In a conversation this week a friend told me of a decision that they were contemplating. After everything was laid out they asked point blank "So, what do you think I should do?".
Giving Space For God's Voice
I had to pause for a moment. After listening to everything that was going on, it would be simple to just spout off my opinion, and answer the question. But I didn't feel like that was really what was being asked of me. I felt the gentle nudging of the Spirit reminding me to point them back to God, the answer would be with him. So, that's what I tried to do. And I trust God will be faithful.
I share this short illustration because I think it's something we typically encounter in our daily interactions with folks. In our roles as deacons (or in life!) we will often find ourselves in conversations where people may want a quick answer, an opinion, a "just tell me what to do" scenario. These types of demands can be dangerous for us! When someone asks us for our opinion, a certain self rightness can grow. We must learn to be wary of our egos which get stroked when we believe that someone needs us, or that we have the right answer. In some circumstances pride will creep in, or an inequality will be created, or worst-case-scenario we'll prevent the other person from hearing God speak in their own life.
So, how do we listen and respond in a way that encourages others to seek out God's voice for themselves? It's not always easy (perhaps that's another reason we may want to just answer the question)! These types of conversations do require that we attend to the other person, that we are truly hearing what they are saying AND what they are not saying! As you are in conversation ask them reflective questions. Don't assume you understand what or why they are saying something - ask them. Help them to tune into what they are feeling or experiencing within themselves, and remind them that God loves them, and is speaking to them.
I have a number of friends who do this well, and to be honest, the first few times it just really irked me! I wanted the straight answer! I demanded their response. But gently they would probe. Sometimes I would reject their questions, particularly when they touched on something that triggered a reaction within me. However, I've found that historically these conversations have been the most formative in my spiritual growth. Yes, they've been uncomfortable. Yes, they've been annoying at times. But they are the ones that have pushed me deeper into God, seeking his face. For that, I am incredibly thankful. And knowing how I have been changed, I want to be able to lead others to God in that way.
It's a bit of a relief to know we don't have to have all the answers. Understanding that simple concept will help us to journey with others who are going through things we have never been through, situations we wouldn't even begin to know how to respond to, and it will also (hopefully) keep us from saying something that could be hurtful or unwise. In every conversation we need to always be discerning in our response. There may be times when a quick answer is what God is asking you to give, but if it's not, don't be afraid to linger in the ambiguity of the non-answer.
I always assume this goes without saying, but constantly be bathing your conversations in prayer. Let the Spirit guide you in what is said and unsaid. And pray together for God's presence to be evident, and his voice to be heard.