Murky Waters: Seeking His Face in Discernment


You have said, “Seek my face.”
My heart says to you,
   “Your face, Lord, do I seek.” – Psalm 27:8 ESV

Many of us know the parable of the drowning man. It is not one of Jesus’ parables, but it is one that is frequently mentioned in Christian circles. If you haven’t heard this parable before, here it is:


This is the story of a drowning man.
As the man is drowning, he has no fear. Why? Well, this drowning man is very religious.
“God will save me!” he says.
A man in a canoe comes by and offers the drowning man a life jacket. He says, “No thanks. God will save me!”
Then, a helicopter comes overhead. The crew throws a ladder down to help save the drowning man, but again the man says, “No thanks. God will save me!”
Finally, a person swims out to the drowning man to save him and the man says, “Climb on my back. I will swim you to shore.”
Of course, the drowning man still refuses and says, “No thanks. God will save me!” And so, the man that had come to save the drowning man returned to shore.
Sadly, the drowning man did drown. He went to heaven where he sees God.  He says to God, “I prayed every day and was a very religious man.
I did everything the prayer books told me to do, so I have to ask you, why did you let me drown?”
Then God replied, “I sent a canoe, a helicopter and a man to bring you to shore and you refused their help!”

https://www.brandonsteiner.com/blogs/what-else/the-story-of-a-drowning-man

Nice little parable, right? I do think there is some truth to it. Oftentimes, when we are so preoccupied with with our own version of God and what He ought to do for us that we can miss His promptings and invitations.

However, there is, in my mind, a major problem with this parable–it doesn’t take into account the murkiness that is discernment. Sometimes in our life when we feel that we are “drowning” and we need to make a big decision or else we “miss the boat,” it is difficult to discern whether or not there is a boat in front of us at all. Or, sometimes there might be multiple vessels offering to pull us out of the water but we cannot decide which is the rescue boat and which is the pirate ship.

Nautical metaphors aside, there are just simply times in our life when we feel the weight of large, looming decisions and it seems impossible to discern the next right step. It might seem that there is no clear path forward and making a decision seems like a total shot-in-the-dark. It could be that there are a few options in front of us, but none of them align with what we have envisioned for ourselves. Or, it may be that there are many good opportunities we have to choose from, and it seems impossible to distinguish which opportunity is the best one. Finally, it may simply be that we have trouble hearing God’s still-small voice in this season and cannot discern what His will is in this moment.

Whatever unique situation we find ourselves in, the process of discernment is often overwhelming and much unlike what the parable describes above. Many of us feeling burdened by a looming decision desperately wish for someone to “swim” out to us and pull us to shore. The fact is that these liminal times–the transitional, “in-between” spaces where things seem so unclear and so pressing–make up much of our lives. So, how are we do navigate them? How do we stay afloat in these waters?

Simply put: we have to seek God over and above His plan for our lives. It is precisely in these periods of intense discernment that we desperately desire for God to send a rescue boat (or maybe a cruise ship) to take us to the destination He has for us. We want God to illuminate our path so that we can run towards the work He has for us. The problem with is, when our hearts are set on the “boat” or the “path,” we tend to forget God Himself. God knows that our ultimate destination is not a place, not a title, not a reputation, but Himself. Because God fashioned us, he knows that our ultimate joy and contentment is found in communion with His triune life. Much like Peter, when we focus on being saved from the waves instead of gazing upon the very face of God, we begin to sink faster.

As we do our best to navigate these waters, the various crossroads of our lives, we must remember to look up before we look forward. We must remember the words of Jesus himself, the one who has not only walked this same journey perfectly, but who has sent His Spirit to guide us along the way:  “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33 ESV).

I leave you with two prayers. The first is written by Thomas Merton and the second is my own prayer that I wrote in a season of difficult discernment. My hope is that they encourage you as you yourself discern God’s will and “seek His face” in this season.


My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going
I do not see the road ahead of me
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think that I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you
and I hope I have that desire in all I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this, you will lead me on the right road
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore, will I trust you always.
Though I may seem to be lost
and in the shadow of death,
I will not fear, for you are ever with me
and you will never leave me to face my struggles alone. Amen.
(Thomas Merton)



Lord, it is good to ask you to light up our path

but it is better to ask you to illumine our hearts.

Let me not be dragged about by concerns for the future

but ground me with your grace so that I might desire your presence.

We cannot walk this road without your guiding hand

and we cannot hold your hand if we are anxiously hurrying along.

Give me the desire of all desires, the desire to seek your face.

All of my ambition and all of my uncertainties are consumed by the beauty of your presence.

The road does not seem so unsure when I am looking up.

Lift up my gaze to you, Lord. Amen.

Mike Terry, New City Stories Contributor