14.11.07

About ‘Making Life Decisions’

Making Life Decisions Now Out as Traditional Book
By popular demand because many have wanted the spiral-bound journal to write in, Making Life Decisions, has been published in a traditional book format by John Broadbanks Publishing. You can get the book from Amazon.Com but Abe Books-Dalton is by far the cheapest place to purchase your copies. Compare the prices.

Contact publisher, Michael Dalton, to ask about a special price for your group if you are purchasing a bulk order for your group.

Workbook, Travel Journal
Dr. Geoff Pound’s book, Making Life Decisions: Journey in Discernment, is a workbook, a tour guide or a travel journal for people wanting to make a forty-day journey in discernment.

Forty Individual Studies
The book, which draws on down-to-earth biblical principles, is written for Christians, for seekers and specifically for those at the vocational crossroads. The forty short chapters are not designed to be read in one sitting but they are intended as daily guides and reflections in a deliberate period of seeking and discovery.

Group Studies
Making Life Decisions also contains seven group studies for people who want to make this journey in discernment with another person or with a small group.

Integrated Learning
This book can be used as a resource, for those who wish to try or those who have already experienced the benefit of their church exploring a theme for a six week period by means of an integrated process of personal reflection, small group studies and worship services.

You may have experienced the benefits of ‘Forty Days of Purpose’ or some other integrated study series. This book is an invitation to you, your group and your church to take another journey—‘A Journey in Discernment’.

Responding to the One Big Question
This book is the author’s response to the one question he has been asked more than any other in thirty years of local church, denominational and seminary leadership: ‘How can I know God’s will for my life or in this situation.’

This is the book I wish I had been able to give every person that asked that question, to help them make their own journey.

This book is not only for study. It is a workbook to get you moving on a journey.

Geoff Pound


Copyright © 2007 Geoff Pound Making Life Decisions

About This Online Edition

Online Publishing
I may choose at a later time to publish Making Life Decisions in a traditional book format but I am now publishing this book online for several reasons:

It is Accessible
It is a fast way of making information available to millions of people in all parts of the world, even in places where it is difficult to send books or take them personally.

It is International
This text is in English but online translation programs are constantly being improved, thus potentially opening the insights of this book to huge numbers of people who possess first languages other than English.

It is Popular
An increasing number of people are choosing to get their news and articles through online ‘readers’ delivered to their computer desktop.

It is Inexpensive
Traditional publishing is getting very costly. 70% of novels published in the United States sell fewer than 500 copies. Generally, publishers and authors don’t make any profit until their fifth book. In contrast, online publishing is relatively inexpensive so that this book is being made available to readers at no cost.

It is Environmentally Friendly
Printing words for screens saves many trees from being sacrificed, although it is recognized that readers may wish to print pages for writing, reflection and group study.

It is Expandable
In this online edition there is no opportunity for readers to add comments. Instead you are encouraged to go to the Resource Page (final page) to find new books, articles, resources and web links being added. The Resource Page also links to a related site called, Discernment Resources, upon which new stories about discernment are being posted and suggestions of resources, questions and comments can be added by readers.

Copyright © 2007 Geoff Pound Making Life Decisions

Copyright and Download

References
This book contains a treasure trove of stories, quotations and prayers. Wherever possible I have noted the reference details. Should readers possess the page and publishing information for unnoted quotes, I would be glad to include these in any future edition of this book.

All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from The New Oxford Annotated Bible. NRSV. Third Edition. Copyright © 1973, 1977, 1991, 2001 by Oxford University Press, Inc.

Permission
Permission to reproduce the material in this book is freely granted so long as there is appropriate acknowledgement.

Whenever it is indicated that these writings have drawn on the work of others, acknowledgement is required.

Download
In addition to all the chapters being separately posted on the web site, all chapters and sections, including the group studies, have been joined together into one document and is available for download by clicking on this link:

Making Life Decisions—Download.


Copyright © 2007 Geoff Pound Making Life Decisions

Author and Acknowledgements

As a young person growing up in New Zealand I remember repeatedly asking my parents the question, “What am I supposed to do in life?” They took me to Careers Nights put on by the school but I agonized for years over this vocational question.

After I embarked on theological training and began to serve as a church pastor, the question continued to confront me and, while I was acquiring a sizeable bank of experience and a rich treasury of guidance principles, the elusive challenge of discernment has never been easy.

I would be rich if I had been given $50 for every time someone asked me the question (or a variation of it): “How can I discover God’s will for my life or in this situation?” As a pastor, this is the question I have been asked more than any other. Sharing the weight of this question and its consequences has been a significant part of the privilege of being a pastor.

When my vocational journey took a new twist in which I served as a consultant with Australian Baptist Churches, I came to see that the issue of corporate discernment is pivotal to local churches and denominations in discovering their unique personality and mission.

My path turned later in the direction of training and leadership, first as a lecturer and then as Principal of Whitley College, the Baptist College of Victoria, and I discovered that student interviews and course planning were vitally connected with matters of discernment.

In recent years I have relocated with my wife to the Arabian Peninsula and I am testing out new vocational directions. Daily we are being confronted with questions of discernment. This book, therefore, does not come as a last word on discernment because one never actually nails it as one might solve a Sudoku puzzle. The issues of discernment change from time to time and from person to person because they are about the dynamic way that God relates to each individual in their uniqueness.

This sketch of some of the main stages of my life is provided not only to give some background to the author but to acknowledge my gratitude. To my parents who loved me into life, to congregations who nurtured my faith and trusted me, to my wife Lyn and our son and daughter, Mark and Bronwyn, with whom I have shared the journey, to the Whitley and Baptist Union of Victoria communities who provided much of the context in which my calling has been shaped and to those involved in my current, freelancing and borderless vocation, I am deeply grateful.

Making Life Decisions is offered with the hope that your journey will be one of adventure and delight as “you discern what is the will of God—what is good, acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12: 2)

Geoff Pound


Copyright © 2007 Geoff Pound Making Life Decisions

How to Use this Book

Introduction
A man was walking down the street when he spied in the front of a shop a weight and fortune telling machine. The sign on the machine read: “Your weight and fortune told for only $5.00.” The man stopped and decided to put his money in the slot. In an instant, a slip of paper was spat out of the machine. The paper read, “Because you have such great abilities and talents, you will go far and will always be successful at everything you do.”

The man was thrilled with the news and he shared it with his wife. She listened without comment and then asked if she could see the piece of paper. She read it and handing it back she said, “Just as I thought. It got your weight wrong, too!”

There is a great interest in knowing the future and many will spend a fortune to get an answer about what they should do in a particular situation.

This book is not of the ‘penny in the slot’ variety but it is a guide book as you take responsibility and grapple with the hard questions. Instead of being a quick fix manual, this book recommends that readers, especially those at life’s crossroads, take forty days to engage in a journey of discernment.

Forty Days of Discernment
There is nothing magical about forty days but in the Bible the number ‘forty’ suggests a significant period. Jesus spent forty days in a desert before commencing his public ministry (Matthew 4: 2-11). It may not be possible or advisable for you to take forty days out of your schedule to be full time on the work of discernment but it would be good to think of how you might carve out a special forty days so that within this period you invest considerable time in walking this journey. As Jesus gave up eating and drinking to devote himself to this task, what might you give up to clear the decks and the diary for action?

