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The Ultimate Match - Knowing God’s Will in Choosing a Medical Specialty and Residency

John Shin


John Shin

Physician-fellow of oncology and hematology, Mayo Clinic- Rochester, Minnesota



  • January 11, 2019
    7:00 PM
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Heavenly Father, we thank you for the gift of your Sabbath. We thank you for this beautiful time where we can set aside the concerns of the world, the studies, and just focus on You. And tonight, Lord, we ask to hear a word from You. I ask that You put Your message in my mouth and I ask that You drive it home into the hearts of those who are sitting here and speak to them individually the message that You want them to hear. All these things we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.  


So, when Shannon asked me if I’d be willing to come and speak during this time, I really wanted to do everything I could to accept the request, because I know that this time of year is a time of great decision for many people. For the third years, you guys are kind of honing down what your specialty interest is so that you can set your fourth-year schedules. For the fourth years, you are coming to the tail end of your residency interviews, if you haven't already finished. And the rank list is looming large ahead with a match right around the corner. And for the first and second years, you guys are busy hitting the books. And you guys are wondering amidst all these studies: will a doctor come out on the other end of it, somehow? So everyone and for second years, you know Step 1 is always the 300-pound Gorilla that's always in the corner of your mind, looming ahead. So, it's a lot of decisions, a lot of prayers going on.  


So, I think it's a pivotal time for us to talk about, in the midst of all of this chaos: How do we discern God's will and all of it, and separate that from our will. I think early on, the most important question that any med student can ask himself or herself is, “what specialty does God want me to go into”, right? And it's such an important question that's going to shape your entire career. However, if you think about it, you will never in your life make a more uninformed decision than what specialty you should go into. Because, aside from basically the stereotypes regarding each field, at least, when I was in school, I felt like I was very ignorant about what each specialty entailed and for a vast majority of specialties out there, you don't really get exposure to it unless you ask for it as an elective. And even then, you get such a superficial exposure to it that you're not sure you've seen all aspects of it. One bad attending, one bad resident could color the experience for you, forever. And you'll say, “well that's not for me”, but that might not be true. But how are you supposed to know? You just remember your PTSD, right? Another problem is that the system rewards those who make a decision earlier on. So, for those who come into med school, saying, “my father was an Ophthalmologist, my mother was an Ophthalmologist, my dog is an Ophthalmologist, my sister's an Ophthalmologist, I will be an Ophthalmologist. That’s what I’m going to go into, I am the eyeball man”. I wish I was that guy coming in. I was like, Lord, I wish I knew exactly what I wanted to do, what research I had to do to get there, what checkboxes I needed to mark, and just have one straight shot path into my specialty, never looking back, feeling fulfilled all the way. But for me, when I came into med school and if you ask me, “John, what do you want to do?” I would have told you, I want to be a doctor. What kind of doctor? Whoa, whoa, whoa, let's talk about Step 1 first and then come back and ask me what kind of doctor I want to be. But I knew one thing, I wasn't going to go into Internal Medicine; that much I knew. But everything else, I was like, is open ironic. I think God has a sense of humor.  


You know, the issue with the fact that the system rewards you the earlier you make your decision. The problem with that is that it increases the odds that you'll make a bad decision. So, in residency, I had a friend who was actually coming from an Ortho program in Seattle, where he did three years of Ortho residency and decided one morning: “this is not for me”. And then, so, he re-matched and came into Internal Medicine. And I was like, “wow, how painful is that, right?” You don't want to be that guy, but the sooner you make a decision, the more likely that you'll be making an uninformed one and a bad one.  


So, after deciding on a specialty, you know, surgery, no surgery, and then what subspecialty within that, the next most important question you'll ask yourself is, “which residency program is right for me?”. So, when I was researching residency programs, I was completely overwhelmed. Because there are so many programs out there in so many different locations. And if I was ignorant about medical specialties, I was even more ignorant about residency programs. And it doesn't help that all of their websites say exactly the same thing, right? They all deliver compassionate, patient-centered care through a commitment to research and educational excellence, and so on and so forth. But other than the reputations that the programs have, I know nothing. And then, the reputations themselves aren't really accurate in terms of giving you a full picture of what it's like. This is further complicated I think when you're a Christian because you want God to lead the whole process, right? And so, even if you decide on a specialty and a residency, how can you be really sure that those are God's choices for you? And that's what we're here to discuss tonight. Now, after all the interviewing is done, and you say, you're going to leave the match in God's hands, you still have that step of ordering the rank list, right? And that plays a crucial role in how the match process shakes out. So, how can you be sure that your rank list reflects God's will? So, wouldn't it be nice if God could just speak to you out of a cloud and say, “I want you to go into this specialty and this is the residency program I’ve chosen for you. You don't need to interview anywhere else. That's it.” Wouldn't that answer a lot of questions? We spoke to You from a burning bush or out of a cloud one day and just told You that, why keep us in the dark for so long and let us flail around with a huge risk of making the wrong decision? You know, if God spoke to me the way He spoke to Moses back in the day, I tell Him, “I could have the same faith that Moses had in You if You spoke to me face to face like a friend. But if You don't do that, how can You hold it against me if I tell You that Your voice is indistinct in my life?” 


So then, the first question we need to ask ourselves is: Is it even possible to hear the voice of God in your life? Is it possible to hear the voice of God in your life? Is that something that you've accepted for yourself to say, “This is truth. This is fact.” There was a comedian named Lily Tomlin and she said, “why is it that when we speak to God, we're said to be praying? But, when God speaks to us, we're said to be schizophrenic.” It's an interesting statement because maybe, the biggest issue at hand is not that God doesn't speak to us, but that we don't really expect to hear an answer from Him. John 10:1-5 says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter by the door into the fold of the sheep, but climbs up some other way, he is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is a shepherd of the sheep. To him, the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he puts forth all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. A stranger they simply will not follow, but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers.” So, did you catch that His sheep follow Him because they know His voice and He calls them by name. So, what the Bible says is that not only “is it possible to hear the voice of God in your life?”, but that if you call yourself a Christian, it is imperative that you hear and recognize His voice in your life. So, let's get that on the table. So, how do we hear the voice of God in our lives? Well, a good place to start is to look at what we see of His revealed Word and His will in His written Word. So, let's look at some scripture texts here and you don't need to turn to this. And just so you know, because this is a room full of med students, you don't need to take notes. I will give a copy of my notes to Shannon and she can email that out to anyone who wants it. It has all of the scripture I have here. It has an outline of everything I’m going to cover along with the recordings if you want to go back and listen to it. But I just want you to listen to these texts and I want you to listen for the common thread that unites all of these verses that talk about God's will. Let's start.  


