The Surrender in Discernment
This sermon was given by Geoff Pound at the Ashburton Baptist Church on 23 October 2016. It is the third in the ‘Journey in Discernment’ series. The first sermon in the series is posted at this link (with the podcast) and the second in the series is a podcast at this link. The format for the series is based on the book, Making Life Decisions.
Scripture Reading: Romans 12: 1-8
I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.
3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.
4 For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function,
5 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.
6 We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith;
7 ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching;
8 the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.
People were surprised when they turned up to their church one Sunday morning. It was just before ten but the building was all locked up. On the front door of the church there was a notice with these words:
“You have been coming here long enough. Some of you have heard hundreds of sermons about the Christian faith. Today, just go out and do it!”
When the Christians in the early church of Rome got to the 12th chapter of Paul’s letter, they received a similar notice. For 11 chapters they’d read Paul’s comprehensive teaching on the Christian faith. They heard of God’s gift of Jesus Christ, about his life, teaching, his resurrection and the Holy Spirit. They’d marveled at all that God had done to make forgiveness and reconciliation possible.
Now Paul begins this section with the word ‘therefore’ and it’s as if he’s looking back and looking forward and saying:
“On the basis of all that God has done for you, now go out and do it!”
What follows are exhortations of how we are to live out God’s grace. Bang smack in the first paragraph we find this major outcome of all that God has done:
“So that you may discern what is the will of God.” (Romans 12:2)
The will of God is not intended to be kept a secret.
It’s God’s hope that we all might discover it and enter into it.
This is one of the great things about being a Christian—the good news that God guides us. The Christian life is the guided life.
It’s good for us to ponder:
If God is wanting to get a message through to us,
Are we still enough to hear it?
Are we receptive enough to receive it?
Are we courageous enough to follow it?
Today in our ongoing Journey in Discernment series, we’re examining more principles of how we may discover and discern and do God’s will in our lives.
There are no shortcuts. No quick fix formulas. No substitute for taking responsibility and as we learned last week, there’s often a wrestling with God.
Instead, listen to what this work involves:
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” (Romans 12: 1)
1. Discernment begins with the surrendered life.
Paul’s picture comes from the sacrificial system in his Jewish faith where lambs and doves are slaughtered and offered to God.
But here his radical appeal is that the people are to be the offering.
Furthermore, they were to offer themselves as a ‘living sacrifice’.
From their understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures they knew that their sacrifice was to be ‘holy’ and ‘acceptable’, meaning the best lamb in the flock, not the blemished lamb that you want to get rid of.
2. Discernment requires an ongoing offering.
The call to present our bodies as a living sacrifice is neither a annual act like a sacrifice on the Day of Atonement nor a once a week offering when on Sunday we put ourselves on the altar and then slip off for the rest of the week.
This is the present continuous tense, which means that the presentation of ourselves is ongoing. Every day. Every moment.
If our presentation is ongoing, it suggests that our discernment is an ongoing discovery rather than receiving a static computer print out.
Discernment is not about receiving an entire blueprint.
It’s usually about discovering the next step. As Whitney Houston used to sing, discernment is also achieved “brick by brick, step by step.”
3. Discernment is an act of Trust.
The author, Max Lucado, spent a week visiting the interior of Brazil. With an experienced pilot he travelled a circuit of remote towns in a very small plane. Lucado thought the plane could come undone at the slightest turbulence.
Max Lucado couldn’t get comfortable. He kept thinking that the plane was going to crash in some Amazonian jungle. He’d be gobbled up by piranhas or swallowed by an anaconda.
He kept shifting around, looking down, and gripping his seat. Finally, the pilot had had enough of his squirming. He looked at his passenger and he shouted over the aeroplane noise:
“We won’t face anything I can’t handle. You might as well trust me to fly the plane.”
If discernment comes through surrender, then surrender requires trust and such trust is strengthened as we grow in our understanding of who God is. This is why Paul makes his appeal ‘by the mercies of God.” (Romans 12:1)
4. Discernment is a Gift.
Can you imagine these Roman Christians studying this letter week by week? You can picture them highlighting in their papyrus notebooks these mercies, which are undeserved gifts:
“I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith.” (Romans 1)
“For God shows no partiality.” (Romans 2)
“For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are now justified by God’s grace as a gift through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3)
“God is able to do what God has promised.” (Romans 4)
“Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5)
“For the wages of sin is death but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6)
“Wretched person that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7)
“We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to God’s purpose.” (Romans 8)
When through the Scriptures we grow in our understanding of ‘the mercies of God’ we will be confident to surrender our lives as a ‘living sacrifice’ and we’ll grow in the trust that’s needed for discernment.
5. Discernment involves all our God-given faculties
When we offer ourselves totally, we’re getting a hint of the way God uses all of us in discernment.
There are so many factors involved when people buy a new vehicle. With our minds we consider the space and speed, the economy and the engineering and the paint and the price tag. But think also about the aesthetics.