Journey Together
This is not a Lonely Planet Guide to discernment. One of the insights of this book is that discernment does not have to be a solo endeavour and, like other forms of travel, discernment is best enjoyed with others. This book may be used individually but couples or groups might decide to embark on a journey of discernment together.

In making a collective decision to take this journey there may be some things people will do together and other things they will do on their own. Decide if and with whom you might make this journey. Even people scattered in different parts of the world might still unite together through this period and share their reflections by phone or email.

Daily Discernment Structure
This book offers a chapter for each day of intentional discernment. Use the book flexibly especially if you want to linger longer with a particular theme or extend the journey. How long you spend each day and what time of the day you do this is over to you. Meditating on the Scripture and reflecting on its implications is something that should not be rushed. Spending a lot of time in silence might be difficult if this isn’t your custom but learn to extend this important time each day. Each chapter offers these parts:

Approach: This is the time to draw near to God, to collect our thoughts and tell God that we are present. There is a suggested prayer to enable us to focus our lives before God.

Scripture: This is normally a short passage but the suggestion is to read it slowly, repeatedly and meditatively, in such a way that it stays with us through the day.

Silence: With the Scripture echoing in your mind, spend a significant time listening to what the Spirit of God is saying to you.

Reflection: This provides brief comments related to the Scripture theme and often a story to illustrate some aspect of the practice of discernment.

Journal: It is suggested that you record your changing ideas, concerns and discoveries. You might also find your experience of journaling to be like author, Joan Didion’s who said, “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.”[1]

Don’t see this like writing an examination answer! This is for your eyes only. Get yourself a special notebook or create a discernment file on your computer if you find this method easier. You might want to work through this book at a later time and what you write this time round may be quite different from what you write on a subsequent journey. You might find it useful to doodle or draw as well as to write words.

Selecting a Souvenir: Tourists love to buy souvenirs from the places they have visited. They remind them of a person, a place or an occasion. A souvenir is something that causes us to remember or literally “to come to mind.” Each day on this journey in discernment there is an opportunity to select a souvenir—some word or image that might bring your earlier reflections to mind for further contemplation. For instance the reflection on Day 1 records the habit that Jesus cultivated of weekly worship. The souvenir you select on that day might be the succinct statement, “As was his custom.” Or on the same day you might be taken with the story of The Little Prince and select the souvenir statement of “readying the heart to greet” God. Or on Day 14 when the reflection is about Moses and the burning bush your souvenir could be a thorn (to remind you of the ordinary way that God often appears) or a sandal (to bring to mind the holiness of every place).

Prayer: A short prayer provides a springboard for your own conversation with God and with others. Prayers are often expressed with the ‘we’ rather than the ‘I’ as some may wish to experience these daily times with a friend or partner. If so, take turns and share the different tasks—the leader of the day, the Scripture reader or the leader in prayer.

Commission: At the end of your prayer time, sense God sending you forward afresh on the journey of discovery and service.


Check List for the Journey
Hear are some questions for pondering, discussion and decision. You might have some more:

Will these daily reflection and prayer times be a solo journey or will you do this with someone else?

When will you make time each day to walk the journey of discernment?

How much time each day will you devote to the journey?

Where will you meet?

What specific things will you give up to make time for your journey?

Group Sessions and Format
Seven group studies, entitled Making Life Decisions: Journeying Together, are included at the end of the book for those who would like to come together once a week for the duration of this forty day journey in discernment. Print off the studies from this web site or download the PDF file which has the entire book in one document.

It is suggested that you meet as a group for Week 1: Ready for the Journey and that your personal discernment times—Day 1: Time and Place to Greet God—commence the day after. There are seven group studies so if your group meets on the same day each week the final study will serve as a wrapping up of this special discernment process. On the day of the group meeting and study individuals may also undertake their personal discernment exercises for that particular day. Each of the group studies flexibly picks up on some of the themes from the previous daily reflections but it is recognized that groups cannot always meet according to a strict timetable and each group will have to construct their own meeting schedule.

Group Questions
Your group might be an existing group that chooses to use these studies or it might be a new short-term group, especially drawn together to study this theme.

Some of the questions that each group might need to discuss include the following:

1. How will your group be lead and who will do this? Will you have different leaders or the same leader each day?

2. Where will you meet? The same venue or will the venues change?

3. When will you meet? What day of the week? What hour will you start and finish?

4. When will the intentional journey commence and conclude? It might be wise to get out a calendar and plot the journey, days and group sessions.

5. Will you have refreshments when you meet, and if so, at what time of the proceedings will you do this and who will make the arrangements?

6. Preparation is encouraged prior to each group study, especially in the way of reflecting on the Scripture reading and pondering the questions for group discussion.

7. Are there other questions or issues that you need to discuss?

Integrative Learning
Many churches have found benefit in challenging their people to make a short-term commitment to studying a topic together. This might involve existing groups foregoing their usual pattern to be part of this wider exploration, in this case, a series called Making Life Decisions: Journeying Together. A short-term approach gives people not part of an ongoing group, the chance for a communal experience.

In addition to individuals engaging in the daily discernment exercises and such people also coming together for the weekly group studies, Making Life Decisions: Journeying Together, it could be marvellously unifying for weekly worship services to be adopting discernment themes. Perhaps the sermons over this period could be focused in the readings designated for the weekly discussion groups and enriched by the preacher’s daily discernment reflections. Such an integrated process is effective educationally but it would also signal the important ministry of discernment and help weld the church together in a stronger bond of solidarity.



Copyright © 2007 Geoff Pound Making Life Decisions

[1] Joan Didion, ‘Why I Write’, New York Times, 5 December, 1976.

Day 1: Time and Place to Greet God

Approach
‘Draw near to God and God will draw near to you.’[1]

Intentional God,
your work of creation,
your sending of Jesus Christ and
your gift of the Holy Spirit
did not happen by accident but by careful design.

Show us how we might be intentional in coming near to you this day and in these days of special discernment.
We bless you for your promise and look forward to experiencing your movement towards us in personal and surprising ways.
We make this prayer with the help of Jesus, our Companion on the way.
Amen.

Scripture
He came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him. When he reached the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not come into the time of trial.” Then he withdrew from them about a stone's throw, knelt down, and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.” Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and gave him strength. In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground. When he got up from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping because of grief, and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not come into the time of trial.”
(Luke 22: 39-46)

Silence

Reflection
The gospel writer Luke records Christ’s habit of corporate worship who, “went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom.” (Luke 4:16) Later, in the above passage, Luke reveals Jesus’ custom of regular prayer in a solitary place which became his lifeline in a day of crisis.

Could it be that as we adopt these holy habits and prepare for regular times of prayer that God is getting ready to greet us?

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s classic, The Little Prince, sounds this theme of the value of having regular times and places for meaningful encounters so that hearts might be readied:

“What must I do, to tame you?” asked the little prince.

“You must be very patient,” replied the fox.
“First you will sit down at a little distance from me like that, in the grass. I shall look at you out of the corner of my eye, and you will say nothing. Words are the source of misunderstandings. But you will sit a little closer to me, every day...”

