Yearning to Know God's Will
Author: Danny E. Morris
Publisher: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1991
View: Traditional View with Wisdom Leanings
Danny Morris is the Executive Director of the Academy for Spiritual Formation of the Upper
Room, Nashville, TN. The subtitle of the book is "A Workbook for Discerning God's Guidance in
Your Life." The book includes teaching as well as a daily workbook of questions and tasks.
Those using the workbook meet weekly to discuss what they are learning. The book seems to be
geared for mainline denominations. United Methodist churches are specifically mentioned in the
Morris focuses on "spiritual discernment" (9). He connects this with the gift of discerning
spirits (1 Cor. 12:10), but makes it clear that spiritual discernment is
available to all (28) for "God wants everyone to know God's will" (9). 1
Kings 19:11-13 is used as a model. "Elijah came to see … God 'in the still small voice' deep
within" (11). The idea of God speaking in an inner voice is significant throughout the book. This
is encouraged by "times of silence" when everyone listens to God. "If discernment is our goal,
silence will be our practice" (20).
Scripture is used to show examples where God spoke to man. Often the passages discussed involve
God giving direct revelation. The book's perspective is the traditional view of guidance. "We
spend our time and energy arguing and defending various points of view, instead of using our
energy to listen to know God's heart, God's mind, God's plan" (14). Morris sees an individual will
for each person and for each church when they make a decision. The last section of the book
applies this method to corporate decisions.
Unlike the traditional view, Morris seems to limit when God's will needs to be discerned. On
most small decisions only "general wisdom" is needed. "As faithful Christians, we may expect that
wisdom in our daily affairs. Most of the time general wisdom is sufficient for our needs" (29, 49).
He cautions that we won't always have "indisputable proof or clarity" (30) of God's will. Sometimes
he says two options "could be lived out within the Spirit and love of God, as though God says, 'Take
your pick of either choice and go live your life!" (42). Morris does not give a biblical
rationale for these conclusions, but they do protect him from some of the inconsistencies of the
traditional view. But most often he asserts, "You can know God's will for your life! You can know
whether a particular thing you have decided to do (or not to do) is God's will!" (31)
Morris does not try to develop his own theology of finding God's will. He uses two methods
from the history of spirituality--the Ignatian method and the Quaker Committee of Clearness. "St.
Ignatius lived about 400 years ago. In his method of experiencing God, he gathered and distilled
and synthesized spiritual training up to that time in history" (42).
Morris summarizes the Ignatius method. "By using conventional methods of decision making we
choose what we feel is the one best possibility among all the options and then, by spiritual
discernment, we seek to determine whether it is God's will" (43). You should not give God a
"multiple choice question" (43). You must offer one choice to God after using reason, available
research and cognitive evaluation. Once you offer the best choice to God, "You will know that the
answer is either yes or no according to the feeling you get …In time the Holy Spirit gives one of
only two responses-the feeling of consolation or the feeling of desolation" (45). Consolation is
calm and inner strength. Desolation is anxiety, confusion or agitation (47). If consolation, you
know it is God's will. If desolation, then drop that option and you test the next good option.
In the Quaker method the person chooses a Committee of Clearness. They do not make decisions
or even advise. The decision maker presents the best option for a decision to the committee. They
probe the individual with questions and then pray over the process. The probing and prayer
continues and finally, "Clarity is expected to come!" (46) Both methods are used only when the
choice is between two good things. Otherwise it is a moral question and the good should always
be obeyed (48).
In both methods the individual narrows the options to one choice using "(1) Information
gathering (2) Consultation (3) Consideration (reflection and prayer) (4) Decision" (51). This
process appears to be identical with the way of wisdom.
The individual now listens to God to find out if this option is His will. God speaks in our
intuition ("direct knowledge or awareness of something without conscious attention or reasoning",
57). "We get nudges-feelings that this or that should be done or not done; we get hunches and
leadings, signs and signals, and sometimes direct messages" (58). "The willingness to honor
one's spiritual intuition is a measure of one's faithfulness" (58). Similar to Johnson in
Discerning God's Will, there is discussion of God speaking in the "mind, emotion, imagination,
memory and will" (70) which Father John Powell, S.J. calls "ports of entry" (70). "The major
factor determining how little I communicate with God is the closed or underdeveloped ports of
entry to my consciousness" (76). The idea of spiritually right-brain people is part of what
the church needs not just left-brain people (132).
In corporate decision making, spiritual discernment can be done by praying individuals who
find God's will for the church. In an example he says, "Therefore, I felt confident that if we
came together and earnestly tried to know God's will, it could be known-and that we could all
know it at once" (106). The method is "spiritual discernment by consensus!" (107). "The higher
way for a church will seldom come through a vote. It will come about when it is spiritually
discerned" (116). A praying committee will narrow the choice to one and then the group listens
for God to make it clear if this is His will.
He ends the book with practical answers to objections to this method. The example of the
Friends church helps illustrate how this works out in practice. "They wait for the inner
prompting of the Spirit and share their 'leading'." (131).
This model seems to be the traditional view in two steps. The first step judges the options by
Scripture, wisdom, counsel, reason and research and narrows it to one. The second step applies
the inward witness of the Spirit to the option selected which gives a yes or a no answer. Step
two is quite subjective and honors impressions like they are revelation. The saving grace is
that only good, moral, wise choices are ever tested by the spiritual feelings and hunches. The
choice is narrowed down before the inward witness gets involved. So the test of impressions
never is allowed to select a sinful, foolish or poor choice.
At first it appears that this method puts more emphasis on feelings, impressions and spiritual
intuition, but it does not. Impressions never narrow down the field of options. Moral and wisdom
factors have the greatest influence since they nominate the option to be considered. The
subjective "listening to God" only gets to approve or disapprove the option chosen by wisdom. In
that sense, impressions have less influence on the choice even though it looks like they make
the choice. This is the traditional view with an improvement. It sounds more quietistic and
subjective than the normal traditional view, but it really is more influenced by wisdom than the
In corporate decisions the same process is at work. The committee prays and by wisdom and
research narrows it to one choice. The corporate group then listens for God's voice in their
hearts. If done properly, only good moral and wise choices come before the corporate group. Only
then are the inward impressions used to help people come to a consensus. All the examples in the
book work out nicely. In practice, consensus in difficult corporate decisions is often going to
take a long time especially if it is a diverse group. There is also the problem that the wisest
choice put forth might not get confirmation from inward impressions.
Ironically, the end result in both individual and corporate decisions is a result that the
wisdom view can usually approve. The wisdom view does not think that the Ignatius method results
in God revealing the one thing that He wanted. But it does result in a good, moral wise decision
with which the individual can feel a peace about. And that is a very good thing. This result is
reached more biblically through the wisdom view, but Morris often gets to the same place.
Unfortunately, this view gives impressions authority as God's voice. Impressions are helpful as
potential sources of wisdom, but they are not revelation. They must be tested by revelation which
asks, "Is this impression moral and wise?"