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


This week in worship, we are in Philippians 4:4-7. As I usually follow the lectionary during the season of Advent, this text was not one of my choosing. Yet, it is particularly applicable to our context. Yesterday alone, I directed two people to this text. It seems that our world is full of anxiety, stress and uncertainty.

Paul writes to the church at Philippi,

(Philippians 4:4–5 NIV) Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.

At first blush, it seems like Paul is leading a pep rally. It may appear that he is attempting to psych up a group of struggling Jesus followers. We know that persecution is rampant; Paul is writing the letter from a prison cell. Is he asking the intended readers to do a happy dance? When we sang this verse at Vacation Bible School, we used to clap our hands emphatically. Is this what Paul was asking us to do?

When you look at the word rejoice, you can see the word joy embedded in it. To have joy is more than being happy; it is much deeper. When someone explains happiness, they usually base it on circumstances. If life is going well, they are happy; if not, they are sad. But joy is independent of our life circumstances. It is rooted in God and His provision. Paul continues to explain how this works out.

(Philippians 4:6–7 NIV) Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Paul is instructing us to place our anxieties on God. We do this through prayer and petition. A heart of gratitude should accompany our requests. We are told that God will offer a beyond-understanding peace as we give him our worries.

In uncertain days, this text is significant. While such action is not easy, we know that God’s peace can be overwhelming and powerful. As we discern, we must continually lean into this action. We must be careful not allow the anxieties of decision-making to overwhelm us. It may seem like a no-brainer instruct Christians to pray; this is not a profound idea. Yet, we often fail to adequately present our decision-making processes to God. We sometimes rush decisions. May God empower our discerning as we make prayer a central focus of our processes.