Tag Archives: discernment

A Verse for Meditation

Torah ScrollCommit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act.  Psalm 37:5

  • There is a school of thought that says, If you can dream it, you can do it. How would the psalmist respond to that idea?
  • What exactly does it mean to “commit your way to the Lord?” You have an idea, a plan. God is sovereign. How do the two things fit together?
  • Have you attempted to do what this verse suggests? Did God act? How did you know?
  • Because the Holy Spirit dwells in our hearts, we always live at the intersection of time and eternity. Where does this verse fit in that picture?

Why Do I Blog?

Image courtesy of Simon Howden at www.freedigitalphotos.net
Image courtesy of Simon Howden at http://www.freedigitalphotos.net

Why do I blog? Readers of this blog may be interested to know that I ask myself this question fairly often. When I first started blogging, I blogged, because people told me every writer needs a blog. During those years, I had a real problem finding subjects to write about. I asked myself why I was blogging, and the answer was that somebody else thought I should. I spent my real time and effort trying to write books. Nobody read my blog, probably because what I wrote betrayed that I didn’t know why I was writing. Nobody read my books, either, despite my slogging through the submissions process for several years.

Over years of writing books, meditations, prayer guides, Bible studies, book reviews and even a blog, I came to realize that blogging was a very important part of my call to serve Christ as a writer. I began to understand that I was learning things in my studies and research that fitted a niche that I didn’t see anyone else serving. I was trying to understand something in my own life, and as I learned and grew through prayer, research, and Bible study, I realized that God wanted me to share what I was learning. I had not become an expert on anything, but I had dug deep and uncovered some truths that might bless others if they knew. Last May I participated in a project where I met people and engaged in conversations that helped me to get serious about answering God’s call to share.  

One of the first questions a blogger inevitably asks herself, if she is honest, is this: Who am I to tell anyone anything? I wasn’t the first person God called who responded that way. When God called Jeremiah, Jeremiah responded by saying, “Ah, Lord God! I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” God replied, “I am with you.” God called Moses, and Moses responded, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” God replied, “I will be with you.” Jesus stood on a mountaintop in Galilee and called his few faithful followers who were still with him after his death and resurrection. He gave them an impossible task, saying, “Go … and make disciples of all nations.” None of the gospel writers record how the group responded, but it seems likely they were just speechless. Wouldn’t you be dumbfounded if someone told you it was your job to evangelize the entire world, even if you could take forty people to help you? To their dumbfounded silence, Jesus said, “I am with you always.” If the Bible is telling the story correctly, God did not send Jeremiah or Moses or the apostles out to do a job; he invited them to go along with him to do that job. God called me to share what I am learning as I grow in faith, and when he called me, he invited me to go along with him to do this work. Every time I ask myself “who do you think you are?” I remember that God said, “I am with you.” Why do I blog? I blog, because I can’t help myself, and I blog because God has invited me to join him in the work of sharing what he is teaching me.

In that context, I made a commitment to post five days a week, and I promised God I would do my best to share with integrity what I was learning. I began to see a pattern in the things I learned: 

  • The culture of the US has been growing more and more secularized over the past fifty years, with the pace increasing dramatically in the past twenty years. The current administration is the first ever to express itself in explicitly secular terms. Christians cannot separate sacred and secular as secular thinkers do, and this difference makes some interactions quite volatile. Christians must remember that Christ died for all people, including people who want to suppress the expression, perhaps even the existence, of Christian faith. 
  • The culture of the US is shuddering under the impact of growing numbers of Islamic adherents. The events of September 11, 2001, color all interaction between Muslims and non-Muslims in the USA, but the rapid increase in the Islamic demographic makes it essential that Christians understand Islam and follow Christ’s guidance in our relationships with Muslims. From Open Doors International comes a suggestion to use the word Islam as an acronym for “I Sincerely Love All Muslims.”
  • The only way to have Christ-like interaction with the world around us is to know Christ. We must deepen our prayer life and deepen our understanding of Scripture. Only by engaging in the disciplines of the faith can we mature in faith and develop a worldview that embodies Christ’s redeeming love for all people.

As I grow to understand more and more about these three areas, I try to share what I learn and invite others to share with me what they are discovering

Why do I blog? Because God has called me to serve him as a writer, and he guides me daily to new understanding of that mission. Why do I blog? I blog to share with my readers what Christ has taught me, not because I know anything special, but because any beggar who finds bread should share it with other beggars on the same road.

I am very grateful to the readers who have chosen to follow my blog, and I equally value those who pass through as visitors from time to time. I appreciate their comments. When a reader shares with me what he or she has learned in the context of what I am learning, I grow. I blog, because God asked me to share and promised to go with me and help me to do my job well. I blog because as a blogger I am learning from my readers as I hope they learn from me.