Romans 12:2 “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” Okay, 1 Peter 4:1-2, “Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God. Colossians 1:9-10, “For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.” Okay, did you catch a common theme I went by pretty quickly? If not, then this should drive it home. 1 Thessalonians 4:3, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification”. This applies to all peoples at all times, in all countries and all ages, in all contexts. This is the will of God, a blanket statement for humanity. Your sanctification. What is sanctification? So, it comes from the Greek root word “to sanctify”. That Greek word, it's the same word, the root that we use for a sanctuary. It means holiness. It means set-apartness. It means, this is not for common everyday use; this is set apart for a special task. It's been sanctified, set apart. So, it means that, when God says, you are sanctified unto Me, you are set apart for God's use and He says, your character—the very fiber of your being—is not like the rest of the world. But, it's special, it's different. You will be like Me in your heart and in your mind. And therefore, you will be a counterexample to the rest of the world and therefore, you're set apart. You see, I’m convinced of this, the biggest issue with discerning God's will is not an issue of information. We're so concerned with: “Lord, What specialty should I choose? What residency should I pick? How should I order my rank list? Who should I marry? Where should I work? What should I… Information… tell me, tell me, tell me. What is the information I need to know?” But God says, the issue with knowing My will is not one of information, but one of character. We're so concerned about what we do. God is more concerned about who we are and who we become. The reason is that, when you become the person God wants you to be, you will do the things that He wants you to do. When your heart and soul become aligned with the will of your Heavenly Father, then every impulse of your nature, every desire of your heart will be those that He planted there; and you'll be lockstep with His will and that is how Christ lived His life on this earth. So, knowing God's will regarding the questions I just raised, these are very important, but they're of secondary importance finding out these answers, the information. That's the fruit of knowing God's will, but the root is grounded in who you are and your relationship with Christ.  


Okay, so sanctification must precede occupation. Now, think about it. Do you remember the story of the rich young ruler who came to Christ and he said, “Master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said, “Keep the commandments”. And the rich young ruler said, “all these things I have done. What do I lack?” And Jesus loved him in His heart and said, “One thing you lack, go take all that you have and sell, give to the poor, then you have treasure in Heaven and come follow Me.”  The communication of information, indisputable, unambiguous. This is My will for your life. But his heart wasn't sanctified and it wasn't ready to receive Him. So instead of obeying, he went away very sorrowful and now he's accountable for knowing the will of God and disobeying it.  


You see, in John 16:12, the disciples are walking with Jesus and Jesus says, “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now”. So, guess what? I’m going to do you a favor. I’m not going to tell you the things that you cannot bear right now because I don't want you to be accountable for them when your character isn't able to handle the information of My will to you.  So, in my mercy, I will withhold that information. So perhaps, when we're frustrated that we don't know what the will of God is, perhaps it's the mercy of God that's preventing us from knowing the information part of His will until our characters grow to the point where it can actually execute it.  


Now, here's a very important point that I want you to take away. You can be working in the specialty and in the residency that God has destined for you. It is His will for you. That is where He intended for you to thrive. You can be in those things, doing those things; and yet, if you walk with an unsanctified heart, if your heart is not dedicated to Christ, you will not be accomplishing His will. Think of the example of King Saul. First king of Israel. God hand-picked him to be the first king of Israel. God chose his career for him. If there was anyone who had an unambiguous career counseling event with God, it was Saul. And He said you will be the first king of Israel. He says, “I’m not worthy, who am I?” He's like, you will be the first king. He became the first king all his life. He can think back to that time through the prophet Samuel and God speaking to him Himself saying, I have no question about my career this is the right career for me. This is the right specialty for me. This is the right job for me. He should have been a hundred percent set in his life, right? Knew God's will unambiguously, but what happened? As his life went on at some point, his heart lost its sanctification and God rose up David to take his place and said, you are working the job that I picked for you, but you are not walking in My will. Therefore, the job you're working is useless to Me and so someone else must take up your torch. So, that is why God doesn't want us to focus on the information. Yes, the information is important. Yes, it's important to know where does God want me to go, what does He want me to do. But a lot of times we ask that question prematurely without looking inside to say, “do I have a character issue?” Now, conversely, this should fill us with hope. You may not be working in the specialty God eventually has destined for you. Maybe you matched into a residency where God said, “this was not optimal, but you're in this residency, okay?” We can be assured that if your heart is sanctified to God, it's only a matter of time before He will steer you in a way where you will be walking in His will. In Matthew 5:13 Jesus calls us to salt of the earth. But before salt can be used for human consumption, it has to first be purified; it has to undergo a purification process. That's what He wants to do with us when we ask Him for the knowledge of His will, the information of His will before we sanctify our hearts to Him. It's like impure salt demanding that it be used for food because if you use bad salt, it'll ruin any dish it's used in. But once the salt is purified, regardless of where it's used, it will enhance every dish. You see, so the principle that the Bible teaches us is that, if you commit your heart in your life to Christ and you put that stake into the ground and say, “as for me and my household I will serve the Lord”, and you make that your primary focus in life, then, you will be His hands and feet wherever you end up.  


