December 16, 2011
Author’s Note: Journeys are strange. You hardly ever end up where you thought you would, and you definitely never get there in the manner that you conceived. That has been as true for me as it was for Jonah the morning he woke up to take a leisurely cruise to Tarshish. Over the next few weeks I will be writing a series of blog posts exploring how I came to and through seminary. It’s a strange tale with no straight lines. But it’s my story, and it is the path that the Lord has led our family down. It’s not idyllic. I hope that encourages you. Also, in case you just joined the conversation, Part 1 can be found here; Part 2 can be found here; Part 3 can be found here; Part 4 can be found here; Part 5 can be found here; Part 6 can be found here.
How do you know if that voice inside your head is God or the taco that you ate last night? I have to be honest – I have no idea. Maybe you are better at discerning this than me. Perhaps God has a distinguished British accent when he speaks to you. Or maybe he sounds like James Earl Jones or Meryl Streep. Or perhaps he opens by saying, “Willamina, this is God. The next two minutes of your life are going to be craaaaaaaazy!” But this isn’t me. Usually I walk around about as confused as can be as to the actual moment-to-moment plan that God has for my life. I have a friend named Valerie who hears God clearly and often. I’m jealous.
Normally, not having a high facility in discerning God’s voice wouldn’t be a big deal, but as a Christian I want to know him and honor him. And sometimes the Bible doesn’t give me a definitive answer about how I should do that (Think about some specific situations: Should I marry this beautiful blonde? How do I deal with my son’s anger issues? How do I find time to really connect with God in the midst of this 24/7 culture?). Prayer is wonderful and necessary, but sometimes it is difficult to hear what God is saying back to us. However, in spite of this difficulty, I do believe that he does speak to us. Not in a way that we can ever verify or prove, but real nonetheless.
So, with two years left in my M.Div. program, I was struggling to hear God’s voice once again amidst all of the tacos that I had eaten. I enjoyed ministry – really, really enjoyed my ministry with high school and middle school students through Young Life – but something seemed to be missing. I knew what it was. It had been with me for my entire life. But I dismissed it as a selfish fancy.
However, with the encouragement of my dear wife, I slowly began to realize that what I had interpreted as a selfish fancy might have actually been God’s voice encouraging me to change directions. What was this self-indulgent activity? (Confession time – this may be hard for me *deep breath*): My entire life I have had to fight the urge to run off and read. (“Hello, my name is Brian and I am a nerd.”) When I was young, I would sneak a flashlight into my room and read into the early morning hours. I always thought that I would grow out of this, but in my years in ministry I found myself sitting in the best reading room in the house, the bathroom, into the wee hours of the morning slowly working through a chronological list of classical literature. This is normal, right?
All along I had the thought in my head that I should go and get a Ph.D., and serve God by researching, writing, and teaching for a living. But then I would always put that idea away and decide that it was a taco speaking. I was a captain on my football team in high school, and guys like me don’t just run off to read. Or maybe they do.
After 20 years of this continual hounding from the Lord, I realized that I wasn’t hearing a taco. With my wife’s encouragement, and a very encouraging meeting in Charlotte with Dr. Rosell, our family began a new journey in our lives – one where I am beginning to find that I am right at home. Daily I feel like a kid at a Star Wars convention. When God speaks, it is wonderful. Now, if I could just figure out how to properly discern his voice more often…
You have searched me, LORD,
and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
you, LORD, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.
- Psalm 139:1-5
Brian has an M.Div. (2010) from Gordon-Conwell’s Charlotte campus, a Th.M. (2011) in Historical Theology from the South Hamilton campus, and is currently strengthening his language skills while in the MACH program. He hopes to matriculate into a doctoral program in August 2012 that will allow him to continue in his study of the thought of Augustine of Hippo. He has a wonderful wife, three great children, and spent ten years in ministry to teenagers, primarily with Young Life International.