The Need is not the Call

I receive a daily newsletter from Michael Hyatt. I’m not an executive of anything, but I think anybody can learn from leaders. Those of us who simply want to be more intentional when we write or speak are actually leading when we refuse to follow. So I mine his daily newsletter for guidance and inspiration.

Today’s topic could easily have led me to skip the newsletter. I’m glad I didn’t. The topic is coaching for pastors. I’m not a pastor, and I can’t afford coaching. I read the newsletter anyway. For the same reason I always read it. I never know what little gem will be embedded in there somewhere.

Today’s gem is this: the need is not the call. In an interview with Michael Hyatt, Dick Savidge gave an example of the value of coaching for a pastor, explaining how one pastor improved his work and his life after learning this important principle. I do believe that every Christian could benefit by learning this truth.

Among the many problems every person faces in our busy 21st century lives is the pressure to do good. We all are solicited by NGOs, by our churches and by our neighbors with causes to do good things. The television bombards us with requests for money for the hungry, the abused, and the enslaved. Our children need us. Our communities need us. There are so many needs.

The need is not the call.

You might think that a pastor would easily distinguish among the many needs that knock on his door and readily discern which ones God wanted him to give priority to. It isn’t easy even for pastors. And it isn’t easy for you and me. But we need to learn how to do it. None of us can effectively do what God created us to do unless we know how to discern what he is actually calling us to do.

Jesus gave us a terrific example of the right way to solve this problem in the gospel of Mark. After being tempted by Satan, and after John the Baptist was arrested, Jesus went into Galilee and began preaching. He called the first four disciples as he was traveling around, and he went to Capernaum where Peter and Andrew lived. In the synagogue on the Sabbath, Jesus was invited to speak, and we know what his message was: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” (Mark 1:14) He was interrupted by a needy man. The demon who possessed the man shouted and interrupted the teaching and distracted the listeners from the wonderful message. Jesus loved the tormented man. He cast the demon out, thereby setting the man free. He met a need that people understood, and they were in awe.

The Bible tells us that the rest of the day was filled up with needy people. If Mary, the sister of Martha, had been there, she would no doubt have run up to Jesus after he got to Peter’s house and said, “Master, tell us more. Tell us about the kingdom of God.” But there is no record that anybody asked him that question. They were all caught up in the spectacle of the exorcism in the synagogue, and the excitement only increased when news got out that he had healed Peter’s mother-in-law, too. By the time Sabbath was over, the house was surrounded by needy people – the sick, the crippled, and the demon-possessed.

According to Mark, Jesus gently took care of all those needs. He helped people, because he loved people. The next morning, when another crowd began to gather, there were more needy people. Jesus, however, was nowhere to be found. When Peter and Andrew did find him, he was all alone somewhere praying. Praying. When all these people needed him. And when Peter and Andrew told Jesus that everyone was looking for him, Jesus said, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” (Mark 1:38) It must have shocked these two who were very new disciples that Jesus was going to ignore all these needy people.

Jesus knew that the need was not the call. Jesus, however, had been out there in that lonely place, wherever it was, praying. It is not hard to guess what he was praying about. He had spent the previous evening taking care of needs. Starting at sunset, and going into the night, he had healed and helped many people. After what must have been a short night, Jesus had left the house before sunrise in order to pray. He had found an isolated spot and there he spent time in prayer. Because he turned to his father for guidance, he was able to finally discern that the need was not the call. By the time his disciples found him, he was confirmed through prayer in the central focus of his call. His call was to take his real message to many more people. Healing a few people and casting out a few demons was not going to transform the world.

There is a bigger question here, of course, than simply discerning the call. A lot of people will ask in an accusing tone, “Well then, what is God going to do for all those needy people? Are we just supposed to leave them in their need?” They might even feel so bold as to say that to Jesus. The disciples almost certainly asked that question, although their tone was probably more respectful. If I have an opportunity to help needy people and I pass it up because I am focused on the work God is calling me to do, I am subject to be asked the same questions. A pastor will absolutely be judged and criticized when he delegates any need to another staff member or to some other agency altogether. The world is watching us. The watchers will pounce on us when we say that somebody’s need is not our call.

The only way to make that decision is the way Jesus did it. He went to God in prayer. We don’t know how long before sunrise Jesus left the house for this purpose, but it was considerably after sunrise, after the crowd had started to gather, after the house had been searched and the neighbors had looked here and there, after people had had time to engage in all sorts of speculation that Peter and Andrew finally ranged far enough afield to find Jesus. There was a good deal of time for Jesus to pray through his conflicting demands and come to the conclusion that all these needs were not his call. His call was to take his message throughout Galilee, the message that would transform many people and eventually take him to the cross.

