What you see is what you get.

I was in a discussion the other day about the word, “discernment.”  For the past twenty years, I have lived with this word, wrestled with this word, explored this word, fought with this word, and have fallen in love with this word.  One person in the discussion said that the word “discernment” is not understood outside of the Christian tradition.  I hadn’t thought about that; the thought has merit, but I would tend to see the issue in a broader context.  My own sense is that the concept of discernment is also not very well understood within Christian community.

Discernment, simply put, is the Holy Spirit led process of determining in one’s life what is true and what is false.  It is the gift of the Holy Spirit that allows one to see that which is of God and that which is of Satan. 

The Advent prayers offered in the Advent liturgies, help bring forth the discernment process by leading the Church to move from complacency and conformity into the way of God.  The Prayer of the Day for Advent I states, “Stir up your power, O Lord, and come.”  The Prayer of the Day for Advent II is “Stir up our hearts, O Lord, to prepare the way for your only Son.”  These prayers ask that God stir up the people of God in order to recognize the need for change in our lives that can be brought about in the transformative power of God.

Discernment begins as the Holy Spirit creates restlessness within and leads to an awareness and a conviction of the need for repentance that leads to renewal.  The prayer for Advent III states, “Grant us, your people, the wisdom to see your purpose today and the openness to hear your will…”  In other words the prayer is to let us see the call of God into the abundant life offered through Jesus.  These are prayers of dying and rising as the old person is drowned in the Baptismal waters and the new person steps forth.

Discernment gets down to detail.  This is not a general prayer to bring out surface contrition.  The prayer of discernment gets to the down and dirty and invites the prayer to see those areas of life that are not a part of God’s truth.  These are not prayers that invite shaming.  These are prayers that invite transformative change that lead to a Holy Spirit empowered Christ-likeness.  These prayers lead to specifics as the Holy Spirit turns over the rocks in life allowing those things that live under the rock to be fully seen.  Prayers of discernment are not for sissies.  Prayers of discernment invite God to have God’s way with those who pray for discernment.

Quite frankly, failure to discern leads to a complacency that breeds conformity to the culture which is not the way of God.  Complacency leads to becoming comfortable in sin and provides plenty of rationalization as to why one should just stay put in the current state.  One person has been quoted as saying, “My life is a living hell but at least I know the street names.”  This is a person afraid to pray prayers of discernment because of a fear of change and transformation.   Conformity leads to stagnation and the inability to move forward.  Conformity is getting stuck in certain behavior patterns because they are comfortable and familiar. .  There may be an occasional desire for change,but fear sets in and change never happens.                 

Even in the Church, the call to conform is more highly valued than the call to be transformed.  The tendency is to conform because conforming is the path of least resistance.   From the very early days there have been prophets who have warned that the Church is selling out to the culture.  Those prophets continue to speak in today’s world but the noise of the culture drowns them out and these prophets seem to have an early death as the culture kills them. 

Jesus says to love your enemies and to pray for those who persecute you, but the world speaks about a revenge of honor.  Jesus says to serve the poor and those in need but, the culture says to seek the trappings of materialistic power.  Jesus says to care for the sick and the marginalized, but the culture says they should take care of themselves.  Micah 6:8 (NRSV) raises the question:  “and what does the Lord require of you

but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”  Justice, kindness and humility are attributes of the way of God and this truth can only be seen as the Holy Spirit responds to prayers of discernment by opening eyes to see where these things do not exist.

Without discernment, conformity and complacency take over. 

This issue of conformity has been with the people of God at least since the days of entering the Promised Land, when the call to be a kingdom of priests clashed with the desire to be liked by one’s neighbors.  Conformity allows one to blend in and not be noticed and it is certainly not a call to change and transformation.  So, the people of Israel would keep statues of the local gods in their homes so as not to alienate their neighbors, ignoring the First Commandment.