“The next day the little prince came back.
‘It would have been better to come back at the same hour,’ said the fox. ‘If, for example, you came at four o'clock in the afternoon, then at three o'clock I shall begin to be happy. I shall feel happier and happier as the hour advances. At four o'clock, I shall already be worrying and jumping about. I shall show you how happy I am! But if you come at just any time, I shall never know at what hour my heart is to be ready to greet you.’

‘Goodbye,’ he said.
‘Goodbye,’ said the fox. ‘And now here is my secret, a very simple secret:
It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.’[2]

Journal
Jesus frequently went to a garden before sunrise to meet with God. Creatively consider how you might make a special appointment in a special place of meeting. You might build in a daily walk for reflection to symbolize your journey of discernment.

Record your thoughts and your specific intentions.



Selecting a Souvenir



Prayer
Loving and approachable God,
bless the place where we shall meet together.
Bless the time when we shall join together.
Reveal to us how we might ready ourselves to greet you,
with patience,
in silence and
with joy.
We hope in your promise that you will draw near to those who draw near to you.
Amen.

Commission
Lord God,
as we have sensed your nearness in the Scriptures and in prayer,
so keep us mindful of your strengthening company,
each step of the journey.
Amen.



Copyright © 2007 Geoff Pound Making Life Decisions

[1] James 4:8.
[2] Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince (London: William Heinemann Ltd, 1945), 65-66.

Day 2: Journey Without Tracks

Approach
All knowing God,
like children we are bursting with questions:
‘Where are we going?’
‘How long will it take?’
‘When are we going to get there?’
Save us from the unwillingness to move before we have all the facts.
Set us free to follow with the One who called himself ‘The Way’.
Through Him we pray and journey.
Amen.

Scripture
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished.
(Matthew 4. 1-2)

Silence

Reflection
Retreating to the desert for a significant period is a common biblical theme. In a stark description the travel journal of the Israelites says of Moses in the Sinai Desert, “He was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights; he neither ate bread nor drank water.” (Exodus 34. 28) Elijah spent the same ‘forty days and forty nights’ period around Mt Horeb. (1 Kings 19:8) Similarly, the Gospel writer says that before Jesus launched out in his ministry he went into the wilderness where “he fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished.” (Matthew 4: 2)

Today the desert is still the major geographical feature of the Arabian Peninsula. The sealed highways are suitably signposted and well lit for night driving but away from the major roads there are few tracks, the signposts are scarce; it is dark at night and stifling during the day.

The task of discernment is like a journey into the desert. There is no dune bashing with a guide in an air-conditioned four wheel drive. Cell phones and satellite navigation instruments don’t operate in this wilderness. It is a trek into the unknown without maps. The unfamiliarity can be terrifying and uncomfortable as it confronts our need to be in control, challenges our need to know and lays bare our temptations.

If the desert strips us of our comfortable props, what will we have for support, sustenance and security on this untravelled way?

In 1939 when Britain had entered into the dark, unknowingness of the Second World War, King George VI quoted in his Christmas message this excerpt from a poem by Minnie Louise Haskins:

I said to the man
who stood at the gate of the year,
“Give me a light that I may tread safely
into the unknown.”

And he replied,
“Go out into the darkness
and put your hand into the hand of God.
That shall be to you
better than the light
and safer than a known way!”[1]

Journal
Note your feelings and questions about leaving and launching out on this journey of discernment.




Formulate some affirmations about travel, trust and your Guide.





Selecting a Souvenir



Prayer
Lord, as we begin this journey of discernment
and enter into the desert,
Enable us
to let go,
to place our hands in the hand of God and
to trust the Spirit to sustain, lead and surprise us.
Amen.

Commission
With Christ as our Way,
the Spirit as our Leader and
the hand of God to love and keep,
we step forward on our journey of discernment.
Amen.



Copyright © 2007 Geoff Pound Making Life Decisions

[1] This poem was written in 1908 by Minnie Louise Haskins. It was used at the funeral of Her Majesty the Queen Mother on 2 April 2002. Her husband, King George VI, started his Christmas address to the nation in 1939 with it as well. Source: <>

Day 3: Journey of Discovery

Approach
Desert-Dwelling God.
We ask for a program but you give us your presence.
We seek an itinerary but you grant us your voice.
We want insurance but you promise us your intimacy.
Help us to unpack our bags of all that is superfluous
and prepare ourselves to encounter you today.
Amen.

Scripture
Jacob came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And the LORD stood beside him and said, "I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, “Surely the LORD is in this place—and I did not know it!” And he was afraid, and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”
(Genesis 28: 11-17)

Silence

Reflection
The desert can be a foreign existence and without the usual props sometimes we can wonder if God is present and if so, where God is. In this place of unknowing we can doubt the presence of God with us.

Our feeling or sensing is not the crucial test of the presence of God. Carl Jung became so convinced of the truth and wonder of the presence of God that he had engraved above the front entrance to his house in Switzerland this affirmation: ‘Called or not called, God is always present.’[1] Even when we do not call out, God is nonetheless present.

The nocturnal discoveries that came to Jacob when he was alone and asleep suggest the value of disengagement and illustrate the desire of the Divine desert dweller to beam into our lives the consciousness of God’s eternal presence and care.

Journal
Note down the aspects about the personality and character of God that might reassure you on this new journey of discernment.






Turn these aspects about God into your own prayer to God.




Selecting a Souvenir



Prayer
Lord Jesus Christ,
forgive our blindness to your presence.
Open our eyes that we might be alert to you
and to all the many ways that you will show yourself to us
this day.
Amen.

Commission
You are the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
But you are our God.
Eternally present.
Ever to bless.
Longing to keep.
Yearning to guide.
Through the steps of this day.
Amen.



Copyright © 2007 Geoff Pound Making Life Decisions

[1] While Carl Jung popularized this quote, he discovered it among the Latin writings of Desiderius Erasmus, who declared the statement had been an ancient Spartan proverb.
Carl Jung Wikiquote http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Carl_Jung

Day 4: The Desert Skies

Approach
Lord God,
sometimes the heavens seem silent and closed.
At other times we hear you speaking,
We sense you are with us.
We know your delight.

Whatever be our experience of you,
enable us to trust your loving presence.
We pray through Jesus Christ.
Amen.

Scripture
Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was open, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”
(Luke 3: 21-22)

Silence

Reflection
Jesus shows us not to take our primary cue from the people around us or the tracks below us but to look to the heavens, to scan the skies for the signs of the Spirit and to bend our ears to the Divine Voice.

There will be days when the heavens are silent, the skies are dark and the Spirit seems to be absent. During such a time in the Second World War a person scratched these hopeful words onto a wall in a Warsaw ghetto:

I believe in the sun, even if it does not shine.
I believe in love, even if I do not feel it.
I believe in God, even if I do not see him.[1]

The bleak forces of oppression, war, misery and hunger can erode our belief that God is present and at work. Faith involves hanging on in the dark to what we have been shown in the light.

