Monday Memo: The Question of the Ages

Terry Walton


The Question of the Ages

I was thinking...

How do we know the will of God? Some might call this the question of the ages. I know that I certainly have wrestled with this inquiry. There are certain answers that are obvious such as “What is God’s will in how we are to love God and neighbor?” Jesus answered that one directly, “…love God with all of the heart, a full understanding, and all of one’s strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself is much more important than all kinds of burned offerings and sacrifices.” (Mark 12:33 CEB) But seeking God’s will about a job change or some other major (or even minor) life decision is not always direct or clear.

When I was deciding on which seminary to attend, I prayed and felt a pull toward Asbury Theological Seminary. Sharon and I moved to Kentucky, enrolled, and enjoyed our life in the bluegrass state. Our first son was born in Richmond, Kentucky. 18 months to 2 years into my seminary experience, we began to feel a pull back to Georgia. Was it simply missing being close to family? Was it the realities that were crowding in around us with the stress of seminary requirements and serving as a Pastoral family in a church? Was it the foreign land of being new parents? Was it all the above? We could not adequately discern this unexpected yearn to return to Georgia and thus attend Candler School of Theology. So, we both committed it to fervent prayer, “Lord, what is your will for us? Kentucky or Georgia? Asbury or Candler? We prayed and prayed and waited and waited for God to answer our prayer with the direct words of “Kentucky or Georgia… Asbury or Candler…”

Then the unexpected happened. One day, out of the blue, I was returning home from a Pastoral visit and as I exited my car next to a parsonage lilac bush, I heard in my heart “Terry, it doesn’t matter which school, I’m going to use you either way.” It wasn’t audible but it was as close to audible as has ever been my experience. I was not expecting such a thought nor such a response to fervent prayer. Sharon confirmed the thought, and we accepted it as the will of God for us in this matter. 

As I fast forward 40+ years of ministry, I now know that two years at Asbury and two years at Candler were exactly what I needed. It broadened my ability to understand and pastor all types of people with all kinds of faith paradigms. Growing up in a local pastor’s home with a strong camp meeting tradition, I have come to appreciate my faith journey, while at the same time appreciating the faith journey of people that is very different from mine. I give God thanks for the perspective of ministry and theological framework that both institutions of learning gave me.

Discerning the will of God is not always easy, nor should it be. Often it is the process of discerning that is more important than the answer. The process of fervent prayer is very important to our spiritual muscle and to the shaping of our souls. The process of speaking with trusted friends, confidants, spiritual directors, counselors, Pastors, lay saints of the church is invaluable to the shaping of our souls. To share the journey with those who haven’t had the same sort of spiritual experience heightens the senses to other possibilities of the sound of God’s voice. Seeking God’s heart and voice through the scripture is hard work. Those who think it easy, haven’t really done the work. It is in the exercise of in-depth study that the spiritual heart is freed from the plaque of misunderstood conclusions attributed to God.

Doctor Luke remembers the words of Jesus and records them, “Ask and you will receive. Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened to you. Everyone who asks, receives. Whoever seeks, finds. To everyone who knocks, the door is opened.  Which father among you would give a snake to your child if the child asked for a fish? If a child asked for an egg, what father would give a scorpion? If you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?” (Luke 11:9-14, CEB)

It is the Holy Spirit that reveals to us the things of God with the process of discernment intended to prepare us for the answer that, when it arrives, will be God’s perfect will. And as we are discerning let us all remember that the fruit of that Holy Spirit will always be “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23, CEB)

Always Thinking…

The Rev. Dr. Terry E. Walton
Executive Assistant to the Bishop 

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