Christ's Object Lessons page 96 and 97, it says, “But man cannot transform Himself by the exercise of his will. He possesses no power by which this change can be affected. The leaven, something Holy from without must be put into the meal before the desired change can be wrought in it.” So, the grace of God must be received by the sinner before he can be fitted for the kingdom of glory. All the culture and education which the world can give will fail of making a degraded child of sin a child of Heaven. The renewing energy must come from God. The change can be made only by the Holy Spirit, all who would be saved. High or low, rich or poor, must submit to the working of this power as the leaven, when mingled with the meal, works from within – outward. So it is by the renewing of the heart that the grace of God works to transform the life. Now listen to this, no mere external change is sufficient to bring us into harmony with God. There are many who try to reform by correcting this or that bad habit and then, they hope in this way to become Christians. But, they are beginning in the wrong place. Our first work is with the heart. A profession of faith and the possession of truth in the soul are two different things. The mere knowledge of truth is not enough; we may possess this but the tenor of our thoughts may not be changed. The heart must be converted and sanctified. So, it's not so much the outward actions that God wants us to modify. The decisions we make? That’s easy. Anyone can make a decision to go into a particular specialty or to order your rank list in a certain way. That’s easy. What’s hard is the heart, change that must take place, so that, when God reveals His will to you, you won't be like a rich young ruler and walk away sorrowful. So, let's say that you embrace this concept, let's say that you've been resonating with the principles I’ve been telling you. Okay, however you're confronted with His decision, you have to make a choice soon.  


Interviews are over for the fourth years, for the most part. You have to order your rank list. You have to choose a specialty for your fourth year. You have to think about where you're going to do your Sub-I(s). There are deadlines to meet. How can we go about discerning God's will when we have these concrete deadlines in front of us? What steps can we take to maximize the chances that our hearts are in the right place and that we are hearing the voice of God in our lives? So for that, I want to go through seven steps that I think are crucial in the process of discerning God's will 


Step #1 – Put away all known sins in your life.  

Psalm 66:18 says, “if I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.” Isaiah 59:2 says, “But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear.” So, think about this. It makes sense if there is something about God's will that I am not obeying in some area of my life, a.k.a. sin, a.k.a. rebellion, why should God reveal His will to me in any other area of life when I’m already disobeying Him in a known area? In that case, I’m not qualified to get more knowledge of His will if my goal is simply to take it into consideration with my own preferences and then decide whether or not I want to follow Him. God will reveal His will to those who are committed to following it once He reveals it. So, if you're an open rebellion in some way, if the Holy Spirit has been convicting you that there is some area of your life that you have to change, change it. If there's a decision that He’s been working on your heart to make, and you've been procrastinating on the decision, make the decision. If He’s calling you to give something up, give it up. No matter how big or how small. If it's eating away at your heart, if you don't have peace in your heart, and you've been delaying obedience, obey. This is the first step until your conscience is clear before your God. You cannot approach Him in prayer and expect to hear a clear response because you've muddied the signal. It’s not that God steps away, but that you cannot find yourself drawing near enough to hear His voice. Because He speaks in a still small voice, and only when you get close to Him, really close, can you hear Him talking to your heart? And you can't do that when you feel that you're rebelling against Him in some area of your life. This doesn't mean that you have to be perfect, okay? What this means is that, if there's something that the Holy Spirit is convicting you of actively, that you're saying, “I know I should change this, I know I shouldn't do that, I know God wants me to do this, but I have been reluctant to agree, to obey”, if there's something like that in your life, that is the first thing you have to change before anything will work out in this process. So, if God has put something on your heart, maybe the things that you put before your eyes and listen to, or maybe the things the entertainment you enjoy something has been convicting you that this is opposed to the principles of God, maybe the people you spend time with, maybe, who knows what it is. The world may say, it's such a small thing, why be so radical? Other people don't give that up. Why should you give it up? No one's going to blame you for indulging that. But if you don't have peace in your heart, that's the Holy Spirit telling you, don't look to the left and to the right. You need to give this up. You need to change this, you need to make this decision. Make the change, have a clear conscience before God. Too often, we sit there and say, “Lord, the signal is not clear. I don't know what You’re telling me to do. It’s just so frustrating.” And then you start to wonder, “is there really a God? Does He actually answer prayer? Who's to say how to discern His will anyway?” All because at the root issue is that, there's something in your life that you haven't obeyed. And you know it. So, start right here. Put away all known sins in your life. Desire of Ages page 668: “Those who decide to do nothing in any line that will displease God will know, after presenting their case before Him, just what course to pursue. And they will receive not only wisdom but strength. Power for obedience, for service, will be imparted to them, as Christ has promised.” So, the knowledge of God's will and the strength to obey comes only to those who first purpose in their hearts to do nothing in any line that will displease Him. This is a necessary first step. You do not get the knowledge of God's will if your goal is to take it into consideration. You only get the knowledge of God's will if you say, “Lord, no matter what you tell me, I will obey.” Then He says, “I will give you knowledge of My will.” So, Step #1. 


Step #2 – Empty yourself of your will and commit yourself to doing God's will, no matter what that turns out to be.  

