Thursday, October 18, 2007

Making decisions with discernment:
A simple, practical approach for all Christians

A few weeks ago, we came together as a church to approach the future together, wondering where God may be taking us as a people. It is an act of worship to approach the future expectantly, staying in step with the Spirit of God and prayerfully considering the choices which might lead us toward God's preferred future.

It proved helpful to remind ourselves of the nature of decision making in the context of the Christian life. This is the core of the sermon supporting this future-orientation. It centers on the idea of making decisions in partnership with God, looking forward with the expectation that His presence is active in guiding His people, whether individually or collectively.

The X-Factor: the Holy Spirit

Rather than ending with a disclaimer about the Holy Spirit and God's prerogative in interrupting or drastically changing our direction, perhaps we should begin with the "X-factor" of the Holy Spirit. It is true that the Spirit will sometimes intervene in dramatic ways, and we should be open and prepared for that to happen in our midst as we seek God's hand in the decision making process. But it is also helpful to remind ourselves the Holy Spirit works vigorously and continually within the seemingly mundane processes of planning, wise thinking, and prayerful discussion.

Converse with God in prayer

Having begun with the understanding of God's presence through and in our decision making, we approach the future as a conversation with God. By conversation, we imply a 2-way interaction rather than the list of concerns often associated with the practice of prayer. We ask ourselves the question, if I were talking with Jesus about this decision right now, what would he say to me? In this conversation, we cultivate a posture of humility, yielded to God and ready to hear the counsel of His Scriptures, the Words of His Son, the moving of His Spirit, regardless of where that counsel may take us.

And we remain quiet enough (and long enough) to listen. Very often we are too busy to stop long enough to listen. We find ourselves unwilling to be let go of control of the situation which rightly belongs to God. But we remain hopeful, humble, and expectant: God has promised to lead us, to speak to us in various ways. In our conversation with God, we expect to benefit and find guidance from God.

Align with the Scriptures

As we converse with God, we involve Scripture as a conversation partner, trusting its authority and wisdom. Overall, we seek to align our decisions with the narrative of Scripture. This does not mean looking for identical parallels and simply following the outcomes; as the outcomes of many passages of Scripture describe, this can be a shaky prospect. Rather, we seek to align with the character of God we see in Scripture as He shapes a people for His purposes.

Specifically, as we consult the Scriptures in our decisions, we ask ourselves, which is the wise choice? What aspects of down-to-earth wisdom seen in the Scriptures applies to this choice?

But more than this, we approach Scripture as Christians. We must ask ourselves, which choice aligns with gospel? For whom is this choice good news? How does this affect the people around me for their good? Which choice demonstrates and announces God's intention for the world in Jesus, even in subtle ways? How does this choice find alignment in God's purposes for restoring wholeness in the small part of the world we find ourselves?

Seek wise counsel

As we converse with God in prayer and seek alignment in the Scriptures, we listen also to the voices of those who are also listening to God. We open ourselves the counsel of other godly people who have experience in the practice of spiritual decision making. We submit ourselves to the wisdom of people who can ask good (hard) questions and remind us of both the big picture and point the way which experience has illuminated. We are often afraid of going to people who will ask hard questions; we have been burned by people telling us what to do, or we simply are afraid they will confirm where we sense God is leading us because of the sacrifice involved. But these fears can be given to God, whom we trust with our lives (and therefore decisions). God's most profound activity is very often displayed in community; seeking godly counsel is a pathway to this wisdom.

Watch for opportunities

Once we have attuned ourselves to the vision of God, we begin to expectantly watch for the play of circumstances around us. This is a learned discipline. We form habits of responding to God's direction in the midst of circumstances out of a character increasingly conformed to Christ. We begin to see doors opening or closing around us. We humbly trust that God is at work in the circumstances around us, and we learn to read the landscape. It is difficult to remain clear-eyed about the landscape, either because we don’t take the time to look around or because we desperately wish the situation was different. There is nothing wrong with wanting different circumstances and praying that they will change; but we must not pretend that reality isn’t reality. As we watch for opportunities around us, we train ourselves to trust in God's firm control of the events around us, and there is nothing we cannot face with His strength; there are people here to stand with us. We trust that if we stop to look, God will open our eyes to the opportunities within immediate reach that will lead us closer to Him, that will lead to blessings for us and others we serve.

Move forward boldly

Lastly, as we move organically through these steps, we begin to gain a confidence born of God's guidance. We hold the decision loosely, heeding Pauls wisdom to say “if it is the Lord’s will”, but we move forward boldly. Again we find ourselves resting in the character of God, knowing that He rewards fearful boldness. As we approach our decisions with a bold spirit, we find ourselves becoming people of radical faith, sold out to God's purposes in the world. We begin to see that each choice we make can be a part of God's unfolding story of redemption.

That is a future worth joining.

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