Sunspots guest: Discernment is less about doing and more about being
July 24, 2022
What is discernment? What is God calling us to do in a particular situation, either as an individual or a congregation or mid council? How do we move forward?
The Rev. Michael Vinson, a teaching elder in the Presbytery of Arkansas, asked almost as many questions as he answered during a recent Sunspots podcast hosted by the Rev. Elizabeth Brinegar, pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Jacksonville, Arkansas, and the director of operations of Solar Under the Sun.
“My experience is when we talk about discernment, people are thinking about ‘What does God want us to do in a situation?’” Vinson told Brinegar during their engaging 31-minute conversation. “Discernment becomes a very time-specific thing, such as ‘we need to call a pastor’ or ‘we need to do some work on the church building.’ We talk about discernment as something we do to know God’s will to accomplish a certain thing.”
“That is part of discernment, but as people of faith … discernment for me is really more about being, not so much about doing,” Vinson said. “It’s a discipline, like worship or prayer or Bible study. … When we discern, it is a discipline of listening, of listening every day, or a practice if you want to use that word. When it comes time to make these big decisions, we’re ready — or as my grandfather used to say, we’re all prayed up.”
“One thing I’ve learned,” Brinegar said, “is that if we know who we belong to, we know better who we are. And it we know who we are, we know better what to do. In any process of discernment, none of it is valuable unless it is rooted in a valuable object. Our value is in our state of being as people of God.”
“Our value in discerning is in our relationship with God,” Vinson replied. “It’s … between me, as someone who’s called to incarnate the kingdom of God in this place on the Earth, and my relationship with God and what God says to me about how to do that — every day, all day.”
“Incarnating the kingdom of God,” Brinegar repeated. “Talk about what that looks like.”
“What’s the kingdom of God? Peace, love and joy,” Vinson said. “It’s what Jesus brought to Earth. … Therein lies our hope. When we decide on this new thing we are trying to implement in the church, it comes from the space of joy, love and peace. … We have to know what the kingdom of God is, feels like and looks like individually so we can know collectively.”
Brinegar asked Vinson how people can embody qualities like peace, love and joy. Vinson had a ready answer.
“It’s a discipline, a practice, and it has to do with listening,” he said. “Some traditions have this better than we do in Christianity. We call it prayer, and others call it meditation. … My spiritual director taught me these are essential for our spiritual health.”
Here’s one way to think of and take in these qualities:
Peace is like air. The only way to take it in is to breathe it. Vinson imagines himself outfitted with gills along his back.
Joy is the water of our spirit. Water has many uses, including drinking, bathing and washing dishes. “Joy is cleansing and it slakes our thirst,” Vinson said. “It flows up our body like an artesian well.” Joy also “helps cleanse us of the dust bunnies of our soul, the little demons that feed on the wounds of our soul, most commonly fear and anger.”
“Love is the food for our soul. Whatever cuisine we choose — Chinese, French, soul food, even an all-we-can-eat buffet — feeds our soul. Whatever makes us feel love — making art, creating music, exercising, walking in nature — can serve as “a love buffet we feed from,” Vinson said. On occasion, he said, it’s good to try something new.
Stored up with all three qualities, “when it comes time for knowing the will of God, we’re strengthened, we’re more whole.” Best of all, “we come from a heart place and not so much a head place.”
Mike Ferguson, Editor, Presbyterian News Service
Revised Common Lectionary Readings for Sunday, July 24, 2022, the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)
Today’s Focus: Sunspots podcast produced by the Synod of the Sun
Let us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Dwayne Batcho, Production Clerk II, Presbyterian Distribution Center, Administrative Services Group (A Corp)
Doug Batezel, Vice President, Information Technology, Board of Pensions
Let us pray
Dear God of life and love, open our eyes to all of our blessings. Open our hearts so that we can see your love in the lives of others and in our own lives. Continue to prepare us for lives of joy and service. Amen.