The Formational Impact of Discernment

November 6, 2017

Below is an article written by Dr. Susan Reese for the fall edition of NAB Onward, published by the North American Baptist Conferece.

What God is Saying to Our Church and Leadership?
The Formational Impact of Discernment

It was a beautiful summer experience at Crystal Springs Camp in Medina, ND.  As campers, we had been intentionally discipled by dedicated pastors and counselors.   On the final evening of camp, the camp pastor spoke of committing our lives, our entire lives to the Lordship of Christ.  Several that night understood a call to vocational ministry while others understood they would serve God in a variety of vocations and roles in life.

As I reflect on that time in high school, I remember how many of us sought out mentors to help us discern the call that we had understood at camp.  One of my mentors guided me through the theologian J.I. Packer’s four-step process for discerning God’s will.  First, if you feel that God is calling you to change or move in a certain direction, the calling must be within the parameters of what God allows in scripture.  Therefore, my mentor and I sought out scripture.  Colossians 1:9-10 states, “So we have not stopped praying for you since we first heard about you.  We ask God to give you complete knowledge of his will and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding.   Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit.  All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better.”  Discernment begins with humility in reading scripture, asking God to instill spiritual wisdom and understanding.

Second, there must be a “pneumatical” aspect, meaning you must feel that the Holy Spirit is nudging or pressuring you toward this change.  So my mentor and I, along with peers, sought the Lord in listening prayer.  Philippians 4:6-7 reminded us, “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything.  Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.  Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand.  His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”  We acknowledged our shortcomings and anxieties and made our requests before the Lord.   Then, we listened to what the Lord would prompt within and amongst us and waited for what the Lord would reveal to us about our callings.

Third, trusted people within the body of Christ must, unsolicited and spontaneously, suggest that you make the change.  My mentor and I prayed for God to affirm my gifts and callings through the affirmations of people who knew me well.  In time, various people would have significant conversations and affirmations with those of us in prayer regarding our call to serve God.

Lastly, the fourth step is the presence of an “open door” or opportunity through which you must walk by faith.  Hebrews 11:6 says, “And it is impossible to please God without faith.  Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.”  We understood that we are given enough faith for each day whether the daily rhythm appears to be fresh and light or overwhelming.

If all of these four have taken place, you should not just think about the change, you should make the change and follow the call that God places on your heart.  Often these changes require more wholehearted service than change of status or a position, more presence of Christ in the roles we fulfill, and remembering the daily testimony of our lives and the call to faithfulness.

God has always been saying to the church, “Be still and know that I am God,” Psalm 46:10.   When we saturate ourselves in scripture, prayer, and mentoring relationships, we will hear God’s direction through the compassion of Christ and the power of the Spirit.

Recommended Resources:
God’s Will: Finding Guidance for Everyday Decisions by J I. Packer and Carolyn Nystrom
Pursing God’s Will Together by Ruth Haley Barton
Sacred Compass by J. Brent Bill
Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Discernment by Henri Nouwen

all stories