“Before you decide, discern.” That’s the foundational thought behind this message from John 7.25-36. We talk about online civility and dealing with what we believe to be true that might not actually be true. Listen, or watch, below.
Earlier this week, my wife had a knock on the door of our home. It’s not that common to have folks stop by on a weekday morning, so she was quite curious about who it was.
When she opened the door, standing there was a real estate agent. Since our community has a very “hot” real estate market right now, the agent was asking if she could come in and look about, perchance to help us make a pile of money by selling our house.
My wife’s simple but firm answer was, “No.”
The agent didn’t want to take “no” for an answer, so she pushed – verbally, not physically, of course – but the answer was still, “No.”
At that point, my wife did not really want to tell her why. She found the agent a bit pushy, and didn’t feel the need to offer the satisfaction of a reason. She simply bade the agent a good day and sent her on her way.
When I got home for lunch, she told me the story. I asked, “Did you give her ‘the line’?”
She had not. It’s too bad, because I love to see the look on inquiring agents’ faces when I carefully look around me and say, “I’d love to sell this house. But I would be put in prison for a long time if I did.”
See, we live in a manse. The church owns the home we live in; I couldn’t sell it, because I don’t hold the title to the property!
I know that the vast majority of real estate agents are not like the one who showed up on the front step of the manse earlier this week. And one certainly can’t fault her for making an effort! But I think this incident is a good illustration of the importance of healthy discernment.
We understand this completely when it comes to people knocking on our doors. But do we understand it emotionally? Sometimes, we open the doors of our hearts to people who shouldn’t be let in.
Just as we use good judgment before letting people into our homes, we should use good discernment before letting people into our lives at a deep level.
I think one of the best ways to apply this is in marriage. It becomes easy to become enamored of someone, for whatever reason, and to find our hearts wrapped up around someone who, spiritually, is not on the same page we are. That’s one of the reasons the apostle Paul wrote this to the church in Corinth: “Don’t team up with those who are unbelievers. How can righteousness be a partner with wickedness? How can light live with darkness? What harmony can there be between Christ and the devil? How can a believer be a partner with an unbeliever? And what union can there be between God’s temple and idols? For we are the temple of the living God” (2 Corinthians 6.14-16a, NLT).
After all, if I am a follower of Jesus, I am part of the church – the temple of the living God. And that means I don’t hold the title to myself; it belongs to Jesus, just as I belong to Jesus. And if you’re a follower of Jesus, that holds true for you, too.
When someone’s knocking on the door of your heart, be discerning.
Ever have one of those weeks where there’s so much to do you hardly know where to start, and you feel almost paralyzed by it all?
Yeah. That kind of week.
It becomes a reminder that at times we need to be selective in what we choose to do, and we have to learn to use an oft-under-used term in the English language: no.
Many of us naturally want to please others, and so when we are asked to take on a task, we jump at the opportunity – perhaps without realizing what else we’ve committed ourselves to.
It’s good to take a step back, review the calendar in ‘big picture’ mode, and learn to say ‘no’ to something good, in favour of saying ‘yes’ to something better. And that involves not just looking at the calendar, but for followers of Jesus, it also involves holding the matter before the Lord, seeking discernment for the decision.
In the day-to-day excitement of life, it is a real discipline to be able to step back and look at the big picture, and to offer even our seemingly small decisions to God. I don’t mean that we need to pray about which sock to put on first, but I do mean that we need to seek the Lord for decisions like whether or not to accept a particular invitation, or job offer, or time commitment.
Of course, depending on what you do for a living, you may not be given much choice as to certain decisions, since they are made for you – but even prioritizing them can be a matter for prayerful discernment. Sometimes, employers ‘reward’ their best people with more work, and at times, you may have the freedom to say ‘no’.
Remember, your life in Christ, your time with family, and your health all supersede pretty well any other call on your time.
Give him the reins. Let the Lord lead.
“Lead me in the right path, O Lord, or my enemies will conquer me. Make your way plain for me to follow” (Psalm 5.8, NLT).
Encouragement From the Word is taking a week off while I’m on study leave, and will be back on March 10.
Last night, I caught part of the Players’ Championship curling bonspiel on television. (It’s one of the last “cash spiels” of the season, held this year in Toronto.) I was astounded to see a game between Rachel Homan’s team and Chelsea Carey’s team that ended with a 10-to-nothing score after only four ends played. In this tournament, games normally are completed in 8 ends.
What was particularly surprising about this scenario is that both teams are outstanding competitors, and Carey was the winner of the Scotties Tournament of Hearts, the Canadian women’s curling championship, this year. Rarely, at this level of play, does a team get “skunked” – but that’s what happened to the Scotties champion!
I suppose Carey’s team exercised its option to concede the game after 4 ends because the players had lost their momentum and had the wind knocked out of them, so to speak. But might they not be wondering what would have happened had they chosen to play the rest of the game? “What if…?”
Many of us have asked ourselves that question from time to time in our lives, haven’t we?
What if I had married Y instead of X?
What if I had taken that job?
What if I had finished that degree?
And so on. You get the idea.
Our decisions impact us, and others, every day. What sort of discernment process to we undertake when we make decisions? I’m not necessarily suggesting we need to overthink which sock to put on first in the morning, but I am suggesting that we should involve God in significant decisions.
