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


I have been thinking a lot about this discernment process in recent weeks. I have had the opportunity to use it in more than one context. As I reflect on the ways that we have used it at First Baptist Church Muncie, I am astounded by the placid environment of complex and potentially disturbing decisions. How is this? How can an environment that was once toxic become serene? How can we continue to navigate changes in the church without exploding factions?

I was reading Psalm 73 this week. In this psalm, the writer is in turmoil. He has experienced tremendous suffering attempting to live faithfully. He explains,

(Psalms 73:13 NIV) Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure; in vain have I washed my hands in innocence.

Without quoting the entire psalm, I will summarize his line of thought. He is hesitant to write of his experience. He feels that perhaps it will lead future generations away from God. In his attempts to understand these events apart from God, he finds himself in despair.

(Psalms 73:16 NIV) When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me

Yet, the psalmist’s tone changes in verse 17. Something happens that shifts his world view.

(Psalms 73:17 NIV) till I entered the sanctuary of God

When the psalmist enters God’s presence, he sees clearly. While he was tempted to join the forces of evil, he now has a broader perspective. What once seemed the prosperous direction leads to destruction. The psalmist recounts his experience.

(Psalms 73:21–23 NIV) When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you. Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand.

He sees his own inability to discern. He was blinded by bitterness and despair. Yet God was with him. The song breaks out in praise.

(Psalms 73:24–26 NIV) You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

God is described as the only source. Nothing in heaven, nor on earth can guide the psalmist. Only God can adequately advise.

As we consider this psalm, our weaknesses are exposed in light of God’s wisdom. The posture of the psalmist is appropriate as we discern. Too often, we fail to lean on God’s counsel. Yet clarity lies in the presense of God. May we be discerning churches, learning to operate in God’s strength and provision.