Noticing God in Everything
Bible Gateway interviewed Dr. Stephen Macchia (MDiv ’83, DMin ’01), Director of Gordon-Conwell’s Pierce Center for Disciple Building, about his new book, The Discerning Life: An Invitation to Notice God in Everything. The interview by Jonathan Petersen, Bible Gateway Content Manager, originally appeared on the Bible Gateway blog.
Have we forgotten the basic premise of practicing a preference for God in our daily lives? Have we implanted strategic planning, head-to-head battling, and will-of-God knowing in its place? How should we prioritize the care of our souls, the grace of our communities, and the mission of our lives, churches, and organizations?
Jonathan Petersen: What is spiritual discernment and why is it important?
Stephen Macchia: Spiritual discernment is noticing God first and foremost, in all his majesty and splendor, as well as in the ordinary and daily, from which we embrace God’s abiding presence, power, and peace in every aspect of our lives. Discernment is the choice and posture of the believer who seeks to practice a preference for God in all aspects of their personal lives and service to others.
Petersen: Why have you concluded proper discernment is not being widely practiced today?
Macchia: My concern is that spiritual discernment has been pigeon-holed in the exclusive realm of decision-making and in our will-of-God pursuit. Spiritual discernment includes the decisions we make, but is preceded by an overall lifestyle of noticing God, celebrating the goodness of God, and then pointing God out to one another in the body of Christ.
Petersen: What does the Bible say about discernment?
Macchia: The Scriptures are filled with stories of discernment, from the Garden of Eden to the Garden of Gethsemane to the Garden where John the apostle wrote the book of Revelation to a distracted people anticipating eternity. God wants to be noticed and his presence discerned, so that his beloved children can listen to his voice and walk in his ways to the glory of his name. Consider all of your favorite Bible characters and embedded within each of those stories is a picture of discernment, either intimate or absent, receptive or resistant.
Petersen: How is spiritual discernment cultivated?
Macchia: A lifestyle of spiritual discernment is best cultivated in our prayer closets, where we shut ourselves out from the world’s distractions and compulsions, and listen attentively and intentionally for the voice of God. This way of being present to God is nourished within our faith communities when we help each other notice God, which leads to our faithful service to others in Jesus’ name. We call this “practicing a preference for God” in all aspects of our lives. Leaning God’s direction—alone and in community—fosters a discerning life and a transformed world.
Petersen: What do you mean, “In the world of spiritual discernment, fast and first and most are not the way we are invited to live and learn as followers of Jesus”?
Macchia: Jesus often withdrew to an alone space to commune with the Father. He was never in a hurry, never acted with impulsivity, never was he thoughtless in his demeanor. Instead, he carefully, lovingly, and prayerfully moved about, noticing those around him and serving them with compassion, mercy, and grace. If we’re to follow Jesus and do likewise today, it requires that we slow down and be more prayerful in our intentionality. We need to avoid the need to be fastest, first, and most, which evoke a competitive rather than a cooperative spirit.
Petersen: What is prayerful listening?
Macchia: God gave us two ears and one mouth. In our prayers, I’m espousing for double the listening and half the talking. Of course we’re invited to express our hearts in prayer—in our words of adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication. But, in our prayer closets, and even in our lives within our faith communities, practicing silence and stillness will indeed lead us into deeper affection and heightened attention. God has much more important things to say to us than we to him…learning to listen will vastly improve our obedience and our willingness to offer one another the grace they deserve.
Petersen: Briefly explain contextual empathy.
Macchia: Everyone has a story to tell, a context from which they were raised, and a culture they represent. In pursuing a life of spiritual discernment, we need to understand the significance of our cultures—not just the secular ones we represent, but the personal ones we embody—and how they impact our discernment. Our co-cultures of ethnicity, heritage, language, geography, etc., matter greatly to our ability to effectively discern. Therefore, we have a choice…will we be empathetic to one another or judgmental toward another? The state of our souls, and our growing love for God (the One who best personifies empathy), will be directly proportional to our ability to empathize compassionately and gracefully toward those who cross our paths. Our world desperately needs contextual empathy today.
Petersen: How is practicing spiritual discernment a radical lifestyle?
Macchia: The radical nature of spiritual discernment is that its focus is on the Kingdom of God. We’re called out of darkness into his marvelous light. We’re representatives of Christ’s Kingdom here on earth; in our generation and among those we’ve been called to serve. When we consider the Kingdom of Heaven, Jesus’ number one priority, and determine to follow Christ in his self-effacing, self-sacrificing ways, it will require radical choices. Are we truly willing to give of ourselves so that God’s priorities become ours, and then choose to live out those priorities? The radical nature of the discerning life is saying yes to Jesus’ way and be willing to sacrifice our own agenda for his. May it be so in our generation!
Petersen: What is a favorite Bible passage of yours and why?
Macchia: I have many favorite Bible passages, but the one I love most for the topic of spiritual discernment is the Emmaus Road story in Luke 24. I love how Jesus accompanies his two disciples as they head home to Emmaus from Jerusalem. Their hearts are discouraged and downtrodden, so Jesus makes himself known to them in the retelling of the prophets foretelling of his arrival as the long-awaited Messiah, and at their table in the breaking of bread in their home. And then the eyes of their hearts are opened wide to the reality of Jesus’ presence in their midst. My most favorite question in all of the Bible is “were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” The burning heart for Jesus transforms their awareness of his presence, his power, and his peace. They run back to their friends in Jerusalem with the good news on their lips that he is alive!
Petersen: What are your thoughts about Bible Gateway and the Bible Gateway App and Bible Audio App?
Macchia: Thanks for your faithfulness to the call of God on your lives to make the Bible accessible to all, worldwide and among every people group on earth. I marvel at your reach and celebrate your many faithful accomplishments in behalf of God’s Kingdom.
Petersen: Is there anything else you’d like to say?
Macchia: My prayer is that this generation will have many who pursue the discerning life, say yes to God’s invitation to notice him in everything, and by practicing a preference for God in all things will walk faithfully, lovingly, and joyfully together in Christ. My heart’s desire is to equip and encourage leaders—especially young leaders—toward this end, and I’m eager and willing to help all who are desirous of the discerning life.