John 7:17 says, “If anyone is willing to do His will, he will know of the teaching whether it is of God, or whether I speak for myself.” So, for those, like I mentioned, who are willing to do God's will, who empty themselves of their will, that's a prerequisite for knowing God’s will. There’s a story of a lady, an Irish lady, who lived in an Irish village. And she had this strange habit where every morning she would walk to the edge of town with her walking stick and there'd be a fork in the road leaving town. And she would always throw her stick in the air, it would drop to the ground, she would look at her stick, scoop it up and then walk down one of the two paths. And she would do this every morning for her walk. So, finally, a neighbor sees her and then he comes over and he says, “you know, you do this every morning, you get to the fork in the road, you throw your stick, you pick it up, and then you walk down. What are you doing?” And she said, “Well, this here is my divining stick and it tells me which fork in the road to take. So, I throw it up and it points to the left or to the right; and that's the road I take that day.” So, he thought, well that's a very strange way of deciding how to travel. But whatever makes you happy. Well, one day, he wakes up and he sees the lady do the same thing. She gets to the fork and she throws her stick, and she looks at it. But instead of walking, this time, she picks it up and she throws it again. And then she throws it again, and then she throws it again. So, he can't help himself. He comes out and he says, “is your dividing stick being ambiguous this morning? What’s going on?” And she said, “well, I want to go left but it keeps pointing right.” And we laugh at the story. But I wonder, do we often do this to God? Do we approach Him in prayer, wanting Him to affirm a decision that we've already made in our hearts; that you know what specialty you want to go into deep in your heart and you so wish that God would give it: His stamp of approval. You know, which residency program attracts you, and maybe it attracts you for reasons that are less than Holy, and you're so desperate for God's stamp of approval on that, and you tell Him, “Lord, let Your will be done in my life. Option A or option B. You choose for me, Lord. But, if it's option B, we're going to have to have a long talk. If it's option B, I know there's going to be a lot more prayers to follow.” And we laugh because we know it's true. Let’s be honest. When we put our petitions before God, it's very rare that they're completely equal. We always have a predilection for one side or the other. You know, that's why George Miller said, “I seek at the beginning to get my heart in such a state that it has no will of its own in regard to given matter. Nine-tenths of the trouble with people generally is just here. Nine-tenths of the difficulties are overcome when our hearts are ready to do the Lord’s will, whatever it may be. When one is truly in this state, it is usually but a little way to the knowledge of what His will is. This calmness of mind, this having no will of my own in the matter, this only wishing to please my Heavenly Father in it, this only seeking His and not my honor in it, this state of heart, I say, is the fullest assurance to me that my heart is not under a fleshly excitement, and that if thus helped to go on, I shall know the will of God to the full. So, he says the peace that he gets from knowing that his will is not in it and that he's giving it all to God is the best assurance that he can get, that it's only a matter of time before God reveals His will to him. You know, God requires full and total surrender of our will. 99 is not good enough. Jeremiah 29:13, “you will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me” with part of your heart? With most of your heart? Or, with all of your heart? All of your heart. Ministry of Healing page 480 says, “many who profess to be Christ’s followers have an anxious troubled heart because they are afraid to trust themselves with God. They do not make a complete surrender to Him. For they shrink from the consequences that such a surrender may involve. Unless they do make the surrender, they cannot find peace. Worry is blind and cannot discern the future, but Jesus sees the end from the beginning. In every difficulty, He has His way prepared to bring relief. No good thing will He withhold from them that walk uprightly. Our Heavenly Father has a thousand ways to provide for us of which we know nothing. So, listen. Those who accept the one principle of making the service of God supreme will find perplexities vanish in a plain path before their feet.” So, to be fully surrendered to God's will means that we must be fine with any option before us.  


Now, if you're like me, and you know that your heart is being drawn in a certain way when it comes to a decision, be honest with God. He wants you to and take heart that you're in good company because you know who else was that way? Christ, Himself. Luke 22:42, “in the garden of Gethsemane, He said, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.” That blows my mind. Christ, Himself, said, “I know Your will is for Me to go to the cross, but if possible, can I have something else? If possible, take this cup from Me. I don't want to drink it.”” So, I know what Your will for me is, but I don't like it, but yet not my will but Yours be done. And I think that's the model prayer we should pray. We say, Lord, I want option A over option B, you know my heart, there's no point in me hiding that from You. But Lord, if You want option B for me, let Your will be done. And please change my heart. That is the way we should pray when I first said that “the issue with knowing God's will is not an issue of information but an issue of character”. If you felt, well, John, I don't think so. I think it's more an issue of information. Let me ask you, do you ever feel anxious about not knowing His will? If the answer is yes, then that means it's an issue of character. Because if you had perfect trust in your Heavenly Father like Christ did when He walked this earth, you would not be anxious about His will. You would say, even though I don't have the information, I know my Heavenly Father well enough, that I have peace knowing that I have faith in what I don't know, so in His good time He will reveal it to me, and of that, I have 100% confidence. Therefore, no anxiety. But if you sit there and a decision has to be made, and you're anxious, and you say, I don't know Lord, what do you want me to do? It’s a character issue. Come back to that, you think it's an information issue, but it's not. It’s a character issue. And we've all been there. So, Step #2, again was, empty your will and commit yourself to doing God's will. 


Step #3 three – Strengthen your devotional life during this time of prayer. 

It makes no sense to ask God what His will is when you're too busy to spend time with Him to hear a response. The only reason why we should want to know God's will is because you love Him and you want to serve Him with your life. But you cannot serve a God that you don't know. You know, the key to knowing God's will is to become like Him in heart and mind. The only way you can become like God in heart and mind is if you spent enough time with Him to be changed into His image. By beholding, we become changed. So, whatever you spend your time beholding in your mind, you become like that. And if you spend your entire time worried about things of the world and then once or twice a day in your prayers you say, “Lord, please help me to become like You and show me Your will.” It doesn't balance out. You see, right now, if you're in the valley of decision, make no mistake. The devil is going to attack your devotional life like he's never attacked it before. The greater the stakes in the decision that looms before you, the greater will be His attack on your devotional life. Maybe you've already noticed it in your life. But for some reason, things are just crowding in and trying to crowd out that precious time. For some reason, you're a little bit more sleep-deprived, you're having some more calls, you have more responsibilities. Maybe it's even ministry that's taking away from your devotional life where you're using ministry as a substitute for devotion. Whatever it is, the devil will attack you first here, because he knows that the branch cannot live if it's cut off from the vine. So, he will say, “no, focus on making fruit. Don’t ever take your eyes off that. But while you're not looking, I want to disconnect you from the vine, and the sap will no longer flow.” And before you know it, you're wondering why the fruit's shriveling up. Make sure that the foundation of your faith is secure, and spend time with your Heavenly Father every morning. Ministry of Healing page 58 says, “All who are under the training of God need the quiet hour for communion with their own hearts, with nature, and with God. In them is to be revealed a life that is not in harmony with the world, its customs, or its practices; and they need to have a personal experience in obtaining a knowledge of the will of God. We must individually hear Him speaking to the heart. When every other voice is hushed, and in quietness, we wait before Him, the silence of the soul makes more distinct the voice of God. He bids us, “Be still, and know that I am God.” ” So important. And when you're in medical school, it is very hard to carve out this time and it's even harder when you get into residency. When’s the last time just ask this honestly in your heart? When’s the last time that you had a devotional that truly refreshed your heart, that filled your cup before you went out the door? Or did you find yourself just reading a cursory Bible verse, or listening to an audio Bible, or a sermon, as you raced out the door to make it to class or to your clinical rotation? Education page 260 says, “Many, even in their seasons of devotion, fail of receiving the blessing of real communion with God. They are in too great haste. With hurried steps they press through the circle of Christ's loving presence, pausing perhaps a moment within the sacred precincts, but not waiting for counsel. They have no time to remain with the divine Teacher. With their burdens, they return to their work. These workers can never attain the highest success until they learn the secret of strength. They must give themselves time to think, to pray, to wait upon God for a renewal of physical, mental, and spiritual power. They need the uplifting influence of His Spirit. Receiving this, they will be quickened by fresh life. The wearied frame and tired brain will be refreshed, the burdened heart will be lightened. Not a pause for a moment in His presence, but personal contact with Christ, to sit down in companionship with Him—this is our need.” Do whatever you have to do to make this experience yours. Wake up earlier if you have to cut corners anywhere else, but not here, okay? Remember, the extent to which you place an emphasis on guarding your devotional life will reflect the extent to which you really want to know God's will. Alright, let me say that again. The extent to which you go to guard your devotional life will reveal just how serious you are about knowing God’s will. Is it truly a priority in your life? Then you will guard your devotional life. Jeremiah 29:13, “you will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.” So, seek Him first in the morning. A lot of people ask, well, John, how much time is necessary for a fulfilling devotional like you're describing? And I tell them, we don't set time limits, but you know in your heart whether or not you've walked away refreshed. I’ve never met someone who said five minutes is sufficient. I’m not saying it's impossible, but I have yet to experience that in my life. I found that for me personally, and this is just talking about me, I need at least half an hour. I found that anything less than half an hour, and I just started getting into the word of God, and then I have to get out. Some of my friends told me they needed at least a full hour. Find out what you need because everyone's needs are different. See what it takes to have a devotional that's meaningful for you. So, Step #3, guard your devotional life. 