Thomas Merton discovered his vocation in a life devoted to prayer. Secluded in the hills of Kentucky one could readily think that prayer would be easy and direction would always be crystal clear. However, Merton went through times of dark depression and in one difficult period he penned the following prayer:

“Our Lord God, we have no idea where we are going.
We do not see the road ahead of us.
We cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do we really know ourselves, and the fact that we think we are following your will does not mean that we are actually doing so.
But we believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.
And we hope we have that desire in all that we are doing.
We hope that we will never do anything apart from that desire.
And we know that if we do this you will lead us by the right road though we may know nothing about it.
Therefore will we trust you always though we may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
We will not fear, for you are ever with us, and you will never leave us to face our perils alone.
Amen.[2]

Journal
How much clarity do you have about the direction in which you are going?





Express your desire to please God and to know God’s pleasure.





Selecting a Souvenir



Prayer
We trust in your presence to be with us always.
We trust in your pardon to forgive us when we go astray.
We trust in your promise to direct our paths.
You are our God. In God we trust.
Amen.

Commission
Our God in heaven.
We will walk today seeking to be conscious of the resources that you supply.
We will walk today seeking to follow in the footsteps of Jesus.
We will walk today seeking to be open to the touch of your Holy Spirit.
Walk with us Creator, Saviour and Spirit.
Amen.



Copyright © 2007 Geoff Pound Making Life Decisions

[1] Author unknown.
[2] Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1958), 83.

Day 5: The Desert- A Place of Solitude

Approach
Lord Jesus Christ,
in following you we walk alone but we also walk with others.
You call us to be people of the way but yours is also a narrow way.
Help us to recognise the benefits of having good companions on the road and let us also be attentive to the downside of being part of a crowd.
Amen.

Scripture
Beware of practicing your piety before others to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven…. And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. When you are praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
(Matthew 6: 1, 5-7)

Silence

Reflection
In his book, The Light Within You, John Claypool poses the penetrating question, “Who is your audience?”[1] In a confessional style Claypool records his reactions to reviews of his writings and addresses. He found that some negative reviews did not bother him at all because they were written by people who did not matter to him. But there were other people whose words of approval warmed him and their criticism cut him to the quick. Claypool concluded that each of us has our select audience before whom we play out our lives. It may be only one person or a small group, yet what they think exerts an enormous influence over our daily actions.

Journeying into the desert is a deliberate effort to withdraw from people, especially our audience of significance. It is an intentional closing of the door on people’s opinions so that the divine audience becomes the only thing that matters.

Thomas Merton tells us that in the American desert there is a variety of cactus whose flower is rarely seen. The flower opens only once and when it does, it opens only in the darkness. The petals are a pearl white and they have a waxen quality as if they had been polished. In the heart there is a deep nest of gold filaments that in their tiny curls have the texture of foam. These surround the stalk of the same shape that rises from the flower like a horn.[2]

What an amazing creation, a night flowering cactus, a plant that blossoms forth in this hidden, unseen event of the desert darkness. For Merton this cactus became the symbol of his calling. This night flowering cactus might become a symbol of our journey of discernment and the call to live directly towards God.

Journal
Be mindful of those who make up our ‘select audience’ and how we play our lives before others.





Meditate on the image of the ‘night flowering cactus’ and write about how God might increasingly become our ‘significant audience’.





Selecting a Souvenir



Prayer
To you alone Lord God,
we open up our love, our life, our weaknesses, our strengths, our all.
Take us and all that we are,
transforming us by your truth and loving friendship.
Amen.

Commission
Lord Jesus Christ,
Send us forward on our journey,
living our lives to the only audience that ultimately matters.
Send us in solitude.
Send us with soul mates.
Send us with your word.
Send us by your Spirit.
Amen.



Copyright © 2007 Geoff Pound Making Life Decisions

[1] John Claypool, The Light Within You: Looking at Life through New Eyes (Waco, Texas: Word, 1983), 49-50.
[2] Thomas Merton, Selected Poems of Thomas Merton (New York: New Directions, 1967), 126.

Day 6: The Desert- A Place of Stillness

Approach
Waiting God,
perhaps our preoccupation with speed and noise, schedules and strategies are the outward expressions of our restlessness and unease.
Teach us now to be still that we might know you.
Amen.

Scripture
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult.

Come, behold the works of the Lord; see what desolations he has brought on the earth. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire.”

Be still, and know that I am God!
(Psalm 46: 1-3, 8-10a)

Silence

Reflection
In her poem entitled, Self-Improvement Program, Judith Viorst recites all the new activities she has taken on in an effort to become successful—needlework, guitar lessons, advanced Chinese cooking, primal scream therapy—and dozens of other things. And then with a sigh she concludes, “And I am working all day and I am working all night to be good looking, healthy and wise and adored and contented and brave and well-read and a marvellous hostess and bilingual, athletic, artistic—and then she cries out, “Won’t someone please stop me?”[1]

The desert is a place to slow down, stop and ‘be still’. This does not happen immediately if we have been running at a great pace. This does not happen easily as society often grades us on the basis of what we do, how much we achieve and according to key performance indicators.

The invitation to stillness is a wonderful gift. The Psalmist infers that stillness is valuable not only for the rest and freedom it offers but for the time and space it creates to know God’s strength, God’s help, God’s presence, God’s protection or simply, to know God.

Journal
Reflect on the pace of your life. Who is setting it?





Write to God about your timetable and ask God to help you live out of a centered and satisfying dynamic.





Selecting a Souvenir



Prayer
Slow us down Lord.
Still the inner momentum that drives us to perform and parade.
Still the fury and fears of our warring world.
Still us that in peace and quietness, we may truly come to know that you are God. Amen.

Commission
God of work and rest.
God of order and rhythm.
Send us forward and grace us with the gifts that we see in Jesus:
Composure, poise, beauty and serenity.
Amen.



Copyright © 2007 Geoff Pound Making Life Decisions

[1] Judith Viorst, How Did I get to be Forty & Other Atrocities (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1973), 40.

Day 7: Seeking Discernment Pleases God

Approach
God, you are the creator of this great universe,
yet, you are a personal God and we can know you.
We thank you for the gift of freedom that you grant us.
We are amazed to think that you not only speak but you await our responses.
We are honoured that you not only ask us questions but you value our answers.
In such a relationship we yearn to remain and to grow.
Amen.

Scripture
At Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, "Ask what I should give you.” And Solomon said, “…give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?

It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches, or for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, I now do according to your word. Indeed I give you a wise and discerning mind; no one like you has been before you and no one like you shall arise after you. I give you also what you have not asked…
(1 Kings 3:5-6, 9-13)

Silence

Reflection
In one of John Birmingham’s books for children he poses these provocative questions[1]:
“Would you rather your house was surrounded by snow or a jungle?”
“Would you rather an elephant drank your bath water or a hippo slept in your bed?”
“Would you rather be covered all over with jam or be pulled through the mud by a dog?”
“Would you rather have supper in a castle or tea on the river?”
“Would you rather be made to eat spider stew or drink snail cordial?”
“Would you rather jump in a thorn bush for $5 or swallow a dead frog for $20?”
“Would you rather play the drums or blow the trumpet?”
“Would you rather be crushed by a snake or sat upon by a rhinoceros?”

Young readers of this book would rather not have to answer these questions at all. And it seems that age doesn’t always make people any better at taking the hard decisions. These are all fun questions but they remind us of how difficult some decisions really are.

