Discerning Prayer

How do you make decisions?

When it comes to how I make them, the word “hand wringer” might come to mind. The organizer in me likes to make a list, and I discuss it with everyone I trust. I value critical thinking (it used to be a huge part of my work as a teacher), and I live in an educated, urban culture that values logical thought over faith and heart. Yet once I make a decision, I often spin and worry. My method might be logical, but it’s not completely effective. I usually feel I’ve left something out.

A few years ago, I was asked to participate in the nominating committee at church. The small committee of ten to twelve church members meets once a week to pray about and discuss the upcoming Session, which, in the Presbyterian faith is the governing body, or church board. So, I went into the meetings thinking that they would be strategy sessions. We would discuss who would be best on Session. I immediately thought of one member who had an MBA from Harvard, because our church was in year one of a capital campaign, and she seemed like a logical choice. And, even though I consider myself a Christian, I often go about my life decisions in a very secular way: I think logically about them. I create my own strategy sessions. But what happens is that I often exhaust myself thinking of and analyzing every possible pro and con.

The nominating committee forever altered how I view decision making. Instead of a strategy session, all we did was pray, and discuss our prayers. That’s it! Some of you might be thinking, “Of course, that’s it!” But this was a new concept for me, and I have to confess that at first, I felt a little silly doing this. Should I be hearing a whisper of someone’s name? This isn’t how I’d experienced prayer in the past, but I continued to participate and keep an open mind. After all, I wanted to experience prayer in this way, it would make my life so much easier!

So I set out to make prayer a daily practice in a way I hadn’t before. Every day, at a set time, I prayed for our church, for our church vision, and for members that came to mind as I prayed. After a week or so of doing this, I started to realize that I was noticing people at church in a way that I hadn’t before. I began to pay attention to those I didn’t know by name yet, and I introduced myself. At coffee hour, I’d talk to new people instead of sitting with my kids and talking to my closest friends. The prayers didn’t supply me with people’s names, but they helped me start building new relationships, and through them, I began to learn about our congregation in a new way.

Not long after the committee was over, and the new session was in place, my husband and I had a big decision to make. We were considering a move vs. a remodel. In bed that night, I began to argue all the points for what I thought I wanted, and I felt the oh so familiar flutter of anxiety and stress in my stomach, the insecurity that comes from arguing for something I haven’t prayed about. I stopped and took a deep breath, and suggested that we pray about it over the next month instead.

As I said in the opening to this post, I’m still sometimes a hand-wringer. I often jump to using just my logical brain when making decisions rather than praying about them over time. Even when I remember to pray, listening to the answer, and accepting God’s will isn’t easy. But it is what I want for my life.

I’d love to hear how you make tough decisions in your life, and if you have process for discerning prayer that you use post it in the comments or email me.


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