Damariscotta Baptist Church
Wednesday, September 19, 2018
Growing personal relationships with God and community

03/10/13 Sermon


John 1:35-39

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in Thy sight O Lord our Strength and our Redeemer, Amen

Former president Ronald Reagan once had an aunt who took him to a cobbler for a pair of new shoes. The cobbler asked young Reagan, "Do you want square toes or round toes?"

Well, unable to decide, Reagan didn't answer, so the cobbler gave him a few days.

Several days later the cobbler saw Reagan on the street and asked him again what kind of toes he wanted on his shoes.

Reagan still couldn't decide, so the shoemaker replied, "Well, I’ll have them ready in a couple of days."

When Reagan got there, he found one square-toed shoe and one round-toed shoe!
And the cobbler said, "That’ll teach you to never let people make decisions for you,".
Reagan said later "I learned right then and there, if you don't make your own decisions, someone else will." 

Life is full of many important decisions and choices---

Think of all the important decisions we have before us:
Which school to go to, what job to work at, where to live, who to marry, which house to buy, whether to have children or not, whether to move into an assisted living community, or what ministries to say to yes to or no to.
We all have decisions we must make. And we want to make good decisions, wise decisions; decisions that God would have us to make.
And in order to make these wise decisions we need the help of the wise and loving Holy Spirit to guide us.
This process of opening up ourselves to God to help us make decisions in our lives is something we call spiritual discernment.

And of course, in spiritual discernment we are seeking God’s guidance, God’s plan in our lives.

Now many of us can struggle in our spiritual discernment. We can find ourselves like Ronald Reagan not able to make a decision.
We often feel like we can’t figure out God’s will in our lives. We can’t hear God; we can’t decipher his plan or his will for our lives.

And probably the biggest mistake we make when we’re seeking God’s help in our lives is that we have this mentality that God has this set plan, this set path that we have to try and discover.

So we wait around for God to speak to us in a burning bush like Moses or like Jesus calling the disciples to come and follow him.
And we say, if we just knew God’s set path we would certainly drop our nets and follow him to do whatever God desires.

But when we see at our scripture here today we see something different.

Jesus says something to these two followers of John the Baptist that puts forth a different understanding about spiritual discernment and following God’s call in our decisions.
In verse 38 as these 2 follow Jesus, he turns around to them and says, “What do you want”?

Now, this question is more than just Jesus asking them why they are following him?

It is a deep question that is uniquely personal and it’s essential in following God’s call in our decision process.
There was a young woman was talking to her retreat director about her vocation and her rising sense of generosity and willingness to do God’s will.

She told her retreat director “I am just waiting, until Jesus tells me what he wants me to do. When that happens, I will do it.”

But then her director asked her something that she didn’t expect.
She asked: “Did it ever occur to you that maybe God is waiting for you to decide what you want to do and that God will join you there?”

Well that thought was totally new to her, She thought about what it could mean.

And as she did, she began to see new possibilities and new responsibilities within the scope of her own freedom. (Nancy Biebert)
You see, for her to choose was not, in itself, in opposition to following God’s will. Instead, God’s Will could be manifest in her choice.
Now with this in mind, it gives us a foundation where to begin in our spiritual discernment and the decisions we need to make.
Instead of focusing on trying to figure out God’s will in the choices we’re to make, we need to look at the process of spiritual discernment as something that is a relational; it’s a co-participation with God----with what God wants and what we want.
Jesus asks us as we seek to follow him in our decisions, what do you want?
And it makes absolute sense. After all God created us. He made us uniquely who we are.
Each one of us has “a way” about us. We have a life that is speaking to us.
Parker Palmer the well known Quaker author wrote a best selling book a few years ago titled “Let Your Life Speak”.

Palmer says that “Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, we ought to “listen for what it intends to do with us.”

As we seek God’s call in our lives we pay attention to who we are, and what our desires are (again, what do we want).    
You see, reflecting on who we are and what we want is actually the mature way of discernment because it calls us to do the hard work of looking within ourselves and listening to who God has created us to be.

What gives us joy? What are our passions and authentic desires?

As we discover who we are and what we want, we are co-participating with God in making decisions about our life journey.
But exactly how do we go about this co-participant way of spiritual discernment?
How do we engage in this kind discernment with God? 

Well the first part of spiritual discernment begins with an attentive relationship with God.

To discover what we want and what God wants means we have to be in a place of listening to what God says as well as what our lives are saying.
And this is such a challenge in our busy world today.

We’re so busy listening to everyone and everything except God and our own lives.

But when we take the time to be with God in solitude and prayer, searching the scriptures and how they speak to us where we are, we begin to hear what God is saying and what our lives are saying.
This week I’ve been praying Psalm 32.

In this scripture the psalmist speaks of hiding in God (we talked about under the mother hen’s wings last week).

The psalmist speaks of confessing sins; coming to God just as we are (the good, the bad and the ugly).
And as we do, the psalmist speaks about the lifting of burdens of sin and experiencing the security of being loved by God.
And in this closeness with God, there is a boldness and a peace that he experiences in who he is.
This leads the psalmist to a place of trust.
Suddenly he is flowing with God, not trying to swim against the current of the Spirit.
And as the psalmist is in this place, we see that God’s voice replaces the psalmist’s voice.

In verse 8 God says, I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.

Being attentive to our relationship with God puts us in a place where we become our true selves: bold, free and confident.
And in this place of peace and wholeness we can hear God speak and direct us.
I like the illustration of the man with his family on a canoe trip down a river.
They are getting hungry and want to know where their going to stop and have their picnic lunch.
And the dad says “wherever the river tells us to stop”.
As we flow with the river we are in tune with who we are and what God wants.

