How to discern what is best?
Sometimes simple questions demand very long and complex answers. This is life. Kids are experts with such apparently simple and banal questions. They could ask philosophical question without realizing that answer is quite long. “Why trees are growing from ground, how does a pen produce ink, how does the television work, who invented the stars?”
Older folks can ask the same sort of question – like my mum for example when she was initiated into mysteries of the internet and Facebook for the first time. She asked me, “Boris where is the web? How come I can read news for free and communicate with my high school friends who moved to Canada thirty years ago?!”
How to discern what is best? This is simply one of life’s questions. How to make a judgment call in particular situation? How to differentiate among different choices or in other words how to make decision? What do we need to take in consideration if we want to make right decision? In today’s reading we can find some very good and constructive advice.
Paul is writing his letter from prison. It is generally is accepted that he is in prison in Rome waiting for trial around early 60s AD. As a Roman citizen he called upon Emperor since he was unlawfully accused of starting some sort of upraising among Jews.
Paul’s countrymen accused him without any solid evidence. They made accusations against Paul in front of Judean Roman authorities in order to get rid of him and his preaching about Jesus Christ. Paul said to authorities: I am innocent man and I am willing to prove my innocence at Imperial court in Rome. That was a legal custom in those days if you were sure that you will not have fair trial in your own city. Some scholars believe that he did it intentionally in order to go to Rome and to meet Christians there. Perhaps this could be true.
So Paul is in prison and he is writing very nice and very intimate letter to the leaders of the church he founded few years ago. He is in prison and he is waiting for court. It is sort of house arrestment not real prison with criminals since Paul was not condemned yet. It means that people would be able to come and see him and the imperial guard would treat him decently.
If we carefully read the text once again we can easily see that Paul does not feel fear or nervousness. Just the opposite! He is encouraging the Philippians with words of exhortation. He even says that the Philippians should feel happiness and joyfulness since the Word of God is spreading out and people are preaching Christ, what does it matter if he is in prison? (I will be released soon, so please guys don’t worry about me you have other things to worry about.)
Paul is relaxed but attentive; he is spontaneous but thoughtful. He is not afraid even if he is in Rome and the crazy Emperor Nero – enemy of Christians – is in the power. Why is that? He said: I am thankful to God remembering you guys in Philippi. I am constantly praying for you and I am confident. Interesting …
He is thankful, prayerful and confident. This is his inner condition. He knows that Philippians are sharing the Gospel, and their grace and hearts are with him. And this is important. This is somehow enough.
They share Gospel, grace and hearts, literally he said you are participating with me in Gospel, in grace and in my heart. Because if we do that and if we apply this ourselves we should be sure that God will finish in us what he started, God will bring to completion his work in us.
These are important pre-conditions for making good decisions. To be thankful for what we have, to develop prayerful mood and be grounded in confidence. Paul said that his prayer contains three important ingredients.
First is that our love overflows more and more. Second is that our knowledge with judgment (or insight) increases in order to do the third thing – that we can determinate what is best. How interesting is this?! First love, then, knowledge and discernment (determination what is best). How do we do that?
I don’t want to sound too philosophical here. Love and knowledge are related. If you want to know something you need to love it first. However if you love something or someone you want to know something about that person or thing (like science for example).
One philosopher after the death of his father find a postcard he wrote to his Dad many years ago as young boy. In postcard was written; “The more I love you the more I know you.” He was struck by his own words written almost fifty years ago.
Being able to love and to know with thankfulness, prayer and confidence is an important step in order to discriminate what is best. This is tricky part since we think that is easy and that we always know what is best for us!
We are good in making decisions in order to do what is best for us. Nevertheless we all have experience where we have made decisions out of good will and they turn into a catastrophe … we all have such experiences, unfortunately.
You know this situation when you tried your best and outcome was totally unpredictable. First this is because we try to calculate too much and we try to play games with God pretending that we are looking for his will.
We have tendency to do everything by ourselves and then we laconically add in our prayers “let your will be done.” We only inform God what we want and that like Jukebox we are asking for another song.
It is important to know that in the Christian life only long term solutions are ones worth considering. There are no short cuts in the Christian life since every day matters and every day small decisions will produce good result on long run. That is reason why we pray every day with thankfulness and confidence.
Short term or rather quick decisions and easy answers are always promote solutions on short run and this can be form of avoiding responsibility for making more serious decisions with wider consequences and implications.
To discern in order to make decision we need to attentively observe movements in our soul and avoid making decisions only if this looks attractive “now”. We should take into consideration our emotions, our talents, gifts, habits and our character. That is the reason why love and knowledge come into play. We are considering certain things in light of our past experiences, present situation and future expectations.
Observing movements in our soul is prayerful act done silence in order to see yourself differently. Let me give you an example. Imagine you have different choices and you need to make a decision – whether to leave or to stay to accept this job or not.
Imagine yourself that you need to give advice to unknown person or even to your friend. Imagine then yourself at the end of life and ask yourself, would you regret this decision? Or even imagine yourself at the Judgement Day and you are talking with Jesus and ask yourself was it good decision?
If this decision will make you to love and know God more than before, than you have answer. If this decision will draw you closer to God and closer to yourself than you know the answer. Paul gives us parameters how to know that we make good judgment call. Did this decision make us pure, blameless and more righteous in Christ more or less?
(We are landing in couple of minutes. Fasten your seat belts and close the tray tables in front of you!)
Paul in his letter did not offer us a technique of seven steps how to make good decisions. The Christian life is not one more technique or decision management tool. It is call and response – a call and the gift of a good life in which we make small and large decisions every day. Paul is urging us live this good life – to make decisions each day – and so we need seriously to take into consideration thankfulness, prayer and confidence. God calls us and invites us to make this our daily practice in order to make habit of it. Thankfulness. Prayer. Confidence.
Paul said to us that we should allow Christ to work in us and through us and for us in order that our love overflows and that we grow in knowledge of Jesus in order to discern what best.
We will know that we have made a good decision when we know that this decision brings us close to God, into His presence. We will know that because God’s righteousness will be manifested in us through purity and blamelessness. Amen.
- Philippians 1:2 - 11