Yesterday, I preached a sermon from our lectionary reading from Acts 5:27-32 in which Peter is being challenged by the Jewish religious leaders who are frustrated and angered by Peter's message of Jesus and Peter blaming the Jewish leaders for Jesus' death. They want him to stop preaching. Peter responds to them that they would rather obey God rather than human authority.
As I read this passage, I couldn't help but ask, "How does Peter know what God would have him do?" I mean, today we find God's direction in Scripture and in other experiences--how did Peter know how to listen and interpret what God would have him say and do? For some Christians, many feel that what they think is sometimes what God would have them think. If they have an opinion based on their faith, they think that God is directing their thoughts or opinions about a given subject. The danger of course, is that just because you're thinking it, doesn't mean that God is behind it.
This sort of thought process opens the door for us in terms of discerning how we are inspired or how God reveals the Godself to us. There are a number of ways that we discern God's communication with us and I'd like to share with you a few of them.
Ages ago, a few scholars, most notably Albert Outler, were studying the sermons of John Wesley and discovered a certain theme in them. Reading through his sermons and written works, Outler found that Wesley believed that divine inspiration happened in four primary ways: through Scripture, experience, reason, and tradition. In each of these ways, a believer might find inspiration about all things God as well as what and where God may be directing a person. This particular method of discerning inspiration is better known as the Wesleyan Quadritaleral.
What are some ways that you have been and continue to be inspired by God? Do you find God's direction when you study the Bible? When you pray? When you talk with your friends? When you ask a trusted spiritual mentor?
I love the idea of knowing the ways in which God speaks to us--and thereby remaining open to God's continued inspiration. I also love the idea of engaging the discernment process when trying to figure out what God would have me do. Personally, when I need divine guidance, I find myself talking with respected friends, reading the Bible, and praying.
And, there is another aspect of inspiration that intrigues me. I am intrigued when I am an inspiration to others. People come to church to hear sermons and sometimes when I counsel or speak with someone, I become an inspiration. Many of you also inspire others. In a cosmic sense, sometimes we may become a part of a divine circle of inspiration: God inspires us, we seek to discern and understand it, and we share that with others. And, we become an inspirer when others seek our counsel when God is speaking with them. And so it goes, inspiration is a method and tool by which God both communicates with us as well as drawing us together so that we might depend upon one another. Being a part of such a divine circle of inspiration that includes you, me, and God is a method that actually dwarfs Wesley's Quadrilateral in comparison--not that the Quadrilateral is a bad thing. It is just not as whole a process that also involves you and me.
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