Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Spiritual Discernment and Decision Making

One day a young fugitive, trying to hide himself from the enemy, entered a small village. The people were kind to him and offered him a place to stay. But when the soldiers who sought the fugitive asked where he was hiding, everyone became vey fearful. The soldiers threatened to burn the village and kill every person in it unless the young man was handed to them before dawn. The people went to the Pastor and asked him what to do. Torn between handing over the boy to the enemy and having his people killed, the Pastor withdrew to his room and read his Bible, hoping to find an answer before dawn. In the early morning, his eyes fell on these words, “It is better that one man dies than that the whole people be lost.”

Then the Pastor closed the Bible, called the soldiers, and told them where the boy was hidden. And after the soldiers took the fugitive away to be killed, there was a feast in the village because the Pastor has saved the lives of the people. But the Pastor did not celebrate. Overcome with a deep sadness, he remained in his room. That night an angel came to him and asked, “What have you done?” He said: “I handed over the fugitive to the enemy.” Then the angel said: “But don’t you know that you have handed over the Messiah?” “How could I now?” the Pastor replied anxiously. Then the angel said; “If, instead of reading your Bible, you had visited this young man just once and looked into his eyes, you would have known.”

What would you have done if you are this Pastor? Would you consider justifiable that one man should be sacrificed for the lives of the whole village? Would you felt that you have obeyed God by letting the Bible speak to you this way? Our first impression is that the Pastor did right. Is he not considerate of his village? Did he not seek the will of God through his Word? Is it not better that one should die so that others may live; especially if the one who is to die is a stranger? In fact he should be commended for his wisdom and piety.

However the angel was not happy. The fugitive is the long awaited Messiah. The Pastor asked a question which millions of persons before him have asked since they nailed the Prince of Peace onto a wooden cross to die, “How could I know?” Would it have made a difference if he has known earlier? Of course it would. He would have been willing sacrifice himself and his village for the Messiah. Or would he?

I believe that the Pastor had already made up his mind to save himself and his village even before his deliberation. He had already decided that the fugitive, this outsider, should be sacrificed for the greater good. His deliberation was just to find reasons to justify his actions. He agonised in prayer and in his meditation throughout the night, but just cannot find the peace until a random passage in the Bible confirmed what he had already decided. That would have explained why he did not go to meet the fugitive. It was a small village. Could it be that he was unable to meet the person he had already condemned? On hearing about the arrival of this fugitive, he would had already resolved to give up to the soldiers whom he knew is on the heels of this fugitive.

The Pastor’s greatest weakness is his failure to see that all men reflect the face of God and are all of equal value. If he did, he would no more willing to give up the fugitive to the enemy as he would give up any of his villagers. His second failing was to make up his mind first and then seek God’s counsel.

I wonder how often in our lives have we decided upon a course of action first, and then ask God to justify our actions? Having made up our mind, we would spend days, months and years in a struggle with God, and our conscience looking for confirmation and justification. We would interpret all circumstances and events to support our decision. We accept only the counsel of people who say what we want to hear. And we pick from the Bible passages that agree with our assessment while rejecting the rest. We suppress the quiet voice of the Holy Spirit and our conscience, resisting the sense of unease, and sometimes attributing it to spiritual warfare. We believe that the strong impression that we sense in our heart are a confirmation from the Lord, not suspecting that our hearts are capable of great self-deception. Then we proceed with the course of action, convincing others that it is God’s will or even worst that we speak for God. The result of these is often catastrophic. People are hurt, ministries disrupted, and our souls are severe injured. What is not of God will not endure.

So when we want to discern the will of God, let us be honest. Let us truly seek his wisdom and counsel and be open to listen and accept his guidance. We need to move into a place of solitude as Jesus did in the garden of Gethsemane to listen. There is the need to fast and pray; disciplining our bodies so that we can be open to God. We need to adopt the attitude of listening to the whole counsel of God from the Bible, not just selected verses. Listening also involve hearing the voice of the Holy Spirit speaking into our lives and by the Spirit through the mind of God, understand the circumstances and events in our lives. Spiritual decision making is not testing God as Gideon did with his fleeces. Last but not least, let us listen to the discernment and thoughts of our fellow Christians in our community. We share the same baptism and the same Spirit. If the Spirit has spoken to us, then he would have spoken to others too. If the other members of our community of faith do not agree with our plan of action, it will be wise to stop and take stock.

There is a great need for Christians to learn spiritual discernment. For too long, we have leaned unto our own understanding, using our minds to make decisions, and to discern a course of action. We must avoid what the Pastor has discovered. What seems right in our own eyes may not be right at all. We all need spiritual sight in our discernment. Let us beware that we do not unintentionally crucify Jesus again.

Soli Deo Gloria

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Blogger Paul said...

Ouch ... great "parable" ... too close for my personal comfort ...

6:13 AM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

Yes, Paul. I know what you mean. I get convicted while writing it!

12:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Psychologists call it confirmation bias. Its a very human response that allows us to maintain our personal belief system in an unpredictable world and also often allows self justification to be masqueraded as fact or logic even if its neither

9:18 PM  
Blogger Alex Tang said...

Yes, "confirmation bias" is a very human response but I believe disciples of Jesus Christ can do better that that.

12:56 AM  

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