Seeking to Do the Will of God Today, This Moment, each Moment as it Arrives
Seeking to Live in Constant PrayerFor the Isolated Friend, one of the hardests tasks is to feel confident in our obediences, that we are fulfilling the will of God and not pursuing mere notions which are out of the Life and will end in Death.
There are other people who have written on discerning leadings. Paul Lacey has an excellent work on the subject called Leading and Being Led, though it strangely omits the Bible as a test for a leading. Also, the Quaker Tract Association pamphlet of Hugh Barbour's Five Tests for Discerning a True Leading is concise and helpful. I talk more about discernment in the larger sense of "decisions" to be made about the nature of a "leading" on my Discernment Page.
But here, I want to concentrate not on discerning God's will in something so large as a leading, but on the small ways we can orient ourselves to God's will in this moment, in this dreary or exciting or confusing moment. I want to walk through recognizing the burden we are all asked to bear: to listen for God's will in this moment, and to defer our judgment to his in all things and at all times.
I know some will consider this impossible. It is, in a way. We are human. We are not perfect. We can never totally clear ourselves of the difficulties of our strengths and weaknesses. In our strength we forget about God because we don't remember that we need him, and in our weakness we are liable to feel angry or frustrated that God let us get into this trouble in the first place. He is our strength in weakness, but perhaps even more importantly, he is our strength when we are strong as well.
In my experience, there is no better aid to opening my heart and closing down my worldly desires than to quiz myself on whether what I am doing (or intend to do, or do on a regular basis) bears the fruit of the Spirit. Paul speaks explicity of this fruit in both 1 Corinthians 13 and Galatians 5. The ultimate fruit of the Spirit is love. We are called to love in our strength as well as our weakness. We are called to recognize our place in the Gospel Order and accept it with a humble heart.
Paul begins 1 Corinthians 13 by illustrating this Truth. No matter if we speak as the angels or have the gift of prophecy. No matter, in my case, if I have a brain with many answers. He says that if we do not have love, if we act outside of the Spirit, we both are nothing and we gain nothing. My brain, no matter how full or active, cannot gain me one True, Necessary and Needful thing. My gifts, such as they are, must be turned to God's purposes, because that is God's will, and I have a yearning for God in my heart that sometimes allows me to see beyond myself to my True Freedom and abandon paths that lead to lies, shackles and death.
Paul goes on to enumerate the gifts and virtues of love we can both experience and convey: When we are acting in the Spirit, we can truly Love, we can be patient, kind; we can bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, endure all things. With Love we can never fail. He also says what love is not: It is not jealous, not self-important, not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not short-tempered, it does not brood over wrongdoing.
If we ask ourselves, is what I am doing, or about to do, or something I regularly do something I do with the gracious gift of Love, or does it bear the ugliness of worldly longing, of fear, greed, self-importance and distress? This is not an idle question. It is an essential one if we are to witness to the Truth and the Way of Christ on this earth.
Paul also uses this theme in Galatians 5. He exhorts his reader to live by the Spirit. He says, "the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want."
We are locked in a battle between the Truth which in Love, Christ shows us, and our sinful fears, desires, weaknesses, ambitions, self-aggrandizing. Paul is explicit, the sinful nature brings us into "sexual immorality, idolatry, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, orgies and the like." I have experienced jealousy, discord, fits of rage and selfish ambition. I have learned to recognize these as being outside of the Spirit, the Seed within has shown me the error of those ways, and the Spirit offers this fruit instead: "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control." Paul goes on to say: "Against such things there is no law." Amen.
And Paul is not translated as saying "fruits" of the Spirit. He says "fruit." It is translated as a noncountable noun, though it can also be a countable noun. By not giving it the countable "fruit," it feels more like one Truth that is borne out by many small evidences, as there is one Christ Jesus who will bear all things with us and cause us to bring forth the fruit in the Life that God has called us to, to bear witness to God's grace and loving-kindness, to bear witness to Christ's loving watchfulness, to bear the fruit of the Spirit that lives within us and allows us to do all things that are Right and Necessary and allows us to set aside those that lead away from the Truth and the Way.
So as I have taken to using these passages as my guide to the Right and Necessary actions I must take in each day, I find myself more and more capable of recognizing when I am turning away from God's will, and feel the loss of his strength when I have lost my proper orientation. I have begun to treasure the fruit of the Spirit more than I ever knew how to treasure the things of this Earth. God is good, very good, and never leads us astray. He has never led me astray, not once, no matter how many times I turned away, he always offered another route back to the Truth and the Way. I find myself more and more capable of stopping, of observing, of taking note of myself, the people around me, the place I am standing. I stop, and I pray, and I quiz myself: am I living the Truth in this moment? Am I aware of the Seed Within, the Inward Teacher? Am I being called to something here that my big brain would ignore, but a heart full of Christ must witness to? Salvation is not accomplished at baptism, whether by water or the Spirit. The baptism in the Truth is the first step in the long path to where God truly wants us to be, and our salvation is in each moment waiting for us when we can silence ourselves and allow Christ to work within us. We must love Christ more than the world, more than our parents, spouses, children. We must first love the Truth and the Way, and all the other things we do in this life will fall into their proper place and proportion.
What love we are capable of is only a fraction of God's love for us, and what obedience we are capable of in this moment will be enough. It will be enough to see us to the next moment, when we learn more and greater obedience.
Tools for Daily Guidance in the Truth and the Way
1 Corinthians 131 If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. 2 And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing. 4 Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, (love) is not pompous, it is not inflated, 5 it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, 6 it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. 7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never fails. If there are prophecies, they will be brought to nothing; if tongues, they will cease; if knowledge, it will be brought to nothing. 9 For we know partially and we prophesy partially, 10 but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. 11 When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things. 12 At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully,
Galatians 51 It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. 2 Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. 3 Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. 4 You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. 5 But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. 7 You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth? 8 That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. 9 "A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough." 10 I am confident in the Lord that you will take no other view. The one who is throwing you into confusion will pay the penalty, whoever he may be. 11 Brothers, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished. 12 As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves! 13 You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature ; rather, serve one another in love. 14 The entire law is summed up in a single command: "Love your neighbor as yourself." 15 If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. 16 So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. 17 For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law. 19 The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying
AND in all your Meetings, let notice be given to the Quarterly Meetings of all poor Friends: And when ye have heard, that there is many more Poor belonging to one Meeting than to another, and that Meeting thereby is burdened and oppressed, let the rest of the Meetings assist and help them, so that ye may ease one another, and help to bear one anothers Burdens and so fulfil the Law of Christ. And so see that nothing be lacking, according to the Apostle's words (mark) nothing ...