At the point of assuming political leadership, Solomon is praised by God because he asks for the right gift, he seeks discernment from the best source and his prayer is ultimately motivated by his compassion towards the people that he has been appointed to lead. From children starting out on life to politicians commencing a new appointment the prayer for ‘a wise and discerning mind’ is a prayer God longs to hear people pray. The promise from the letter of James might do much to bolster our confidence: “If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you.” (James 1:5)

Journal
Jot down the discernment question that you think God might be asking you at this time.





Focus the discernment question that you are longing to ask God today.





Selecting a Souvenir



Prayer
Generous and ungrudging God,
grant us an understanding mind to work with people,
the ability to discern what is right
and the courage to live according to your way.
Amen.

Commission
God of the journey,
walk with us through this day,
in silence and in conversation,
to encounter,
to engage,
to enjoy.
Amen.



Copyright © 2007 Geoff Pound Making Life Decisions

[1] John Birmingham, Would You Rather (London: Jonathan Cape Children’s Books, 1978).

Day 8: Discernment is a Gift

Approach
Merciful God,
your mercies—so undeserved but lavishly given—
are new every morning.
Give us an eye to see your mercies this day,
the faith to take hold of them
and the heart to truly appreciate you.
Amen.

Scripture
If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.

Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
(Philippians 3: 4b-11)

Silence

Reflection
These confessions from the apostle’s letter remind us that a journey of discernment is not dependent on our background, our pedigree, our education, our religious devotion, our acts of service and any other feats we might have notched on our belt. On the contrary! Our dependence on such achievements may become the very barriers that blind us to the gift of faith and knowledge.

In his book To a Dancing God Sam Keen tells with searing honesty about his quest for satisfaction. He thought his deep thirst would be quenched by securing a Ph.D. but when finally people called him ‘Doctor’ and ‘Professor’ he knew he still hadn’t found what he was looking for. He pursued many popular pathways but these only intensified his disillusionment. Finally in desperation he cried out, “What can I do that will give dignity and meaning to my life?” Then, one night he awoke with the answer: “Nothing, nothing at all.” It dawned upon him that there was nothing to do to give meaning and dignity to his life for these are given and received out of God’s grace. There in the night Sam Keen realized that he had been “riding on an ox, looking for an ox.”[1]

Journal
Write down the achievements and qualifications that you sometimes use to assert your importance.





Write and pray a prayer that is both a way of putting out your ‘rubbish’ and a means of making room to receive more of Christ and His gifts.





Selecting a Souvenir



Prayer
Almighty God,
to whom all hearts are open,
all desires known,
and from whom no secrets are hidden;
cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit,
that we may perfectly love you,
and worthily magnify your holy name,
through Christ our Lord.
Amen.[2]

Commission
God of light and love,
journey with us this day,
pointing out the gifts with which you have already blessed us,
as we walk knee deep in your mercies.
Amen.



Copyright © 2007 Geoff Pound Making Life Decisions

[1] Sam Keen, To A Dancing God (New York: Harper & Row, 1970), 17.
[2] Book of Common Prayer, Web Address:

Day 9: When the Stones are Shouting

Approach
Penetrating God,
give us the courage to unlock our defences,
to lower the drawbridge and
to welcome your loving presence into our lives.
We need to be won again and again by your love
that counters apathy and cultivates the expectancy,
that life can be new and different and adventurous.
Amen.

Scripture
As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.
(Luke 19:37-40)

Silence

Reflection
In an after-service discussion on the theme of discernment an Australian man shared this experience that happened when he was visiting a Quaker community in the United States of America. On the first night of his visit, the friends of the community gathered to pray about America’s entry into an international war. As they joined in silent prayer this man sensed that the group was being gathered by a cord of prayer.

After entering into a deep silence some people stood and spoke words that they felt were prompted by God. At one point in the service this man said he had a strong impulse to stand up and say some words that were clear and urgent in his mind. However, he reneged because this was his first day with the group and he was self-conscious about his accent that, at his arrival earlier in the day had marked him out as a foreigner. He persisted in his determination not to speak but some time later another person stood and said exactly the words he had previously felt prompted to share.

The man talked with a person following the meeting about his experience and was told by this seasoned Quaker that this often happens. When the Spirit of God desires to say something and meets with resistance the Spirit will often move somebody else to say the words that need to be declared.[1]

God is more determined to speak than we are to hear, so much so that if we refuse to be the mouthpiece then God will cause even ‘the stones to shout out’.


Journal
Write some words that welcome God’s Spirit into your stillness.





Be open to ways that you might be resisting the Spirit. As you become aware of these ask God to help you to ‘lift the lid’ and begin exploring what is underneath.





Selecting a Souvenir



Prayer
God, enable us to wait, to be silent and to be responsive to the urgings of your Spirit.
When we hear your promptings give us the courage to respond with gladness.
Whether your word is communicated by creative beauty, voiced by a stranger or shouted by stones, help us to listen to your voice and to welcome your Spirit with joyous abandon.
Amen.

Commission
Now, we continue on our journey of discernment,
walking by the Spirit,
stepping out in the Spirit and
treading in the Spirit’s love, joy, peace and freedom.
Amen.



Copyright © 2007 Geoff Pound Making Life Decisions

[1] I heard this story in a discernment seminar I led in Melbourne, 2003.

Day 10: Awareness

Approach
God of truth and love,
give us the courage to welcome your scrutiny,
the humility to admit that we might be wrong and
the capacity to see the world and our lives the way it really is.
Through Christ our Saviour and Lord.
Amen.

Scripture
And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: These are the words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars:

I know your works; you have a name of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is on the point of death, for I have not found your works perfect in the sight of my God. Remember then what you received and heard; obey it, and repent. If you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you.
(Revelation 3: 1-3)

Silence

Reflection
Twice, in this letter to a church that has a reputation of being ‘alive’, the Lord says, “Wake up!” This group is resting on its laurels, thinking it is doing well because of its record of service but it is oblivious to its deadness and vulnerability.

Becoming people of discernment involves being fully awake—informed, conscious, vigilant, with all our senses switched on to the activity of God.

One day a traveller begged a monk for a word of wisdom that would guide the rest of the journey. The monk nodded affably and, as it was their day of silence, he took a sheet of paper and wrote on it a single word, ‘Awareness.’

“Awareness?” the traveller said, perplexed. “That’s far too brief. Couldn’t you expand on that a bit?” So the monk took the paper back and wrote: ‘Awareness, awareness, awareness.

“But what do these words mean?” the traveller insisted. Finally the monk reached for the paper and wrote, clearly and firmly, ‘Awareness, awareness, awareness means . . . Awareness!’[1]

Journal
Write down what it might mean for you to ‘wake up’ to God.





Reflect on what you might be when you are fully alive.





Selecting a Souvenir



Prayer
God be in my head and in my understanding.
God be in my eyes and in my looking.
God be in my mouth and in my speaking.
God be in my heart and in my thinking.
God be at my end and at my departing.
Amen. [2]

Commission
Lord, send us afresh on our journey of discovery.
Enlighten our way.
Encourage our hearts.
Energize our resolve.
For the glory of Jesus Christ alone.
Amen.