I don’t equate myself with Jesus. I don’t even equate myself with anyone called to be a pastor. But I have a calling. In order to fulfill my call, there are things I cannot do. I cannot do all the good things that need to be done. I cannot help every good cause. Because if I did, I would never be able to fulfill the purpose for which God called me. This work would go undone. Like Jesus in Capernaum, I need to pray daily for wisdom and discernment, because I am certainly not more wise than Jesus. I absolutely must pray in order to have any certainty that I am choosing to do the work God actually wants me to do. I struggle constantly with the fear that I am wasting my time, anyway, and that feeling certainly undercuts my willingness to assert that any particular need is not my call. That concern takes a lot of prayer. I don’t even know that I have it right yet.

Still I am comforted to be reminded that the need is not the call. It is important to remember that God did create me for a reason. I am not an accident. He has important and fulfilling work for me to do. It is quite worthwhile for me to spend the time it takes to discern between needs and calls. I thank God for his call to me, and I pray to be a faithful servant to complete the call I have received.


Plagiarized Prayer

There is another approach to Bible study that is so tightly integrated with prayer that I don’t know what to call it. It absolutely energizes my prayers and often points me to either blessings or problems I have been ignoring. I call it plagiarized prayer. You can call it something else if that word feels uncomfortable.

I came upon this idea many years ago when I read a novel the name of which escapes me now. It was about a man who suddenly and inexplicably began to take the Bible seriously. When a problem in the city required his testimony in court, he took the oath every witness takes, “to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” Then he did exactly that. He amazed himself and everyone else. He put the name of Jesus in front of a community. People began to care for one another in amazing ways. It all began with a plagiarized prayer. (I wish I could remember the name of this book. Does it ring bells with anyone?)

I plagiarize a prayer by putting my own name in it. Here is an example.

Read Philippians 1:9-11

And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight 10 to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, 11 having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.

Now, insert your own name in every possible location in this prayer. Make it a prayer that is all about you.

And this is my prayer, that Katherine’s love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight 10 to help Katherine to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ Katherine may be pure and blameless, 11 having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.

This is a prayer that motivates. The Apostle Paul prayed this prayer for the church at Philippi, where one of my favorite Bible characters lived. Lydia was already a spiritual leader when Paul arrived, and she was among the first people who heard him and met Christ and started the church. When this letter came back after Paul had left, Lydia was among the people for whom Paul was praying.

I see my own name in this prayer, and I think first of Lydia. When she heard this prayer read in church, she must have asked herself how she could grow in knowledge and insight. Somebody needed to do that, because a church without mature leaders will flounder. She had no church history to teach her about that problem, but I do. How, I ask myself, will my church thrive if I fail to grow in knowledge and insight? What will God ask of me if I do grow?

Oh, the answer is that I will be able to determine what is best. That is the point of growing – to become able to discern the best. The best for my church, the best for my family, the best for my country? What? Well, I may need to do some growing before I see where God will have me use my gift of seeing good choices and good strategies and wise words. This is huge. This is not the sort of prayer I pray once and move on. I may need to dwell in this prayer for a few days.

The prayer continues. I want to know what is best and make the best decisions because I want to be ready for Christ’s return. It is like the story Jesus told about people being ready for the return of their master. He wanted to find them busy about the work he had given them, not dawdling and napping and taking advantage of each other. Or the one about the foolish maidens who failed to have oil to light their lamps when the bridegroom arrived. When I know what is best and do what is best, then I will be busy about the work Christ wants me to do. I will be ready for him to appear at any time. He will be pleased with me, and I certainly want that.

The prayer concludes. It isn’t really all about me. The point of it all is a harvest of righteousness that points people to God. If I am doing what Christ calls me to do, I will inspire people to praise and glorify God. I can’t expect a Nobel Prize or a big appreciation dinner at church. I can expect what Paul received – stonings, beatings, imprisonment, shipwreck and curses. When God called Paul to do the work he was created for, God told Ananias to tell Paul that he would have to suffer for Christ. I feel confident that if I actually mature in faith and choose what is best and serve Christ to the glory of God, then I can expect suffering and sorrow along the way, too. It won’t all be victory parades.

So I need to live in this prayer. I need to examine what it means to have knowledge and discernment, two very different things. I need to learn how to grow up and become an adult servant of Christ, eating the meat of the word, having moved past milk and pablum.

Putting my own name into this prayer makes it personal, but amazingly, the prayer is less about me than most of my prayers. This prayer is not “I,” “me” “mine.” Rather it points me at all times to Christ and to the great commandments to love and serve God and to love and serve people.

Try putting your name into a prayer, and see where it leads your Bible study. As you meditate, I recommend you write down the things you discover. They may lead you to look up words and check out cross-references and commentaries, in other words, they may lead you to do some research. That is how you will grow in knowledge. Immersed in prayer is the very best way to research the Bible in order that your study opens your heart to the transforming work of the Holy Spirit.