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A Spiritual Autobiography
How God fulfilled the faith-based hopes
of an ordinary guy from Jersey City
Today’s post is by my friend and partner in minstry, Patty Perez. This post is based on a sermon she recently preached at our church (Vincentown United Methodist Church).
Perception or Discernment
Read Romans 12:1-8, I Peter 1:13
Perception is a powerful thing. So many of our actions are determined by how we perceive things based on what we think we feel, hear or see. However, our perception of actual events, words, and even people can often be entirely wrong. Perception means “to be aware of things through our senses”. Basically, what we see, hear, taste, smell, and feel, is taken in with the mind. But sometimes our senses might tell our mind something that just isn’t true. We must understand that any time the senses are involved there is potential for error. If our mind, based on what our senses have perceived, is telling us we can or cannot do something because of what we feel or what we think we see or hear, we are essentially limiting ourselves based on our perceptions. Unfortunately, this can lead us to make some poor decisions as to what to do and say as we go through life.
As I began to put this message together I found my very first sermon, written more than 10 years ago. As I reflected on what I wrote back then I noted that my emphasis was on Romans 12:4-5 : “Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body”. Verse 6 goes on to say: We have different gifts, according to the grace given to us”.
For years, I have reflected on how this scripture, written by Paul, uses the concept of the human body to teach us how Christians should live and work together. Just as the parts of the body function under the direction of the brain, so Christians are to work together as parts of the body of Christ under the command and authority of Jesus. Through the years, my perception of my own gifts and how I am to use them in conjunction with other believers has often been challenged. My perception of the church quite often determined my thoughts, my words, and my actions. However, as I prepared this message, I realized that there has been a shift in my thinking, based on Romans 12:2, which precedes the verses I focused on in my old sermon. “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove that what is good and acceptable and perfect will of God”.
I still see how important it is for the members of the church to work together as the body of Christ. However, now I understand that in order for that to happen, there must first be the renewal of the mind of each individual, so my will is in accordance with God’s will. As humans, we are not naturally or instinctively godly in our thinking. All too often, we allow our minds to be conformed to the pattern of this world and we act on our perception of things. Many times our hearts are dull to the things of God and our hearing and seeing is therefore distorted. We often experience mistaken perception because we do not see things through the eyes of God (discernment) but rather through our own human eyes (perception).
Perception, by definition, means we receive something from the outside. Essentially things pass from the senses through the mind and then into our heart. Discernment, on the other hand, is revealed by the Holy Spirit into the heart and then passes on to the mind. So how do we renew our minds so that we live first by discernment of God’s will?
In essence, we have to eliminate the influences in our lives that move us toward worldly thinking. Most importantly, we have to surrender our minds to God through prayer, meditation, time for reading and studying His word, and through Godly relationships. Through these things, God can begin washing away the worldly conformity and deformity, and present us as transformed minds more in the likeness of His Son Jesus Christ.
When we surrender, we start to build a relationship with God. We must hear and heed God’s voice so that our perceptions cannot cause our mind and heart to be corrupted, tainted, hardened, and unused. I have realized that being the body of Christ is more than coming together to do good works. When we have a relationship with Christ, the Holy Spirit will renew, reeducate and redirect our minds from simply doing our will, to discerning, accepting, and doing God’s will. Then and only then can we be be sure that we are being effective with our good works.
God gives us gifts so we can build up His church, and as a result, participate with Him in changing the world. But to use these gifts effectively we must realize that all gifts and abilities come from God. We must understand that not everyone has the same gifts. We must know who we are and what we do best.
If we don’t know who we are and what we do best, we need to find out. How do we do that? One important step is to take a spiritual gifts assessment. Also be aware that when you do something you love, it never feels like a job. Most important is to bear in mind that your ultimate purpose is to dedicate your gifts wholeheartedly to God’s service and not your personal success.
Remember, God doesn’t call those who are “qualified”. God” qualifies” those who He calls. When we say yes to His calling, He renews, reeducates and redirects our lives. God has good, pleasing and perfect plans for everyone. He wants us all to be transformed people with renewed minds, living to honor and obey Him. Not because He is boss, but because He loves us and only wants what is best for us. God takes ordinary people and transforms them into extraordinary servants. Look at Moses, Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Billy Graham, to name only a few, who started out as just ordinary people, like most of us. Consider how God used them to change the world for the better. God can and will do the same with and for you, if you allow Him to renew and transform your mind, so that you can discern and not simply perceive his plans an purposes for you.
I see now why Paul instructs us to renew our minds and build a relationship with God before he suggests we come together and do God’s work. I need to allow God’s treasure to fill my heart and mind before I sign up for the job. All too often, as Christians, we forsake the relationship and go straight into attempts at good works. That was my focus 10 years ago.
The downside to this approach is that the things of the world – like TV, work, sports, school, etc. take priority in our lives, instead of the plans and purposes God has for us. As we grow older we find ourselves getting burned out, yet still trying to do the work of the church. We do things we are not gifted at because no one else will do them. Or worse yet, we do nothing at all because we don’t know what to do. Perhaps the perception is that someone else will do it if I don’t. The truth of the matter is that we often perceive ourselves in one or more of these scenarios.
We need to ask ourselves if the works of the church are being done by perception through our senses and feelings or through discernment of God’s will for us. God wants us to offer ourselves, as living sacrifices by laying aside our own daily desires and ailments, putting all our energy and resources at His disposal and trusting Him to guide us to and through every aspect of our lives, including our works in His church.
Jesus prayed that we all might be one, as the Father and He are one. He wants the same love God has for Himself to be in each of us. When this love is in us, we are drawn to each other with a common mission. The walls fall down. Our independent spirits are broken. Competition is destroyed. Satan’s accusations are knocked down. Our love for each other becomes obvious to the world around us. Lost souls begin to seek this love that is so foreign to them. Our work in the church, the community, and the world becomes meaningful, strengthened, and effective by our unity. That’s what happens when you invite God to transform your life through the renewal of your mind, and you live by discernment of God’s will, rather than the perception of your senses.
Remember this. If you are hoping for something, and you perceive through our senses, how to fulfill those hopes, that hope might never be fulfilled. The good news is that if you discern God’s will as to how to fulfill that hope, you can be sure that in God’s time and God’s way, it will be fulfilled. That’s the basic message that Ray and I try to convey through Ray of Hope Ministries on this web-site.
Peace and Love, Patty Perez