The simple statement above makes a lovely sign to hang on the wall, doesn’t it? If you Google it, many Etsy stores pop up that sell this quote written in pretty, scrolly script and beautifully framed. It can be easy to read it, nod your head, and move on. But if one really dwells on it and digs into the idea of being faithful to God’s plan for you so that you can set the world on fire for Him, it changes the way you make decisions, both big and small.
In our married life of over 29 years, my husband Chris and I (and our two grown kids) have had countless adventures and have seized opportunities to which we joyfully said yes. (On the flip side, we’ve said no to innumerable tempting things too!) From the outside, some of these decisions must have seemed to others as if they were made on the fly, in a snap. However, each life-altering choice we made, from running for office to starting a business, was talked through (and under and over), prayed about, and, of course, questioned. We can look back on each of these and see when we sought God’s will and obeyed His plan for our lives, even when it seemed illogical.
Discerning God’s will can be one of the hardest parts of being an obedient Christian. It’s difficult sometimes to determine whether the spark to pursue something comes from our own desires or if it is part of a bigger plan. A funny image that Chris likes to point to is two line graphs. The first is labeled “My Plan” and has a nice, smooth, straight line in an upward trajectory. The other is titled “God’s Plan” and has enough peaks and valleys to give you motion sickness.
Proverbs 3:5-6 tells us, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make straight your paths.” (ESV) So, it’s really our own earthly expectations of life that make those two graphs flip-flopped from what they actually represent. We know that even if the twists and turns in life are not part of our plan, they are part of God’s plan for us if we are persistent in seeking his will at each pivot point.
In Ephesians 5:15-17, Paul wrote, “Look carefully then at how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” (ESV) So how do we go about figuring out God’s will? One sermon that has stuck with me described three ways that God reveals Himself to us: through His Word, through His Holy Spirit, and through His Creation. During the decision points in my life, I can look back and see where God has revealed Himself in each of these ways.
First, through His word:
To be led by God’s voice, we have to be able to recognize it. And in order to recognize it, we need to be intimately in relationship with Him, which requires time spent with Him. Jesus tells us in John 10:2-4, “But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gate keeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.” (ESV)
Recognition of His voice gets easier with regular time spent reading the Bible, in prayer, in worship, and in fellowship with other Christians. I try to start each day with quiet time reading Scripture and perhaps a devotion, praying, and journaling my prayers. I now have a stack of prayer journals, and I can go back through each one and read what I was praying for, who I was praying for, and how the Lord answered those prayers, whether it was the way I hoped He would or not. I love being able to see the whispers of what was to come in the events, problems, etc. that I was praying about at different times and turning points in our journey as a family.
When we were in our late 20s, Chris and I made the decision for him to run for a seat in the Florida House of Representatives, living in Tampa at the time. As you can imagine, that is a major decision, especially for a young family with a toddler and a baby on the way! Prior to taking this leap, Chris and I prayed about it and talked with family and friends, asking them to pray about it as well. Chris counseled with our friend and pastor, Kathy Conner. A verse that kept popping up for Chris during this time of discernment was Proverbs 3:26, “For the Lord will be your confidence and will keep your foot from being caught.” Contrary to conventional wisdom, we had no fear as he ran and won the seat, and we knew that that confidence came only from the Lord.
Second, through His Holy Spirit:
In John 14:16 Jesus said, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.” (ESV) When Jesus could no longer be with us here on earth, He left us with His Holy Spirit, who dwells in believers. In Romans 8:14, Paul wrote, “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.” (NIV)
So many times, all of us feel nudges to do something, whether big or small. How can we know if that unexpected feeling comes from the Holy Spirit? Here are a few things to think about: Do you have to knock down doors, or do doors open easily to this new venture? Is there anything in Scripture that would prohibit what you are feeling nudged to do? Does your confidence go up or down when you think of doing this new thing (think of Proverbs 3:26 above)? Could you live with yourself after going down this new route?
