Seek the Lord and his strength. Continually seek his face.
The path of spiritual growth is a path of lifelong learning.
-M. Scott Peck
Working life has extended so much in the last fifty years that it exceeds life expectancy of even the most successful businesses. Very few businesses are successful for more than 25 or 30 years. And yet most educated people who go to work in their early twenties will keep working until they are 70. And so they had better be prepared for a second career whether it’s in another organization where they are doing what they have been doing or in a new line of work. They must be prepared to learn again. They must be prepared to position themselves. They must be prepared to want to learn- to see it not as something they need to do, but as something they enjoy doing. They will have to learn how to learn.
Disciples Are Learners
If I were ruler of the universe, I might lose the word “disciple” for a while. Just for a while. I’d replace it for a season with the word “student” or “learner.” There is no limit to the reasons why it’s a good thing I’m not ruler of the universe. Just ask my family.
But here’s one paradoxical thing I’ve learned about being a learner. Times of deep learning came for me when I was asked to be a teacher about something I may not have been entirely comfortable teaching, times when I had to be a learner in order to be a teacher. We’re talking stretch goal.
This has happened for me recently as I have been asked to teach a couple classes that feel like the deep end of the pool for me. Fun but not always easy. I was asked to speak at a day on discernment, a day about figuring out what God is calling us to do and be. I feel like I’ve been in discernment my whole life. The more I’m at it, the less sure I am how much I really know about it.
So when I got this assignment, I was grateful to have a guide, a book about discernment entitled Decision Making And Spiritual Discernment: The Sacred Art of Finding Your Way, written by Nancy L. Bieber. This wise author identified three aspects to discernment, not necessarily a sequence as much as a braid, interwoven dynamics that strengthen the process of figuring out what God calls us to do and be.
The first of these elements is willingness. What does it mean to say yes? To God? To life? Prophets in the Bible put it this way: “Here I am.” Dag Hammarskjold described his own moment of assent: “I don’t know Who or – What – put the question. I don’t know when it was put. I don’t even remember answering. But at some moment I did answer Yes to Someone – or Something – and from that hour I was certain that existence is meaningful and that, therefore, my life, in self-surrender, had a goal.” To what degree do we meet God’s invitation to new life with willingness?
The second element is attentiveness. Are we paying attention, or are we asleep? The question surfaces in other traditions as a matter of mindfulness. Of all the problems that the disciples had, as described in the gospels, insomnia was not one of them. At critical moments (the Transfiguration, the Garden of Gethsemane), they snore. That strikes me as both recognition and caution. We too often sleepwalk through life. And if we’re not asleep, we’re often distracted. What do we miss because of it? To what degree do we meet God’s invitation to new life with attentiveness?
The third element is responsiveness, which is all about showing up, putting faith into action. It’s about taking a step, like Abraham leaving homeland for a new land, not knowing where he was going. It’s Peter seeing Jesus walking on the water, and then putting one foot over the gunwale, then the next, stepping out in the confidence (a bit fleeting) that he could too walk on water. To what degree do we meet God’s invitation to new life with responsiveness?
The author promotes these three strands of discernment, interwoven, interdependent. She makes no claim that they promise success from the culture’s point of view. Neither did Jesus. In terms of the times in which he lived, he was not such a great success. But according to the author, these strands do provide a foundation for living. So does Jesus.
I’ve been told that as we write the narrative of our own lives, we have options. We can look at ourselves as hero, victim, or learner. Be a learner this week. Discernment is really another word for learning. Seek the path God intends for you, the path into which God invites you. As you tackle that work, do so with an eye on willingness, attentiveness and responsiveness.
As part of The Good Book Club, I’ll be leading an online Bible Study for 8 weeks. It started on January 9, but it’s not too late to dive in!
Time: Wednesdays at 8pm EST Topic: Paul’s letters to the Romans. Learn more here. I hope you will join me!
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.