Monday, November 17, 2008

Sacred Compass 6: Helping others and following God

At the end of the Sacred Compass, J. Brent Bill's book about discerning and following the will of God, he urges us to help others on their journeys of discernment. In good Quaker tradition, Brent shows that we need to use our wisdom not to tell people what to do but to help them discover for themselves what God is calling them to do. When we help others discern their leadings from God, we have to carefully listen to our own leadings. If God is telling us insistently to say something to another person, we should do it, even if it makes us uncomfortable. But more often, we need to follow the leading that tells us to keep our mouths shut and listen deeply.

Brent discusses Quaker clearness committees as a way to help discernment. Normally, a person seeking clarity about a leading will call a clearness committee, composed of a few trusted people, who will listen to what the person has to say and ask questions that help the person explore the leading more fully. The idea is not to tell the person what to do, but to support the discernment process.

In the last chapter, Brent talks about obeying God. At its core, following a leading is obeying God, even when you don't understand why you are being asked to do so. Following leadings means trusting the voice of God in your life even when it doesn't make sense.

I struggled for a time with the idea that loving God means more than "having a good feeling" toward God. When I recognized that loving God means obeying God, I recoiled. Obedience was a word I associated with following orders blindly and acquiescing to structures of power because you have no choice. Obedience in my mind was what led to death camps and to people violating their moral precepts to "follow orders." I also associated it with capitulating to the will of a charismatic but twisted leader.

As I continued to read the Bible, however, I discovered that obeying God means something completely different. As usual, Jesus is subverting the language and ways of the world. In the 13th through 17th chapters of the gospel of John the obedience that Jesus stresses is not the same as the world's obedience. Jesus' obedience is surrounded by and saturated with love. It's a free choice: you don't have to obey, but you choose to do so because of the great love and trust you have. You follow because you want to. The closest analogy, as many have pointed out, is a human love relationship. We follow our beloveds to places outside our comfort zone because we want we to be near them and we want to please them. We may not want to do the particular tasks in question, but being close to the beloved is so important, so beneficial and so treasured that anything we do for the beloved is worth the price.


Unknown said...

Being an average human, I have also been shy of the word obedience. Over time, however, I have discovered the joy of listening and obeying the will of God. My own willfulness was not giving me much solace. Pursuing Jesus into the Unknown has been quite an adventure, and I would not trade all the security of the world for what I have experienced following in his footsteps. John 21:18 is my guiding scripture where Jesus told Peter he would be led to places he never expected to go. His final words were, "follow me." And so I do.

Diane said...

Hi Maurine,

I don't know you but thanks for the comment.

Anonymous said...

Diane, you make a very good point here, one that I haven't often heard. Thank you for this!