Sunday, July 31, 2011

Discerning God's Will for our Lives

From Scot McKnight's Jesus Creed, on the occasion of Dr. John Stott's death earlier this week:  John Stott Remembrances:

It was the summer of 1975. Kris and I were in Belgium at a huge Christian event called EuroFest. I was sitting at a panel discussion and someone I admired, a British pastor and minister to college students all over the world, John Stott, was one of the panelists. A long-haired young man to my right asked John Stott a question we were all facing and that we all face: How can I discern the Lord’s will for my life?
John Stott made an observation that clarified my dream for me, and I’ve pondered his answer over and over in my life. I’ve used his answer in countless talks and conversations. Here are his words as I recall them: “Here’s how to determine God’s will for your life: Go wherever your gifts will be exploited the most.”   


My oldest three children attended a Bible study for some time.  They settled in, began to make connections.  As they did so, the leadership did something that seemed curious and counter-intuitive to me.

Rather than observing and allowing the young people to serve as they were gifted,  the leadership placed certain individuals in roles for which they neither felt particularly called nor enjoyed.  One son was kept from serving and worshiping according to his passion (music) - he was not allowed to serve at all, actually.   One girl was placed into a role in which she felt uncomfortable.  The leader felt that he knew better than the kids (and their parents) as to the gifts they carried within. It was a symphony all out of tune, because the kids were not operating according to the things which made their hearts sing.  They were defeated and discouraged, not equipped to serve the Lord.

Now, I share this to say that I agree with Dr. Stott's assessment of determining God's will for ones' life.  (I take his meaning on the word "exploited" to be "used to the fullest."  )   This is how I've home educated over these years.  I'm not raising a herd, I'm raising individuals.  This is why I would never insist that all of my children play the same musical instrument nor follow the same educational course.  As individuals, each one is unique, and each one has been given particular gifts and talents from the Lord.  These gifts and talents are to be used for the furtherance and development of the kingdom of God.

Part of our role as parents is to help our children discover their "bent," their passions.  We are to help them develop their areas of giftedness.  Loving leadership (whether the parent or pastor or Bible study leader) never ties up or restricts a young person from using their gifts in God's service.

  • If the talent lies in computer programming - then program for the glory of God! 
  • If the giftedness shows up in songwriting and strumming, then help that kid find a guitar and let 'em sing!
  • If the passion is revealed thru photography and the written word, let the pictures and the words tell a thousand stories  about the Lord of love.  (That's Emily's photograph above...)
  • If the gifting is a more subtle trait such as compassion or mercy or organization - these may take a bit more insight to discover, but they too are valuable gifts that can be directed into serving God.  We need much more compassion and mercy in this world, and I am not above praying for a child to be organizationally gifted.  :) 
  • Every person, even those who face severe challenges, has a purpose and a gift for his/her family and in the Body of Christ..  

My oldest three stopped attending the Bible study.  They intuitively knew that something was not right.  They knew that there was more, and really, why waste time on something that does not help you become who you are meant to be in Christ?  Youth is the time to grow and develop and use your talents!

Love always empowers, it never belittles nor subsumes.  Love sets people free, it never binds them.  Love builds up.  Love encourages.  Love seeks out the specialty and says, "I see your gift.  How may I help you grow and how may I help equip you for service according to your gifting?"

As parents, there is no greater joy than to see our children walking in God's truth; but there is also deep satisfaction received by watching as they grow and discover the gifted threads God has woven into the very fabric of who they are.  There is great fulfillment in helping them develop their talents, and in coming along side them as they discern where God can use them best.


  1. My daughter is an extremely talented artist. I tell her all the time she has a God given talent. She is also legally blind. I feel this just makes her talent even more amazing. I top that off with the fact she is training for horse jumping and dressage. She is amazing, but she wants to hide her disability and deny she has it. I am trying to encourage her to embrace it and allow God to use it for His glory.

    My two year old also has the same eye condition. I am anxious to see what talents He gives her. She already has a beautiful voice and loves to sing.

    As a mother of five, I try hard to encourage my kids to find something they enjoy.

  2. Rachel, your daughter sounds amazing. It is so interesting to watch as the little ones begin to develop and to learn just who they are. I know that you are an awesome mama. :)

    Some of my children have not realized their passions nor interests until they have hit the teenaged years. Even then, they are still discovering new areas along the way. I often wonder about my youngest ones. Who will they be?

  3. Great post, Holly! Made me think of a recent interpretation of Isaiah 58:10 that I read: "and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday" (NIV). We become who we are intended by God to be (that is, we SHINE and so, the Lord shines through us)when we SPEND ourselves, and through the guidance of the Spirit, we can only spend what we have been uniquely blessed with--our gifts and talents. It seems there are an infinite number of these, many more than the handful the world generally values. Sorry, in a way, that your kids had to face the challenge they did from inside the church. But I say "in a way" because it's obvious they've come out of it with an even better sense of themselves! :D

  4. Couldn't have said it better, Holly. wise words.

  5. I don't know if this would be in line with what you believe about this (I think it is), but Jen at Conversion Diary wrote about about the very same thing this week and I thought it was pretty good. Here's the link:

  6. Yeah, I always enjoy Jennifer's posts! :) Love her!

    I find that I don't disagree! For example, Jennifer is a wife and mom first, but she also has a unique voice in that she was an atheist who converted to Catholicism - she has a passion for writing and God is using her in many ways. She gave some great advice, makes me wish that I had a spiritual advisor! :)

    I think that my main role in God's Kingdom is raising this family that God graciously gave to Jeff and me. Sometimes I think about all of the different things I could have done with my life, but I've never regretted working within my vocation. (Translation....being a mom and a wife and helping people who need help, such as my parents and other elderly people and neighbor kids, etc.) I used to think I'd be a career woman working in the newspaper world, then I thought I'd be a nurse (and I think I'd have done well with either of those things.) I have found, though, that there are elements of each of those things within mothering - God uses it all! Nothing is wasted....

    Sometimes I'm amazed when I think of all of the roles that being a mother encompasses: teaching, organizing, cooking, spiritual direction (Ha!), many things that I can't even list. I'm even good at fileting fish and working on lawn mowers. :)

    I'm glad I'm a wife and a mom. I'm glad that's my primary (and all-consuming) job at this point! I'm glad that's what He's called me to do. Of course, even within our primary vocations God still has gifted us and we should try to discern what these are and what we are to do with them. (I believe, anyway...)

    I was writing, primarily, with young people in mind - those who are still developing and exploring and understanding themselves in light of the gifts God has given them. They do not have established vocation yet - though you (via Jennifer's post) brought some good things to think about to mind! Sometimes we *do* miss the obvious, such as, "have you prayed about that?" That should be a "duh" statement, but I'm sorry to say that I sometimes still have to stop and remind myself of first things first. Pray! Always! :)

    Thanks, Sara! :)


  7. Jill, thank you. I am becoming ever more aware of the need to help my children "know themselves." I don't think I realized that, really, until the last few years.

    Andrea, thank you sweet friend!

  8. Sometimes I think "leaders" think they're doing us a favor in pushing us in a direction we don't want to go, thinking that something else might open up for us. Once in a while that happens, but I think more often, we tend to know what we like and don't, where are strengths are and are not.

    Exploited the most - what an interesting way to look at it! I'll certainly have to give that some thought. :)