Sunday, May 01, 2016

Spiritual Discernment and Vocational Counseling

Spiritual Discernment and Vocational Counseling
Life is full of choices, one of the most important one being what type of career path is chosen. When making career decisions it is vital to utilize the resources that Christ has given. The first priority should be a right relationship with Christ. A person cannot communicate with God if they are not in relationship with Him. Prayer is vital to this communication. Prayer involves laying our desires at Christ feet and asking His guidance and help in determining if those desires are consistent with His plan for our life, as well as help in attaining those goals.
In Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV) God states, “For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” This scripture should be the foundation of any career-counseling program. Understanding that God has a plan for a person’s life is vital to trusting that His Word is worth utilizing in the search for a career path.
Personal Position
Decision-making is extremely difficult for me. I have made so many poor decisions in the past based on right intentions that I many times panic when I know I have to choose one thing or another. I tend to over analyze things and pick decisions apart. It causes me a great deal of anxiety trying to determine what it is God wants me to do. Most people seem able to pray about a decision and feel a certain way about it and choose, but that is not so for me. In my past, I prayed about something, followed God’s Word related to that something, and still ended up in a bad situation. I am gun shy because of this in many regards.
In filling out the survey provided by Horton (2009) I determined that I found the following issues to be the most important to my decision making process: consulting the Bible, praying for wisdom to make Godly decisions, consulting wise counsel, and most importantly judging the decisions consistency with the character/ethics of Jesus. While all of the items within the survey were important and have relevance to how I make decisions, these were the top choices. My current spiritual life consists of an appreciation for wisdom and knowledge with emphasis on utilizing the Holy Spirit, but most importantly it involves filtering everything through God’s Word and Christ’s character (Horton, 2009).
It is vital to me that my decisions follow God’s plan for my life, but I do not delude myself into thinking that I am the ultimate judge on what that is. I learned the very hard way that as a human, I have not only a limited understanding of God’s Word, but also have the potential to display less than perfection in my interpretation of God’s plan for my life and my reaction to life circumstances related to my career choices. There are three ways in which a person can listen for God’s voice: the Bible, our faith community, and our direct listening to God” (Copenhaver, 2010).
One cannot know the character and ethics of Christ without becoming immersed in God’s Word. While the Bible does not address every issue related to decision making and career choices specifically, it does contain principles and concepts that can be used to guide the decision making process. Corinthians contains a wealth of scripture related to conduct, practical moral instruction, and guidance (Furnish, 1990). Comparing ones thoughts and desires with what God’s Word says about them is one way to limit faltering from the path of righteousness. As Christians we can view God’s word not just as an instructional booklet but also as a picture of our God. By observing how Christ handled situations it becomes easier to see how we should handle similar situations, do justice, love mercy, walk humbly are all excellent starting points for making choices.
The Bible is very clear in its repeated admonishment to seek the counsel of others. However it is also important to remember that Scripture teaches us to “balance seeking wisdom from others as well, instructing us that a wise person seeks the counsel of others along with verses warning that listening to too many people can lead a person astray” (Burkett, 1994, p. 23).  James 1:5 says that, “if anyone lacks wisdom he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him” (NIV). While God shares infinite wisdom within His word, He also admonishes us to seek the counsel of others when attempting to understand that wisdom.
The concepts of God’s will varies depending on who is asked (Horton, 2009). Furthermore, while the Bible is our instruction manual, it is important to understand that humans interpret Scripture and that interpretation has the potential to be faulty. For this reason it is important to have a right relationship with Christ which includes constant and meaningful communication through prayer and meditation.
While there are multiple aspects of all three major paths of spiritual discernment, I most identify with the Relationship Formation Approach. The relationship formation approach places emphasis on an intimate relationship with God, along with continuing character formation and spiritual maturity (Horton, 2009). Christians are like sheep following their Shepherd who’s Word and presence provides guidance and support. They can choose to follow the Shepherd or not, both of which have negative and positive consequences.  
Past and Present Influences
I grew up in a home absent of Christianity. My home was full of abuse and neglect and plagued by chaos and pain. My most distinct memory relating to God occurred when I was ten years old. I had been pushed across a kerosene heater and the skin on my thigh was stuck to my jeans. When I refused to dress out for gym I was sent to the principals office. At this time the severity of my abuse was discovered and the Department of Children’s Services was called. I remembered thinking that God had finally seen me and was sending help. After the worker came to my home and listened to my story, after she saw my bruises and burn, she left me. She left me in the hands of my abusive father without doing anything to protect me. At that moment I decided that if God did exist, He certainly cared nothing for me.