Copyright © 2007 Geoff Pound Making Life Decisions

[1] Joan Chittester, Wisdom Distilled From the Daily (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1991), 68.
[2] From the Sarum Primer, 1538.

Day 11: Tuning Out and Tuning In

Approach
Persistent God,
we thank you that even when
we are dull to your voice,
blind to your presence and
strangers to the spiritual,
you come to us again and again and again.
So accept our thanks and strengthen our efforts to meet with you now.
Amen.

Scripture
Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.

At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ and he said, ‘Here I am!’ and he ran to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ But he said, ‘I did not call; lie down again.’ So he went and lay down. The Lord called again, ‘Samuel!’ Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ But he said, ‘I did not call, my son; lie down again.’

Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. The Lord called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, ‘Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’ So Samuel went and lay down in his place. Now the Lord came and stood there, calling as before, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ And Samuel said, ‘Speak, for your servant is listening.’
(1 Samuel 3: 1-10)

Silence

Reflection
To develop in our awareness of God and spiritual things we need to learn how to listen. This essential art requires us to be able to tune out certain sounds and tune in to the various ways in which God might speak. Like young Samuel we are in a learning process in regard to distinguishing the voice of God from the many other sounds around us.

Most people these days can’t bear to turn off their cell phones. Despite the ‘Cell Phone Free Zone’ signs and public announcements, a never-ending variety of ring tones still sound in classrooms, concert halls, libraries, at the movies and even at funeral services.

Brenda Goodman, in a New York Times article, says there’s a new epidemic afflicting humans today. It is called ‘ringanxiety’ or ‘fauxcellarm’.[1] We might be taking a shower, blow-drying our hair or watching an ad on television and we think our cell phone is ringing. These phantom phone rings are an audio illusion and they’re a symptom of the saturation of the air waves. With cell phones becoming like an extra limb sprouting from our ears, most people are in a constant state of telephone vigilance.

Our ears become attuned to certain sounds like the crying of a baby and the ringing of a phone. The vital thing is that we practice the discipline of silencing the familiar sounds and conditioning our ears to listen to the still, small voice of God.

Journal
Spend some moments contemplating this God who is seeking to get through to you and keeps calling your name.





Pray repeatedly and reflectively the prayer of Samuel: “Speak Lord, your servant is listening” and then jot down some of your reflections.





Selecting a Souvenir



Prayer
Calling God,
you keep calling until we become aware
and then you speak to us the things we need to know.
Grant us the same determination to seek you,
until we find you
and are transformed by your words and your friendship.
Amen.

Commission
Lord,
we have encountered you in reading and reflection,
now let us encounter you through people that we meet
and the experiences we share along the way.
We walk forward in your peace and in your truth.
Amen.



Copyright © 2007 Geoff Pound Making Life Decisions

[1] Brenda Goodman, ‘I Hear Ringing and There’s No One There. I Wonder Why’, New York Times, 4 May 2006.Web site address:
http://www.nytimes.com/2006/05/04/fashion/thursdaystyles/04phan.html?ex=1147406400&en=6d2ed8a8b702517e&ei=5070&emc=eta1

Day 12: Listening To God’s Voice

Approach
Lord,
help us now to come
with a full voice,
a thankful heart
and offering all that we are,
to you, our God.
Amen.

Scripture
O come, let us sing to the LORD; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! For the LORD is a great God, and a great King above all gods. In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also. The sea is his, for he made it, and the dry land, which his hands have formed. O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker!

For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. O that today you would listen to his voice! Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah.
(Psalm 95:1-8)

Silence

Reflection
At a Marriage Enrichment conference in New Zealand, the facilitators were speaking about the common tendency for people to tune out when the other is speaking, to talk over one another and to quickly cut people off.

The facilitators illustrated this point with a beautifully carved Maori stick called the ‘tokotoko’. At a Maori gathering an elder of the tribe will often be seen wielding a ‘tokotoko’ and the custom is that when someone has a ‘tokotoko’ in their hand everyone must be quiet and give that person their undivided attention.

At the practical session that followed, partners experimented with the ‘tokotoko’ (usually symbolised by a pen or a chocolate stick). When one person had the ‘tokotoko’ in their hand, the other had to be silent and give them their full attention. At the reporting time, many people commented about the difficulty of holding their tongue, the blessing of truly hearing people and the joy of being heard.

One couple introduced the ‘tokotoko’ during their family discussions. This family was comprised of five children, all of whom were extroverts, except for one little guy who never got a word in at the family forum.

The parents commented that when the little fellow got the ‘tokotoko’ in his hand he had so much delight; in his hand it gave him great power and it evoked from him some things that that family had never heard before.

In response to the longing of God that we might listen to God’s voice, it might be good to practice with a ‘tokotoko’. As we cultivate the discipline of listening we might hear things we have never heard before.

Journal
In today’s Scripture reading the people appear to be hard of heart, distracted and astray. With what words would you describe your relationship to God at the moment?





Ponder and write down how you might listen more attentively to the voice of God.





Selecting a Souvenir



Prayer
‘O that today you would listen to God’s voice!’
Enable us God to hear your longing to speak and be heard.
Save us from a relationship that is stale and help us to eagerly await your words this day which come like freshly baked bread.
We offer to you our attention to receive all that you want to beam into our lives.
Amid the cacophony of sounds teach us to distinguish your voice and respond in ways that please you.
Amen.

Commission
As we have come into your presence to worship,
now let us go out with your presence to walk,
with joy,
with gratitude and
a deep consciousness,
that you will be with us each step of the way.
Amen.



Copyright © 2007 Geoff Pound Making Life Decisions

Day 13: Expecting a Personal Response

Approach
God of grace, your love stretches out to all people, regardless of who they are and what they have done.
God of compassion, you are already seeking us out before we call upon you.
God of concern, there is nothing about us that slips your attention.
Come to us in our need of your grace, mercy and care.
Amen.

Scripture
Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’ So he told them this parable:
‘Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.” Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.’
(Luke 15:1-7)

Silence

Reflection
An airline passenger was on board an international flight and at lunch time she opened her pre-packaged meal only to discover, right on top of her salad, an enormous cockroach. She promptly called for the steward who attempted to calm her down. When she got home she wrote an angry letter to the director of the airline. A few days later a reply arrived not by ordinary post but by special courier. The director was all apologies. His letter read:

“Dear Ms. Smith, This was very unusual, but don't worry. I want to assure you that that particular plane has been completely fumigated. In fact all the seats and the upholstery have been stripped out. We've taken disciplinary action against the steward who served you and he may even be fired. It's highly probable that this aircraft will be taken out of service. I can assure you that it will never happen again. And I trust, Ms. Smith, that you will continue to fly with our airline.”

Ms. Smith was greatly impressed by this response until she turned the letter over and noticed something strange. The letter she had written had accidentally stuck to the director’s reply. When she looked at her own letter again, she saw a note that the director had scrawled for his secretary. It read, “Please reply with the regular cockroach letter!” That is a fairly common trend these days with word processors spitting out standard letters to look like they had been personally written.

In contrast, Jesus declares that God is like a good shepherd who goes after the one sheep with a love that is personal. If God relates to us as unique individuals, there is nothing too trivial for us to name and nothing too shameful for us to disclose.
When we seek God’s discernment we should expect no pat answers and be aware that God already knows us and will respond in ways that are tailored to our situation.

