Life Design 5: Discern

. 10 min read

Discipleship series
Nov 2019, Christ Mountain Top
the Scripture, Psalm 1
1 Kings 3.5-15 (Solomon’s request for wisdom)
Matthew 16.13-26
       [Larger context includes 16.1-28
(weather, yeast, Christ, cross)]
Moment, none
Our fall discipleship theme is “life design” and, among
other resources, I have been sharing from the wonderful book,
Your Life: How to Lead a Well-Lived, Joyful Life,
Bill Burnett & Dave Evans. We began with Disruption, which often
kick starts the design questions in our lives because we discover that “the
true way is wholly lost.” We went on to Dance of Delight and Dare to Dream,
then last week’s Detour. Today, we are on Discern and then, next week, Decide followed
by a celebration luncheon next Sunday.
Scripture, 2019: Ephesians 3:18-21
 I pray that you may
have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and
length and height and depth,  19 and to know the love of Christ
that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of
God.  20 Now to him who by the power at work within us is able
to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine,  21
to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever
and ever. Amen.
       Abundantly far more …
area where we hopefully do not need discernment is the basic questions of right
and wrong:
·       Do
I give rein to my anger, or do I exercise self-control?
·       Do
I gossip or hold my tongue?
·       Do
I cheat or maintain my integrity?
much all of us know which is the right thing to do in those situations. We
don’t need clearer discernment. We just need to obey. We just need to do what’s
right. Every one of us here has given free rein to our anger, gossiped, cheated.
And we’ve done it even though we heard that voice telling us, “Don’t even think
about it. No. Stop!” Still do it anyway. For those kinds of questions in life,
we need repentance.
       Well, maybe we need some discernment in
this area too. One of my friends works in the recovery community and tells
folks, “Your best thinking got you here.” That is, we think we think
clearly, and we still end up with our life derailed. We’ll insist that we don’t
need help – whether it is the advice of a parent or the support of the twelve-step
community or an assigned mentor in our chosen career – we insist that can do it
on our own. But the record is clear: On our own we’ve made our lives a mess.
       That’s why at AA meetings they post a
saying “Think, Think, Think” with the words upside down. We’re so confident in
our thinking, even though all it has done is fail us. The prophet Jeremiah was
right when he said, “The heart is
deceitful more than anything else, and it is
disastrous. Who can understand it? [1]
       So, we do need the discernment to own our
stuff, be honest about where we are, receive feedback, get help. We need
discernment so that we, in the words of a friend, “Don’t do stupid.”
       From today’s psalm (Psalm 1):
are those
do not follow the advice of the wicked,
take the path that sinners tread,
sit in the seat of scoffers;
their delight is in the law of the LORD,
on his law they meditate day and night.
from the apostle Paul: “The natural man does not accept the things of the
Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he is not able to
understand them, because they are
spiritually discerned. 15 Now
the spiritual person discerns all things” (1 Corinthians 2.14-15, Lexham
English Bible [LEB]).