Step #4 – Pray constantly, and look for evidence of God's leading. 

Remember the joke at the beginning of the talk, “when you're talking to God, it's called prayer, but when God talks to you, people call it schizophrenia”? We don't expect to hear from God a lot of times. How many times have you started the day with a litany of prayer requests? Did not think about it at all throughout the day, and at the end of the day, you say, “Oh, Lord. Did He answer these prayers?” And that's the next time you think about it. First and last thing you do, and in-between stuff happened, and where was your mind? “But, oh, in hindsight, Lord, I think You answered that prayer.” You weren't on the lookout throughout the day. That happens to me so much, and it might happen to you, too. That’s why, 1 Thessalonians 5:17, Paul writes, “pray without ceasing.” It’s not because God is sitting in Heaven with a prayer-o-meter saying, “you need to fill this meter to a certain amount before I will answer your prayers. So, you've only prayed four times today. But John over here prayed 24 times, therefore I will answer his prayers.” That’s not why God says to pray without ceasing. You see, Steps to Christ page 93 says, “Prayer is the opening of the heart to God as to a friend. Not that it is necessary in order to make known to God what we are, but in order to enable us to receive Him. Prayer does not bring God down to us, but brings us up to Him.” Every time we pray, it's not bringing God down to us and reminding Him what our requests are. Every time we pray, we're lifting our thoughts back up to Him and beholding Him and recalibrating our hearts, so that it becomes more like Him in nature. So, set yourself reminders throughout the day if this is an issue for you. For me, I made my patient encounters my built-in reminders. Before any patient encounter outside that door, I would pray, and it would be a reminder for me to remember the things I asked that morning. And then, ask God to give you clear signs of His leading. Tell Him. I told God, “God, Lord, I don't take well to subtlety if You try to speak to me through a slight impression here. And maybe a song was playing on the radio, and a friend called me and said something that linked with a scripture passage I read that morning and it all seems to kind of connect together and this is like an ephemeral soup of nebulousness. I don't respond to that. I need like a burning bush, like, boom. I have to willfully ignore it, in order to say, I don't see the bush, you know. At least, I know I’m making a decision to ignore God's will, but You have to be that clear with me, Lord.” That was my request every single day. Lord, get my attention. And boy, did He answer that prayer. And you know what? After talking to lots of people, it seems that that's what He does to everyone. He knows what you need. He knows what gets your attention. It might not get anyone else's attention, but He knows what gets your attention. So, when He sends you a signal, and He can do it in an infinite number of ways. It’ll get your attention. Now, the danger is that, when you share that with someone, they may say, “are you sure that's God talking to you? Are you sure that's not the burrito? You know, maybe you were a little sleep deprived in your half lucid state. You got a little emotionally labile and you thought that was God talking to you.” And then, the more you talk to these people who aren't convinced, because obviously the message was to catch your attention, not their attention, they’ll talk you out of your convictions. And you'll say, “yeah, you're right. What was I thinking? You know, no. God, I need another sign, that wasn't clear. You know, nope, nope, not gonna acknowledge it. That was a burrito and we're like Gideon over and over again throwing out the flea saying, ah, well now this time I want you to make the ground wet in the fleece drive. Well, no no no no that's too easy. Make the fleece wet in the ground dry and oh, actually make the fleece disappear.” Be careful, I’m not saying, don't share your convictions with someone. But be very careful about who you take into your confidence. If you feel that God is talking to you, make sure that you vetted their character. Make sure you know that they have a vibrant relationship with Christ and they have your best interest at heart. And then, and only then, in a very very sacred way, share how God has been moving on your heart. But otherwise, keep it to yourself. This is also a pivotal time for you to journal if you haven't journal in your life. I would say at least journal this every time that you have an experience or something that catches your attention to say, “Lord, is that you talking to me? Could that be You swaying my decision here? Are you trying to catch my attention?” Write it down if you felt the conviction. Write it down. It might be the burrito. Who cares? Write it down, at least it's on paper, so that later on, when you start to doubt in the dark the things that were clear in the light, you have a record that stands before you to say, as of this day, I felt convicted that God might be leading me this way. And that's so important because the evil tries to make you doubt in the dark the things that were clear in the light. And so, He just tries to take it away little by little, and God's voice becomes indistinct. Write it down, make it stand as a memorial before you. Now, as I said, He may speak to you through impressions, conversations, sermons, scripture, it's endless— the ways He speaks to you. But, just so you have an example, the way He spoke to me and I told Him I don't take well to subtlety, so this is what He did for me. And this is not I’m not saying this is what He’s going to do for everyone. But, this is how He spoke to me. I said, Lord, what specialty do you want me to go into? And I started praying for Him to make it very clear. And one physician told me early on, John, you should ask God to give you spiritual fruit during each rotation, and you should take inventory of how much spiritual fruit you encounter, and maybe that'll tip the scales into what specialty you should go into. So, I kept an eye on that, and I knew in my mind that I would go into anything, almost, except internal medicine. That should have been the first warning to me. But, lo and behold, when I go into my internal medicine rotation, I am having spiritual encounter after spiritual encounter. I meet with (currently) the clerkship director coordinator or director for the Internal Medicine program, Dr. Amy Hayton. She wasn't, back when I was rotating through, but she was at the VA and I was paired up with her. And no joke, every patient that she ever had a spiritual encounter with showed up on her schedule. That week I was working with her and every time we met with a patient, it ended up with this incredible spiritual discussion where we're praying with the patient, the patient's crying. Dr. Hayden and I are crying. It’s just day after day like my wife Elisa there will tell you. On other rotations I would come back and maybe once a week, once every other week, I’d come back and share a very touching story about how God was able to use me to talk to patients about spiritual things but on internal medicine. It’s like every day, I come home like, “honey, let me tell you what happened today.” And it's like, what is going on? To the point where I couldn't deny, Lord, you got my attention and the same thing happened as a resident when I rotated through my oncology services. And so for me, I couldn't deny He was talking to me. I don't know how He’s going to talk to you, but keep a lookout for how He might get your attention. So, that's Step #4 —pray without ceasing and look for evidences of His leading. 