A Porsche looks different from a Ferrari. They have a completely different aesthetic appeal. The car designers take exquisite care with every curve and line, every headlight and grille. And they make different decisions.
A Ferrari has an unmistakably passionate Italian look while a Porsche, has a fast exacting German sensibility. Designers make these cars items of moving sculpture. Aesthetics involves emotions and our emotions are highly involved in decision-making and discernment.
In making of choices we sometimes talk about ‘following our instinct’ or our ‘gut feeling’. So with the concept of ‘emotional intelligence’ and the claim that ‘EQ’ is just as significant as ‘IQ’ it’s important to realize that when we present ourselves as a ‘living sacrifice’ we are presenting to God our mind, our emotions, our spirits, our bodies, our gut and all the different ways that we know and discern.
6. Discernment takes us on a Different Journey
Our passage says: 2 “Do not be conformed to this world” which J B Phillips translated as “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould.”
The world doesn’t take kindly to people who are different. This is why nonconformists down through history have been excluded, expelled, excommunicated, exiled and executed!
If we’re going to follow the right way we may also be isolated and misunderstood.
This suggests that our life, our goals and values and our discernment will be surprisingly different when it’s in line with Jesus Christ.
Consider the surprise of discernment in that Old Testament story when King Saul died (1 Samuel 16). The prophet Samuel is called up to discern the successor from the royal line.
Jesse the father brings his eldest son Eliab who has seniority and whose height and good looks are reminiscent of Saul.
The Scripture says:
“Samuel looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.” 7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
Jesse calls the next son and the next and after seven sons had passed Samuel, he declared:
“The Lord has not chosen any of these.” 11 Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And Jesse said, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.” [He’s too young and small and insignificant] And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.” 12 He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.” (1 Sam: 16:10-12)
The surprises of God in our journey of discernment.
“Humans look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
7. Discernment Involves Transformation
“2 Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your minds…”
Presenting ourselves as a living sacrifice isn’t a passive surrender for there’s transformation taking place. Ongoing renewal.
The Greek word for ‘be transformed’ is the word ‘metamorphosis’ so when we see the eggs on a plant turn into a very hungry caterpillar which gobbles up all the leaves, morphs into a chrysalis and then in time emerges into a glorious butterfly we realize what a total transformation of our faculties God wants to bring about ‘so that we may discern’.
8. Discernment is a Sifting
At the crossroads we seek to discern the right road to get to our destination.
In a loud room we seek to discern our child’s cry amidst all the different noises.
We’ve seen how the prophet Samuel did that sifting and separating until he was sure about David.
The apostle concludes this passage with a list of the many gifts and ministries in the life of the church (Romans 12: 4-8). It takes a sifting and a sober judgment (Romans 12:3) until we discern our ministry, our vocation at that particular time.
Discernment is like the work of an archaeologist who searches for something not apparent and sifts the sand to find the treasure.
A few years ago I was asked to lead a workshop. I said: “When is it? Where is it?”
They said: “It’s in middle of winter. It’s on the Gold Coast for a week. All expenses paid.”
I thought, ‘Thank you Jesus. No need to pray for God’s will for this one!’
Our mixed motives, our own ego, the lure of flattery, our yearning for comfort—all these and more can constitute the rubble which we must sift through, hopefully with the help of others.
As archaeologists don’t come in with bulldozers and hob nail boots, discernment need to be approached with great sensitivity and care.
Like an archaeological dig, discernment requires time and buckets of patience.
It’s like cooking with a crockpot where things need to simmer rather than a quick whirl in the microwave.
9. Discernment is about Finding God’s Best.
Our Scripture says (Romans 12: 2b):
“So that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
We might think that if we truly surrendered ourselves, God might make us do something we hate. God might send us somewhere we don’t want to go.
Here we’re told that God’s will is not a bitter pill but it is good, acceptable and perfect.
10. Discernment is Best Done Together.
When we think that this Scripture is written to the church not to an individual.
That we’re all called to surrender, to ongoing offering, to trust, to use all our senses, to be different, to sift the best from the good, it stands to reason that there are so many resources we can give and receive from one another.
Doing this together will be the subject of our next study in our Journey in Discernment.
O that today you would listen to God’s voice! [Psalm 95]
O that today you would listen to God’s voice!
In this word, O, we hear your longing and your yearning that we might listen to your voice.
O that today… We recognize that you’re a living God and in your love you long to relate to us. Enable us to hear the word that comes to us each new day like freshly baked bread.
O that today you would listen…God we confess that we find it easier to talk than to listen. Teach us to be attentive. May we develop the ears to hear what the Spirit is saying to us, our church and our world.
O that today you would listen to God’s voice! In our noisy world in which we’re bombarded with a multitude of voices, train us to distinguish your still small voice.
And bless us all in the discerning and the doing of your will.
 This and the next paragraph are informed by the book, Bill Burnett & Dale Evans, Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life, Knopf, 2016.