In Romans 12: 1-2,  Paul talks about change and offers the pivot point  challenge:

                “I appeal to  you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.  Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that  you may discern what is the will of God–what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (NRSV)

In this text, Paul portrays the daily tension in the Christian life, and lays forth what is at the heart of deep change in the disciple’s life.  To state things bluntly, a person can know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus Christ is his or her personal Savior, without this knowledge bringing about one change in life.    No doubt,  a person who knows Christ as Savior is living an eternal life, even right now.  However, without the transformation that Paul talks about, the same person is living a life of defeat,  unable to live the abundant life that Jesus talks about in John 10.  This person has the saving knowledge of Christ for eternity, but lives each day as if the resurrection and personal salvation never happened.  This person leads a life of defeat.

The Christian leads a defeated life when professing faith but living the culture.  The life of defeat does not see the needs of those who are being left out.  I saw a post on Facebook once that said, “your poverty is not caused by someone else’s wealth.”  Really?  This kind of statement comes from the blindness of sin when one lives in ego-centrism and cannot see the way of God.  The defeated life is a life of fear, anxiety, hatred, prejudice and the idolatry of self.

Discernment, through the Word and the action of the Holy Spirit, leads to transformation and transformation  creates new life, lived with the renewing mind of Christ.  Living in this way allows  one to see, know and do the will of God and to do so in ways that demonstrate what is good and acceptable and perfect.  Transformation in the Romans text implies something that is ongoing, renewing, and life changing.  According to the footnotes for Romans 12: 2 in The Lutheran Study Bible (Concordia Publishing House, 2009, p 1933), the Greek word used for transformed  is the same Greek word used to describe Jesus’ transfiguration (Mark 9: 2-3), as God works to bring change. This change begins in one’s baptism and is ongoing through the daily dying and rising in Romans 6: 8-10, “But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.”  The Christian is called to die to the ways of the culture that lead from God and invited to rise to a new way of life which is almost always counter-cultural.

The transformation that comes through the renewing of the mind gives the ability to see things more clearly.  Richard Rohr discusses the impact of seeing rightly in his daily devotion published on Thanksgiving Day, November 22, 2012:

“Good religion is always about seeing rightly: ‘The lamp of the body is the eye; if your eye is sound, your whole body will be filled with light,’ as Jesus says in Matthew 6:22. How you see is what you see. And to see rightly is to be able to be fully present—without fear, without bias, and without judgment. It is such hard work for the ego, for the emotions, and for the body, that I think most of us would simply prefer to go to church services.”

We like to think that church going will take care of it all, but, actually, people can tend to use going to church as an excuse to mask the living of the defeated life.  The rhythm of gathering and scattering is a rhythm that leads to service of God and service to neighbor.   When Rohr says that it is such hard work to see things differently, that it is just easier to go to church and not deal with what lies before us he is referring to the hard work of the prayers of discernment.  It takes Holy Spirit empowered discernment to see self and world in a realistic way. 

Sometimes going to church can be used as an excuse to avoid the real issues.  Plus, more and more the Church is conforming to society and has tendencies to resist the radical nature of the Gospel call.  The call of God is to seek the discernment of the Holy Spirit that one might see things more clearly and in new ways.

Discernment is a form of reflective practice and leads to deeper understanding of self.  The call to discernment and renewal is to:

  • Immerse in the Word of God.  Pray the Word.  LISTEN to the Word.  Let God speak into the context of life.
  • Sit quietly before God.  Rest in the Word of God and sit quietly.  Let the Word speak and wash over, to refresh and renew.
  • Confess as a way of cleansing.  Find a trusted confessor and lay out those things the Spirit gives to reflect upon.  Confess to the confessor and share together in the Word of God.  Hear words of forgiveness come from the lips of the confessor.
  • Live boldly in the new and abundant life trusting the Holy Spirit to lead and guide in the daily decisions of life.

The call is to see life in the full reality of God’s truth.  The reality of God’s truth explodes the fig leaves and masks that one attempts to wear in order to hide from God. 

Walking with a spiritual director is helpful in this process.  The spiritual director helps listen, prays, supports and is there as a companion on the journey.  If you seek support in the journey of discernment and renewal, Steve is available as a spiritual director for you.  The first session is free.  Please feel free to contact Steve at steve@pivotpointministries.org.

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