One-by-one, they just randomly stopped by. In each case, friendly banter soon gave way to the real reason for the convo – a big decision weighed on their hearts. After laying out the options, each conversation came to a standstill. They all asked, “Which way should I go?”

Wrestling through some decisions of my own lately, I shared with them a series of questions based on insights from Ignatian spirituality. A key scripture for this process comes from Psalm 37:4.

Take delight in the Lord,

and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Placed by God

We are often wary of desires, fearing they may lead us down a dark path. In his own struggles to discern God’s will, Ignatius’ surprisingly discovered that the deepest desires of our hearts were placed there by God. Accordingly, God wants to give them to us. The challenge is to sort through the surface selfishness and ego-driven stuff that masquerade as true desires. When pressure testing various options in a big decision, the first question to explore is deceptively simple: “What do I really want?” Don’t rush by that one too quickly. Here are some other questions to consider:

  • Does this decision take me toward the trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit or toward the trinity of me, myself, and I?
  • Does time go by sluggishly when thinking about it or does time speed up when reflecting on it?
  • Does it make me feel restless, upset, discontented, & raise more questions, or does it seem to fit with who I am?
  • Do I have a strong sense of God’s calling to it?
  • How will this path affect my primary relationships?
  • What is the long-term viability of this choice?
  • Is there confirmation? Are my emotions, reason, and will aligned in a way that brings an inner consolation of peace, enthusiasm, confidence, and joy?
  • Do I have a settled conviction that the chosen path is clearly pointed toward loving God, serving others, and realizing my deepest desires?

I’ve found it helpful to focus on a specific option and rank each question on a scale of 1 to 10. For example, if time speeds up when I reflect on a certain option, that’s a 10. If it slows down, that may be a 1 or 2. After doing this exercise with each option, compare the total numbers. It gives us something objective to measure when a decision seems very subjective. 

A Matter of the Heart

Of course, there are other factors crucial to discerning God’s will. Is the proposed path in concert with God’s word in the Bible? Is it confirmed by the wise counsel of spiritually mature friends? Does it fit with other leadings or messages that have been received from God? What is the Holy Spirit whispering in prayer? All of these are important, but Ignatius brings us to a matter of the heart.

His greatest insight, a conviction John Wesley also held, is that God can speak to us through our feelings. A sense of peace or consolation versus a sense of confusion, agitation or desolation are important messages from the Holy Spirit that deserve our attention.

Our deepest desires matter to God. In a culture that prizes rational thinking above all forms of knowing, our feelings are often the missing piece to uncovering God’s direction for our lives.    

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Roger Ross

A native of Cambridge, Illinois, Roger has served as a pastor in Texas, the British Channel Island of Guernsey, and Illinois. While in Illinois, he led teams that planted two new churches and served for 10 years as senior pastor of First United Methodist Church of Springfield. In July of 2017, Roger became the Director of Congregational Excellence in the Missouri Conference where he leads a team responsible for creating new places for new people and transforming existing churches across Missouri. He’s the author of three books, “Meet The Goodpeople: Wesley’s 7 Ways to Share Faith,” “Come Back: Returning to the Life You Were Made For,” and “Come Back Participant Guide,” all through Abingdon Press. Roger is married to Leanne Klein Ross, and they have two adult children, Zach and Jane. He loves spending time with family, reading, SCUBA diving, and traveling in different cultures. He also has a weakness for golf.