November 1, 2022 • Life for Leaders
Scripture — 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22
Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil.
God puts people in our lives who will help us to hear God’s voice clearly as we seek to serve and please God in every part of our lives.
This devotion is part of the series: Encouragement from 1 Thessalonians
Several times in the last few days I have mentioned that we are to discern the voice of the Spirit in community. Even if we sense that God has spoken plainly and powerfully to us, it’s still wise to check out our conviction with other believers.
I’d like to share a personal story of a time when the Holy Spirit helped me test and clarify guidance about what seemed to me to be a word from the Lord to me. Many years ago, I was serving as an associate pastor at the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood. I loved my job and believed I would remain in that position for many years.
But, out of the blue, I received a call from Dale, a member of a pastoral search committee in another church. Someone had suggested my name to him and he wondered if I would be interested in talking with him and his committee about the possibility of becoming their pastor. At that moment, nothing could have been farther away from my personal plans for my life. As I began to tell Dale “No thank you,” I heard an almost audible voice in my head saying, “You’re not open to my will for your life, are you?” I was utterly stunned by what I heard and speechless for several seconds. Finally, I told Dale that I needed to pray about what he had asked me. He said that sounded just right. We could talk in a week. With that our conversation ended.
In the days that followed that call, I tried to practice the “test everything” principle. I decided that the voice I had heard in my head really wasn’t something to be taken too seriously. After all, I was serving God in a wonderful way and didn’t want to pursue another pastoral opportunity.
But I felt like I should check out this conclusion with someone whose spiritual judgment I trusted deeply. I explained to Ralph, one of my associate pastor colleagues at church, what had happened. I told him I had come to believe that the voice I heard may well have been my own. I wasn’t ready to leave our church and didn’t think God was nudging me out. Ralph listened attentively and empathetically. He asked a few questions before taking time to reflect. Finally he said something that was almost as shocking as the voice I heard during the phone call: “Mark, I believe you did hear the voice of God speaking to you. Near as I can tell, God is beginning to lead you to a different pastoral call. It may not be to the church where Dale is on the search committee. But I believe the Spirit is stirring in your heart and change is coming.”
I really didn’t want to hear that, not at all. It was unsettling to me, even frightening. But I knew Ralph. I knew his relationship with God. I knew that he wanted the best for me. So, I took Ralph’s counsel to heart and called Dale back. I told him what had been going on with me. I told him I didn’t think I was ready to become a senior pastor. But I also told Dale that I was open to the process and would be glad to talk further with him and his committee. Thus began my relationship with Irvine Presbyterian Church, the church I ended up pastoring for 16 amazing years.
As I reflect back on what happened in my call with Dale and in what followed, I’m grateful that God turned up the volume when I was not open to his will for my life. If God had not been exceedingly gracious to me, it’s likely I would have quenched the movement of the Spirit in my life. I am also grateful for Ralph who helped me discern rightly what God was saying to me and beginning to do in my life. His spiritual sensitivity, wrapped in kindness, allowed me to be open to the Lord in a whole new way. When I think of all that my time in Irvine meant to me and my family, not to mention those I was able to serve as pastor, I’m grateful for a God who is with us always through the Spirit. And I’m also grateful for the gift of Christian community, for people like Ralph who can help us test everything and discover rightly God’s guidance.
In tomorrow’s Life for Leaders devotion, I’d like to think with you about how we can be formed by God to be people who rightly discern what God is doing and saying in our lives. Now, you might wish to take some time to reflect using the following prompts.
Have you ever had an experience like that one I had when talking with Dale on the phone? If so, what happened? What difference did this make in your life?
Some Christians expect God to speak to them in an almost audible voice on a regular basis. Other Christians do not expect this sort of thing and can be skeptical when others claim to hear from the Lord. Where do you fall on this spectrum? What has influenced your thinking and practice?
Why do you think God wants us to check out our perceptions of his guidance with other believers?
Think about who the person is (or who the people are) in your life whom you would want to help you “test everything.”
Gracious God, thank you for the people in our lives who are like Ralph. Thank you for those who help us to test everything. Thank you for their sensitivity to your Spirit, for their kindness, for their ability to listen deeply to us and to you.
Help me, Lord, to seek wisdom from others as I seek to test everything in my life. May I be open to hearing from you through them. And, when the situation is right, please help me to serve others as they seek to discern your will. Amen.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the High Calling archive, hosted by the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Who Would Have Thought? Reflections About Discernment on a Road Well-Traveled.
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Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.