How do we discern whether or not what’s happening around us is part of God’s purpose for this time and place? Individuals and churches have asked this question repeatedly throughout Christian history. Various denominations have identified discernment tools for their particular group within the Christian family to help them respond to it. In Acts, we observe three practices that those early disciples use to discern God’s Spirit moving within their time and place.
First, they grow quiet and listen. It’s possible to grow quiet without listening; sometimes we prepare a rebuttal while others talk or feign interest while our minds wander. Yet these disciples discipline themselves through keeping silence and actively listening for God’s guidance.
Second, these Jerusalem disciples turn to trusted leaders. They listen to Peter (Simeon), Paul, Barnabas, and James, prophets and pastors with well established credibility within the church. When in need of discernment, turning to trusted leaders for insight is a familiar practice.
Third, the disciples look for connections to their faith story. James points to the Scriptures to explain how the Gospel’s outreach to the Gentiles is part of the unfolding story God began long ago. Our present spiritual reality is always the next canvas for God’s work among God’s people. As a collection of stories about our spiritual kin, the Scriptures to which we turn offer clues about God’s ways with humankind.
As Christ’s Church undergoes transformation due to life-disrupting circumstances, the spiritual practices of the early disciples are strikingly useful for us now. What guided our spiritual ancestors will guide us too, as God reshapes the church in these volatile times.
Using the three practices described above, what is emerging in your church that may be part of God’s unfolding story?
God, give us eyes to see and ears to hear as you call us onward. Help us partner with your mission to bring the kingdom to earth as it is in heaven. Amen.