Obedience to the call of Jesus never lies within our own power. If, for instance, we give away all our possessions, that act is not in itself the obedience he demands. In fact such a step might be the precise opposite of obedience to Jesus, for we might then be choosing a way of life for ourselves, some Christian ideal, or some ideal of Franciscan poverty…. The step into the situation where faith is possible is not an offer which we can make to Jesus, but always his gracious offer to us. Only when the step is taken in this spirit is it admissible.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship
I have always struggled with this. In so much of church life, as indeed in much political and campaigning matters, hardening of the oughteries is an occupational hazard I’m particularly prone to. There are so many activities that can be taken as “obedience to the call of Jesus”: feeding and clothing the poor, caring for the sick, welcoming strangers, visiting those in prison, spreading the word of truth, working for justice, peace and the integrity of creation… not to mention coffee mornings and bring-and-buy sales!
Clearly one person cannot do them all, and yet neglecting to do any of them feels like disobedience, or at least callousness. I have literally lain awake at night with it all buzzing around my head.
I had not expected to find any kind of answer to this when I found myself called join Friends in meeting. Yet embedded not only in the silence, but in the structure of the Quaker business method, is a process of discernment that is deeply liberating, and full of “love, coolness, gentleness and dear unity.”
In our meetings for worship we seek through the stillness to know God’s will for ourselves and for the gathered group. Our meetings for church affairs, in which we conduct our business, are also meetings for worship based on silence, and they carry the same expectation that God’s guidance can be discerned if we are truly listening together and to each other, and are not blinkered by preconceived opinions. It is this belief that God’s will can be recognised through the discipline of silent waiting which distinguishes our decision-making process from the secular idea of consensus. We have a common purpose in seeking God’s will through waiting and listening, believing that every activity of life should be subject to divine guidance.
It has been my experience that this can work in the individual just as well as in the “gathered group”. Dilemmas not only in matters of service, but of leadings, gifts and abilities, seem to come naturally under the “discipline of silent waiting”, whether alone or among Friends. I had not thought of this.
I may have quoted John Bellows before in this blog, but his words express here so clearly what I have found: “I know of no other way, in these deeper depths, of trusting in the name of the Lord, and staying upon God, than sinking into silence and nothingness before Him… So long as the enemy can keep us reasoning he can buffet us to and fro; but into the true solemn silence of the soul before God he cannot follow us.”