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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

The Importance of “Who”

As iron sharpens iron,
    so one person sharpens another. Proverbs 27:17

For the last 5 years, I have had the joy of walking beside many young men and women in times of transition. In college, before I started my first “big boy” job as a college pastor, I experienced a period of intense, transient angst. The reason for this angst was due to the ever present question: “So what’s next for you?” Most of the time, in periods of transition, we allow other people’s questions, expectations, and concerns to have a large impact on the questions we wrestle with in our decision making. We get going on the “what” and the “how” (because of my crazy ideas this can become “how am I going to make a living?”), and we forget the extremely undervalued but essential question of “Who am I doing this with?”

Why does this matter? What are the dangers of missing the “who” as we plan and discern what is next? I am concerned by the number of young people I get to do life with who are lured away by the job description or resources promised. I am heartbroken by the number of emerging leaders who get cruising after hearing the “what” and “how” just to be deflated, discouraged, and disappointed by the “who.”

When I was growing up, my parents had a pretty long leash for me and I had a lot of freedom. If I had to explain anything to my mom about where I was headed it was usually who I was going to be with, not what we were doing. If your parents know who you are with, they can breathe easy.

Recently my wife and I have experienced this because we have had to utilize a small army of babysitters for our wonderful one-year-old little girl. I don’t really know what these babysitters do with Eden, but it probably includes smiling, chasing her, eating avocados, and selfies. I love these people and am grateful that they play with my daughter in our backyard, watch movies, and go on walks–but even more than what they are doing, it is important to me to know who she is with. When we are in a bind looking for a babysitter, we don’t let our urgency cause us to be flippant in who we invite to watch our daughter–we rearrange our plans instead. I believe this is because the “who” matters, and if the “who” matters in our day-to-day life, why do we let it sink in priority or even disappear from our decision making when it comes to our calling? Do we feel like we have to settle? Are we being too picky? I am not saying the “who” question should become the only question but I do believe that, sadly, it has been demoted in many of our discerning and decision making processes today.

Don’t get rid of the value in what you are doing — in fact, I would still say this is of GREAT value. Don’t forget to ask the “how, “what,” “where,” and other responsible questions for a big kid to ask.  It is good to ask how this opportunity will help me fulfill my call rather than how it might meet my needs. It is healthy to ask what is God doing with this opportunity instead of what my 9-5 schedule will look like. Instead of getting all sorts of pumped about where opportunities are located –whether they’re in Denver, Nashville, San Fran, or Portland (I just listed sweet spots I wouldn’t mind hanging) – we should be asking where do I get to partner with Jesus in places where his Spirit is already at work. These are all important questions that are essential to the discernment process, but we cannot forget the question of “Who am I doing this with?”

Jesus teaching the crowds in his Sermon on the Mount

We see Jesus teach about the “who” and the importance of discernment, clarity, and wisdom in community in Matthew 7:15-23.  In this passage we first see a warning from Jesus. It kicks off in verse 15 when Jesus says to “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.”  When we are talking about ministry opportunities I would confidently say that most opportunities, potential bosses, selection committees, etc. do not come across as “wolves.”  However, without going too far down this road, it may be that the job offer and salary package might tempt and comfort us like a sheep but lying in wait are the “ferocious wolves” of unhealthy expectations, toxic work environment, or other dangerous aspects.  After this warning, Jesus then challenges us to look at the fruit others produce. Don’t be afraid to ask real, pointed questions when discerning what’s next. It matters. Take time to define, and let scripture define, what “good fruit” looks like to you.  We then move into a passage that can be pretty uncomfortable…Matthew 7:21-23 where Jesus tells some people that he “never knew” them despite what they did in his name. We see in this passage another warning of relying on the “what” and “how” of a resumé and not on the “who” of a relationship.

Other important passages that emphasize the importance of who include 1 Corinthians 15:33 where we see the power of poor company, Proverbs 27:17 which is quoted over and over again not because it’s cool…it’s key, and Hebrews 10:24-25 which speaks to the importance of good “who” as well!

Ultimately we must remind ourselves of the Who that got us into this spot in the first place. It is sad the amount of times I ask someone in the discerning process, “What is Jesus telling you about this?” and they reply, “Well…I don’t know…I should probably ask.” Just earlier this week (confession) I was preparing for a meeting with a mentor of mine and I literally said out loud to my wife, “I really hope he doesn’t just say, ‘well what is Jesus saying about all of it?’” It matters, I know it does (I am writing a blog about it) but I forget sometimes. Forgetting the Who could be detrimental to the process and end up leading us in some sticky spots.  We must remember Who is calling you, Who is providing for your need, and Who is leading you perfectly as you discern, process, and answer your call. This Who was passionately unapologetic when it came to His “Who” (Luke 2:49, John 5:19, 8:28&29, 12:49).

My prayer is that we take into consideration the “Who,” our Lord Jesus Christ, and the “who” we will be partnering with as we move forward. Would we pray for the correct who as we seek to follow God’s call on our lives.

Zach Meerkreebs, Lead Planter of New City Church and New City Stories Contributor