The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, asking him for a sign from heaven, to test him. And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, “Why does this generation ask for a sign? Truly I tell you, no sign will be given to this generation.” (Mark 8:11-12)
As I prayed this Scripture the other day, I imagined having a conversation with Jesus:
"You know what really grinds my gears, Jesus?"
"I'm sure you're going to tell me," replied the Lord.
"When people say that such-and-such must be a sign. There are no signs; just a convergence of random events to which we assign meaning."
The question is not whether something is a sign or not--if we can find God in all things, then everything can be a sign from God. The question, then, is understanding the meaning behind the sign. That's a much harder task.
Signs can be confusing. Too often, the "signs" we see merely confirm our bias. What we might think of as a "sign" might not be nothing more than our subconscious desires asserting themselves. We short circuit the hard work of discernment.
How might we discern the meaning behind the things we might think are signs from God? Here are six steps that might help:
- Pray. Begin by asking the Holy Spirit for understanding and wisdom. Allow her to guide you.
- State your desire. When you encounter something that you think might be a "sign," remind yourself what it is that you want. What is it that you present before the Lord? What do you want the Lord to address? Discernment must start from a place of humility.
- Look at the sign. Be objective. Describe what it is that you see without attaching any meaning to it.
- Reflect on the sign. Does the sign simply inflate your sense of self-importance, help you avoid discomfort, or reinforce your your sense of self-righteousness? Does it make you feel humble, peaceable, kind, generous, patient, merciful, or compassionate? What fruits of the Holy Spirit does the sign point you toward?
- Talk to Jesus. Share your thoughts with him as if you were talking to one of your closest friends. What does he tell you about this sign? What does he tell you about your desire? What is his desire for you?
- Close with a prayer. Thank God for the time you spent together.
Discernment helps us distinguish our will from God's will; it gives us the opportunity to let us test whether a sign is from the Holy Spirit or if it is just our ego tricking us into feeling good about ourselves.
Signs are always given to us; we just have to know how to read and interpret them so that we can get to our destination--communion with the Divine--safely.