Last Sunday, I preached on the topic of discernment noting that we all have a desire to do God’s will, but at the same time we want to know that what we are doing is in fact God’s will, which is what discernment is all about. I gave the following definition of discernment: “Discernment is the search to discover, in companionship with Jesus, the call I possess to be his disciple within my limitations and in response to my great desire to serve him today.” So, how do we go about doing discernment?
As I indicated before, discernment begins with prayer, more specifically, prayer that is informed by our discovery of God in our lives. The more we are aware of our experience of God’s goodness and love towards us, the more we can engage the process of discernment. This core faith experience is what enables us to pray in faith, believing that God is present and that God’s will can be known to us. Through prayer we seek illumination, to know the mind of God, specifically as it relates to a particular issue or situation in our lives. At the same time, we ask for the grace of interior freedom, knowing that our sinful natures and superficial desires may seek to lead us away from God’s purposes. We desire the freedom to follow where the Spirit leads us. While we do not leave prayer behind, we are, at this point, ready to lift up a particular issue, decision, or course of action for our lives. In doing so, we seek to gather all the information that we will need in order to make a decision or pursue a particular course of action. As we gather this information we begin to weigh the information, placing the information into categories such as “reasons for” and “reasons against.” The next step is to test the spirits. In this, we seek to examine the feelings that are going on within us as we decide for or against a particular decision or course of action. Does a particular decision or course of action cause us to move closer to God or away from God? Is there an increase in faith, hope, and love in our decision, or is faith, hope, and love shutting down within us? If we are doing communal discernment, then we would seek to find a consensus among the group for a particular course of action or decision. If we are doing personal discernment then we might seek the advice of trusted companions who know us and are willing to be in prayer with us. These companions can be an extra set of eyes and ears to help us discern how God might be moving in our lives. The last step involves moving in the direction of our decision, seeking come “confirmation” or evidence that are moving in the right direction towards Gods’ purposes in our lives. This confirmation is internal as the joy and peace of the Spirit continues to be present in our lives over time. It is also external as we see how our decision or course of action works out over time. It should be easy to see that discernment is not something that happens in the span of a few minutes. Discernment takes time because we are in conversation with God. It requires us to listen well. We should also see that discernment is possible. It is possible to come to a greater understanding of God’s purposes in our lives. Discernment is what happens as we are moved by the love of God to give love to others. It is making decisions in harmony with the gospel in order to help others. And, more than a one-time process, discernment can become a lifelong orientation of our lives towards God.