How many times do we struggle to know God's will for our lives. As St. John notes: There are many roads to holiness - - and to Hell. A path wrong for one will suit another, yet what each is doing is pleasing to God." How are we to live our lives? What are we to do? In a moment of crisis, when a decision has to be made and to made quickly, what does God want us to do? What will please Him? What will bring us heavenly rewards? Am I hearing the voice of God or the voice of self or worse still, the voice of Satan? How do I know? Anyone who is traveling the spiritual road knows in the depths of his being how agonizing these questions truly are. In response to this feeling, St. John offers some practical advice from his own experience.
First, he insists that "those who wish to discover the will of God must begin by mortifying their own will." St. John recognizes that it is easy for us to say that we want to know God's will when, in fact, we really only want our will. It is also easy for us to convince ourselves that what God wants is what we want, and then to imagine that our voice is the voice of God. This deception (known as "prelest" in the spiritual tradition) leads us to hell. Once we have confused our voice for God's, we are easy prey for the Devil. Humility, the recognition that our will is confused and confusing, is the necessary prelude to knowing the will of God. To keep us from playing games with ourselves and to insure that we are totally humble before God so that we can be guided by Him, St. John suggest that we make no decisions without the input and agreement of others. Do nothing without a blessing! This blessing may be obtained from one's confessor, superior, spiritual guide, the writings and examples of the saints and from our brothers and sisters in Christ.
St. John also suggest that we discover the will of God through abandoning every attachment. We human beings are impulsive; our desires are awakened and immediately we want to fulfill them. Usually, if we say "No" to our immediate desires to do something, they fade away and are replaced by desire for other things. If we detach ourselves from that which awakened our desires, they tend to go away. This is especially true if we submit ourselves during this time to a strict regiment of prayer and fasting. Human desires (even those Satanically inspired) cannot sustain themselves if they are detached from the object of their desire and if they are not fed by constant thought and imagination. However, a call from God will grow stronger during a time of prayer and fasting. The will of God is not dependent upon human impulses. The more it is nurtured and fed with prayer and fasting the stronger it grows. The more detached we are from those things which feed the flesh and its desires and the more attached we are to those things which feed our soul the more we are able to discern the will of God for our lives.
Furthermore, St. John teaches that trials and difficulties are often reliable signposts in discerning the will of God. We often start something which we think is of God and as soon as it gets difficult we grow discouraged and think that maybe we made a mistake and that maybe it really wasn't of God. How different is the reasoning of St. John. If we start something and experience tremendous troubles in the doing of it, then we probably are on the right track. Satan will only oppose something that is good; the better and purer it is, the more Satan will try to stop us at every turn. Yet to know God's will is not easy; we often make mistakes. This should keep us humble but it should not depress us. For our encouragement, St. John writes: "God is not unjust. He will not slam the door against the man who humbly knocks. . . .And every act that is not the product of personal inclination or of impurity will be imputed to us for good, especially if it is done for the sake of God. . . . God judges us by our intentions, but because of His love for us He only demands from us such actions as lie within our power."
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