Step #5 — Learn to wait on God's perfect timing. 

This is the hardest part because we want to know now, but we need to realize that any delay in God giving the information part of His will to you, any delay in that, is for your own good. It’s calculated. He's not letting you twist in the wind because He's a sadist? He's not giving you the information right now, because He sees that you need to grow a little bit more, before you can bear it. I had two classmates who walk very different roads in med school. One of them, you might know, her name is Martha Henau and she's currently doing her retina fellowship here. She went to Ophthalmology. But she was someone who struggled early on, and for those of you who know her story, you'll know this. But there was not a round of exams that we went through, where she didn't fail at least two or three exams outright. You know, she made the top two-thirds of her class possible. I mean, she was bringing up the rear and she'll tell you, she was like, it is only by the grace of God that I’m gonna make it to year two, and the year two comes around, and she's there. She doesn't have to remediate, like, we were celebrating no remediation, not “yes, I passed with flying colors!”, it’s “I didn't have to remediate”. And so, when she told us in third year, she's like, I really like Ophthalmology. My friends are like, oh, Martha, Martha. Oh, ye of little faith right. But every time she went into her exams, she would she would post it on her walls, post it on Facebook like, I am praying for God, like, God is going to give me deliverance. She put a picture of her face on David fighting Goliath, and over Goliath, she wrote USMLE Step 1, and she would do all these things and she'd be like, I can do it with God's help. And we're like, I know, Martha, but God gave us insight for a reason. I mean, yes, He can get you into Ophthalmology, of course, He can. He can do anything. He can give me a unicorn, but you know, if I walk off this building, He could also help me to fly and not fall. But for some reason, I think I’m probably gonna fall if I walk off the building, and you're headed off a building, Martha. But, she was on the church, I think God is speaking to me to go into Ophthalmology. We’re like, okay, well, that's fine. But, have a backup program. Apply to something else, too. Don’t just apply to Ophtha. She applied to every Ophtha program in the country, no joke. Ans she got one interview, here, because guess what? They give an obligatory interview to all students here, so it wasn't, you know, when she got an interview here, it wasn't like, yeah, you got an interview. Well, of course, you got this interview. We knew that was coming. Did you get any other interviews? No crickets and we're like, Martha, you didn't apply to anything else. And when she interviewed, of course, they all loved her. If you know Martha, you cannot, she's someone who walks into a room and lights it up. She made eyeball cupcakes for the entire staff one day, I mean, if that doesn't win your heart as an Ophthalmologist, I don't know what will. And so, when the match came for them, which is early in December, we were all like, oh, Lord, we're trying to prepare her. We’re saying, Martha, you cannot look at the outcome to determine whether or not God has been faithful, because God may not match into Ophthalmology. But, that means He has bigger rewards for you, and He has something else planned far better than Ophthalmology. That means you wouldn't have wanted it anyway. So, you know, there was very little like, that's right, you know, put in God's hands. We’re like, we're trying to soften the blow that we knew was coming. We’re like, we see this train wreck happening in slow motion and our friend, like, she's not going to go unworn. But the morning comes and she matches. And all I can say was a rebuke to me. I was saying all this time, she's stepping out completely and facing God. I know it's crazy for me to apply to Ophtha with my grades and I know this is all the people, like Dr. Warner, didn't sleep that night because of Martha. I know everyone is telling me this is crazy, but I can't help but feel that this is what you want me to do. So, I’m gonna do it, and if I don't match, and I don't get into residency, then, I’ll accept that. And that's the heart with which she went in, she was all in for Christ. She made herself totally vulnerable to Him and her Heavenly Father came through. Now, because of that story, the following year a huge bumper crop of people applied to Ophthalmology when she shared that story. So, I’m not saying that everyone who does what Martha did will be guaranteed to match into Ophthalmology, regardless of grade. That’s not the moral. The point of the story is, she was completely in God's hands. She said, regardless of the outcome, hell or high water, I’m all in. I’m not keeping a little lifeline back here. Lord, I am all Yours. You do with my career what you want. So, that was her. So, when she matched into her competitive specialty, it was just 100 glory to God. And people are like, how did you do that? She’s like, not how I did it, how God did it. And she could not keep quiet about God's goodness. And she was singing His praises up and down the road. I have another friend who I’ll leave unnamed, who this first month of me starting medical school with him, we're both studying in the library in the same location day. After days, we got to know each other. One day, He walks up to me and he says, “John, I’ve decided that I’m going to stop going to church.” And I ask him why, he says, “well I’m aiming for a very competitive surgical specialty and everyone else who's aiming for this specialty, they're studying seven days a week. I cannot be competitive if I study only six days a week. So, guess what? I have to give up church and I have to study on the Sabbath.” So, my first reaction was, that's terrible. And the second reaction was, why are you telling me? It was as if it was as if he was crying out to say like, try and convince me, otherwise as if there was something within him crying out for help. But, I just kind of flubbed and said, “well, I hope it works out for you, man.” You know, like, don't be like him. But I watched him throughout medical school and he was true to his word. He studied like a demon. I mean, he was a big gunner in my class, top grades. He rolled up the sleeves, he did the work, and guess what? He got the results and guess what? He matched into his specialty. Guess what? By the eyes of the world, he is super successful right now. He accomplished everything he set out to accomplish that first day that he told me “I’m going to stop going to church”. But, at what cost? Last I checked, he wasn't going to church. Last I checked he wasn't interested in spiritual things. At what cost? Two stories, they both got into competitive specialties. They both, by the eyes of the world, are successful physicians. But their end result is drastically different. So, this is why God is not just concerned with your destination. He doesn't just care about what specialty you end up in or what residency program you match into. His question is, will you be useful for My work? When you're at the other end of the process, will the journey taint you or will it blossom you in your spiritual life? He’s more concerned about who you become than what you do. Now, you may have an experience where God leads you in a completely different direction than you'd want to go and you're wondering, “Lord, how can this be compatible with Your will for my life? I failed my round of exams, I failed Step 1. How is that compatible with becoming a doctor for You?” Well, think of the story of Joseph. Did Joseph know? I mean, when he was in Potiphar’s house and he kept true to God's will. How was he rewarded? He got thrown in jail. But how was he to know that he needed to spend time in a dungeon to ultimately serve God in a palace he could not have a career planned that for himself? All he knows is that he was true to God, kept up his faith and he was thrown in jail for it. If anyone should doubt God's will and say, “Lord, what is Your problem?” It was Joseph. But instead, he kept true to God in the dungeon as well and he said, “I will accept this if this is where You want me to be.” And God eventually used that experience to train I, up and put him in the palace. You may be going through a dungeon experience in your life, maybe you failed something, maybe something's not panning out the way you wanted to and the whole world is telling you, uh, you're slipping behind. But fear not, sanctify your heart to God first, make sure His service your ultimate purpose in life and leave the results in His hands, and say, “Lord, I trust you enough that even if I flunk out of med school, I will still serve You.” 


