You may know me at one level, but not at the next

I’ve bet you’ve seen Russian dolls similar to these. You take the top off one and there are more inside. And now you know the point I am driving at in this blog post: “There always is infinitely more to others than meets the eye.”


I like the challenge of trying to figure out what makes people tick.  At one level, it’s rather “easy.” We all make quick judgments when we meet people. I do; you do.

But what don’t we know?  Oh my goodness. As you know from all the levels of your own life — many levels of your own baggage that even you don’t pretend to understand — we can only imagine.

Take me, as an example. If you met me, you’d see that I am white. Talk with me a bit and you’d discover that for 39 years I have been a pastor who has served in the same small city (a Big 10 college town) in east-central Illinois (Champaign-Urbana). You’d find out about my current ministry as a coach and mentor for pastors and leaders. You might find out a few more things, but probably not much more if we met for just a minute or so. And you’d make some kind of initial judgement about me. I hope a decent one.

But there is another level. You wouldn’t know how for almost 4 decades I have worked to learn all I can about theology and about the rhythms of being a pastor, or how hard I work at being a good listener and how to counsel people without having an agenda and asking leading questions that enable me to control the outcome of the conversation. You wouldn’t know about the hundreds of evenings I have sat at my desk in my home office, laboring (often happily … well, sort of happily) to write one of the 750 religion columns I have crafted for the Champaign-Urbana, IL, News-Gazette. And while I actually do feel a certain amount of God’s favor in the writing of many of these columns, it is nonetheless true that they do not write themselves.

Even knowing all that would not tell you about the struggles that have formed my person — the failures, the closed doors, the deaths, the confusion, the frustration and sheer grit that have fueled my desire to be more discerning in my life and in my ministry and how to incorporate Godly discernment into my life.

There are just so many levels of the human person, aren’t there? That’s why one of the steady refrains of my own life, and the question I now ask hundreds of pastors and leaders is:

What is it, God, that you really want here?

Of course, all my discernments have been my own, just as your discernments will be your own. You are your own person. God has, He is, and He will call you personally and uniquely.

Your job, and my job (I especially feel it now in working with pastors), says writer Elizabeth Liebert in her truly outstanding book The Way of Discernment — Spiritual Practices of Decision making, is to:




and choose

… the One who ultimately sustains the whole world.

You absolutely do not have to have it all together to figure this out or to at least start to try to figure this out. I have yet to meet a single person who has it “all” figured out. I really think I have met few people who even have begun to scratch the surface of life.

Most people, including me, are in the preschool of discernment. Some are pretty good at quick decision-making but not so good at discernment, especially the part that requires being still, looking at the way God looks at the world, praying and waiting patiently for the Spirit within to speak. “Be still and know that I am God,” says the Psalms. I have met many people who never have been to the town of “Be Still!” And that’s way you may fashion yourself a good decision-maker but I might think you are not particularly discerning in the sense of really waiting on God.

As Liebert writes, “All that is necessary is the desire to listen for God’s call in the midst of your life. That is enough. We bring our little drop of generosity, and God responds. We ask for spiritual freedom [essentially us saying: “God, whatever will further your Kingdom.”], and God assists us to grow in it. We seek what is better in a particular situation, and God meets us in that seeking.”

That alone is a good reason to pray every single day, “Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner.

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