Christian discernment and spiritual disciplines
Christians participating in God’s mission have challenging times before them where true leadership, direction and strength will make all the difference between success and failure. Christians and the organizations they form need discernment, courage, power, focus, wisdom, good counsel, encouragement, and confidence to do the right thing - all these in an environment more attuned to war rather than peace. There are battles with authorities, battles with dictators, battles opposing policies that harm the poor and vulnerable, battles of a spiritual nature.
Against this background, God has provided unlimited power and resources, access to a wisdom beyond human understanding and the means to access all this – through prayer and the Holy Spirit. However, understanding what God is saying, trying to make out what is being said can be complex: especially when mixed messages may be coming forward from a number of people, from various signs, from differing events, all possibly from God.
Because there is no blueprint as such for Christian organizations, mixed messages and the resultant debate can especially occur when an organization is deciding on key matters or making longer-term plans. In such cases, the functionality of leadership and management within an organization will play an important part. Leaders in close communion with God in the power of the Holy Spirit need to listen to fellow believers and take on board comments of varying perspectives, views from different angles and so forth and then arrive at a balanced decision with resolve and determination. The decision is thus from the leadership or those with delegated authority, in communion with God and others, using evidence and His word (Acts 15). With such an action, fellow-believers should be able to put aside any differences and support the outcome with full confidence that the decision is well-founded.
Discerning the will of God is a challenge for all Christians and accordingly people need to be properly prepared. In preparation, God demands a number of things from us, namely we are obedient to Him, we are patient, and do our best to be right with Him, in close communion with Him and with fellow believers in the community. The following has been adapted from Mark Pearson’s book, “The basics of faith” (Pearson 1995, p54,55):
- A yielded life, a life of obedience: the earliest creed recited in the Christian church was “Jesus is Lord” (1 Cor. 12:3). God does not reveal Himself to us to satisfy our curiosity; neither does God reveal His will so we may consider it among various options. He is Lord – we must obey. If you ask God for His guidance, you must be ready in advance to follow it, no matter what it is. Knowing God’s perfect will is a tremendous blessing for a Christian, but it is also a responsibility to carry it out.
- A patient heart: God sometimes reveals His will instantaneously, but God often reveals His will over time. We must learn to wait, trusting that God’s answer will come.
- A clear conscience: sin separates a person from God. It is necessary to restore the fellowship through confession, to receive guidance from God (Psalm 35:1-5, 1 John 1:5-9).
- An abiding Spirit: discerning God’s will is not independent of our personal relationship with Him. To know God’s will, we must know Him. Abiding in Christ Jesus by regular prayer, meditation, reading of Scripture and worship. The practice of Christian spiritual disciplines is central in our communication with God.
Thus a need to maintain a closeness and connectivity with God, through the practice of spiritual disciplines. While the below are not by any means exhaustive – see Foster’s book (Foster 1989) comprehensive guide on personal devotions - they do represent a number of the key spiritual disciplines that should be practiced at an individual and corporate level when engaging in God’s mission:
- prayer – to let Jesus come into our hearts (O Hallesby 1985, p9);
- meditation – ability to hear God’s voice and obey Him (Foster 1989, p21) ;
- study of Scripture (Romans12:2); and
- worship – to know, to feel, to experience Christ (Foster 1989, p199).
The importance of Scripture is outlined by Wolterstorff (Wolterstorff 1980)
These Scriptures are taken as authoritative guides because Christians are persuaded that it is integral to God’s mode of working for human renewal to speak to his human creatures. In the Bible we find an authoritative record of some of what God said to ancient persons and peoples; and by way of those ancient words we hear God speaking to us today. True, God’s speech to us today is not confined to the Bible, but what he says there is the touchstone, the criterion, for what he says to us in other modes and manners. Convinced of this, the Christian community acknowledges the Bible as authoritative for life and thought. Of course the Bible does not offer specific counsel for every concrete situation that we face. It gives guidelines, paradigm situations, advice by way of example. Essential to maturing in faith is learning how to get from that to one’s own concrete situation. (Wolterstorff 1980, p12)
It is important to note that as with integral mission where you can’t separate the spiritual from the physical, then you shouldn’t be able to separate the spiritual disciplines from the professional disciplines you engage in during your course of work. The two are inseparable. The daily work of the people forming a Christian organization, their everyday routine, should be deep-rooted in Scripture and conducted in an attitude of prayer and worship, listening to God and obeying. There should be no “spiritual” side of activities and a “professional” side, things that are inseparable don’t have sides. You can’t opt out of the professional disciplines or the spiritual disciplines, because you don’t feel capable or don’t have the time, or aren’t inclined that way. When things are integral, you don’t have options. Thus with a telephone call, a conversation, a strategy planning meeting, an email; all things will embrace the physical and spiritual and God will be there, at the centre. And when an organization acknowledges that God is there at the centre, guiding all physical and spiritual actions in a seamless way then the credit and glory will go to the One where credit and glory are due.
God aims to exalt himself by working for those who wait on him. Prayer is the essential activity of waiting for God: acknowledging our helplessness and his power, calling upon him for help, seeking his counsel. (Piper 1986, p140)
Prayer is a means by which the Lord of all brings His determined purposes to pass. (Motyer 1974, p155)
Prayer at its best is the expression of the total life... All things being equal, our prayers are only as powerful as our lives. In the long pull we pray only as well as we live. (Tozer 1990, p79)
God wants worshippers before workers; indeed the only acceptable workers are those who have learned the lost art of worship. It is inconceivable that a sovereign and holy God should be so hard up for workers that He would press into service anyone who had been empowered regardless of his moral qualifications. The very stones would praise Him if the need arose and a thousand legions of angels would leap to do His will. (Tozer 1989, p44)
Following Jesus will inevitably lead us into severe conflict with evil. This evil will surround us and attack us and threaten to destroy our faith... Life is war... So we see repeatedly in Scripture that prayer is a walkie-talkie for warfare, not a domestic intercom for increasing conveniences. The point of prayer is empowerment for mission. (Piper 1986, p146,147)
Praying the kingdom means remembering that bringing the kingdom is God’s business... (Myers 1998)
The Christian life is a life of warfare. From the time we accept God’s invitation, “Come to Me, all you who labour and are heavy laden” to the time God withdraws us from the battlefront by way of death (rapture), we are engaged in a serious warfare... (Adeyemo 2002, p61)
The primary weapon against the powers has always been and will always remain the liberating message of Jesus. That small word or testimony is sufficient to bring down the whole army of powers and principalities. (Jorgensen 2002, p224)
Christ met and overcame Satan in prayer and fasting, and he later told his disciples that the “Prince of this world” can be overcome only by prayer and fasting. Do we think modernity, with all its strengths and seductions, will be different? (Guinness 1999, p316)
We recognize that in our engagement in struggles for freedom and justice in the world, we fight “not against flesh and blood”, but against the rulers, authorities and powers of this dark world, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 6:12). Hence prayer becomes a necessary dimension of our engagement. Freedom and justice are signs of the kingdom of God; through prayer we receive the strength and hope in believing that God’s kingdom will come. (Declaration of Osejik 1991, p5)