During my quiet time in the mornings, I invite the Holy Spirit into my day so that I am guided in every thought, word, and action. There is a peace that descends and stays throughout the day. Believe me, I can tell a difference in my anxiety on days that I skip my quiet time!
A favorite verse is “Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established.” (ESV) When we were thinking of opening our first shop in Tallahassee in 2017, which again was another huge commitment for our entire family, I was feeling nudged (okay, pushed) right out of my comfort zone. But it was an inkling I could not ignore. Again, Chris and I talked it through, we prayed about it separately and together, I asked my Bible study group to pray about it, and we counseled with friends and family. I had a list of criteria that I wanted for my shop that I thought was impossible for any space to meet. Well, of course, a space that met all criteria was revealed to us, and all things fell easily into place so that, again, a major leap was made with confidence.
The same thing happened when we found our current space on Broad Street in Thomasville, Georgia (just 30 minutes north of Tallahassee). My plan was to open a shop here in this destination town three years after opening our Tallahassee store, but the nudge was so obvious, and things fell so easily into place after only nine months that we felt compelled to move our business (and ourselves!) here in 2018. Looking back even a decade before our move, I can see all the little nudges that the Holy Spirit put on our hearts about Thomasville through the years. What a blessing this amazing community has been to us! We’ve even had several family members also move here since and it is such a joy. As Paul wrote in Romans 15:13, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (NIV)
Third, through His Creation:
When you are feeling anxious, tired, and caught up in the routine of life, doesn’t it make it better to take a moment to look out the window and clear your mind by looking at the trees, the birds, or even just the clouds going by? Even better, how about a walk in the woods or a day at the beach? Spending time in God’s creation is an automatic way to release our daily worldly grind. Whenever I have a decision that I am noodling over, praying over, agonizing over, I find that taking a day, an afternoon, or better yet, a weekend to be outside, to get away from the usual, frees my mind to hear what God is telling me to do.
We live in the beautiful Red Hills region, an area encompassing south Georgia and north Florida defined by its red clay dirt and rolling hills covered in stately long-leaf pines and graceful live oak trees. There are plenty of parks and greenways to escape to for a hike or a trail ride on a bike. This is where Chris and I do our best talking and dreaming.
Romans 2:12 says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” I find that the renewal of my mind happens best when I am unencumbered by the daily expectations of the world: chores, emails, texts, etc. So, a regular unplugging to go out and get a breath of fresh air helps one to get closer to the Lord and (in addition to prayer and listening to the Holy Spirit) discern His plans for you. If you live in a city, find a park or green space. If you are near the coast, go to the beach, even if for an hour or two.
Something about being in nature, in God’s creation, opens your mind and heart up to possibilities that don’t come up in the daily routine of work and home. An extreme case of this was a time we spent “rambling” in the Cotswolds in England while I was noodling over whether to even start a business. The Hare & The Hart was born after that trip, and our aesthetic is greatly inspired by the English countryside and the village shops there.
God’s creation also includes the people whom He puts in your path. I have countless stories about the people who are part of the fabric of my life now as a result of following God’s will, and who popped up in just the right way at just the right time in my story, too perfect to just be an earthly coincidence. As I look around my shop, I see the myriad creative friends who are interwoven in my business, and therefore into my heart, from the skilled artisans we have collaborated with for our bespoke products, to the artists and craftspeople (even a beekeeper!) whose products we carry. Each one of these people either was already a precious friend (like Karen and Tom of PrayerBowls) or has become one through the blessing of the business, and my life is enriched by each of them.
My favorite scripture passage begins with Philippians 4:4-7, in which Paul advises, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (ESV)
Being faithful to God’s plan for you takes stepping out in faith, but you can do so confidently if you have taken the time to be in His word, to pray about your decisions, to respond to the Holy Spirit, to get the counsel of fellow Christians, and to take time just to be in His creation.
What better way to set the world on fire for Him?