we definitely need discernment for a whole host of difficult problems that we
face. As a pastor, I hear about problems like this all the time.
·       I’m
part of the union, and a personnel matter has come up that puts our own values
in conflict.
·       I
serve with a community organization and I am not happy with how things are
being done. Do I stick it out, leave peaceably, or find a new way to exercise
my influence in the organization?
·       My
child has special needs that are not being appropriately supported in the local
school. Where do I find the help I need to be able to help my kid?
·       I’m
looking for work, but the job market isn’t really that open to someone with my
skills and experience. How do I get a door to open?
often in these kinds of problems, we are looking for certainty. What we find,
instead, is that we are experimenting all along. That’s how the biggest and
most important problems in life are addressed, by experiment, what design
theory calls prototyping or building our way forward. Certainty is a mirage.
Certainty is a death spiral. In the paradise garden, the woman and the man ate
the forbidden fruit, a fruit that guaranteed knowledge, that offered certainty,
that would make them wise. At least, that’s what the label said. What a rip-off.
(See Fuller Seminary podcast, Conversations, with Dave Evans.)
we need discernment for some even bigger questions – those “what do I want to
do when I grow up” “how do I want to make a contribution in our world” “what is
my calling” questions. As we address those kinds of questions, we don’t need
answers as much as we need some really good questions to point us in the right
direction. Peter Drucker, the business guru, suggests the following:
·       What
does the situation require?
·       Given
my strengths, my way of performing, and my values, how can I make the greatest
contribution to what needs to be done?
·       What
results must be achieved to make a difference?
Ideas e-newsletter, from Wesley Seminary Lewis Center for Church Leadership,
Wed 25 Sept 2019, under recurring section “The Right Question: Leaders do not
need answers. Leaders must have the right questions.”)
and Evans have some great insight, and I recommend their book especially if you
are at one of those points in your life where you are considering some new
directions and possibilities. They talk about how important it is to choose the
right problem and to keep it real:
company I work for has been family-owned for five generations. There is no way
that, as an outsider, I’m ever going to be an executive. What do I do about
it?” “I’ve been out of work for five years. It’s going to be much harder for me
to get a job and that’s not fair. What do I do about it?” … These are all
gravity problems—meaning they are not real problems. Why? Because in life
design, if it’s not actionable, it’s not a problem. Let’s repeat that. If it’s
not actionable, it’s not a problem. It’s a situation, a circumstance, a fact of
life. It may be a drag (so to speak), but, like gravity, it’s not a problem
that can be solved. Here’s a little tidbit that is going to save you a lot of
time—months, years, decades even. It has to do with reality. People fight
reality. They fight it tooth and nail, with everything they’ve got. And anytime
you are arguing or fighting with reality, reality will win (p. 9).
offer all kinds of “keeping it real” insight, two examples:
·       Just
as there is no single “Prince Charming”, only one person who can be a good
match for us, so there is no “Job Charming”, only one job that is just right.
In the same way, life is not the kind of problem that has only one solution.
·       “For
most people, passion comes after they try something, discover they like it, and
develop mastery” (xxix). So, the idea that we have to discover our passion
first is actually backwards.
like the book, I like the creativity, and I like the way they keep things real.
But there’s not enough time for me to read just the highlights to you, since I
highlighted, according to Amazon’s Kindle app, 8.22% of the text. Besides, even
though all wisdom is God’s wisdom, we’ve also got some gospel to get to today.
reading from Matthew’s gospel raises the importance of discernment in our
spiritual lives. Even earlier in the chapter, discernment is a huge question.
The religious teachers of the time are able to predict the weather using their
ancient equivalent of “red sky at night, sailor’s delight.” But, Jesus laments,
“You are not able to evaluate the signs of the times” (16.3, LEB). Jesus tells
the disciples to watch out for the yeast of the religious teachers and they think
he’s chiding them for leaving the leftover bread behind. “I did not speak to
you about bread” (16.10, LEB). Oh…
       Then, Peter has this breakthrough about
who Jesus is: “the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” “Blessed are you, for
flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father who is in heaven”
(16.16-17). Yet, his breakthrough is incomplete. His idea is that Jesus will
rule, make all things right, and that Peter will get to enjoy that power.
Instead, Jesus talks about his death. “God forbid, Lord! This will never happen
to you!” “Get behind me Satan! You are not focused on the things of God but on [your
own stuff]” (16.22-23).
       We need to be clear that life design as a
follower of Jesus is not a self-help program. It is about designing our lives
around the purpose of God. Life design as a follower of Jesus is not a recipe
for happiness. It is about the pursuit of holiness in every facet of our days.
       Frankly, if you want to design a
pain-free life, no matter your spiritual convictions, good luck. If you want a
life that is free of stress, let me know when you’re dead. If you expect God to
pave the way to success with gold bricks, well then…. If you believe that is
your entitlement or destiny as a child of God, you need to start reading the
Scripture. Our destiny, our calling, if we are faithful to it, is the cross.
And, last I checked, the cross was an instrument of torture and execution.
“Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.”
       So, no. This is not pain free. This is
not easy. This is not stress free. This is not all about success and
clappy-happy days. It is, however, good and true and beautiful. And, the
way of the cross is also the way to true joy, deep peace, and real love.
here’s a really important question for today: How do we get better at
discerning well? Peter got better at it. He learned to embrace the cross. In
fact, he died on a cross, and requested to be crucified upside down because he
felt himself unworthy to be executed the same way Jesus died.
       How do we get better at discerning well? The
first answer is practice. And the second answer is practice. And, I’m talking
about practice in two different ways. We get better at something the more we do
it with discipline and focus. That’s one kind of practice. And we get better at
discernment by spiritual practices or disciplines that help us focus our lives
on Jesus and the gospel. That’s the other kind of practice. As the letter to
the Hebrews states: “solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have
trained their faculties for the distinguishing of both good and evil” (5.14). [2]
Evans & Burnett: “In our own lives, both of us would say that our personal
growth in this area—the refinement and disciplined participation in
practices—has been the single most life-giving thing we’ve done.
       “Even a small effort can bring great
results. By educating your emotions and maturing your discernment through such
practices, you stand to reap great benefits that are accessible on an almost
daily basis.
       “Dave works to spend twenty minutes a day
in silent meditation (technically “centering prayer”) to recenter himself in
the love of God. He also now reads poetry at least once a week, trying to learn
how to feel the poem in his body, not just read it in his head. He relies on
his erudite wife, Claudia, to curate his poetry assignments, since he cleverly
designed a marriage with a much smarter spouse. And he forgoes the speed and
thrill of road cycling as exercise once a week to walk in the hills for at
least four miles with Claudia and the dogs, to slow things down and see nature
more intimately” (226-227).
food is for the mature, who because of practice have trained their faculties
for the distinguishing of both good and evil.” Consider these commitments for
the coming 12 months:
Expanding one of your areas of strength
Experimenting in the direction of your calling (perhaps
ActionChurch/social justice)
Addressing a need for reconciliation
Sharing your faith by invitation
Growing in the grace of giving (expand the options)
Growing in one aspect from each of the three large
want to share an important and difficult video. It is Jacquie Fine’s story of
discernment and calling that comes out of deep pain.
Philippians 1.9-11
this I pray: that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all
discernment, 10 so
that you may approve what is superior, in order that you may be sincere and
blameless in the day of Christ, 11 having
been filled with the fruit of righteousness
which comes through Jesus Christ to
the glory and praise of God. [3]
Bill Burnett & Dave Evans, Designing Your Life: How to Lead
a Well-Lived, Joyful Life

Harris, W. H., III, Ritzema, E., Brannan, R., Mangum, D., Dunham, J., Reimer,
J. A., & Wierenga, M. (Eds.). (2012). The Lexham English
(Je 17:9). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
Harris, W. H., III, Ritzema, E., Brannan, R., Mangum, D., Dunham, J., Reimer,
J. A., & Wierenga, M. (Eds.). (2012). The Lexham English
(Heb 5:14). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
Harris, W. H., III, Ritzema, E., Brannan, R., Mangum, D., Dunham, J., Reimer,
J. A., & Wierenga, M. (Eds.). (2012). The Lexham English
(Php 1:9–11). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.