Following the Voice of God

Following the Voice of God

Thomas Merton in his prayer, “A Prayer of Daring Trust” prays, “My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. 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. . .” So many times we find ourselves having no idea of where we are going. We live our daily lives day in and day out by routine. We get into the comfort zone and life continues along its predictable path. This is all fine and good until something comes along to disrupt the status quo. We then find ourselves thrown off course, often by the smallest of circumstances. A close friend moves away, a change at work, a surprise phone call, our health or any number of other things can be enough to change our thinking and perception of how we live our lives.  

The same goes for systems, and the church system is no exception. A change, no matter how big, to the system can be enough to alter the whole. This point was highlighted at the annual clergy conference this past week, where our guest speaker was talking to the clergy of the diocese about mindfulness and the relationship between martial arts and our work/church life. Now you need not worry; we were not taught, nor do I have any intention of throwing anyone across the church. The point that was made was that any change to the system, good or bad, is going to affect the whole system. In that everything and everyone who makes up the parish system is connected to everything else in the system either directly or indirectly. The classic example of this, and one we as a parish know well, is when someone or a group leaves the parish. This will have an impact on everyone else in the parish.  

When these circumstances occur, our senses are heightened and anxiety rises as we become less sure of the road ahead and of the overall system. We are in a place at St. Martin’s where we have seen a shift with people. Some have left and others have joined. It should not be surprising therefore that we may find ourselves in a place where we are unsure of the road ahead. We may find ourselves feeling anxious about a decline in membership, I know I have been. We may find ourselves second guessing ourselves about whether or not we have something good and wholesome to offer the community and neighborhood. We may even be concerned about how to attract new people to the parish so they can have an opportunity to see and experience this place that has been so life giving to all of us for so many years. We feel lost and unsure of where we are going. When we are in this place of uncertainty, it can be difficult to hear the voice of God. Even if we can hear the voice of God, we may be unsure if it really is the voice of God we are hearing or something else.

John’s Gospel today reminds us that when the shepherd calls his sheep by name, they will follow him because they know his voice (John 10: 3-4). But how do they know it’s the shepherd’s voice, their shepherd’s voice . . . they just do. I am not sure on the biology or reasoning behind this, but I believe it to be true. It’s a funny thing; sheep just know who they are supposed to follow. This can be true for us and the church as well. Deep down, when we think about it, we recognize the voice of God and where God is calling us. The trouble is, sometimes we don’t always want to follow. We don’t always want to do the very thing we know we need to do. There are other options and choices that would be easier. But this is not the nature of God. God doesn’t call us to complacency and a path of ease. We are called to roll up our sleeves and engage with the heartache, pain, messiness and muck of life. We are called, more often than not to push our comfort zones in ways we would rather not. But we know if we are really honest with ourselves, that this is the way forward where God is calling us to serve.  

Our prayer from Thomas Merton continues, “But I believe that the desire to please you does, in fact, please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that 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 by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will 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 perils alone.”  

Perhaps one of the reasons why sheep follow the voice of their shepherd is that innate sense that they know they will be safe, no matter what, with the shepherd. As we continue to discern the voice of God in our lives and the life of our parish, we can follow the advice from Thomas Merton and others and simply follow our instinct in the desire to please God. In doing so we will find, as we always do, that God is never far from us and will always guide us and will never let us face our perils alone.  

This does not mean that God is going to do all the work. This still means that we will be called to roll up our sleeves and push our comfort zones as we face the challenging and life changing work that God has planned for us. In so doing we will come close to tasting that abundant life that Jesus proclaims.