Pursuing God's Will Together: A Discernment Practice

Ruth Haley Barton, my colleague at Northern Seminary and the founder/director of The Transforming Center, recently wrote a book entitled Pursuing God’s Will Together: A Discernment Practice for Leadership Groups.  This past week I had the opportunity to read my copy, one graciously signed by the author.  In it I find some jewels on cultivating the discernment process, one defined by Haley-Barton as that ever-increasing capacity to see the work of God in the midst of the human situation so that we can align ourselves with God’s work in our small part of the world.

As a Pastor Search Consultant, I was especially attracted to the “Dynamic of Discernment” section in the book.  There Haley-Barton describes three prayers that prepare an individual or team or congregation engaged in a discernment process such as discovering a new pastor.

The first prayer Haley-Barton labels the “Prayer for Indifference.” In short, through this prayer we follow the example of our Lord and say, “Not my will but yours be done.” Here is her excellent description of this important prayer:

In the context of spiritual discernment, indifference is a positive term signifying that I am indifferent to anything but God’s will. This is interior freedom or a state of openness to God in which we are free from undue attachment to any particular outcome…. We ask God to bring us to a place where we want God’s will, nothing more, nothing less, nothing else. (63)

That prayer, in and of itself, positions us to enter the process of spiritual discernment where we may offer a second prayer. In this prayer we may confidently ask the Lord for wisdom believing that he will provide what is lacking (James 1:5).  In this prayer we seek God’s grace to compensate for our deficiencies. Without the Lord’s help, we may be able to between the good and the bad, but we need God’s grace to discern between the good, the better, and the best for our particular context.

Now we are ready for the third prayer. Haley-Barton refers to it as that of “Quiet Trust.” Through this prayer we rest in God and God’s promises with the hope of experiencing the childlike trust so essential to the discernment process. Haley-Barton offers Psalm 131 as an example:

My heart is not proud, Lord, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. But I have calmed and quieted myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content.  Israel,  put your hope in the Lord both now and forevermore.

Are you currently in or preparing to enter into a discernment process with a group of other Christ-followers? Here is great agenda for your first gathering: fill it with prayer!

  • Begin with a Prayer for Indifference.
  • Continue with a Prayer for Wisdom.
  • Conclude with a Prayer of Quiet Trust.

1 Comment

  1. Matt Eenigenburg on January 24, 2013 at 8:52 pm

    Sam, this was an awesome summary! I plan to refer to this book in my sermon on Sunday!

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