What does it mean to be a person of faith? Martin Luther, one of the movers and shakers in the Protestant Reformation, thought that it meant to be a theodidacta, a “person taught by God.” I like this definition. It suggests that faith is a gift from God that informs and transforms the lives of Christian learners like a bit of yeast that leavens a whole loaf of bread. Yet the transformation of flour, sugar, water and other ingredients into bread dough requires mixing and kneading the yeast into the other ingredients if the bread is to rise. In like manner, living a Christian life requires that we engage in Christian practices that invite God to knead faith into all that we are and do.
God teaches us through the practice of discernment. St. Francis de Sales, a 17th century French priest, was a very practical man who knew about human doubt and weakness. He developed a simple six step discernment process that we might use to figure out what God desires (wills) for us. The steps are these:
Begin with the expectation that God reveals God’s will to us.
Seek God’s will in silent prayer.
Be predisposed to implement God’s will when it is revealed.
Consult with trusted persons about what God seems to be teaching.
Make a decision to respond to God’s will in a particular way.
Live out the decision, trusting God to reveal whether and how it is right
Practicing discernment is how God teaches us who we are and how we might best live in relation to God and to others. It reveals to us our purpose in life.
God teaches us through the practice of lament. An entire book of the Bible – the book of Lamentations – is devoted to lament, as are one-third of the Psalms. This form of prayer moves away from the polite formalities and patient resignation to God’s will that we may be taught by others. It involves five elements:
Calling upon God to be present.
Naming the disappointments and despairing events in our lives.
Claiming the promise of God’s love through words of affirmation or remembrances of God’s past actions.
Seeking help from God (sometimes in quarrelsome tones); and
Praising God for what has been and will be done to resolve the crisis.
Praying in the form of a lament is how God teaches people of all ages to acknowledge the real pain, confusion and suffering that are part of our human condition, while remembering God’s love and compassion.
God teaches us through the practice of Bible study. Anne Wimberley, an African American Christian educator, believes that Bible study is about linking the stories of scripture with the stories of peoples lives. As God’s people, we are part of God’s story and God is part of our stories. Walter Brueggemann, a Hebrew scripture scholar, says that the best way to bring these two stories together is create spaces where we:
Experience God’s story through a community’s compassionate care.
Hear both God’s story and our stories spoken aloud.
Celebrate the two stories in community events.
Tell how God’s story and our story are becoming one in our lives; and
Become people who make new spaces for others to be transformed by God’s story.
God teaches us through our involvement in a community of faith where we are invited to see ourselves as important to God as unique people, even as we discover how similar we are to God’s people throughout history.
© Dr. Karen-Marie Yust. First published in ecumininet online! 2001.