Discerning the Will of God

Recently, especially since the layoffs at work, I’ve been more concerned than usual about discerning God’s will. That in itself is problematic – I should have been more concerned about God’s will long before that, but that’s a different discussion for a different day. What I’m concerned with is how do we know what God’s will is for any given situation? Most people I know who consider themselves Christian, and who take this seriously, are concerned about the same.

Typically, the standard response is pray, and God will reveal his will to you. That is sound advice. Decisions taken without thought to prayer are likely misguided. Orthodox elders will tell you the same. An Abbess at a skete in northern California related the need for prayer in a talk she gave on this subject. However, that really only addresses the asking of God. How is it that I am supposed to hear Him? Mother Dorothea continues and shares the wisdom of various Orthodox saints and elders on that topic.

Before getting to that, though, I think it worth pondering a couple of stories in Scripture that relate to hearing and speaking with God. These stories provide the backdrop, really, to the counsel we hear from the spiritual giants of Christianity. The first is the famous story of Elijah and the “still small voice”. While God is powerful and creates the winds, and causes the earthquakes, etc., He is not in those. Rather, He comes in a still, small, voice. How, then, can we hear God when our lives are filled with noise, and activity, and even more importantly, the maelstrom that is our passions. Blown this way and that by our desires and our will, how can we stand still long enough to even be aware of God? Mother Xenia cites St. Pimen the Great who said that our will is like a wall of brass that stands between us and God. She then quotes, at length, St. Silouan as to the need for great humility to submit our will to God. So, not only can we not hear God, it may be as much that we truly don’t want to. For to do so, requires humility.

The second story is that of Moses bringing the Israelites before God in the wilderness. In order for them to even come near to God (and at that not very near), they must prepare. Moses is required to sanctify them. They must wash their clothes, and abstain from women. They must purify themselves. In the New Testament, we see the Apostles fasting and praying prior to great undertakings, just like the Israelites.

Mother Xenia says the following: “Arguing and judging come from pride, and pride immediately cuts us off from remembrance of and communion with God. St. Silouan said, ‘A cloud blows over and hides the sun, making everything dark. In the same way, one prideful thought causes the soul to lose grace, and she is left in darkness. But, equally, a single impulse of humility—and grace returns. This I have experienced and proved in myself.’” The Church has always taught that the ascetical practices of prayer, and fasting help us to learn humility and to not allow pride and our desires to rule our lives. The purpose, then, of these practices is to allow us to draw nearer to God. It is only then that we can hear that still, small voice.

The Church has also directed us to seek the counsel of a spiritual father, someone who has spent much time growing closer to God. The reason for that is all of what is stated above. These individuals have humbled themselves (one has to go find a spiritual father, they don’t advertise, that’s why St. Theophan was known as the recluse), and by that humility, they allow themselves to hear that still, small voice. Thankfully such people exist, to help keep us from the delusion of our pride.

This is a great wake up call for me.

The False Prophet

I, like many of my friends and fellow Orthodox, had mixed reactions to Harold Camping and his prediction about the impending rapture. We were amused that anyone would be so bold as to claim that which is not to be known, we joined in the myriad jokes after the prediction failed, and we were all saddened by the heart break of those who followed this man. Tragically, as we all imagined would happen, there has already been reported one suicide related to this man.

I find myself wondering why this man and his prediction captured this Orthodox Christian’s attention so much, as well as that of others. I know that one story that really struck me was that of the people who had basically given up their life savings due to this man’s teachings. Is that really what was most important, though? Or, does it reflect my still worldly mindedness. As an Orthodox, we have a fairly narrow definition of what the true faith is, and thus followers of other faiths are, to some degree or another, following false prophets. Yes, Harold Camping is a false prophet, but so are John Calvin, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, Rick Warren, and Joel Osteen. However, these other people won’t lead one to bankruptcy. Looking at Rick Warren and Joel Osteen, one imagines quite the opposite to be the case. I don’t mean this offend my many dear friends of different faiths – most of whom are sincere and loving people – more so than I have ever been. However, these other prophets are laying out a path that is different than the path to salvation that our Lord established with His Church. How much more dangerous is that than simply losing your money? As a result, do I pray as I should for all of my friends? Do I try to follow the teachings myself, and follow the path with the urgency that I should?

I take this event, and my reaction, as a stark warning to myself that my priorities are still not aligned correctly. Thankfully, the end has not come yet, for I am afraid I am like the servant who shall be found heedless:

Behold, the Bridegroom comes at midnight,

And blessed is that servant whom He shall find watching,

And again, unworthy is the servant whom He shall find heedless.

Beware, therefore, O my soul, do not be weighed down with sleep,

Lest you be given up to death, and lest you be shut out of the Kingdom.

But rouse yourself crying: Holy, Holy, Holy, art Thou, O our God,

Through the Theotokos have mercy on us.

Troparion of Bridegroom Matins