My friend Rick Callahan often uses four metaphors to determine what God might be saying to him. I’ve used these metaphors primarily in the context of leadership, but they are also very useful in prayer and in the process of discernment with other believers.

• Speed bumps are those things in life that constantly slow you down and frustrate your progress. This might be something like an unfamiliarity with scripture, the lack of solid Christian friendships, or a failure to find a place of meaningful service in your local church. What speed bumps keep slowing you down?

• Brick Walls are obstacles that stop you dead in your tracks, impeding any further progress whatsoever. Sexual misconduct, an absolute refusal to give, or the lack of basic life requirements like somewhere to live or something to eat are all examples of obstacles that mean you cannot move forward in your relationship with God until you address these issues. What brick walls have stopped you dead in your tracks?

• Visions are clear mental pictures of how things could be in the future if you stay faithful and God continues to bless your efforts. They are imaginations of life at its optimum, providing us with the energy and confidence to move forward. What visions has God given you?

• Mirrors are moments when we see ourselves, warts and all. Sometimes they occur when we catch ourselves doing or saying something awful—something we could never imagine actually doing! When they occur, it’s God’s way of telling us there is hidden sin that must be excavated. What mirror moments has God given you?

When you pray, begin by asking God for clarity about these issues. Write down the impressions you have, asking the Lord to refine and purify your intuition.

Adapted from How to be with God: A Primer on Christian Prayer