The Good Work - Week Two: Discern.

Today we are continuing our sermon series that will take us all the way to the season of Lent---a series entitled "The Good Work." 

We hear a lot about spiritual disciplines in Christian circles—things like prayer, Bible study, and the like.  But there are other disciplines—obvious ones that we tend to neglect.  And when we learn to practice them well, they have the potential to change our world. 

That's what we'll be focused on over the next several weeks---developing this behind the scenes, foundational disciplines that have to be in place for us to move forward into spiritual maturity.  

If these disciplines aren't in place--it's difficult to develop others.  

So we're going to be talking about what it means to develop the spiritual disciplines of service, discernment, speech and movement---all of which are foundations for a full and vibrant spiritual life.  

Today we're going to be talking about developing the discipline of discernment.  

When it comes to making decisions, how do you know how to make the right choice?   

Some of us labor over even the most simple decisions like our very lives depended  upon it.  

I remember when I used to sell appliances at Circuit City there was this lady who was shopping for a vacuum cleaner who came to the store at least ten times, asking questions, machinating over which vacuum to buy.  

One day her husband came with her... tell the story of this. 

I've come to realize that Christians struggle with this as much or more than anyone.  And we're the ones who are supposed to be trusting in God, right?  

But so many of us spend a lot of our headspace worrying about how to know what God wants us to do... what to do with your lives... how to make the right choices... it can lead to paralysis by analysis.  

Journalist Malcolm Gladwell wrote a book a few years ago that was entitled Blink:  The power of thinking without thinking.  

He was concerned with the way that we make decisions--and particularly how quickly we are able to come to conclusions with very little information.  

Gladwell calls it "thin-slicing"--using bits of information based on what we know, experience, etc.  Gladwell goes on to suggest that spontaneous decisions are often as good as—or even better than—carefully planned and considered ones. 

An example of this would be walking in to a dorm room, glancing around and then coming to conclusions about the student who lived there based on the posters on the wall, the position of the bed, how neat or messy it was, the kinds of food found in the room... 

There's actually a biological reason for how we come to our conclusions, make our choices and practice discernment.  The Ventro-Medial Pre Frontal Cortex.  This part of the brain connects our feelings to the way we make decisions.  

Basically, it means that if you can't feel, you can't decide.  Some people call this their gut feeling.  But what Gladwell discovered was that people who relied on their gut for major decisions like a big purchase of a car, a mattress, a house... hardly ever regretted their decision.  

What does all this mean?  

It means that you have everything you need to make good decisions.  You were created with all of the senses, the feelings, the thoughts, the biology to make a good decision.  

But you have to step into it.  You have to embrace it.  

And you have to trust the Holy Spirit of God----more on that later.  

Here's the one thing that I want us to hold on to for this sermon today:  

Discernment is not a spectator sport.  

Our conversation partner today comes to us from the Apostle Paul's letter to the church at Corinth.  

This is what was said about Corinth: 

The new city was a Roman colony; and its inhabitants were Romans, both veterans and freedmen. Greeks had been slow to return, but by the time of Paul’s contact with the city they were present in large numbers. Commercial prosperity had attracted Orientals in considerable numbers, and the city was truly cosmopolitan. Enough Jews were present to justify a synagogue. A. M. Hunter has described the city as “a compound of Newmarket, Chicago and Paris with perhaps a bit of Port Said thrown in.”[2] The exact population cannot be determined; estimates run from 100,000 to 600,000. It was a teeming city made up of permanent residents of many nationalities; in addition there were always present large numbers of sailors and merchants from all over the Roman Empire.

So when you are surrounded by people from all over the Roman world, and are a definite minority when it comes to the way you live your life, what you celebrate, where your loyalties are... you stand out.  

So the temptation is to not stand out.  And Paul wants to the Christians at Corinth to know that they can live differently, that they can be the people God longs for them to be.  But they will have to use some discernment to be able to see what God is doing, and how they can join God in that work.  

This passage is a lectionary text---just like all of the texts we'll be using all the way to season of Pentecost.  This one is meant to be read/taught during Epiphany as it addresses the ways that we learn to see Christ in the world, and the kingdom of God breaking through around us.  

2 Corinthians 2:10-16

10 these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit.

The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. 13 This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words.[a] 14 The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. 15 The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, 16 for,

“Who has known the mind of the Lord
    so as to instruct him?”

But we have the mind of Christ.

The message that Paul is declaring here is about what God is up to.  He declares to the Corinthians that they can see it... they can see it if they are willing to be discerning.  But when they engage in discernment that is guided by the Holy Spirit it's an incredibly liberating way of seeing the world.  

Paul teaches the Corinthians that this kind of discernment that searches all things comes from within us--empowered by the Spirit of God that is the very connection between us, God and all of Creation.  

Walt Whitman's epic poem Song of Myself contains these words: 
I celebrate myself, and sing myself, And what I shall assume, you shall assume, For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you. 
I love this because for me this speaks of the interconnectedness of all things that is made possible by the Spirit of God.  

And the person who opens themselves up to the flow of the Spirit finds themselves connected to the world around them in amazing ways, and to be able to see more clearly.   

Which then enables them to make judgments about all things.  

What Paul describes here is a cruciform way of seeing the world---to see things with the "mind of Christ."  Which means that those who begin to see this way are able to let all of their attachments fall away and simply open up to the movement and leading of the Spirit. 

And the question that we ask here is simply this:  What does this look like when I  put my selfish needs aside?  What do I see then?

What Paul is basically saying here is this: 

To have the mind of Christ is to be connected to the Spirit in such a way that we are free to see more clearly, and know more fully.

So how do we do this?  How do we begin to understand more clearly what God is leading us to do?  How do we become more courageous and bold in our decision-making?  How do we make better decisions with less anxiety?  

As I was doing some research on this sermon, I happened upon a Psychology Today article where the author outlined a process by which we make decisions.  

I liked some of it, to be honest.  But I thought I would tweak it a bit and apply it specifically to the kind of discernment that we're talking about. And this is essentially what I  do anyway: 

Question - What is the question you are seeking to answer?
Holy Indifference - will you be at peace regardless of the outcome? 
Feelings & Intuition - what do I feel my “gut” is telling me? 
Imagination - imagine that ten years have passed
Support & Resources - people, counsel, outside information
Trust - ultimately you have to move, and to trust the Spirit.

When you practice these steps as you make decisions, you will discover that you will have more strength to trust God, to let go of your own needs, and to be free from paralysis by analysis... free from fear... from doubt and anxiety.  

I've used this process in one form or another at every major junction of my life.  It was the process I used to move here to TX... 

In the end, discernment is not a spectator sport.  


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