Journal
Write in detail the issue that concerns you most at this time and entrust that to God.





Bask in the knowledge that the Good Shepherd risks all to find you out and seeks to restore you to an experience of pure joy.





Selecting a Souvenir



Prayer of St. Augustine
Good, all-powerful God, who cares for every one of us, as if you care for us alone; and who cares for us all, as if all were but one!
O God, our parent, supremely good, beauty of all beauty, to you will we entrust whatever we have received from you, and so shall we lose nothing.
You have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.
Amen. [1]

Commission
We walk now in the knowledge that God’s eye is upon us,
that God is shepherding us each step of the way and
that God is working to bring joy to all on earth and in heaven.
Amen.



Copyright © 2007 Geoff Pound Making Life Decisions

[1] This prayer is a modification of a prayer by Augustine (354-430 A.D.)

Day 14: God in the Ordinary

Approach
God,
call us to attention now
as we read your word,
reflect on your truth and
ready ourselves to discover you.
Amen.

Scripture
Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, ‘I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.’ When the Lord saw that he had turned aside, God called to him out of the bush, ‘Moses, Moses!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ Then he said, ‘Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.’ He said further, ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.
(Exodus 3:1-6)

Silence

Reflection
It is good to reflect on the truth that God appeared to Moses while he was keeping the flock and as he was going about his daily work. God spoke to Moses not in a chapel but in the workplace.

The author Richard Foster says: “The only place that God can bless you is right where you are because that is the only place you are. Do you remember Moses at the burning bush? God had to tell him to take off his shoes. He did not know that it was holy ground. If we can just come to understand that right where we are is holy ground and it is there that we build a history with God and learn to walk confidently with God.”[1]

Jesus said that God would cause even the stones to shout. Here God is expressing this same determination to catch the attention of Moses with a bush that burns but is not consumed. Only when God has Moses’ attention does God speak about the misery of the Israelites and the plan that Moses might be involved as a prophet and liberator.

Many commentators have emphasized God’s appearance in the ordinariness of a bush. Rabbi Joshua puts it succinctly when saying, “God spoke from the thorn bush to teach us that there is no place where the Divine Presence is absent, not even in a thorn bush.”[2]

Journal
What will it mean for you to become more aware of meeting God in the ordinary times and places?





Jot down ways you might be more present to the Divine Presence in your work, recreation and home life?





Selecting a Souvenir



Prayer
You are with us living God in the ordinariness of this day.
Keep us attentive to the flickering signals of your presence
that call us to take off our shoes and await your divine voice.
Grant us the courage to follow your call wherever you might lead us.
Amen.

Commission
God,
you have warmed our hearts as we have studied your word.
Keep us alert to the many ways you will continue to speak to us,
through the ordinary things in life.
Amen.



Copyright © 2007 Geoff Pound Making Life Decisions

[1] Richard Foster, ‘Living Confidently in God’, 30 Good Minutes Program #4315, 16 January, 2000. Internet address: <http://www.30goodminutes.org/csec/sermon/foster_4315.htm>
[2] Joan Chittister, ‘Faith: The Dispeller of Darkness’, 30 Good Minutes, Program # 4706, 9 November 2003. Internet Address: <http://www.30goodminutes.org/csec/sermon/chittister_4706.htm>

Day 15: For This Reason I Have Come

Approach
God of life,
You call us to enjoy a friendship with you that is vibrant and changing,
a relationship of growth and challenge.
Jolt us out of ways of approaching you that are tired.
Liberate us from understandings of you and our vocation that are old and musty.
Catch us by surprise,
as we seek to be present to you now.
Amen.

Scripture
“Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.”…. “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”
(John 12:27-28, 32)

Silence

Reflection
The statement in this reading is part of a theme in the Fourth Gospel in which Jesus expresses in different ways who he was and why he came:
“I am the bread that came down from heaven.” John 6: 41, 51.
“I am the light of the world.” John 8:12.
“I am the good shepherd.” John 10:11.
“I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly.” John 10:10
“I came from God…. I came from the Father.” John 16:27-28
“I came into the world to testify to the truth.” John 18:37

These affirmations do not indicate a change of mind but represent an unfolding of new facets of Christ’s vocation. An examination of the context in which these statements appear often suggests a clue as to how the original setting or the needs of the audience evoked from Jesus an appropriate insight.

The large sandstone rock in central Australia, know as Uluru or Ayers Rock, is sacred to the aboriginal people and is one of the nation’s most recognizable landmarks. One of its amazing features is the way it appears to change colour as the different light shines upon it at various times of the day and year. Approaching Uluru from a distance in the middle of the morning it takes on a translucent pink. Closer up and during the afternoon it turns into a brilliant yellow. At dusk, with hundreds of tourists gazing and cameras clicking, the sun sets it ablaze in a rich ochrey glow. Before sunrise Uluru stands as a black mound in the stillness of the desert. At breakfast time it turns a dull brown and on those rare days when it is raining the rock acquires a silvery-grey appearance streaked with black algae. Photographs prove what you can see with your eyes. This rock is alive! This rock is continually changing. No wonder Uluru has tantalised people for centuries.

The Gospel story presents Jesus in a variety of different lights. He makes bold statements and adopts different images to reveal new facets of his character and his calling. Jesus is like a beautiful and mysterious rock that is constantly changing. We turn and take another look and he has changed.

Similarly, our calling is dynamic rather than static. Different experiences bring forth new gifts and over time we come to see our vocation in another light.

Journal
Express your yearning to God that you might discover more and do that for which you have been created.





Are there some words or an image that might encapsulate your calling at the moment?





Selecting a Souvenir



Prayer
Creator God, we long for a greater clarity about why you have made us: the reason for which we have come into this world.
Save us from trying to be like somebody else or wrongfully seeking to fulfil the dreams of others.
Transforming God, as we realize your wonderful intentions for us, may we discover the loveliness of Christ living within our life.
Amen.

Commission
Guide our steps this day,
that we embrace further the purpose of our lives,
for the service of others and
the honour of your name.
Amen.



Copyright © 2007 Geoff Pound Making Life Decisions

Day 16: Listening to the Still, Small Voice

Approach
Lord,
Wherever we are now and
whatever situation we are in,
let your word come to us,
in love and truth.
Amen.

Scripture
Then the word of the Lord came to him saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.”

God said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him…
(1 Kings 19: 9b-13a)

Silence

Reflection
God spoke to Elijah at significant times in his life. Sometimes God uttered words of commission and at other times God asked a question to bring him to attention. When it was necessary, God’s message and manner brought to Elijah a renewal of his vocation and the strength to pursue it. It is interesting to consider why God presents a display of rock-splitting wind with deafening earthquakes and startling pyrotechnics. Was it emotional fanfare to grab Elijah’s attention and to build his excitement for the main event? Or was the drama to provide a contrast and underscore the truth that the voice of God is not to be found in the noisy and sensational but in ‘the sound of sheer silence’.

