St. Francis of Assisi taught that we must see ourselves as “instruments” of God. This connects with discernment in the sense that we are not practicing discernment to elevate our powers of knowledge, wisdom, insight, etc. We are seeking to know the will of God in order to do it.
Oswald Chambers (My Utmost for His Highest, February 26) writes similarly about the tendency to “ransack my own person to find out how he will be able to do it.” In other words, connecting our thinking that something is the will of God when we can figure it out, or fit it into our system.
This runs the risk of eliminating Mystery from our faith, but it also reduces our ability to say on certain occasions, “I don’t know why I am doing this; I just feel like it is something I am supposed to do.” Many of our predecessors in the faith would never have said or done what they did if they had limited discernment to what they felt they could accomplish through their already-established patterns, procedures, and powers.
Discernment of this nature is not independent or individualistic; it is always subject to the wisdom of scripture, tradition, and community. But when we see ourselves as instruments of God’s will, we no longer see ourselves as inventors of it. And sometimes this means moving ahead with conviction, not certainty–trusting that the Holy Spirit will check us if we have unknowingly heading off in the wrong direction.
Lovely, Dr. Steve., to have discovered this site–and to see your careful distinction between “certainty” and “conviction” in the art of discernment. I was just reading a section in Southey’s biography of Wesley dealing with his decision to come to Bristol, arguably, I think, the turning point in his ministry. I wonder if many times our most far-reaching decisions are not sometimes fraught with some of the greatest ambiguity.
Thanks, Steve, for a new understanding of the word “instrument” which I always had felt was rather cold and rigid. I have preferred the adaption of the Prayer of St Francis by Sebastian Temple, where he uses the word “channel.” In our last session of The Academy for Spiritual Formation in Florida, Bishop Hee-Soo Jung gave us the beautiful image of being God’s “bamboo.” Being a visual person, all these words help me as I daily live in the Great Mystery of God.