Several years passed where I had a total ambivalence towards God and Christianity in general. I was bound up in hatred and bitterness. When I became a Christian, I was a member of an Assemblies of God church. The charismatic atmosphere placed great emphasis on discerning specific plans God had for my life based on signs or confirmation from God (Horton, 2009). The confirmation came from feelings of peace or contentment as well as through external signs, such as someone speaking into my life about a subject I had been praying about, or even a specific scripture coming to mind, or a coincidentally perfectly timed sermon or song.
I loved the freedom of allowing God to guide my life but had limited understanding of the fact that the guidance I felt was filtered through my perceptions, hopes, and desires. Several months after getting married my ex husband announced that we were moving to Texas. He traveled a great deal and had been attending a church in the Dallas area. He was very excited and felt like God was finally fulfilling the calling of ministry on his life. In short order we moved to Dallas leaving all I knew behind. I was immediately critical of the church but allowed myself to be convinced it was because I was in a new place with new people and just afraid. The story is rather long but in essence, it was too late for my spiritual health before my ex husband finally caught on to the fact that he had taken our family to a cult. The entire experience caused tremendous damage to my spiritual health, as well as our relationship. I lost a great deal during that time.
Following the devastation experience in the aftermath of unintentionally becoming involved in a cult, my decision making process change from one that utilized intuition to one that focused on wisdom and facts that supported how I might be feeling. I clung very tightly to the rational decision making process. At this time I was not so much interested in what God’s Word said because my cult experience occurred because people used God’s Word to manipulate me. During this time in my life God’s Word was not a tool but a weapon that had been used against me.
It was many years later before I reached a point where I was able to see that it was not God who had harmed me, but people who used His name to get what they wanted. Healing had to occur within my heart for me to reach this place. Once I was able to see that God loved and cared for me, I was able to trust that He was able to reveal a plan for my life to me if I chose to seek Him out.
Practical Application
Since the majority of Christian youth want to make decisions, which are in alignment with God’s plan for their life, they are usually open to His direction but not certain about what it is He has planned (Horton, 2009). Helping a client identify their goals and values will enable to make better more concise decisions related to their education and career.
When first encountering a new counseling client it is important to establish a working relationship as well as provide her with information regarding the career counseling process. Examining the client’s view of herself, her family, and her work and life experiences will help to provide a structure for “conceptualizing the client’s concerns” (Niles and Harris-Bolsbey, 2009, p.266). In addition to understanding the client’s views, utilizing assessments to determine the clients concerns, expectations, and goals will help further strengthen this structure (p. 267).
While the client has sought assistance on choosing a major, it is important to note that she has failed to do so out of fear. The first step in working with a student who is paralyzed in fear about any decision is reminding them that God does not give a spirit of fear, but of love, power, and a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7 NIV). It is important that the client understands that a choice of major will lead to a choice of career which is just as much a values choice as it is what she will be doing the rest of her life (Niles and Harris-Bolsbey, 2009).
            It would be vital to help the client to identify where she sees herself in the future, to know what the desires of her heart are. Education is the path to those desires and so it iis understandable that she would have so much anxiety in making that choice. I would ask the client to close her eyes and picture her perfect day, to imagine what she is doing. From that point we would explore what educational decisions should be made to help reach that place. I would encourage the client to pray about her decision and seek God’s word as well as the wisdom of others. She would benefit from talking with others who she identifies as successful who are working in the areas we determined were of interest to her. By discussing their lives and the paths they took to get there, the client can glean wisdom about how to make her own successful path.   
            My own debacle in my youth would be a primary motivator for pressing my client to seek the wisdom of others as well as weigh her decisions against the person and ethics of Christ. As humans we are imperfect, our thoughts are not always pure or correct, it is the reason that the Bible admonishes us to “Lean not on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5-6). In my case I chose to follow my ex husband, who was simply following his own desires, fueled by manipulative people. Had I weighed the decision to follow against God’s Word or sought the wisdom of my elders I could have saved my family and myself years of heartache and rebuilding. If I can save even one client that heartache then I will feel I have been successful.

References
Burkett, L. (1994). The word on finances. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers:
Copenhaver, M. B. (2010, Dec 28). Decide or discern. The Christian Century, 127, 29-31. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/822638959?accountid=12085
Furnish, Victor Paul. 1990. "Belonging to Christ : a paradigm for ethics in First Corinthians." Interpretation 44(2), 145-157. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost (accessed September 1, 2013).

Horton, D. J. (2009). Discerning spiritual discernment: Assessing current approaches for understanding god’s will. Journal Of Youth Ministry, 7(2), 7-31.

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