Ministry Musings: Discernment, a Pattern for Life

We’ve spent quite a few weeks looking at selected “details” about discernment.  I think we need to step back today and regain a bigger picture.

This entire study is based upon the conviction that discernment is more a pattern for life than a punctuation mark for life.

To say it another way, we can come to think that discernment is a kind of spiritual “mechanics” (a process to enact or a formula to follow), but it is actually a mindset that should characterize the life of any disciple.

Theologically, this is based upon the fact that God is “speaking and showing” (as Dr. Carl Henry put it) all the time.  That means the potential for discernment exists in every moment.  We do not “try to figure out God’s will” as much as we seek to enter into God’s will.

As we do this, we discover that discernment is as much about next steps as it is about major life decisions.  The present moment is sacramental (as Jean Pierre de Caussade put it), and we enter it as fully and faithfully as we can.  When we enter it properly, we are guided.  When we enter it poorly, we are convicted.  We learn from both.  So, we do not “practice discernment” as much as we live it.

God’s will (in almost all cases) is not so narrow and air-tight that if we miss it, we are done for!  In fact, true discernment benefits as much from the misses as from the hits.

And that’s why I’m calling discernment a pattern for life.  Every thread is woven into the tapestry.  Nothing is wasted.  Nothing is insignificant.  Every moment is a God-moment.  Discernment is ultimately “paying attention” to the God who is always ahead of us, beckoning us onward.

It’s really not a lot different from the game we played as children: follow the leader.  It was great fun to see how quickly we could do what the leader was doing.  Sometimes we got it right, and sometimes we got it wrong.  We laughed on both occasions, and most importantly, we kept trying.

About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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