Spotting God…

Posted by on Mar 20, 2022 in Blog | 4 comments

unrecognizable woman covering face behind blank book

I have a small group of people who come to me for spiritual direction. It’s a richly rewarding experience to sit in the story of another person and to work together with them to discern what God is saying and doing in their life – an astonishing privilege actually. It has also reminded me of the many and diverse ways in which God turns up for people. For some it is while reading scripture, for others while in prayer, for many it is in the flow of life, though often it is then only recognised afterwards as an “I think that was God” realisation.

Four things I am noticing and learning along the way are:

First, most people want to know what God wants them to do. They often look for reassurance that they are on the right path. My thesis is that God is more interested in who we become. The path matters, but it can be walked with a growing consciousness of God’s presence, or the lonely (and inaccurate – for we are never alone) sense of being on our own. Challenges are normal, and most often things don’t run entirely to plan, but each unexpected turn provides us with the opportunity to become a deeper and more authentic follower of Jesus. Rather than God being absent in the “not according to plan” moments, God is frequently more strongly present. While it is exciting to kick lots of goals, who we are becoming might well be more important than what we are doing – indeed often God’s agenda is about who we are becoming, while ours is about what we do. True, there is no need for false opposites (as though someone who is successful cannot be growing personally), but there is something about failure (if that’s the word to use – and often it isn’t) that gets us asking more probing questions. Sometimes it sharpens our vision and helps us to be more alert to the presence of God.

Second, people are keen to get to the end of their journey and to celebrate “mission accomplished” moments. But we are called to be pilgrims, and even when one part of our journey is completed, our pilgrimage continues. It is “the journey of me” and it is also “the journey of us” as we identify who our fellow travellers are. It is also always a “plus 1” journey, for as Jesus promised, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Noticing and interacting with our “plus 1” companion transforms the road.

Third, life has many different chapters. Correctly identifying and naming our current chapter can be liberating. Knowing that another one is coming can help us to be more intentional about our actions and reactions in the present. In writing the “story of me” and “the story of us” I can be a little more thoughtful about my responses and ask how the choices I make now will impact future chapters, and how I would like to think back on and speak about the present one. The spiritual director in me also wants to add “And we do not write our stories alone. What different turns will we take if we note God’s presence with us?

Fourth, some people find it really difficult to discern God’s presence and feel that to say “God told me” or “God showed me” is too big a claim. It is wise to be cautious, and the question “could this be God?” is usually better than the statement “this is God!” – which is often said in such a way that any questioning of it would be seen to prove a lack of faith. For all that, learning to live as though God exists is an important (even transforming) step in our journey of faith.

What does it mean to live as though God exists?

It my own pilgrimage, it means that I am reconciled with my inability to decisively prove that God exists. My book on apologetics is intentionally titled Why Christianity is Probably True – gently trying to push back on the over claiming so often made, and reminding us that most of life is lived in the realm of the probable, not the certain. We can however make a conscious and responsible decision to live as though God exists – to operate from trust and to act according to our deepest hopes. We can then periodically pause and check what has happened.

As someone who has attempted to follow Jesus for about half a century I feel confident I now have enough personal experience to say that for me, living as though God exists has worked (and continues to work) wonderfully well. That is not to say that everything has gone smoothly and that life has been without disappointments, but it is to say that I have always felt accompanied – by God, by the people of God, and by the special fellow pilgrims who are part of my journey.

As I sit with those who come for spiritual direction, at some point I ask, “And where is God in this?” Sometimes the pauses are long (and long pauses often precede much deeper answers), occasionally the answer is “I really (really) don’t know”, but most often a tentative reply is given. And most often it is right – for God is, and God never leaves us, and if we pause and reflect long enough, God’s presence can usually be spotted.

As always, nice chatting…

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  1. Hi Brian, it would be good to be part of your small group for spiritual direction. Perhaps when we are back in Perth, in about 6 months time.

    • Thanks Geff. Do reach out when you are back. The group is full at present but it changes and there might be an opening by then.

  2. Thought-provoking article, Brian.

    “Could this be God” is the kind of question I often ask myself of inklings, of remembered dreams that are in some way significant, of unexpected interactions with people, and so on. Admittedly, sometimes these things are sometimes “just caused by indigestion” as a friend once said of some significant dreams ?, but I don’t think it’s the case on all such occasions.

    So I choose to assess such occasions to be “probably” of significance and tentatively go forward in trust. This attitude is a departure from my more cerebral approach as a younger person… ?

    • Love your comments Ian. Yes, I think we should pay attention to our inklings. There is a strongly intuitive part in noticing God – but it’s not arbitrary and time often shows that what was an inkling was probably right.

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