Discerning Church Learning to discern the movement of God's Spirit

Carried by the Spirit

The more I preach, the more I realize how the context of our life impacts our reading of scripture. We certainly don’t want our life situations to rule the text. Yet it seems the Spirit uses the books we read, the people we encounter, the challenges of daily life to inform our reading of scripture. Each time I come to a text, it looks different; I see new things.

As I preached on the Transfiguration this past Sunday, Peter’s reaction became a prominent feature. Sure, Jesus’ position as God’s Son is important. His conversation with Moses and Elijah is momentous. Yet, Peter insisting they build three tents and remain on the mountain seemed primary as I read the text. I am beginning a doctoral dissertation on decision-making; no doubt this is at the center of my thinking these days. I am finding that much of our decision-making is a matter of personal preference. It seemed best to Peter to build and stay. He justified this action; Jesus, Moses, and Elijah all deserved to be honored. Why not build places of honor for them. Seems like a viable undertaking, right? However, Luke comments,

(He did not know what he was saying.) (Luke 9:33 NIV)

Peter reasoned that remaining on the mountain was a “good” option. There are many good options in our decision-making. Whether it is a personal decision, a church-wide decision, or a staffing decision, we can usually create a pro/con sheet. We map it out; we decide what is best.

With the tent building idea barely off Peter’s lips, God speaks.

While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, (Matthew 17:5 NIV)

God redirects his thinking, his reasoning, his personal preference. What does God say?

“This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” (Matthew 17:5 NIV)

These words jump off the page as I read this. Peter’s ideas were wrong because they were his own. They were based on what seemed good, reasonable. Yet, they were not part of God’s plan. If tents were constructed, if they remained on the mountain, Jesus would have avoided the cross. Peter was dead wrong. God corrects him by pointing to Jesus’ words, “Listen to Him” Peter!

It seems that we need this reminder in our decision-making. We often decide based on what seems right, and often forget to seek God’s plan. Sure, we pray and ask God. But do we really listen? Do we really submit to His agenda, His plan? This where decision-making turns into discernment. Our job is not to pick from a list of options, it is to following the leading of the Spirit. Peter later recalls this experience. Peter’s epistles reveal that he eventually discovered what it means to follow Jesus. He writes in 2 Peter,

For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:21 NIV)

May our churches be “carried along by the Holy Spirit” in all we do. May we often reject the good, the reasonable, what makes sense. May we even do the unreasonable as we discover the leading of the Spirit.