So many poor decisions in our lives come from the impatient impulses of the false self; the ego that makes hasty, impatient decisions out of fear and how the culture would have us decide

But when we are attentive in our relationship with God we are in a place where might hear His voice and our own voice in directing us how to go…………….
Now as we are in this attentive relationship with God another part of spiritual discernment is to use our cognitive reasoning.
Now this is usually how we go about making the many decisions we have in life.
We use the balance sheet approach where we list the pros and cons of a decision.

We look at which side is weighted heavier than the other and make our decision based on that.

Still as we weigh out these decisions we need to be engaged with God in this process.

After all, sometimes our reasoning can actually talk us out of things that we might really WANT to do because we lack trust that God will provide the way.

After all the balance sheet for Moses to go to Egypt where he was wanted for murder and to stand up to Pharaoh with only a stick wasn’t real smart.

Nor was it real smart for David to take on a Goliath....
Or for those disciples to drop everything; to leave their secure fishing jobs to go fish for men with Jesus......
But as we are in conversation with God, using our reasoning, we can learn to uncover our insecurities and our idols, and the things that enslave us and keep us from doing what we want and what God wants.
Using our reasoning is essential as we discern what to do. But we need to use reasoning in conversation with God.
Now along with using reason to help us in spiritual discernment another very important part of discerning what we want and what God wants is to pay attention to our bodies and our emotions.
You know for many of us, there is a mistrust in listening to our emotions and our bodies when making decisions.
We would prefer to use reasoning only.  And yet in doing so, we actually hinder our reasoning capability.

You see, the how our body and emotions react when it comes to making decisions is a form of reasoning.

Think about the times when you’ve made a decision in the past but as you sat with it, your gut told you it wasn’t the right thing to do.
I can recall a time when Cindy and I had just gotten married and we were having a house built in Nesbit MS.

And as the builder was building the house, he failed to bring in enough dirt to get the house out of a hole.

Now our intellectual reasoning was saying something was wrong but we kept on in the process trusting the builder as he said it was not a problem.
Still our gut feeling was telling us to not go thru with this deal.
Finally, on the day before we were to close on the house, a heavy rain came. And lo and behold this brand new house had water flowing inside.
Our gut feeling was affirmed.
Whenever we have decisions to make in life, part of the discernment process is to listen to our bodies and our emotions. They are telling us things that our conscious minds aren’t picking up.

A great exercise that can uncover what we really want is by taking the decision we’re considering and make a tentative decision one way or another.

And as you make it, live with it for a few days or weeks and pay attention to your body and emotions.
Do you have peace? Is there a lifting of a burden? Do you get excited?

Or does it bring a knot in your stomach; is there tension in your body? Are you having nightmares?   

Our feelings of consolation or desolation can give us direction of what we really want especially for those of us who have a tendency to not be in tune with our emotions in making decisions.
If we will listen to our bodies and emotions they will tell us what our life is saying to us and also what God wants for us.

You see inside each of us, God has placed a sacred compass---and when we are in tune with it, we will know what decisions to make.

Finally the last area of Spiritual discernment I want to look at it today is the importance of talking with a spiritual director or spiritual friend as you are making decisions.
A spiritual director or an honest spiritual friend is essential when you are making major decisions in your life.
Now this is different than talking with friends about our decisions.
Often times, our friends are advice givers who want to affirm whatever we say as they go about passing on advice---- or they tell stories from their own decisions that they see as comparable.

A spiritual director however is someone who listens to what your life inside is saying. They are paying attention to it.

And instead of giving advice, they ask us questions that help open us up to hear what our wants and our authentic desires are. 
They create a space for us to share and then discover whether there is an inner peace or a deep seated conviction in the decisions we are discerning.

And also very important is that a spiritual director can help you to see whether your decisions are authentic in regards to our calling as Christians.

They can point you to asking whether your decision to make is following God’s call to love Him and love neighbor.
They can help us discover if our choices about our own egos or do they lead us outside of ourselves and into the needs of others......

If you don’t have a spirtual director I strongly suggest you find one as they will help you to hear what God is saying and what your life is saying.

Now obviously there is much, much more to cover when we talk about the subject of spiritual discernment.
But hopefully what I’ve offered today can give you guidance in a decision that you may be dealing with right now.

Now there is one other very important thing I want to leave you with about making decisions in our life. And that is this:

No matter what you decide in the future you can have the assurance that whenever we are attentive in our relationship with God, that decison will be right.
You see God will always be with us in whatever decisions we make---no matter what.

Even when things don’t go as we planned and don’t turn out the way we think they should, that doesn’t mean they were wrong and that God abandoned us to our bad decision.

I can still recall when we came to Damariscotta and left our house with a “for sale” sign in the yard.
We thought that surely, since God was calling us to Maine that our house would sell.

But that house didn’t sell and was foreclosed on like many other homes in the economic disaster of 2008.

But even in this unforeseen circumstance, what we discovered was that even though our house was foreclosed upon, God was still with us.
And what a testimony of God’s trustworthiness that has been.
For even when things don’t go the way you hope for, God is still right there with you and you will not fall………..
Today, you may be in a time of spiritual discernment over a major decision. If not one day you will.
And if and when you are, imagine that you’re one of those 2 individuals who was following Jesus when he turned around and asked, “What do you want”?

Do you know how to answer that question? Do you know what your own life is saying to you?

Today let us be committed to be attentive in our relationship with God. Jesus is inviting us to follow him in our own unique way.
For our way is who we were created to be---and therefore that, is his way--- too.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen