Momentum (Christ – centred, Spirit – empowered, Mission – focused)
A few weeks ago, I turned 56 years old. I still feel young and energetic, but with each passing year I find myself becoming more aware of my body’s propensity to wind down. I accept this as part of the natural aging process, but I really don’t like it. I hate the thought of any potential limitation. My mom is doing well, but her eyesight is diminishing. She is seeing less and feels the pain of that loss.
There is another subtle form of limitation that can overtake us if we are not careful, and that is the narrowing of our spiritual vision. As we look at life through the lenses of our experiences, we can narrow our imagination, not expand it.
Ruth Haley Barton, in her book Pursuing the Will of God Together, defines discernment as, “an ever-increasing capacity to ‘see’ or discern the works of God in the midst of the human situation so that we can align ourselves with whatever it is that God is doing!” Ignatius of Loyola defined the aim of discernment as “finding God in all things in order that we might love and serve God in all.”
These are days when we need to expand our “seeing.” We are in desperate need of a dynamic encounter with the Holy Spirit that will increase our sensitivity to discern where God is going. Without it, we will see less and miss more of God’s transforming work among us!
To illustrate discernment in her book, Haley Barton uses the story of John 9 to warn about the dangers of impaired vision. Jesus encountered a man who was blind from birth. The disciples instantly asked the question, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2). It is apparent that the disciples could only see the situation through their faulty religious thinking. They had been taught that illness was the result of personal sin, so who did it: He or his parents? Jesus radically challenged their limited vision with the words, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:3).
Barton writes that a better way of seeing is to ask, “What is God doing in this situation and how can we join him?” To their amazement, Jesus spat on the ground, made some mud, and put it on the man’s eyes. Jesus told him to go wash in the Pool of Siloam with the supernatural result of having his sight completely restored! How often have our own faulty theological and cultural lenses limited our vision and caused us to miss the obvious work of God right in front of us?
I have declared war on my own tendency to see less as I get older. I do not want to miss any of God’s glorious activity because of my own hardness of heart, so where do I begin?
Barton suggests that all discernment must begin with a prayer for “indifference.” I like the word “surrender” better. Barton affirms, “…it is good to be reminded to ask for the grace to be indifferent to matters of ego, prestige, organizational politics, personal opinion, personal advantage, personal preference or even ownership of a pet project. We ask God for the grace to desire his will – nothing more, nothing less, nothing else.”
This is one of the most challenging prayers because it invites us to die to ourselves. It is not a releasing of our convictions, but a checking of our motives. It is only as we die that we really begin to see.
I recently sat in a meeting with Unity Commission II. Their mandate is to articulate a revised statement on the role of women in ministry that acknowledges both complementarian and egalitarian perspectives within our Alliance family. Convictions remained strong, but openness and grace were extended as preconceived notions and attitudes were set aside. We were seeing God at work doing a new thing among us.
Assembly 2016 is stacked with some very challenging issues. Part of being a family is finding ways to have healthy conversations about subjects that involve significant diversity and disagreement of opinions. We can do this, but it will require eyes wide open and hearts surrendered to the Lord of the Church. God is on the move in our family of faith, even in the theological challenges we face. This is no surprise to God; therefore, our question must be, “What is God doing and how can we join him?” Now that is a real eye-opener!
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