My pondering of this issue was prompted from many directions. On Friday a friend asked me to reconsider a decision I had made, and his request has put me back into a process of trying to discern what God wants me to do.
On Saturday, I read a very helpful note by "Apostle John" about the call process in the PCUSA. Apostle John says:
I served a church in Tennessee once and found the people there were always saying, "God is telling me this or that."
Not, "I feel that God is moving me to do this or that," but that "God is telling me this or that."
My first reaction was to think, "How arrogant, that people would think that God speaks to them and no one else."
My second reaction was to think, "How dangerous."
Later in the same note he talks a bit more about how people use this language.
One reaction I heard was in a committee meeting. "God is telling me this or that," one of the members of the committee said. It was her way of saying, "It's my way or the highway. I'm putting God's seal of approval on my opinion so you can argue with it."
In other words, "God is telling me..." was a way of using the Lord's name in vain.
I read this note a week after a presbytery meeting where I noticed the same kind of language, not necessarily used as an exercise of power. At one point in the meeting we were told that the associate pastor had a conversation with the pastor about which of them should bring the greeting to the gathered presbytery, and it had all been cloaked humorously in language about what God was telling each of them, and whether it was God who was speaking. (By the end of the meeting they had each greeted the Presbytery, so maybe they were both right.)
In the same meeting one of the committees made the claim that God kept showing them a particular issue. And I found myself wondering whether there were things being shown to me over and over, but my own mental processing was simply very adept at keeping me blind to some repeating things while allowing me to notice the repetitions of other things.
Some of the times when I have been the most certain that I was doing something God wanted me to do have been times when I had no idea at all about where it was headed, or what was intended to follow from what I would do.
And then there are the times when I can have a pretty clear impression of what future lies at the end of either diverging path that is before me, and still be deeply unsure which path is the one I ought to follow toward an almost predictable future.
I asked my Dad for advice tonight. He told me that God would never give me more than I could handle. "But sometimes it is the case that I take on more than God is asking me to do," was my response. So it goes.