Rants and Ruminations: On discerment

A parishioner posted this important question on Facebook (not on Stump the Rector)

“Does being at peace with a hard choice mean that you made the right one?”

This is a question of how we go about discerning God’s will, which is not always an easy thing to do. I don’t have to pray about if I should covet or not because the Lord has already made that pretty clear. But what about life decisions such as which career path to follow or who to choose as a mate or when it is time to move on with your life? Do we follow a sense of peace to make those decisions?

First of all, the peace of God is an important factor. At the end of Holy Communion the priest sends us out in God’s peace. “May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep our hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God and of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord…”  Thus if we lose this peace that God has sent to us, it is a good indication that we may not be where we need to be.

And notice, as the Scripture declares, it is a peace that surpasses human understanding (Phil 4:7). In other words you don’t come to this peace through human logic. It is a fruit of the Holy Spirit that comes when we do His will. For example it surpasses human understanding how Christians can have peace in the midst of persecution, but the Holy Spirit has been faithful over the centuries to grant that peace in the worst of situations.

And yet we cannot look to peace alone, particularly when the decisions we make are life altering. It is possible to confuse the peace of God with a temporary or even a false peace. For example a person may decide to end a marriage for unbiblical reasons but claim that they feel peace about it. What they are actually feeling is a lessoning of the internal conflicts. Their decision, even though it is wrong, temporarily calms the storm. So we have to be very careful about making decisions based on a subjective feeling.

God has provided us with two other more objective sources to help us with discernment. The first is Holy Scripture. While there are no texts that will tell you what job to take or who to marry, there are life principles in the Scriptures that can help us narrow the field as we think and pray through our options. You may be head over heels in love but if that person is not a Christian, the Bible speaks to that. It tells us not to be unequally yoked, i.e. a Christian is not to marry a non-Christian. It’s in the Book! (2 Corinthians 6:14). If you are considering a job the Scriptures can help there too. If the money is fabulous but it requires so much time that you will have to neglect your family or if it forces you to permanently miss honoring the Sabbath and keeping it holy, then you have your answer. If the benefits are great but the corporation is ethically in a gray area, you cannot compromise your integrity for a buck. Psalms and Proverbs are full of warnings about ill-gotten gains.

Another resource is the Church. Especially for life altering decisions we need to look to our spiritual authorities and to our closest brothers and sisters. It is also another reason to have an ongoing relationship with a spiritual director. We need to surround ourselves with people who know God, who love us and who will hold us accountable. It is so American to go off by ourselves, make a decision and then announce it to the Church. But that is not how the Body of Christ is intended to work. The Scripture says that a thing is to be confirmed out of the mouth of two or three witnesses. So if you are feeling a leading in a certain direction and your priest, your small group leader and your BFF give you the green light, then you are good to go. But if all three of those folks have red flags, then you had better move with extreme caution. The Lord cares for us as sheep among His flock. There is safety in numbers. It is the wolf that tries to separate us from the flock but the Good Shepherd keeps us safe with the others.

It is important to remember that our individual decisions impact others. We do not make our decisions in a vacuum. St. Paul reminds us, when he uses the analogy of a body, that we are joined one to the other and so what affects one affects all. That is the nature of being a part of the Body of Christ.

It is often the case that after praying, seeking the light of the Holy Scriptures, consulting with brothers and sisters in Christ, and making the best decision that we can make, that the confirming peace of the Holy Spirit comes to us. We need to remember that God is for us and so He wants us to make the right decisions. He does not engage in a celestial game of hide and seek but He does want us to seek His face and to do so through the resources that He has provided.

 

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