Life seemed easier when we cast lots. As kids, we made critical decisions--what movie to watch, candy to buy, or classmate to choose for our kickball team--by flipping a coin, picking a number, or chanting "Eeny, meeny, miny, moe" (the PC version). Sometimes we ended up with an unwanted box of Boston Baked Beans or Charlie Penskie on our team, but we could not argue. Fate had decided.
The early church made its first, critical, post-ascension decision by casting lots for Judas's replacement. Quite frankly, whoever earned the spot was bound for glory. To succeed the Lord's betrayer meant entering the fold of apostles with an historically low bar. Matthias and Joseph-called-Barsabbas (aka Justus) stood before the crowd of 120. Peter flipped a drachma; God decided on Matthias (cf. Prov. 16:33). And neither namesake appeared again in the biblical text.
As the next chapter of Acts opens, the church turned a corner. The Holy Spirit fell on Jesus's followers. As promised, Jesus sent the Spirit to instruct, empower, and embolden his people to serve as his witnesses (Acts 1:8 cf. John 14-16). And just like that, "Eeny, meeny, miny, moe" (the PC version) dropped out of the church's liturgy. The age of discernment, aka Spirit-led decision-making, had begun.
|By Nightflyer - Own work, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=64482487|
To be fair, the people in the Upper Room were neither cavalier nor willy-nilly about their two prospects to replace Judas. Peter didn't blindfold Andrew, spin him around seven times, and send him to randomly Pin the Title on the Apostle (the forerunner to Pin the Tail on the Donkey). The group has prayed, sought Scriptures, and narrowed their search to those "who have been with [the disciples] the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out from us, beginning from John's baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us" (Acts 1:21-22).
Discernment emerges from a prayerful posture, listening community, open Bible, and limited focus. Moreover, at the root of discernment is the desire to learn from Jesus. To discern is to be a disciple, teachable by trade. Remember, the folks in the Upper Room had spent forty days under Jesus's tutelage about the kingdom of God (1:3). The lot they cast for Matthias followed a protracted process; it was far from spontaneous.
Even without the Holy Spirit indwelling them, the nascent church demonstrated a wonderful balance of doing their homework while they waited for God to post the answer. They huddled, prayed, studied, and talked until God revealed his chosen lot.
Honestly, sometimes I'd rather blindly grasp at straws to make weighty decisions.
What should I preach on? Open my Bible to a random page.
Whom should I meet for lunch? Let my finger fall on a random face in the church directory.
When should we plan our next outreach event? Throw a dart at a 12-month calendar.
What ministry should we take off life support? Pull a name from at hat.
I might even cite and celebrate God's providence in the randomness of my decision-making. But we all know it's plain lazy. The Holy Spirit, who dwells within, convicts us of skirting the process. Jesus did not sent him to outsource discernment but to resource us as we decide.
Stay Tune for more on the actual Discernment Process.