A Gift for Graduates: Discernment

These notes are intended for distribution to members and friends of the Kirk of Kildaire, Presbyterian Church family.  While effort is made to give credit for work done by other, the notes may use material for which appropriate credit is not given.  Also, the notes may differ from the actual sermon as it was delivered.  Remember, sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation; the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.

Colossians 1:9-14 

Well, today is a big day for many in our church family. To all of our graduating students this year I speak for the congregation when I say, congratulations for reaching your educational goals.

I want the rest of the congregation to think back for a moment to the day you graduated… or had a child graduate. It was a life changing day…

One thing that fooled me about our daughter’s Anna’s graduation last year was I had thought that when she graduated from college…(I knew better)… she was done and we were done. She would graduate, get a job and health care and we would all live happily ever after. Amen. I knew better. Because after graduation, she faced some tough decisions like: What to do with the rest of her life? What job should I look for in my field? Where should I live?

Truth is, graduation is just the beginning of a life filled with decisions to be made:Decisions like: for what job should I prepare for next? Should I switch jobs? They say that people change careers from 5-7 times in a lifetime.

Even if you get that one handled, you’ll have other decisions to make: How will I balance my budget? Should we get married? How should we raise our kids? Later you are going to have questions about retirement.

And if you choose to be a responsible Christian and citizen you will ask other important questions like: Whom shall we choose for our leader-in the church.. in the community, even in our nation? When someone asks me to be involved, what should I say?

Those are the questions you are about to face in the years ahead… those are the kind of decisions that have made more than one of us cry for guidance… guidance from friends… guidance from families and especially for Christians-guidance from God.

We’d like to hear from God on these life decisions. We’d like a burning bush… or a heavenly voice… or a bright star or a sign that will make us clear which way we should go. Everyone in this room would like that. We don’t want to make a wrong step. Seeking this guidance is what they call the practice of discernment in the spiritual life.

In Dorothy Butler Bass’s book, Christianity for the Rest of Us, she says:
Discernment is a gift to the whole of the Christian community… (it) serves as a kind of spiritual compass, helping us negotiate the unfamiliar territory of our truest selves as we seek to find meaning in God’s call. Indeed, discernment often takes the form of questions: Who am I? What does God want me to do with my life? How can I be true to both myself and God? …

Seeking God’s guidance is hard work you know. It doesn’t come easy for any of us.

I thought Sara Groves said it well in a song she sung. She said she wrote it when she was making a difficult decision:
Hello Lord, it’s me your child. I have a few things on my mind. Right now I’m faced with decisions and I am wondering if you have a minute:
(Chorus) Right now I don’t hear so well and I was wondering if you could speak up. I know that you tore the veil so I could sit with you in person and hear what you’re saying, but right now, I just can’t hear you.
I don’t doubt your sovereignty, I doubt my own ability to hear what you’re saying and to do the right thing, and I desperately want to do the right thing
Somewhere in the back of my mind I think you are telling me to wait, and though patience has never been mind, Lord I will wait to hear from you.

In her struggle, Sara reveals two important aspects of discerning the will of God: One is listening… I mean really listening… and the other is waiting… waiting. Two things we all have a hard time doing.

Let’s be honest, none of us listen very well… to each other or God… do we. I think of George Bernard Shaw’s play, St. Joan. One of the characters asks Joan of Arc why the voice of God never speaks to him as she claims it constantly speaks to her. "The voice speaks to you all the time," she says, "You just fail to listen."

Let’s be honest. In most conversations most of us are too busy planning what we are going to say while the other person is talking. We hear people speak words but we realize that we have no idea of what they just said.

So if we do not listen well to each other, how can we say we listen well to God? I expect most of us do more talking than listening when it comes to prayer. Myself included.

Waiting… that’s not our style either. We want the quick answer and the instant fix. We want an answer and we want it now! But sometimes waiting is what is needed so that God will speak to us at the right time. Could it be that listening takes time – even with God? Perhaps God knows the right time… timing is everything. Perhaps in the waiting something important is happening that will lead to a wiser and faithful decision…a decision that will lead you down the right paths…

Listening and waiting. That takes practice. It is work. But it is important work for the life of the Christian who wants to lead a God directed life.

And we need help. Paul knew this. The Colossian Christians had stopped listening for God and were beginning to listen to other people… false teachers, he called them… People were beginning to believe all sorts of things about God and Christ that just weren’t true- and it was confusing the faith of the early Christians.

So Paul begins his letter letting them know he’s been praying for them-asking for God to help them discern God’s will for them. It could have been written for our graduates and for all of us who are trying to be spiritually guided and faithfully following Christians:
"For this reason… we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord fully pleasing to him as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God. May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power."

Paul is praying asking God to help them and us discern… God’s will for their lives and ours… asking God to help them discern what kind of life is pleasing to God (not just ourselves)…

It reminds me of a prayer for graduates used by Pastor J. Hamilton in Rochelle, Illinois:
Dear Lord, about our graduates:May their diplomas indicate not only facts learned, but wisdom gained. May their commencement be not only an ending, but a new beginning. May their celebrations be not only a time of satisfaction, but of thanksgiving. May their food be not only cake which feeds the stomach, but the Bread of Life which feeds the soul. May their reading be not only from books, but from The Book. May their friendships be not only with those beside them, but with the Christ within them."

That’s a great prayer asking God to help them discern what is really important in life… praying that they will decide to lead a God led, a Christ led life. Letting God, in Christ, inform your life decisions for the rest of your life.

That’s the work for all of us. It’s the important work of the church.

Dorothy Butler Bass’s tells the story of Robert, a member of (an Episcopal church). Robert grew up in an East Coast liberal Presbyterian church, and became fascinated with the New England Transcendentalists, especially Emerson and Thoreau. "It was only after I came back to church at 40" he admits, "that I began to try to ground that mind in God and to try to determine-through study, reflection and conversation with others-how to base my decisions on what God would have me do rather than on my own preferences" Robert talks about attending a reflection oriented bible study. Each week, 10 people gathered to ask questions of the scripture text for the upcoming Sunday sermon. Here are the type of questions they asked in the group: Where has God been in our lives this week? What is this reading saying to us in our lives? What would it have us to do? Through this group, Robert says he learned that discernment is not a vague process but is actually the most practical of practices for it helps us determine what it is we should do… discernment is "serious reflection on scripture, grounded in prayer and informed by experience. It is both deeply personal and entirely communal. 1

I would love for the Kirk to become the place where people like Robert can come to discern God’s will for their lives. That when any of us are facing hard decisions we will find friends who will help us listen, wait and seek to discern where God may lead us.

That we will find friends like Paul who will pray with us and for us :
"that we may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that we may lead lives worthy of the Lord fully pleasing to him as we bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God."


1 P 92 Christianity for the Rest of Us





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