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There’s been a lot of talk around here lately (and by “around here,” I mean this blog. Which is its own universe. At least, it is to me!) about discernment, about hearing God’s nudges and praying the way forward. As happens so often, the three of us are in a similar place, feeling a call to the road ahead yet not really knowing what it entails. A book? Videos? Something else?

At the same time, I am being tugged at by other forces. It seems I am a good person to have aboard a project, although none of the proposed projects are paying projects, alas. (Go ahead and red flag me, Ruthie. “Aloteration” is both gift and curse.)

Which way to go? How much energy do I have to devote to each path? And which way feels most right and true to me? Listening for and to God is very hard work indeed.

The road forks precipitously,
twining like tentacles away into a future
I am too near-sighted to see.
God, I lay these routes at your feet.
Where you step, I too will step.
The map is in your hands
but I cannot read it, being somewhat lost
and, at any rate, confused about directions.
You, however, know them.
You know the path most tender on my feet,
and which is worth the stones and thistles.
Your eyes see in the dark,
and dark is where I live these days.
You will need to speak up.
You will need to post an obvious marker.
You will need to explain to me,
as if to a child, how to get there.
You, who, meet me where I am,
lead, Love, the way.

Several weeks ago, I wrote about attending a class on discernment. We are now three weeks in. What have I learned so far?

We all have different prayer postures.

The pastor asked us to consider how we pray. A fellow theologian pointed out to him that Catholics pray with their eyes open. Presbyterians bow their heads and close their eyes.

Me? I look off into the middle distance, eyes unfocused. If I close my eyes, I am struggling to focus.

What is your prayer posture?

It is okay to pray for small things.

“It is okay to pray for a McMuffin.”

That is a phrase I never thought I would hear a pastor utter. But his point was that it is okay to pray for small things. Maybe you need a full belly to focus in prayer or worship. Maybe this is a bit of comfort food and you are feeling lonely or alone. We don’t have to wait to approach God until we have something BIG.

I admit, I tend to pray for big things. Not that I’m always asking for something huge, but small things? Most of those I can deal with myself so it doesn’t cross my mind to approach God with something small.

Do you pray for small things or large things?

Sometimes it takes counsel to know I am hearing God.

So far our focus in class has been on praying for our heart’s desire. What is it that we deeply want? What lies behind that? When I came up with ‘work in social justice,’ I doubted this message. That’s what I’ve been doing. These jobs had all dried up. What should I be doing now?

I mentioned this to someone who is in the class with me. “But you’re good at that. Maybe you need to wait for a new opportunity.” This person was right but as an answer to prayer, “do what you’ve done” seemed too easy. I guess I was expecting something trickier.

Have you needed a friend’s help to hear God’s voice clearly?

We have four more weeks of class. I’m looking forward to learning more in the weeks ahead.

–SueBE

What should I do next?  Where would God have me go?  What job does he have for me?

Not surprisingly, Lori, Ruth and I have been suffering from the lack of direction many people are feeling right now.  We have felt for some that we should be doing something new, but what? We’ve all been looking for new jobs, passing tips on to each other.  I was either knitting or not-sleeping when I had a thought.  We should work on something new together.  

I didn’t share this with any one, waiting for more direction.  Then Ruth e-mailed Lori and I and said she felt like we should start a new project together.  That’s how discernment works.

Don’t know that term?  I didn’t either until I taught a class on prayer.  Discernment is a way to obtain God’s guidance and understanding.  It is one way that we can use to prayerful discover and recognize that we should be doing.  There are four elements to discernment.

Prayer and meditation

The first step is to ask God.  “What should I be doing?”  “How should I solve this problem?”  “What do you want me to to do?”  I don’t know about you but I may wonder what I should do but I don’t always remember to ask God.  So that’s step #1.  Face God and ask the question.

Listening for an answer

Once you’ve asked the question, you need to discern the answer which can come in many ways.  There’s the still, small voice we hear in our hearts.  We may find it in scripture in our dailing reading.  Or the sermon may touch on the subject we are contemplating.  My pastor calls moments like this God moments because God uses the various ways to communicate with us.  But these aren’t the only ways.

Community

Our faith communities also play a part in discernment.  If I’m not ready to hear something, it can be communicated to Ruth and Lori.  Not buying what I’m selling?  Think about those truths your friends bring to you.  After our Zoom call, Lori started calling me Professor.  That was my nickname when I was 13 and it has returned to me periodically my whole live.  I wouldn’t have given it to myself but there is truth there.

