Ministry Musings: Micro Discernment

Last week we explored macro discernment—that is, the discovery of our life’s purpose and our dedication to it.  But even when we have a sense of our calling, there are innumerable little discernments (decisions) which we must make.  I call those things micro discernment, and we’ll briefly consider this dimension of discernment today.

What I want to emphasize is that only rarely is there “only one thing” which we can do to honor and fulfill God’s will.  In fact, when there is only one thing, we usually don’t feel a need for discernment.  The die is cast, and we simply do what we have to do with as much devotion as we can.  A lot of our life is scripted, and there’s nothing wrong with that.  We have our tasks, and doing them is part and parcel of our discipleship.

Micro discernment is when we have multiple options available, or when we don’t seem to have any options, and we are trying to find one.

The point I want to stress in this posting is that we must not think of discernment as hinging on our selecting “the one correct thing” that is God’s will and rejecting all the rest.  Most of the time our aptitudes and our opportunities open more than one way to find and follow God’s will.

We can become paralyzed in our discipleship when we think there’s only “one thing” we can do in a given moment.  God’s will feels like a cosmic cat-and-mouse game, and when that sense of things settles into our souls, it is very frustrating.  We can come to feel like doing God’s will is throwing a dart at a moving target in total darkness.  When we think of it this way, we will come to believe that discernment is pretty much a “hit-and-miss” proposition.

But that is not the God we find revealed in Jesus.  God is not “toying” with us.  God wants to use us.  As St. Francis put it, we are instruments of His peace.  So, there’s nothing to be gained on God’s part to keep moving the target or to keep us in the dark about finding and following God’s will.

So, I believe the first thing to do is simply to “rest in God”—to relax.  God is not playing a cosmic shell game, giving us a one-in-three chance of doing His will.  No, God is opening up life in a given moment, showing us that there are more ways than one to be faithful.

This belief has changed the way I view micro discernment.  Of course I have to decide.  I have to make a choice.  But it’s good to know that much of the time, I am free in Christ to respond in relation to multiple options.  It’s good to know that I can choose from among a number of viable options, and when I have chosen one and acted upon it, I will hear God say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

About Steve Harper

Dr. Steve Harper is retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 45 books. He is also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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1 Response to Ministry Musings: Micro Discernment

  1. jolhowell says:

    I am assuming this is the Oboedire that you meant for me to read today? It sounds exactly like what I told you about your seminary decision . . . you don’t need to stress out. On the other hand, with what we experienced at ATS-Orlando on tuesday, I would be turning in an app for Asbury again too!

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