Step #6 —Exercise faith 

Mark 11:24 says, therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them. It seems to be a blanket statement. “Hey, just believe that you receive whatever you ask in prayer and you'll have it.” But the context here is that we're praying with a sanctified heart— meaning that, our will is aligned with the will of God. So, when your will is aligned with His will, automatically, the things that you pray for are His will for you and therefore you will receive them. Hebrews 11:1 says, “now faith is the substance of things hoped for the evidence of things not seen.” So, exercising faith means, not basing your decisions on what you can see and understand. That’s why, Proverbs 3:5, 6 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, lean not on your own understanding in; all your ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct your paths.” That’s so important. Lean not on your own understanding. Don’t try to use your logic, and come into it and say, “Lord, this doesn't make sense if You want to get me to my career here.” Exercise faith and trust that He knows the whole picture. So, coming back to the question you have, a decision you have to make. You have to rank your list. You have to apply for programs. You have to choose a specialty. You have to make a decision with a hard deadline. You don't seem to have a clear answer. What are you supposed to do in this situation? Exercising faith also means doing the best you can with what you know currently. Have you ever heard people say, “Hey, God can't steer a parked car.” And I think that gets abused, but to a certain extent here, is true. God cannot steer a parked car head somewhere and He will direct the wheel. But, if you leave it in park and you say, “Lord I’m not going to get out of the driveway until all the lights turn green.” He will say, “then, I can't show you how I’m going to guide you.” Make an effort to go in a direction to the best of your knowledge, with what you have, and when you get to a red light, it'll be red and you'll stop. But eventually, it'll turn green and then you'll get to the next light, into the next light, and before you know, He will take you to your destination. Do the best you can with the knowledge you have. So, one of the things that I found very helpful in this matter is to create what they call a “Ben Franklin Ledger”. For every option you have, whether it's a residency program or a specialty, or whatever for every option before you,  make two columns: Pros and Cons. And write down every pro you can about making that decision for that option and every con that you can. And just be brutally honest. Throw everything out. A lot of times, we have these nebulous things, a couple of things keep coming back up—as something we like about a program. And that's all we fixate on, and we minimize the negatives if we like the positives enough. But get it on paper, quantify it. List every single thing on both sides, pros and cons for every option, and have that in front of you as you're praying and saying, “Lord, if there's something else that You want me to list here, is there's another con, another pro, bring it to my remembrance and then write it down. And then, step back and objectively look at it, and say, “is there a common thread among the pros and among the cons?” I remember some of the programs I did this to, every pro was basically pride of life, prestige, you know, what people think of me, what my family will think of me; and every con was the opposite currently it's coming down to. You know, where am I going to work, my job. I know a lot of friends who are being swayed by salaries and lifestyles. You know if those are the only cons in a column, then you ask yourself, where is my priority, and early on, now in your med school training, define for yourself what metrics you're going to use for success? Because, if you don't define them here and now, the world will define them for you. You have to be very clear what metrics will I use to determine that I am a successful physician for the Lord and drive that, draw that line in the sand so that, when the world tells you, “No, you should use academic rank, you should use prestige, you should use salary, you should use benefits, you should use lifestyle as your metric”, you'll say, “No, I made my metric over here, these are my criteria for determining whether or not I’m successful as a physician”, and then, use those criteria to evaluate all your decisions. Use mental exercises, for example, understand that competitiveness and prestige alone are not adequate reasons to choose a program. We all know this, we all say it, but we're all drawn to the same traps. So, to help you get rid of this, imagine that you have the ability to match into any specialty, in any program you want. The world is your oyster, you just name it, you'll get in, okay? Pretend that that's the world, and also pretend that once you finish your training, no one will know where you trained and the only thing you have to show for it is the skills you take out of it. Now, in that context, can you interpret your decisions in a different light? Do certain programs rise and fall in their rankings in your mind? If that world were true, do you find yourself drawn by money? Because let's be honest, lifestyle is a big thing if I choose this specialty. I’ll make one-tenth of what I can make in that specialty. It’s a big consideration. Assume that whatever specialty you go into you will make the exact same income. You are destined to make the same income, no matter what. There’s a rich uncle who's going to pay you, X number of dollars a year and that's it. No more no less. So, pretend that that's true. And then, evaluate the programs in that light. Do certain priority shifts? Do certain programs fall or rise? And be very honest with yourself, what is swaying my decision to like one program over another? Matthew 6:31-33 says, “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” No matter where you go, no matter what specialty God puts you in, no matter where you serve Him, no matter if it's the mission front or the ivory tower, He knows your needs and He will supply you for your needs. The income that you should pray for is, whatever He deems appropriate for me, whatever you deem appropriate, Lord, no more no less. And so, having the promise that He will take care of your needs, if you simply make His kingdom and His righteousness first and foremost in your life, go forward and don't be afraid. Now, I just have to put in this plug, competitiveness, prestige of the program, earning potential, these are not necessarily bad things. We can also make the mistake of demonizing them and saying well since it's a very prestigious competitive program, obviously, that's not God’s choice for me, because I must be a worm in the dust and I must serve Him in nowheresville and wear the badge of humility because that is true righteousness. That is not because there the Bible is replete with examples of people who wielded these things to great effect for the Lord. But, only because God put them there and God entrusted those things to him, you should not desire these things for yourself. Let God add them unto you if He deems it appropriate. But if He doesn't deem inappropriate, don't whine and ask Him to give it to you. So, make it a tool, not the call.  


