Have you been led?

October 13th, 2014

“Have you been led by God?” my friend asked. He sipped his coffee and stared intently at me while waiting for a response.
“Yes, I believe so,” I responded.
“How do you know?” he asked. I looked out the window for a moment to give myself time to scramble for an answer.
“In the past I have sensed God's presence leading me in a particular direction,” I told him. Still looking confused, my friend took another sip of coffee.
“Yes, but how do you know it was God leading you and not another voice?” This was a good question and I spent the rest of our time together wondering the same thing.

Following our conversation, my friend’s question lingered in my mind; it left me with an uneasy feeling as I considered the possibility I have not been led by God. What if God intended for me to do something completely different with my life and I somehow missed the message? At one point or another, I believe everyone, including the most faithful, experience a moment of spiritual paralysis that causes them to lie awake at night wondering if they confused God's voice with that of another.

Seeking to settle my anxious feelings, I turned to a wise spiritual director for help; he assured me my insecure feelings were natural and advised me to look closely at the critical junctures in my past where I believe God was present. He instructed me to pay attention to the moments when I sensed God’s leading.

Critical junctures

A critical juncture in my spiritual journey occurred while I was leaving adolescence behind and becoming an adult. I was twenty years old, and at the midpoint of my college experience. Like many college students, I struggled to find my identity and a career path. I felt overwhelmed by the decision to choose an area of study. Meanwhile, many other students aligned their gifts with ease to science, engineering, or business but my personality and interests resisted translating into a particular major.

Feeling lost I recommitted to a prayer life in hopes of receiving guidance. I found comfort in placing my worry and anxiety in the hands of a higher power. However, this act of relinquishment led to an unexpected experience that I am still trying to make sense of today. During this tumultuous time I began to sense God calling me to dedicate myself to ministry as a vocation. This was a shock to my system because I never considered this path a fit for my personality. I was so startled by this revelation that I did not discuss it with anyone because I believed others would share my doubt. Yet, two years later I found myself surrendering to the power of this call, publicly claiming it, and attending seminary to prepare for pastoral ministry.

It was perplexing that I received a calling to ministry during such a confusing time. How did I know it was God’s voice leading me and not another voice? To be completely honest, I don’t know for certain. Despite my doubts, my decision to pursue this calling led to great change in my life; it opened doors I never imagined possible. Over a decade later, I have been affirmed in ministry in many ways but I am still drawn to look closely at this juncture when everything seemed to shift.


While full assurance of God’s leading is elusive, we can learn to discern the signs of the Spirit of God in our lives. Learning the authentic movements of the Spirit of God involves discerning which movements are rooted in God’s desires versus those planted in the self-centered desires of our ego. It requires intentionality, commitment, and a willingness to look within our hearts. Rarely, does God surround anyone with a bright light or burning bush to guide them; it is more likely the divine will work in subtle ways that call for us to pay close attention. Paul Jones, priest and spiritual director, advises, “God lures us more than coerces us and invites us more than demands.”

Compared to the subtle voice of God, the ego and its many voices sound like noise reverberating off the walls of our soul. The ego is not inherently bad, it is a valuable part of our psychological makeup, but it does have the tendency to distract us to the point that we lose touch with reality. Its endless need for validation from worldly priorities such as praise, power, and possessions takes over and drowns out God’s voice.

The goal is not to escape the ego; instead, the aim is to look for the clues when it is overshadowing the leading of God’s Spirit. This process of sorting out the desires within our hearts is inevitably a painful process that exposes our self-centeredness; however, despite the discomfort, it is a worthwhile process because it leads us to experience God’s grace and love in deeper ways. In place of the power, praise, and possessions the world offers, we find something richer when we are in tune with the way God is at work within us.

Have you been led? Untangling the desires of the ego from God’s voice is at the heart of discernment. This process done prayerfully helps us discern the ways God is leading in our lives. When we look at the arc of our spiritual journey, the good news is that we often find God’s subtle yet steady voice leading us despite the missteps and mistakes we have made. God’s Spirit was expanding our small worlds through grace, mercy, and love even if we could not fully see it at the time.

Take some time to examine the key points of your spiritual journey and ask yourself the question: Have you been led? Have you experienced burning bushes or slight nudges? When did your ego’s desires overshadow God’s desires? It might be difficult to look closely within ourselves but know God’s endless mercy undergirds your efforts.

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