In the last few months I have had a number of conversations with people about how to discern God’s will. Several people in my life have been looking at big decisions and trying to ask what God’s will is. In the midst of all of these conversation, I had N. Graham Standish come and do a training with my church on how to be a church based on discerning and following God’s will. Since issues related to discernment have been on my mind and people have questions about it, I will be doing a few blog posts about finding God’s will. Today we begin with a basic understanding of what discernment actually is.
Most of the time we make decisions by analysis. The word means to cut apart or dissect. We take decisions and divide them into choices, arguments, sides, or parties. Think about learning to write book reports in school. Or debate. Or make decisions using Robert’s Rules of Order. They are all based on dissecting arguments into pro’s and con’s and making a decision based on which side makes the most sense, is the most coherent, and has the most upside.
Christians are not really called to decisions by analysis. We are called to discernment. Discernment means to separate or sift out. This way of decision making assumes that God has a plan and that it is our goal to sort out what that is and follow. Imagine mining for gold in 1849. You move a pan or rock around and watch for gold and the larger rocks move to the outside of the pan. That is how Christians are called to make decisions.
Think about the early church in the book of Acts. When they need to make a decision they stop and pray and ask God to guide them. When they give a reason for their decisions, sometimes all they can say is that it “seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us.” (Acts 15:28)
God’s will does not always make sense. It does not not always have the best upside for us. In fact, if you think back to all of the Sunday school stories that you learned from the Bible, you will find that most of them were not the most logical choices.
I am convinced that a lot of the problem in our churches and in our denominations today stem from a fundamental confusion between discernment and analysis. Many christians are trying to make decisions with analysis and wondering why they seem distant from God’s will.
We will be exploring how to discern more in the next few posts.
Thanks to Graham Standish (website) in his talks and in his book Becoming a Blessed Church: Forming a Church of Spiritual Purpose,Presence, and Power. He has really helped me to understand this topic.