Discernment for Effective Disciples
Every now and again, a group of friends here in Portsmouth gets together in each other’s homes to pray together. Last night, we came together and one of the refrains we ended up singing was this from United Pursuit: “take back what the enemy has stolen”. It’s been in my head all day today. It is perfect because it seems to sum up what I feel our mission of evangelisation is. It sums up that we are seeking out all the thousands of lost and seeking, who we have failed to reach yet; it sums up the fact that those souls we’re drawing in because God desires them, the devil also wants to snatch away.
Over the years, I’ve found that in all apostolic work, you have to be ‘canny’ – discerning what God is doing and how he wants you to cooperate with it; discerning how the devil is pulling you away; discerning how your own selfishness and ‘self-regard’ is getting in the way. The upshot of it is that we have to be sharp-witted and ‘on our toes’ as Christians. Here are some things I’ve learnt if you want to be effective as a disciple:
1. Don’t let a day go by without prayer. Go to Mass as often as you can. Don’t let a month go by (at least) without Confession. Stay close to the means of grace! Open your heart wide. Allow God to purify, heal and strengthen you, again and again, with the sacraments. Never, ever rely on your own strength 😉 When did that ever work?!
2. Spending long times in prayer, you develop a ‘taste’ for what is of God and what is of yourself. This is hard to explain, but it is so important! It helps you waste a lot of time and energy. I am the kind of person who has around twenty new ideas a day. There are some subtle questions I put to them: How in touch with the reality of a situation is it? Am I truly ‘detached’ from the idea, or is my ego involved? Do I truly desire God’s will or is there another agenda I am sub-consciously pushing? Does God ‘normally’ work in this way, in my experience, or am I trying to make something happen? Furthermore, we can discern experiences: What was God trying to teach me in that experience? Was there something providential in that conversation? Prayer is essential. Unless we allow the Holy Spirit to mould our hearts in daily, silent prayer, our hearts will be hard and closed to the finer workings of the Holy Spirit in our daily experience.
3. It’s better to say less, and listen more. This is a general rule from someone who has sat through looooooaaaads of meetings in her life. Meetings can be a death-trap, full of temptations to spout your (extremely well-formed, of course) opinions, and even boosting your poor little ego through subtle boasting (what?! but we’re Christians!). Firstly, we would hope that the meeting would begin in heartfelt prayer, and that everyone would at least have the intention to put aside their own wishes. But, at the end of the day, the only heart we have control over is our own. So – let what we say be well-considered and thoughtful; and let’s listen more than speak, to what the Holy Spirit is doing. A good rule of thumb is: don’t give your opinion unless it is asked for (unless there is a ‘moral’ question at sake). (Having said all this: if you’re in a leadership position and you have more responsibility, your role is much more clearly to lead.)
4. Have a healthy ‘detachment’ from your mission. This is a tricky one, because I’ve known people in responsible positions who demonstrated rather too much detachment… So, here, I am addressing more those of us who wake up at night with a great solution to a problem, or an amazing new idea. Our full and utter attachment is to God, not our mission. If tomorrow every single good thing in your life was taken from you, you would still have God. He is our Everything. And the mission is his. So – have time that is completely switched off from the mission. Ask yourself, could I hand all this over to someone tomorrow, or do I think I am indispensable? Regularly make an act of surrender in your heart. In your prayer time, make sure it is not completely absorbed with ‘intentions’ but rather devote most of the time just to loving, adoring, communing with the Lord. Practise detachment through self-denial – penance is a ‘master-tool’ in our toolbox that does not tend to get enough use.
5. Know yourself, and know how the devil likes to trip you up. Whether you tend on the side of laziness, or of being a workaholic; whether you tend towards being ‘gossipy’ or overly reticent – know yourself. For me, I know that when the day is too packed for me to stop and collect my thoughts, the devil is rejoicing at my busy-ness because sooner or later I will trip up. That’s when I have to take stock and make changes.
6. Persevere, persevere, persevere… Evangelisation means being in the trenches. That means tough slog. There are a couple of people I am with throughout the day who ‘get’ and share the struggle, which gives me courage. The Christian life is about ‘training’ – in strength, in virtue. When I first set out in these ‘trenches’ as a late-teenager, I was weaker in many ways – less emotionally resilient, not so good at understanding the ‘psychology’ of people, less spiritually strong or rooted. Human growth and spiritual growth should work together.
And above everything else… Have Jesus at the very centre! My very best apostolic ideas have come when I’m in Adoration. Put time aside for it, and you’ll not regret it 🙂