Reflections by Jerry Webber

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Choose for a Discerning Life

One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles: Simon (whom he named Peter), his brother Andrew, James, John, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Simon who was called the Zealot, Judas son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor. (Luke 6:12-16)

In a book I use for daily Scripture readings, reflection, and prayer, Luke 6:12-16 is the text assigned for today. It describes Jesus spending the night in prayer on a mountain. The next morning he gathered his disciples (apprentices or learners who follow) to himself and chose twelve of them to be apostles (literally, "the ones who are sent").

The traditional reading of this passage says that prayer is crucial to the life-choices we make. It points out that before this most critical "choosing" -- which would shape the entire future of his ministry and of the Church -- Jesus spent a significant amount of time in prayer. Decisions need to grow out of our prayer, the interpretation goes. It implies that the bigger and more far-reaching our decision, the weightier should be our prayer.

The entire matter raises the issue of discernment. How do we choose? On what basis do we make decisions? These are questions with which we struggle, ingrained in our daily living as they are.

The track that most of us take was offered by the book I used for my prayer this morning. In essence it says that the larger the decision, the more earnest our prayer should be. It goes something like this: "Jesus had a huge decision to make regarding the persons he would send into the world as his emissaries. That decision was so weighty and significant that he spent all night praying about it; therefore, like Jesus we should devote ourselves to prayer in order to discern the directions we should go. And the more significant the decision before us, the more we should pray."

We see how that gets played out most everyday in our life-world. Persons faced with a significant decision about job or moving to another city or a medical condition or where to go to school will become very serious about prayer. They will enlist others to pray. They don't want to make a faulty decision. In fact, prayer may be one piece of a larger pattern that persons undertake in order to make a decision.

Some in the Church talk about engaging a "process of discernment." That language is popular currency these days, and speaks to the belief that when faced with a major life-decision, I can roll out a process that will lead me to the right answer. In following the steps of the process, I'll know what to do and when to do it. A "process of discernment" provides a formula to follow, some prescribed steps to take.

It implies that I can arbitrarily lay a process or pattern on top of my life and then come out at the other end of the process with some kind of result or product: A good decision. In the context of Luke 6:12-13, that process may involve extended, night-long prayer.

Here's what I see: Jesus did not go to the mountain to spend a night in prayer because he had a major life-decision to make the next day. It was the pattern of Jesus' life to spend significant periods of time in prayer. Jesus lived in constant awareness of his communion with God. His connection with God was constant. His formal times of prayer were frequent. So spending the night in prayer was a regular practice for Jesus, not an emergency measure that suddenly seemed important because a critical life-choice needed to be made the next day.

Further, because prayer was the habitual pattern of his life, it gave him the resources to discern, to make the right decisions at the right time. He didn't have to shift into "emergency-prayer-mode" because a critical decision loomed. He didn't have to initiate a special "process for discernment" when it was time for a major step. The resources he needed for those times were already there because they came in the normal, everyday, everynight flow of his life.

I'm not discounting special prayer here, or prayer that is particularly earnest in certain seasons of our lives. But I am suggesting that our best discernment grows out of a daily attentiveness in which I attend to God day-by-day and attend to the flow of my own life.

When I live in daily awareness of my life with God, noticing the rhythms of my life, attending to the places of light and love, as well as attending to the shadows, I grow as a discerning person.

When I notice daily the patterns of consolation and desolation within me and around me, I grow as a person able to make wise choices.

When I live in awareness of what brings life to me and to the world, as well as what drains life from me and the world, I grow as a person able to choose out of inner spiritual resources. My choices increasingly reflect the light and life of the One to whom I am connected. All of life, then, becomes the field for my discernment, not just the big steps or the major decisions.

By this approach, discernment is not a "process" in which I engage when something big is on the horizon. It is not an artificial "plan" layered on top of the choice-of-the-day. It is a lifestyle, a way of doing all of life in which I grow as a discerning human being, a person intimately connected with the God of Life.

Obviously, coming at discernment this way is not a quick and simple fix. To become a discerning person takes intentionality and time. It invites me to be still, to listen, to become aware of those things (for me, others, and the world) that bring life and those things that take away life.

This way of discerning does not yield quick results. It can be slow and messy. When we set our hearts to this course of wisdom, we make a decision for the long haul, believing that over time, God will shape our hearts until we become the kind of people Jesus was . . . persons who do the right thing at the right time because we have chosen to live our lives intimately connected to the One who is our Source.

1 comment:

Network Geek said...

Wow. This really, really hits me where I live today.

I always worry about people who claim to know God's will for them with absolute assurance. I'm jealous of them, too, for that confidence that they've received a clear message directing their life. Myself, I've never gotten a clear message from Heaven directing my steps. In the end, most of the time, I end up asking God for the ability to deal with whatever comes my way *because* I'm not hearing His clear message for how to choose my path.

I wish I had a "Discernment Workbook", or better yet, a single-page "Discernment WorkSHEET", that could tell me what steps I need to take to find God's Will for my life. I wish it were that simple.

I hope the next time one of your classes begin, I can manage to work my schedule to be a part of it.
Thank you so much for sharing this today.