Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Discernment: Desire

sermon notes from the Vineyard Church of Milan 08/26/2012

video available at www.sundaystreams.com/go/MilanVineyard/ondemand

Third in a series on discernment. The process of figuring out what God’s will is for us and our world in any particular moment or decision or situation.

Last week we talked about how when we talk about discerning God’s will we’re not talking about his master plan or divine blueprint, but rather his pleasure or desire. Knowing that God always desires good for us, what is his desire? Remember, you don’t have to be a spiritual black belt to do this. Together, all of us can do this. God calls us into an adventure with him; he will show us his desires, and he will help us to see them.

Our text for this series:

Therefore I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is true worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve (discern) what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Romans 12:1

Through our decisions, large and small, we become who we are. And our decisions, actions, the parts of our lives that we exercise influence and control over, flow from our desires. What is our pleasure? What do we desire?

To our pride or shame, our desires are directly measurable by our decisions and actions, far moreso than our words.

Perhaps you say, I hate my job. All I want is to do something else, anything else. And perhaps you really do desire to do something else. But you aren’t. Why not? Because other desires are stronger. Perhaps the desire to feed your family, or avoid something you are afraid of, like losing everything, or the shame of failing, or the desire to live where you live, or any number of other, stronger desires.

Perhaps you say, I want to get in shape.

Or I want to serve God.

Or I want to be more generous with my money.

Or perhaps you’ve never consciously thought about your desires and aren’t even sure what your desires are. Well, look at your life. Where do you live, how do you spend your time, who do you bless with your energy and resources? It may not be obvious, but with enough thoughtful probing, your most influential desires will show themselves…

[caution against trying to evaluate others’ desires; this an exercise we can only do for ourselves, although getting help from a spiritual director, for example can be useful…note also the role of strongly formed habits, addictions]

Discernment is an academic exercise if we don’t desire what God desires.

[play u2 desire…]

In the song, money is anthropomorphized as a seductive woman. His desire for her, he says, is like a fever, getting higher. It’s a sickness that might just take his life. It takes him out of his mind, makes him delirious, makes him pursue her, certainly against his better judgment, almost against his will, it’s as if he’s helpless against her. Desire.

Compare that to the psalmist’s song:

As the deer pants for streams of water,

so my soul pants for you, my God.

My soul thirst for God, for the living God…

Psalm 42:1-2

Which brings us back to Romans 12:

Therefore I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is true worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve (discern) what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Romans 12:1

Discernment begins with the offering of ourselves to God as a sacrifice. And the part of our selves that we offer, first and foremost, is our desires.

Our desires originate in our bodies. Hunger, thirst, affection, the alleviation of discomfort, sleep. Which is why the scripture speaks of offering our bodies as living sacrifices.

Over time, we can come to view ourselves as unworthy, corrupted sacrifices because of our unholy desires – desires that have been set apart not to God, but to ourselves, conformed to the pattern of this world. Not so! says Paul as he pens this letter to the church in Rome, the capital of the empire set against the desires of God. When you offer your self to God as a living sacrifice, misdirected and misinformed and malformed desires and all, it is holy and pleasing to God. Nothing less than true worship.

And so step one in the discipline of discernment is to say, God, I offer myself to you; my desires are yours and you are my desire. And perhaps if you can’t say that yet, you can say, at least: I desire to desire what you desire; I invite you to make my desires like Jesus’ desires.

This first step in discernment, the offering of your self and your desires to God, is central to the salvation from sin and the brokenness of our world that stems from our enslavement to desires that have been conformed to the pattern of this world.

In a book called “Drive”, Daniel Pink writes about what motivates us. In it he describes what he calls three different motivational operating systems that have had, or are beginning to have influence on us and our world.

Motivation 1.0: Biological desires (from 50,000 years ago until the emergence of more complex culture and civilization)

Motivation 2.0: Seek reward, avoid punishment (necessitated by the need to restrain the biological desires, facilitates cooperation, contracts, law, commerce)

Motivation 2.1 (Frederick Winslow Taylor in the early 1900s): Carrots and Sticks (extrinsic motivators; artificial rewards and punishments to control behavior)

Motivation 3.0 intrinsic motivations: the satisfactions of creativity, mastery, and generosity. Autonomy, Mastery, Purpose. [Wikipedia vs Microsoft Encarta]

God is motivated by 3.0 desires. Survival isn’t his primary driver. Nor is seeking rewards or avoiding punishment, no carrots have a hold on him, and no sticks cause him fear. (see Jesus for proof). As the freest being in the world, he operates out of only intrinsic, internal motivations.