Finally, Step #7 — When you feel convicted of God's leading, act on it immediately. 

Don't say, Lord, boy, You sure gave me a clear answer to my prayer and I really feel like You’re leading me this way. I will get to it next week, and suddenly over the weekend, that conviction starts to wane and wane, and by Monday, you're saying, was that really you talking to me, God? When He convicts you, act. Don’t wait, the devil doesn't tell you to disobey, the devil only tells you to wait. He says, “delay obedience”. He never says, “disobey God”, because that's not going to work. He just says, “no, no, delay obedience”. We have to be reasonable here. Let’s collect all the data, let's wait for some more data to come in. Okay, but if you know in your heart that God spoke to you unequivocally, and you were moved, act assuming that there's a decision to act on.  


So, in summary,  

Step #1 — Put away all known sins in your life. 

Step #2 — Commit yourself to doing God's will, no matter what that turns out to be. 

Step #3 — Strengthen your devotional life  

Step #4 — Pray constantly, and look for evidence of God’s leading 

Step #5 — Learn to wait on God's perfect timing 

Step #6 — Exercise faith  

Step #7 — Act immediately on God's leading 


So, the conclusion of it all is that the key to knowing God's will is to become like Him in character. The issue is one of character, not of information. Don’t be so focused and preoccupied with information. Start with the character, because when your character aligns with God, you will know what He wants you to do. Because the impulse of your heart will be in lockstep with the impulses of His heart for you. Him, the only reason why we should seek to know God's will is so that we can obey it. So, therefore, once you're committed to obey, it's God's responsibility to reveal His will to you. And you can be assured that He will do this according to His perfect timing. So, let God decide when and how He’s going to reveal that to you. And be okay with that and understand that any delay He introduces is designed to build your faith in your character so that ultimately, you can act on the will that He reveals to you. So, if you implement the seven steps that I just talked about, even if you don't get an immediate answer, you will have the peace in your heart of knowing that, given enough time, eventually, God will answer in due time and in the right way according to His perfect timing. God will answer. Philippians 4:6-7 may this be a text for you: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God, and then the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” So, my prayer for each one of you tonight is that you will experience that peace in the midst of your decision making, in the midst of your struggle, in the midst of all the high-stakes choices you have to make. Coming up in the next few months, I pray you will know that peace of knowing that your heart is secure with Christ, that you're dedicated to serving Him, and therefore it's only a matter of time before He reveals to you His will. Amen? Amen. Let’s pray. 


Heavenly Father, Lord, this is such an important issue that we all face over and over again in our lives. And the only reason Lord, that we're anxious about knowing Your will, is because ultimately we don't trust You like we should. If we trusted You like Christ did when He walked this earth. we would not feel anxiety. But Lord, we need this peace that passes all understanding. And in order to do that, we need to get our lives right with You. If there's someone in this room who is delaying obedience in some area of his or her life, if they are living in rebellion to You in some aspect of their lives, give them the ability, Lord, to make a decision tonight, to stop that, to bring their wills in accordance with Your own. To give up whatever it is that You want them to give up, to put away all sin from their lives. There may be people here, Lord, who they felt that they've known what You wanted them to do, but, they delayed doing it, because they don't want to do it. Heavenly Father, help us to pray the prayer that Christ prayed—to be honest with You about our struggles, our desires, our wants, and dislikes and yet, help us to end every prayer by saying, Lord, not my will but Your will be done. And ultimately Heavenly Father, change us so that we can become the people You need us to be, so that no matter where You use us, we will be your hands and feet, salt and light for You. Because, ultimately it's not so much important what we do, but who we are for You. Help us to become Your children, Your servants. Stamped with Your image, and with our hearts beating in lockstep with Yours. Help us to go forward and tackle a world that tries to confuse us and bring disarray to our thoughts. So, give us our Sabbath rest and we thank you, Heavenly Father, for the great privilege of training to become doctors for You. In Jesus’s name we pray, Amen.  



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