Spirituality and Discernment

Newly returned from the 1st annual Leadership Institute on Group Discernment, I am filled once again with the awareness of how hard it is to do discernment right if we aren’t grounded in God when we begin. Discernment is defined as “separating apart” – distinguishing between God’s movement within us and movements that aren’t of God. In my own mind, I have come to equate discernment with decision-making. My belief that every decision I make has an effect in the world – it furthers God’s love of it works against God’s love. This, I think, is what is meant by the concept of the Lamb’s War – we see every action in this world as affecting the spiritual state of the world.

For the purposes of group discernment, it is clearer to me after the conference that we can and should hone our skills and learn techniques for guiding a group towards unity on an issue. It is even clearer to me that achieving unity is crucial to Godly decision-making, simply because voting or any other way of making group decisions sets up a situation where one group gets what it wants at another’s expense. Since God loves us equally, I find it hard to believe that God would favor one group over another. Also, I believe that God has ONE plan for a group (God isn’t giving different and opposing ideas to different groups of people) and I believe that God does tell us what that plan is and that we can learn to hear God’s invitations towards the right thing.

Occasionally God does speak to us through burning bushes and pillars of fire – in ways that allow for no contradiction or confusion. More often, however, I think God speaks more softly and gives us choices. Those who want to know God’s mind can hear it, and those who don’t can ignore it.

In my own experience, ultimately, it does boil down to how much we want to know God’s mind and how much we are willing and able to hear the Godly things through the clamor of cultural expectations. It never ceases to amaze me just how often God does something unexpected and suprising – in fact that is often a sign to me of God’s handiwork. But if our expectations are too rigid, our “prec-conditions” on how we think God works may limit our ability to hear. Here are some of the pre-conditions I sometimes notice:

If we expect “the right way forward” to be expressed through the voices of resourceful, educated, or “hardworking” people, we are likely to miss God’s voice speaking through or on behalf of those who have less strong a voice in society, be they children, minorities, people who suffer with mental illness, uneducated, unemployed, etc.

If we expect God to require us to pick up our cross daily and for it to be a hard thing to do, we are unlikely to hear God whispering to us that we are his beloved with whom God is well pleased, and any joyful and fulfilling calls God offers.

If we haven’t learned how God speaks to us – and God does speak in different ways to each one of us – or we believe that we have flaws that keep us from hearing God, we may miss God’s tugs and nudges.

So an important part of decision-making is to continually strip away our own notions of how God does and doesn’t act in the world, and let God speak for God-self.  

Query for prayerful consideration:

What are beliefs I hold that may get in the way when I seek to know God’s way?

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