Patience

The last part of discernment is patience.  When we ask God a question we want the answer and we want it N-O-W.  But God doesn’t work that way.  Because of this, we have to be careful to hear God instead of opposing our will on the situation.

Ask, Listen and Commune in Patience until you perceive the will of God.  My pastor is teaching a course on discernment starting tomorrow.  I am truly looking forward to honing my skills.

–SueBE

Recently, we’ve been working as a congregation to discern God’s plan for us.  Discernment is tricky.

We want our marching orders to involve the things that we consider our strengths.  Studying Judges has brought home for me that that is not how God works.  The people God picks are often too unsure to be military leaders (Gideon), to tangle-tongued to speak publicly (Moses), and just too self-centered to be religious leaders (Mathew the tax collector).

And yet, these are the people God chooses.  From day-to-day they may not have known what the big picture was.  They just knew what God wanted them to do.  Now.  Tomorrow? That wasn’t always entirely clear.

But that’s okay.  Step by step, we can build something grand.  We just have to hear the instructions.

–SueBE

Listening to God is step #1.  Once you discern what he would have you do, you really have to do it.  No really.

This is as much a note to myself as to anyone else.  Hear his voice and then look for a way to begin.  Then do it.  You really do have to do it.

–SueBE

 

The Lord's PrayerThere are 7 of us on the committee to hire a new pastor.  We read over applications.  Listen to sermons.  Conduct phone interviews and pray.

What do we pray?  Not to mess up.  To find the right candidate.  To find someone that will help our church move forward.  That we hire the person who will help us discern God’s mission for us in our community and in the world.

We want to do God’s will, but for any chance of success, we have to know what His will is.  That’s not easy when you’re busy.  There are numerous ways to discern God’s will but they all take a certain amount of time and quiet.

  1. Read the Bible.  The Bible is God’s word and He uses it to speak to us.  How often have you read a familiar passage only to have something new leap out at you?  Something that speaks to where you are now and what you need to do?
  2. Pray.  Take the time to communicate with God. What we ask can be just as revealing as His answer.  Putting something into words can help you clarify your thinking, focusing things and helping you see what really matters.
  3. Meditation.  Listening is a part of prayer, but if you are anything like me, you need to take a few moments and relax. You breathe in.  You breathe out.  And you listen.  What drifts into your mind?  You may not receive an answer right then and there but you will feel less frantic about the whole thing now that you’ve spent time in His presence.
  4. Wait.  One of the greatest impediments to doing God’s will is our impatience. We want an answer and we want it NOW.  No.  To be honest, we wanted it yesterday or the day before.  We’re praying about it because we are getting a little worried that we have yet to discern his answer.  The answer then is very often “wait.”  You aren’t ready.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some more listening to do.  I’m waiting for an answer that I know will come in His time.

–SueBE

DiscernmentLately I’ve been reading about spiritual discernment, the act of prayerfully discovering the path God would have us walk.  Because I often pray alone, I am fascinated by how discernment as a church calls for a group effort.

The reason is simple.  None of us has a complete understanding of God’s will.  I see what I am capable of seeing.  You hear what you can hear.  There is much that we both miss.  As a group, we will hear and see more completely.

For discernment to work, it must be inclusive.

Next comes prayer.  What is it that God would have us do in this situation?  Whether it is a question of who should serve or how we should act we have to pray. Of course, this also means that we have to wait for an answer.  Waiting is so often where we fall short.

For discernment to work, we must wait for an answer and not outrun the Holy Spirit.

Scripture is also a part of discernment.  This is a time for asking “what would Jesus have us do?”  It isn’t enough to have memorized verse after verse.  We have to hear, as St. Benedict put it, with the ear of our heart.  Argument and law aren’t the rules here.

For discernment to work, we have to listen and feel the Holy Spirit at work through, specifically the words of Christ.

In discernment, there isn’t a right answer and a wrong answer.  There is a Faithful answer and that is a both/and answer – both my concerns and your concerns must be addressed. This is very different from “the majority rules” or “you can’t please everybody.”  We can read one example of this is in Acts 6:1-7.  When Greek Jews complained that Greek widows aren’t being given aid comparable to that of Hebraic widows, the Hebraic Jews didn’t vote them down although as the majority they could have done so.  Instead they listened with their hearts and put a panel of Greeks over the alms distributions.  Everyone was happy.

For discernment to work, we must hear what everyone has to say and we act accordingly.

Just how different would our churches be if this is how they we made decisions?  To prayerfully applying the word of Christ even to our disagreements with each other.  It could solve a lot of problems.

–SueBE

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