Discerning God’s will involves paying attention to the little things. A “Road to Damascus” experience—a sudden and dramatic revelation—is most unlikely in any life, and yet those of us with decades behind us can look back over a life and discern a clear pattern, a trajectory. Discerning God’s will in and for a parish church can also involve retrospection but best focuses on the little things, on the day-in and day-out pattern of a life of faith lived together.
Whatever we might aspire to in life, we know that a quick route to disappointment is to be unrealistic. If I say, for example, that I am going to lower my running pace to 8:30 a mile from 9:05, I know that it will take a lot of hard work over many weeks to try to do this. I can’t just say that I’ll run faster and expect this to happen as an act of will. (I can try, and probably end up ill or injured or both!) It’s the same in a life of faith. We aspire to holiness; we aspire to a closer relationship with God. But if we ever expect this to happen by our willpower, we will be disappointed, and in being disappointed we are more easily persuaded to give up trying.
It was an act and statement of will—and one which by all evidence was made sincerely—by which Peter said to Jesus, “Even though … all fall away, I will not. … If I must die with you, I will not deny you” (Mark 14.29-31). And yet we know that Peter did deny Jesus, three times that very night, as Jesus knew would happen. Peter’s will was not enough to allow him to attain to the holiness to which he was called, but he did attain this holiness; he became one with his Lord in his own martyrdom, himself crucified upside down after many years of being formed in God’s will. Once Peter accepted that his own will would never be perfect enough to allow him to be who God called him to be, he was able to surrender himself to God, that God’s will might form him and perfect him to be the “rock” Jesus had declared him to be (Mtt. 16.18). In declaring Peter to be the rock upon which His Church would be built, Jesus went on to say of the Church that “… the powers of death shall not prevail against it”. You are this Church against which the powers of death shall not prevail. You are the Church which is Christ’s Body on earth. It is together, as those gathered in Jesus’ Name, that we welcome and trust in God’s presence (Mtt. 18.20), and experiencing this presence prevail.
In looking forward to this new year, in aspiring to holiness, let’s begin by focusing on how we may be formed by God’s will, in His will. We will do this in the little things; in the little things undertaken constantly. This means that habits of prayer matter—that we each set aside time each day for prayer, both to speak to God and to listen to Him. It means that we will be faithful in gathering for worship, recognizing the Lord’s day to be set apart, to be holy, and treating all of the day as a time to set ourselves apart to God, in worship first and then in how we by some small effort deny some small part of what the world would otherwise call us to in busyness and distraction. It means that we will be intentional about examining our own faith and conscience, asking that God’s Spirit may help us when we fall by first admitting those times when we do fall short. It means that we will be intentional in how we deny ourselves, that we may all the more hunger for God.
The diocesan Rule of Life summarizes the little things we are called to do in surrendering our will. See http://www.diofdl.org/documents/publications/fdlrol.htm As we enter a new year of blessing, may we so hunger for God that we shall be formed to be the people God calls us to be, to be a place where all may experience that this is not the world, it is a place of holiness—of God’s mercy and delight—set apart not just to endure, but to prevail.
Yours in Christ Jesus,
The Rev. Dr. Karl C. Schaffenburg Rector