. Resist the pressure to decide right now.

We sometimes take this part of the process too lightly. We toss God a quick prayer and then wonder why He doesn’t send a plane to write it in the sky.

Prayer is both talking, and listening. Depending on the nature of the decision, we may consider fasting as well. We have to allow God time to speak to us, in particular about our motivation. Is this only about what we want, or is it truly what God may want for us?

Even though I list prayer here, it needs to be part of the entire process.

Ask: Does it go against God’s revealed will?
God is not going to lead us in a direction that goes against what He has already told us in the Bible. We would call this God’s general will.  God’s specific will for us will be consistent with God’s general will. I once talked with a man, a former deacon from another church who told me God led him to leave his wife and take up with his secretary. God was not leading that man. Sadly, many people aren’t willing to listen and it causes a lot of pain.

Find wise and trusted people for advice.
These must be people not afraid to give their opinion, even if they don’t agree with us. I rely on my wife, mother, some friends, and pastor. 

Depending on the nature of the decision and direction, I may expand the circles to get specialized advice such as financial or legal.

Seek God’s timing
The WHEN of God’s will is as important as the WHAT. Sometimes we push too hard and fast for a resolution. It is a hard lesson when we think, “If only I had waited…”

Take One Step at a Time
God has rarely revealed the whole picture to me.  I sense a direction, but don’t always know where it is leading. It is easy to worry about the upcoming steps. We don’t need to understand everything, however.  I compare it to driving on a foggy road. It is only as we keep moving ahead that we see the next section of road.

Misconceptions about God’s Will
I’ve compiled a list of misconceptions and misunderstandings about discerning God’s will. Here they are, with some basic explanations.

“If it is not God’s will, He will stop me… “
I’ve heard this one a bunch of times over the years, often as justification for risky or sinful behavior. The fact is, God allows us to make our own decisions, and if we ignore good advice, our conscience, and the conviction of the Holy Spirit, God may allow us to make bad decisions.

“It feels right, so it must be God’s will…”
Put simply, feelings can be wrong, influenced by faulty perceptions and selfish motivations. We can’t make major life decisions based on a feeling. God gave us a brain for a reason, and we need to use it. 

“If everything is going against you, you must be in the wrong lane.”
Difficulties may be signs of going in the wrong direction, but they may also just be signs of the spiritual battle we face.  Do we really expect Satan to sit on his hands while we make spiritual progress? Perseverance is important if we are to seek God’s will.

“But I prayed about it.” OR, “God told me.”
These lines have been used on us a number of times by people trying to manipulate situations to their advantage. Don’t get sucked into this. Prayer is no guarantee against being wrong. 

“If I mess up I’ve blown it forever with God.”
A bad decision is not the beginning of the end.
1 John 1:9 reminds us that if we sin, we can have forgiveness from God.
Romans 8:28 tells us that God is a redeeming God, able to bring good even in the worst of circumstances.
God is a redeeming God. We find this in scripture, and it is the testimony of  countless Christians through the ages.

“There is no safer place than in the center of God’s will.”
People normally mean that being in God’s will protects us from the needless consequences of sinful behavior. True. But, this does not mean we will never face difficulty, hardship, or  danger.

OnFire is a letter on faith and character written by Troy Dennis. This letter published Jan 27, 2014. Troy is the Pastor of Next Generations and Connections at Highfield Baptist Church, Moncton NB Canada. *New International Version, 1984. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at, but I’m a little behind in updating things. Blog located at

Friday, January 3, 2014

OnFire #309 Cold Hands and Perseverance

OnFire Encouragement Letter
OnFire #309 Cold Hands and Perseverance

Its been that kind of winter that we get once in a bunch of years, and its only early in the winter. On the positive side, we’ve had lots of opportunity to get some exercise outdoors. We returned from our trip to Florida in the middle of a snow storm, and for days I shoveled and ran the snow blower every day. As I write, our friends in Nova Scotia are being pounded by the snow once again. It looks like we’ll get off easy with only 5-10 cm.

Its been cold, too, well into the minus 20's Celsius here in Moncton. The cold brings its own difficulties with staying warm and comfortable, but when you combine the cold and snow, the difficulties multiply. Machinery doesn’t like to work in the cold, and neither do we. On an interesting side note, I put my window down to go through the drive-through yesterday and it wouldn’t go back up. Finally, it started nudging up at about a half inch at a time, every minute or two. It took 25 minutes to put the window back up, but it did go up, thankfully.

We were shoveling snow the other day at the church after the last storm. After a little while my hands were cold and stiff, quite painful really. But there was more snow to move, and some memories of cold hands in the past kicked in. I learned while lobster fishing on Grand Manan that my hands may hurt for a little while, but then it will feel like they’re warming up. It is not comfortable, but it is endurable.

The first time I learned my hands could handle the cold, it was kind of serendipitous, a joyful discovery. The second time I began to see the pattern. After that, I had a strategy. This is a lesson I relearn every winter, and that thought kept me going until we finished clearing the snow.

It reminded me of perseverance in the Christian life. By the power of God, we can handle more than we think we can. And through experience, we learn to handle more.

“... we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” (Romans 5:3-5*)

As we go through difficulty and hardship, we also experience the strengthening presence of the Holy Spirit, which builds up our character and endurance because we realize we will get through. At some point we feel we just cannot make it, but, through prayer, if we press on just a little while longer we break through. I think this applies to both hardship and temptation. But we cannot give up quickly, as we are sometimes prone to do.

Something else I realized the other day. Sometimes I do things which make the situation worse. My gloves were a poor choice of cold-weather strategy. The pain of the day moved me to try a different set to shovel off my carport last night. Yesterday was actually colder, but my hands were much better and, in fact, did not get cold at all.

As in gloves, so also in life.  It is an uncomfortable thought to realize something I did made the situation worse in the past, but I can learn and change, and I believe this is part of the character development Paul talks about in Romans.

I hope this helps. Stay warm and dry. And stay on fire.


OnFire is a letter on faith and character written by Troy Dennis. This letter published Jan 3, 2014. Troy is the Pastor of Next Generations and Connections at Highfield Baptist Church, Moncton NB Canada. *New International Version, 1984. To subscribe or reply, email Archives are located at, but I’m a little behind in updating things. Blog located at