See, often we make decisions based on what we think will make us, or another, happy. “If it feels good, do it”, as the old saying goes, or, “If it’s not hurting anybody…”. If we are followers of Jesus, though, our first goal shouldn’t be our own happiness, but God’s. I fear we can lean toward making decisions based on feeling, or sentimentality, rather than on the clear decrees of God. The Westminster Shorter Catechism reminds us that our chief end in life is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.
When we make our decisions with a desire to glorify and enjoy God, there is no need for “what ifs” in the future.
It’s rare for a team to come back from a ten-point deficit in four ends, so it may be that Chelsea Carey’s team decided to throw in the towel for good reason. In fact, that team is out of the running in the spiel, now, with an 0-4 record. But if I’d been skip of that team, I think I would have seen that game through. Then I’d never have to ask, “What if?”
It’s not like decisions about a game are necessarily life-changing decisions, but we all are faced with life-changing decisions, and we who follow Jesus should know that the name of the game is the glory of God, not the glory of self.
“So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10.31, NLT).
A lot of the conversations I’ve had with people lately, it seems, have centred around discernment. For most of those with whom I’ve talked about it, the matter hasn’t been about new year’s resolutions or the like, but major life-direction issues. These are followers of Jesus who genuinely want to be doing what God wants them to be doing, but at the moment, the way is not completely clear to them. As I’ve prayed for them, the focus of my prayers have been that God would light the path for them so they would be able to see far enough ahead to keep walking the journey.
That ought to be a good prayer for any of us!
As disciples of the Saviour of the world, our heart’s desire should always be to do what God wants us to do. All of us, whether at a crossroads or not, can pray that the Lord will light the path enough for us to be able to see far enough ahead to keep walking.
When we camp in the summer, we don’t exactly “rough it”: we have on-board plumbing facilities that save us having to get up in the middle of the night and traipse down to the “comfort station”. (Who ever decided to call it that? It’s usually intemperate and full of mosquitoes – hardly comfortable – but I suppose it beats Doing One’s Business out in the open.) Anyway, because emptying the holding tank is not anybody’s favourite job, we try to use the “comfort station” as often as we can. Even after the campfire has been doused, before bed, we’ll still walk the gravel path to the Necessary Room.
But it’s dark outside. And campgrounds are not known for unnecessary lighting; after all, people who camp are trying to get away from all the lights, right?!
So, armed with a flashlight, off one goes. But as you may have noticed happens with flashlights, they only illumine a certain distance in front of you when you hold them out. Physics can explain all kinds of reasons why that’s the case, but it’s a demonstrable fact that if you hold a flashlight just at your feet – so you can see where you are – it won’t show you much beyond that. And if you hold the flashlight so you can see a certain distance (which distance depends on the strength of your flashlight), the details of what’s going on at your feet will be harder to discern.
Even artificial light will only show us so much at a time; less so if we are going around a corner, since light, untreated, isn’t given to bending. Perhaps because we are used to nearby light showing us only part of the path, God chooses to illumine only as much of the path of life as will enable us to take the next step on the journey. Each step is a step of faith, and each step we take with the light of God’s discernment illumines a little more of the journey.
Whether you’re looking at a potentially life-changing discernment process or just enough light to be able to get through the rest of the day, trust the Lord to show you what you need to be shown for the next part of the journey. In his care, you won’t be led astray.
“O Lord, you are my lamp. The Lord lights up my darkness” (2 Samuel 22.29, NLT).
As followers of Jesus, we often hear about the importance of knowing and following God’s will. Yet, it seems so elusive, doesn’t it? Like looking for a needle in a haystack – or a lost coin or a lost sheep or a lost son. After all, we aren’t born with an owner’s manual; we don’t know exactly what we’re designed to do. So often, that is discerned by trial and (lots of) error.
That said, we do have the Bible as God’s written Word to us. While it may not contain every specific thing for our lives (there is no index telling us whether to buy a particular house, for example), it does contain some general principles that help us know God’s will for us. Indeed, there is no other written source by which we may know even a hint of God’s will!
Of course, God can speak to our hearts through other sources, but those other sources will either underline or corroborate biblical principles. Our goal, in the end, is not for us to properly fulfill some sort of divine checklist of things we’ve done that are “God’s will.” Instead, our goal is to become more like Jesus.
David Benner is a Christian spiritual writer who lives on Vancouver Island; I commend any of his books to your interest. He has said, “Learning to desire God’s will is not something we can accomplish by resolve and willpower. It occurs only when we live so close to God’s heart that the rhythm of our own heartbeat comes to reflect the divine pulse.” Perhaps you know what it’s like to be so intimate with someone that you can feel the beat of that person’s heart. We can experience that with God, too. God longs for us to share that degree of intimacy with him.
When we pray – when we enter God’s holy presence at more than just mealtime – we have the opportunity to grow in intimacy with him. When we serve the poor, we have the opportunity to grow in intimacy with him. When we read the Scriptures and learn from biblical teaching, we have the opportunity to grow in intimacy with God. Anything we do that drew the passion of Jesus in his ministry as recorded in Scripture can draw us closer to God’s heart, and have us living in God’s will.
“Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5.16-18, NLT).