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John D. Witvliet


A Discerning Spirit

Making good choices in an era of liturgical change

Near the opening of the Book of Philippians, Paul records his prayer for the Philippian Christians:

And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God. 1:9-11 NRSV

At the heart of this prayer is Paul's desire that his readers exercise the classical virtue of discernment. He wants them to be able to make good choices, to "determine what is best."1 In his prayer, Paul gives us the anatomy of this virtue. He points to three necessary building blocks for discernment: love, knowledge, and insight. He also describes the desired result of exercising this virtue: holiness and righteousness that will contribute to the glory and praise of God. In this way, the virtue of discernment energizes and empowers the thoughtful, mature Christian life.

In matters of worship, this is exactly the virtue that Christians need today. We already have passion concerning the subject of worship. The charged rhetoric of worship wars shows no signs of abating. In most congregations, there is no lack of opinions about worship matters and no lack of willingness to share them.

We also have voluminous liturgical resources at our fingertips. Our bookstores, magazines, and websites provide us with more songs, prayer texts, and worship service outlines than have been available at any period in church history. Worship conferences have increased tenfold in the past ten years. And even evangelical seminaries are finally offering courses on this central activity of church life.

But for all this energy and all these resources, we often lack the discernment to make good use of them. In fact, what we may need most is a healthy prayer of confession to admit our lack of discernment.

To help make such a prayer concrete, let me provide some examples of the lack of this virtue, ...

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