O God, by whom the meek are guided in judgment, and light riseth up in darkness for the godly: Grant us, in all our doubts and uncertainties, the grace to ask what thou wouldest have us to do, that the Spirit of wisdom may save us from all false choices, and that in thy light we may see light, and in thy straight path may not stumble; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. - The Book of Common Prayer
With Ash Wednesday coming up on Valentine’s Day, the pastors have been spending time for several weeks discussing what we feel the Spirit is leading us to teach during the season of Lent. Having paid attention to what is happening in our particular congregation, as well as what is occurring in our denomination worldwide, we believe that looking deeply into the practice of spiritual discernment is the best way for us to go. We hope that you will decide to journey with us.
We know that the United Methodist Denomination is being called to listen to its stories, the stories of God and to talk about its future direction. In order to be able to listen and to hear faithfully, we will need to patiently engage in discerning God’s will. The process of prayerful spiritual discernment draws on our best church practices and offers in return a depth of faith and life that has not been realized by many up until now. I believe that God is gifting us with a chance to learn how to more deeply interact with God so that we can align our hearts with God’s heart, and as a result, be in step with one another.
While many of us know how to practice individual discernment, discerning God’s will together is new for most of us. We have often asked, “What is God’s will for my life?”, but when is the last time we have inquired, “What is God’s will for the church? For the world?” These questions bring us together as we seek to look at history and at the present and translate what we are seeing and hearing for today.
How is spiritual discernment different from decision making? Put simply, we make decisions.
Discernment is given. In their book entitled Discerning God’s Will Together, Danny E. Morris and Charles M. Olsen write this about group discernment: “The process of spiritual discernment recognizes the gifts and insights of individuals. It also looks to the wisdom of the whole community as people talk to one another…and take action. Discernment includes both being and doing.” The thing that I love most about the process of group spiritual discernment is that it draws us beyond our limited reason to seek divine presence and insight.
Yes, discernment creates the capacity to see. And to quote Morris and Olsen again, “Discernment distinguishes the real from the phony, the true from the false, the good from the evil, and the path toward God from the path away from God.” One last thought about spiritual discernment: it operates in the context of commitment. It assumes our commitment to live as faithful disciples of Jesus Christ and to further God’s Kingdom by doing all that we can to promote peace, justice, mercy and grace.
Who can fathom the mind and will of God? What presumption! We approach the practices that we will unfold together with great humility and excitement. We know that we are stepping onto holy ground and entering more deeply into Holy Mystery. How could there possibly be any downside to learning to listen to and love God more passionately?
The prayer from The Book of Common Prayer at the top of this article is the prayer I intend to pray as we move through Lent. I would love for you to join me in praying it. I look forward to, once again, having the blessing of walking with you through this practice. Lots of details will be coming soon.
Love and blessings, LuAnn