Discernment as a way of life – posture, process, practice

Romans 12:1-2

This summer we are exploring together how we discern what it is that God calls us to do, each of us individually and all of us together. The word for this is “vocation,” from the Latin word “vocare” which literally means “to call.”  Vocation: God calls us to live our lives on purpose for the common good.

So far we’ve talked about listening to our longings, being open, naming and living in our values, experiencing God’s presence in everyday life, the holy art of paying attention, and reframing our regrets. This week we are talking about discernment itself: the posture, the process, and the practice. Let’s allow just a few short verses from the Christian scriptures to inform our thoughts this morning.

The book of Romans was written by the apostle Paul to the Christians who were living in Rome, a mix of people who were formerly Jewish and formerly not Jewish. Romans is a long sustained theological argument trying to explain how there is one gospel for all of humanity, even though we come from really different religious backgrounds. It is not a systematic theology or a summary of all of his theology because there’s nothing about the Lord’s supper and very little about the Church. The first 11 chapters lays out the theology of what he believes Jesus Christ came to do for everyone. And then in chapter 12 he begins to explain what the theology means to our practical lives and our relationships. That’s where we are going to pick up: Romans chapter 12 and we’re going to read just verses 1 and 2. 

So, my dear family, this is my appeal to you by the mercies of God: offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God. Worship like this brings your mind into line with God’s. What’s more, don’t let yourselves be squeezed into the shape dictated by the present age. Instead, be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you can discern what God’s will is, what is good, well-pleasing and mature.

It’s very short, so I’m going to read it all again:

So, my dear family, this is my appeal to you by the mercies of God: offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God. Worship like this brings your mind into line with God’s. What’s more, don’t let yourselves be squeezed into the shape dictated by the present age. Instead, be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you can discern what God’s will is, what is good, well-pleasing and mature.

This is the word of God for all people. Thanks be to God.

In this season, as we have considered values, openness, the voices that call to us, attentiveness, regrets, and experiences of God’s presence, all of those come into play as we discern the will of God for each of us and all of us.

I have to admit to you as I was working on this sermon and even as I was meditating on these verses, which really I love, I kept having this icky feeling. Like, sort of heavy, like obligation. And finally I realized that concepts like “discerning God’s will” trigger my fear of getting it wrong. So ironic considering the fact that last week we talked about reframing our regrets and that often the only way to grow is to get it wrong. I know that. And nonetheless, perhaps because of some of my religious experiences in the past, it feels like there’s a lot at stake in “discerning God’s will” and that getting it wrong would be really bad. I think that’s what’s happening for me. So, if that’s happening for you too, you’re in good company and I hope that by the time we end worship this morning you will feel differently.

Because I don’t think that we are served well by being afraid of getting it wrong when it comes to discerning God’s will. I don’t think God wants us to be all clenchy about discerning God’s will. Here are a few ideas that might help.

First of all, discerning God’s will is not a one-and-done situation. Discerning God’s will is an ongoing spiritual practice, literally something we could do every day. And secondly, the only way to get better at discerning God’s will is to get it wrong sometimes. Really. Unfortunately. But really.

So when it comes to discerning God’s will, let’s think about three things: the posture, the process, and the practice, and then we will reflect just a little more on the scripture.

First the posture. If discerning God’s will is an ongoing spiritual activity for us, we will best be able to do it by having an ongoing posture of openness and attentiveness. We’ve talked about both of those concepts in past weeks. If we go through our days intentionally open instead of closed, we will be better able to discern God’s will. It could be openness to people, to situations, to ideas that are different from what we currently think. If we are quick to shut things down, to say “no”, to ignore people we don’t already know, that’s more of a closed posture. And if we go through our days doing our best to pay attention, to notice what we notice instead of distracting ourselves from our actual experiences, we will be better able to discern God’s will. Whether God’s will is something new or a renewed commitment to something that’s already in place, if we keep a posture of openness and attentiveness, we will be better able to discern what it is. Posture of discernment.

So let’s say we have that posture, we are open and paying attention, and we notice something that sparks in us, perhaps the Spirit is whispering, “This is an opportunity for you.” What is the process for discernment? It is three things we’ve also talked about. 1. How does this opportunity align with my values? (Which means we have to know what our values are.) 2. Which voices are calling to me in this opportunity and are they trustworthy voices? and 3. What do my regrets tell me about this opportunity? The process of discernment is to consider our values, the calling of trustworthy voices, and what we’ve learned from our regrets.  Process.

And finally practice, and this is the kicker. Once you *think* you might know whether this opportunity is something God actually wants you to do, the only way to know is to do it, and then reflect on you experience of God’s presence. Which means, you might be wrong. It could be that you do all that work and you try something and later on say, “Wow, it seems that wasn’t God’s will after all.” And that’s OK. What’s more, I can’t tell you what kind of “experience of God’s presence” would confirm whether it was or wasn’t God’s will! That is unique to you. Maybe you do it and you don’t “feel” anything — doesn’t mean it wasn’t God’s will. 

My dear ones, the real invitation of the life of faith is to grow up. There is not a one-size-fits-all 10-step solution to living a wonderfully fulfilling life always feeling confident that you are in line with God’s will. I can tell you things to do. In fact, if you are new in your faith or not feeling confident, I am happy to share with you some scriptures to memorize and some prayers you can verbatim pray every day and some other practices to try. That’s good. We all start somewhere. But I cannot tell you what God wants you to do with your life. And I cannot answer all the questions you have about the Bible. And I explain why something bad happened to you. Some Christian leaders will do those things. But I think that truly that’s a disservice to you because it keeps you dependent on someone else for the answers. It keeps you in a childish faith. And I won’t do that to you. 

That’s why I love Romans 12:1 and 2. You offer your whole selves to God to bring your mind in line with God’s mind, which doesn’t mean it will be in line with my mind even if my mind is also in line with God’s mind. Do not be squeezed into the shape dictated by this current age. But be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you can discern what God’s will is for you, what is good and well-pleasing and mature. God’s will in your life is good, for you and for others. It is well-pleasing to God and to you even though it will certainly be hard sometimes. And it is mature, complete. 

God woos us, invites us to be transformed by renewal instead of conforming to the status quo. The values of this current age are very different from the values of God’s Kingdom. If you are chasing an opportunity that simply feels good regardless of the cost, that is convenient, that provides immediate gratification, and that doesn’t challenge your biases, beware. I’m not saying it’s NOT God’s will for you because I don’t know. But I am saying that an opportunity which aligns with the values of this current age is not going to provide much of an opportunity for spiritual growth. So just beware. God’s will for our lives is good, but not usually super easy. We don’t grow when it’s easy. We grow through challenge. 

We can step into the vocations God has for us by living with a posture of discernment, following the process of discernment, and engaging in the practice of discernment. Discernment is an experience of spiritual growth, it’s a process, a transformation that comes with the renewing of our minds, as we resist the pressure to conform to the world around us and instead pursue the good, pleasing and mature opportunities that God sets before us.

Spiritual growth comes also with real experiences of God’s love for us and God’s presence with us. Both of which we experience when we come to the Communion table. Here in this ordinary bread and cup we affirm the extraordinary grace that God is lavishly pouring out on all of us all the time. God takes what is ordinary and brings extraordinary blessings through it. We are transformed as we experience being ordinary people, fully loved and accepted by God, and then sent back into the world, filled with the power of the resurrected Christ, to do extraordinary acts of goodness. And so we insist, as have our ancestors before us, that this is the joyful feast of the people of God, where people of all ages, races, and sexes — people in every type of body — come from the north, south, east, and west, and gather at this table with the Risen Christ, who is the host at all our tables. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *