A meditation on discernment
by John Hall
Missions Fest would like to thank everyone who came out to the “Justice and the Gospel” conference this year. We are so pleased with the ongoing enthusiasm that Vancouver and the Fraser Valley express for God’s mission. We know that many people who attend are in a phase in life where they are earnestly seeking God’s will and asking, “How does God want me to serve Him?” In a sense it overlaps with a question that we’ve been asking at Missions Fest which is “As an organization, how do we measure success?”
It is important for individuals and organizations to have a clear sense of where they’re going and how they will get there. In other words, to define clear goals and strategies to reach those goals and accurately understand the resources needed for the journey. Without goals and strategies, we run the real risk of wasting resources and time as we hop from one project to another. In these situations, the urgent can become our master and take us away from what God wants us to accomplish.
Even though I believe in good planning, I also believe in good discernment. We know from scripture that our plans often seem good to us, but God may have different plans. Good discernment, from a spiritual perspective, happens when we lay down our agenda and consciously abide in Christ (John 15). Abiding is old school mindfulness, and it frees us up to explore God’s will, God’s way and God’s timing, while trusting in God’s love. These three elements form a base from which we can make Godly plans with confidence. These questions can also be applied to our waiting and searching, and can help shape the discernment process.
“His Will” is easy to overlook, but as the Westminster Shorter Catechism says, the chief end of man is “To glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” These words seem to paint a picture of intimate worship. Often we don’t give enough weight to this in the Christian life. In a process of discernment, and particularly when we are confused, distraught, offended or broken, we need to return to Christ, to worship Him and to rest in His presence. This is our chief end and out of that our plans receive order.
The problem with focussing on the “what” and “how” questions in planning, is that there is a tendency to overlook the heart motivation for participating in mission. Focussing on the what and how can easily thrust us into the search for a meaningful tangible expression of the ideal as we define it. In Missions Fest’s case, we may be tempted to base our success on increasing the number of annual attendees or the quantity of feedback forms we receive. The heart for mission has to flow out of the greatest command, which is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and strength.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5.) As we love God more, we become more open to the direction of the Spirit in the execution of what we do. If we feel anxious to define what we do and how we are going to do it, it may be a wake up call to examine why we are making the plans that we’re making. Is the success we seek a means of defining ourselves and shaping our identity, to garner approval, or are we honouring God from the place of a child who is secure in the knowledge that their Heavenly Father is mindful of them?
If we don’t have a clear understanding of our motivation, we match our steps to the things we’ve been successful in and become less open to change. We need to approach our work humbly and remember that we know in part and see in part. Often in a time of waiting and searching we are convinced we understand God’s will and way and so we begin to act, when in fact, the last piece, His timing, eludes us. This is when we are prone to start things in our own strength. From a missional perspective, this is often a point of failure or a place where we lack fruitfulness in our ministry. Discerning timing is the last piece in launching into the mission that God has called us to. So, what happens if we do get it wrong and our plan isn’t God’s plan? As cliché as it sounds, at this point, God looks at the heart. As we search for the specifics of God’s call on our lives, we have to put our intimacy with God above what we do and seek answers in humility. Conversely, as our intimacy with God increases, our boldness to step out increases because we know that we are deeply loved.
As you seek God’s will for your life, His way in which to accomplish that mission and His perfect timing, be encouraged by these words from Rob Des Cotes: “To drink fully from the cup of our own particularity—with all its promise and limitations—is to show obedience to the will of God. We are to ‘lovingly accept the humanity that has been entrusted to us.’ To do otherwise –to reject our present self—is to also risk rejecting the very person that God has called us to become.” (from The Mysterious Journey of Being and Becoming, 2015.)
John Hall is the Executive Director of Missions Fest. For more information on Missions Fest Vancouver and it’s ministry throughout the year please visit: www.missionsfestvancouver.ca