And God made us in his image, inviting us into his love. What is more autonomous than love? What is harder to master? What is a higher purpose?

The pattern of this world is a motivation 2.0 pattern. The renewing of our minds is a motivation 3.0 upgrade.

Consider God’s commands to the first human beings (“Go forth and multiply”) and Jesus commands to his followers (“Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”) The motivation for carrying out these commissions effectively is all Motivation 3.0, isn’t it? God restores and leverages our intrinsic motivations of autonomy, mastery, and purpose to accomplish his creative purposes.

[note: unfortunately, sometimes some churches and religious people, shaped unconsciously by Motivation 2.1, try to frame the life of following Jesus in 2.1 terms – avoiding hell and seeking the rewards of heaven, adding carrots for approved behaviors and sticks for disapproved. Is it any wonder the true power of the gospel gets lost in that kind of system?]

Ministry is all driven by motivation 3.0 – when it’s working right, that is. the satisfactions of creativity, mastery, and generosity. Work done with autonomy, mastery, purpose. Frederick Buechner writes: “The place where God calls you is the place where your deep gladness and world’s deep hunger meet.” [examples…]

This is the life of Jesus. I and the Father are one. I only do what I see my Father doing.

This is what Jesus gives to the church: a relationship with the Holy Spirit and a mission, driven by his love, fueled by his good news, empowered by his resurrection.

Peterson quote: You cease to think when your body begins to dance to the rhythms of the Spirit, and the only choreography is that of the Creator. Before you know it, the dance has taken over. There is no greater feeling in life than the moment when the dance you are dancing takes over, when the dance and the dancer become one.

Sometimes we imagine that our goal is to say, “All I want to do is what God wants me to do. I’m just waiting for my next instructions.” This is, of course, a great place to be. But perhaps God wants something even more for us. Perhaps God is waiting for us to decide what we want to do, and he will join us there? Sometimes us choosing is not an opposition to God’s will. In fact, if our wills have been shaped by his, if his desires become our desires, then God’s will can be made known in our choices. This is what it means to be co-creators with him.

The phrase “God’s will” can be itself subtly misleading, though it is deeply embedded in the Christian discernment tradition. It implies that God’s will is a thing rather than a relationship. Something “out there” that a person must discover and then do. Because of the open-ended and dynamic nature of God’s relationship with us, I prefer to speak of God’s call rather than God’s will- for I believe that “call” is more reflective of the open, relational, and non-predetermined nature of God’s relationship with us than the classical term “will” often connotes.

The Way of Discernment

So let’s get practical.

A first practical suggestion, if you are currently facing a significant decision, is to simply do this:

Give God permission to renew your desires. Pray, “Jesus, as I try to figure out what step I should take, and what your desire is for me in this decision, I want to want what you want. So I give you permission to renew my desires to be like yours as I discern your will about this.”

Secondly, recommend you try an exercise designed to help you identify your heart’s deepest desire, so you can offer it to God.

1. Find a quiet, uninterrupted place to dedicate some time to God. Ask for the light of the Holy Spirit to notice your deepest desires, to name them accurately, and to respond appropriately to what you find.

2. Notice your body, tensions, fatigue, pains, energy, etc. Also your mind, thoughts, plans, wandering, judgments, chatter, etc.

3. Invite your body to relax attentively, and give your mind permission to take a break from everything else for a few minutes. You can do this silently or out loud, if it helps.

4. Ask yourself, in God’s presence, “What do I want, right this minute?”

5. When you recognize what it is that you want, give it a name and write it down. Relax attentively again, and ask “What do I want, right this minute?”

6. Notice, name it, jot it. Repeat until no more desires surface.

7. Look at all of them, and notice which seem to be the most central, most important, most attractive, the most full of energy. Select the most central one, and bring it directly into your attention.

8. Without judging it as good or bad, or yourself for having it, ask “And what is underneath this desire? What desire is even more basic than this one?”

9. Gently repeat this question for each subsequent desire that surfaces. Ask each one, “Is there an even more basic desire underneath this one?”

10. When you come to the deepest desire, honor it as central to who you are.

11. Finally, offer it back to God, just as it is, as an expression of who you are at this moment.

(adapted from “The Way of Discernment” by Elizabeth Liebert)

Finally, and this is especially for people for whom the whole idea of figuring out God’s desires is new: read the gospel of John, beginning to end, keeping this question in front of your mind: “If our decisions and actions reveal our desires, what do Jesus’ decisions and action reveal about God’s desires?”

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