The word ‘vocation’ is increasingly being rediscovered and used. In an interview with Miles Franklin Literary Award winner Frank Moorhouse and his publisher, Jane Palfreyman, Moorhouse said, “The big thing we share is that we both see our work as a vocation. She sees publishing as her calling, the way I see writing as mine.”[1]

In the sixteenth century Martin Luther encouraged people to understand their God-given work as a vocation no matter how menial their occupation. At the root of the word ‘vocation’ is the word ‘call’ or ‘voice.’ This means that our vocation is discovered not so much by setting goals but by hearing a calling. Instead of imposing our plans upon us, our vocation clarifies when we listen for God speaking about who we are and what we are becoming. While sometimes we might hear God clearly and at other times we might be confused, central to the idea of listening for the voice is a relationship that needs to be nurtured regularly.

Journal
What new insights are you gaining about your vocation?





In what areas are you seeking God for clarification about your calling?





Selecting a Souvenir



Prayer of John Greenleaf Whittier
Dear Lord and Father of mankind,
forgive our foolish ways!
Reclothe us in our rightful mind,
in purer lives your service find,
in deeper reverence, praise.

Drop your still dews of quietness,
till all our strivings cease;
take from our souls the strain and stress,
and let our ordered lives confess
The beauty of your peace.

Breathe through the heats of our desire
your coolness and your balm;
let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;
speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire,
O still, small voice of calm!
Amen. [2]

Commission
Lord,
through the noise that bombards and the activities that call for our attention,
help us to create a space of stillness,
within which we might come close and hear your ‘still, small voice’.
Amen.



Copyright © 2007 Geoff Pound Making Life Decisions

[1]Janet Hawley, ‘Two of us’ Good Weekend: Melbourne Age, 14 July, 2001, 14.
[2] Hymn of John Greenleaf Whittier, ‘Dear Lord and Father of Mankind’ Public Domain, 1872.

Day 17: This is my Vocation

Approach
Liberating God,
lead us not only to know the truth
but to act upon the truth
that will set us free.
Amen.

Scripture
I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God--what is good and acceptable and perfect.
(Romans 12: 1-2)

Silence

Reflection
After eleven solid chapters, in which the apostle Paul outlines his understanding of Christianity, he declares what is required in responding to God’s gift of Jesus. In the first paragraph, this statement appears, “…so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

The will of God is not intended to be kept a secret. It is God’s hope that we might discover and enter into it. Furthermore the will of God is not a bitter pill to swallow. On the contrary, it is described as “good and acceptable and perfect.” Wrapped up in these three descriptors is the truth that discerning and entering into the will of God for our life will lead to a state of well-being and groundedness.

Glenn Hinson tells of taking some seminary students on a field trip to a monastery in the hills of Kentucky. His primary purpose was to help these history students become aware of the communities that developed in the Middle Ages, not to learn about a life of prayer. The host, Thomas Merton, gave the class more than they expected. After talking about the rise of the monastic life, Merton asked if there were any questions. One student asked a question that Hinson feared the most. The student inquired, “What’s a smart fellow like you doing in a place like this?” Hinson said that he expected Merton to respond in anger or frustration that he’d not been heard, but Merton responded very simply: “I am here because this is my vocation. I believe in prayer.”[1]

Can you hear Merton’s sense of goodness and acceptance? When we live out our vocation we can experience a similar anchoring in the midst of questions and doubts about our fitness or the usefulness of what we are called to do.

Journal
“Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”
Meditate upon this appeal and then make your response.





“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
Ponder what is being asked of you and write about your formation.





Selecting a Souvenir



Prayer
Lead us merciful God, beyond the talk and theory of belief to actually engaging our faith in you and experiencing your power to transform our lives. Lead us into the certainty and rightness of knowing that we are doing your will. Amen.

Commission
Depart now
in the fellowship of God the Father,
and as you go, remember:
in the goodness of God
you were born into this world;
by the grace of God
you have been kept
all the day long,
even until this hour;
and By the love of God,
fully revealed in the face of Jesus,
You are being redeemed.
Amen.[2]



Copyright © 2007 Geoff Pound Making Life Decisions

[1]Glenn E Hinson, Spiritual preparation for Christian leadership (Nashville, Upper Room Books, 1999), 151.
[2] This was a much loved benediction of Dr. John Claypool (1930-2005), a Baptist and Episcopalian pastor in the USA. Source: Crescent Hill Baptist Church, Louisville, Kentucky. Web Address: http://www.crescenthillbaptistchurch.org/oldsite/claypool.htm

Day 18: Follow Me

Approach
Lord Jesus Christ,
you were born in Bethlehem but you are living in our time and our town.
You were a carpenter in Nazareth but you are building and beautifying our lives.
You were a teacher in Galilee but you are speaking to us in our work and play.
Enable us to hear your call and to follow.
Amen.

Scripture
As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, Jesus saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James, son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately, they left the boat and their father, and followed him.
(Matthew 4: 18-22)

Silence

Reflection
A journey in discernment is an invitation to follow Jesus. The Gospel writers depict with stark simplicity the calling of fishermen and the repetition of the word ‘immediately’ highlights the appropriate response of trust and obedience. Throughout the story Jesus keeps on calling his disciples to follow which indicates the need for an ongoing response of all that we are. Discerning the way is a dynamic process of discovery rather than receiving a once and for all blueprint. It is usually about discovering the next step not obtaining a full itinerary. Stepping forward often produces a vital change in our attitude or as Richard Rohr claimed, “We do not think our way into a new kind of living. We live ourselves into new ways of thinking.”[1]

The theologian Karl Barth was once asked to outline what he would do if, in the light of past experiences, he was only now beginning his work as a theological teacher. Barth graciously declined, saying his method had never been to work to programs but rather his thinking and writing and speaking had issued from living encounters with people and conditions that spoke to him. Barth said he felt like a man in a boat which must be rowed and steered diligently but which flows in a stream that he does not control. It glides along between new and often totally strange shores, carrying him toward the goal set for him, goals which he sees and chooses only as he approaches them. He said, “As I see it now, my theological career has been a succession of present moments.”[2]

Journal
Enter with Christ into this present moment and enjoy in the silence, this eternal now.
What appears to be the step before you where you are being called to follow?





As you contemplate being asked to follow Jesus today, write down the qualities you will need to respond well.





Selecting a Souvenir



Albert Schweitzer wrote a book about the life and work of Jesus and in his conclusion he crystallises an encouragement to those making their own journey today. His words are slightly adapted to turn them into the following prayer.

Prayer
You come to us as One unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lake, you came to those who knew you not. You speak to us the same words: “Follow me!” and you set us to the tasks which you have to fulfil for our time.You command, and to those who obey you, (whether we be wise or simple), you will reveal yourself in the toil, the conflicts, the sufferings which we shall pass through in your fellowship, and as an ineffable mystery, we will learn in our own experience who you are.[3]Amen.

Commission
Lord, you have gone before us and
you go with us.
Our destination,
our guide,
our companion,
each step of the way.
Amen.



Copyright © 2007 Geoff Pound Making Life Decisions

[1] Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer (New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, Revised updated ed., 2003), 20.
[2] Karl Barth, The Christian Century Reader: Representative Articles, Editorials, & Poems, edited by Harold E. Fey & Margaret Frakes, (Manchester: Ayer Publishing, 1972), 102–5.
[3] Albert Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1998), 403.