Because every decision must be made in line with God's will, Christian spiritual discernment can be distinguished from other types of discernment. Christian discernment is defined as a decision-making process in which an individual discovers something that can lead to future action. God leads the individual through the process of Christian spiritual discernment to help them make the greatest decision possible. In Christian spiritual discernment, the greatest approach to arrive at the best option is to look for internal and outward indicators of God's action and then apply them to the situation at hand. Christian discernment also places a strong emphasis on Jesus and making decisions that are consistent with Jesus' teachings in the New Testament. Christian discernment differs from secular discernment in that it focuses on God and Jesus while making decisions. Ignatius of Loyola is widely regarded as a master of spirit discernment. Ignatian discernment is named after Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556), who developed his own distinct method of Catholic discernment. Ignatian discernment focuses on perceiving God in all aspects of life and uses a series of Spiritual Exercises to help people make better life decisions. The Spiritual Exercises are intended to assist those who are confronted with a significant life decision. Identifying the issue, spending time to pray about the choice, making a wholehearted decision, discussing the choice with a mentor, and lastly trusting the decision made are the seven steps of discernment to be followed.
Before You Continue...
Do you know what is your soul number? Take this quick quiz to find out! Get a personalized numerology report, and discover how you can unlock your fullest spiritual potential. Start the quiz now!
What is the spiritual gift of discernment?
Because of their emphasis on the operation of all spiritual gifts inside their churches, Pentecostal and charismatic Christians place a premium on spirit discernment. The ability to discern whether a spiritual gift (such as prophecy or languages interpretation) is exercised by the Holy Spirit, an evil spirit, or simply the human spirit becomes vital. They believe that every Christian has the ability to judge and is accountable for determining whether such an occurrence is beneficial and edifying to the church; yet, they also think that the Holy Spirit has given some people the spiritual gift of distinguishing spirits. It's vital to remember that identifying spirits is not the same as assessing individuals. It's also thought that the ability to identify spirits is required to separate demonic possession from mental or physical disease. This is crucial in the real practice of deliverance, also known as exorcism or demon casting, which was part of Jesus' great commission to his disciples and future generations of believers. Discerning spirits can also be learned, according to the late Albert Taylor's book “Ministering Below the Surface a practical guide to Inner Healing and Deliverance.”
Furthermore, many Charismatics and members of Pentecostal congregations believe that the gift of Spirit discernment allows some people to see spirits. In Dr. Jonathan Welton's book ‘School of the Seers,' the narrative of Elisha and the army of angels (cf. 2 Kings 6:15-17) is used as an illustration, along with numerous other recent examples.
How do you practice spiritual discernment?
The difficulty is that we sometimes wait until there's a major issue at stake before engaging in discernment and then we're completely unfamiliar with the process when everything seems to be on the line. It's not a pleasant environment to be in.
Thankfully, God can work with us in any location, at any time, and in any manner. But, by making discernment a strong habit in our life, we can better equip ourselves to address the major questions.
Imagine attempting to interpret a gourmet soufflé recipe when we've never learnt to fry an egg. It'll be a lot more challenging this time!
Learning to discern entails developing the practice of using discernment in our daily lives, in both big and small matters.
Practice talking to God about the simple things in your life. Practice listening – He might not speak to you the same way he speaks to others. If you've never listened before, don't expect to be able to hear right away.
Get to know yourself your inclinations, your tendencies, and your regular approaches to circumstances. You can modify properly if you know yourself.
Practice observing observing your own reactions to opportunities, challenges, and other people's reactions. How can you learn if you don't pay attention?
Keep a journal, meet with a friend or mentor on a regular basis, and find a way to observe the trail you're leaving behind. We learn more about ourselves over time than we can see in the present.
Making discernment a habit relieves stress when presented with a major decision, such as who to marry, where to live, or what to do. Instead of being a novice, you'll be well-versed in the art of discernment.
However, there is one caveat: don't expect to become an expert in discernment overnight. It takes several years! And, for the sake of the great questions, don't even make it your objective to be adept at discernment.
Even if we believe we have made all of our major life decisions, discernment is a lifelong process that never ends. Learning to appreciate the process is key to making it a habit.
What is the difference between being judgmental and discerning?
A judgemental person is one who goes beyond recognizing disparities in people's talents to draw conclusions about their overall worthiness. A terrible singer is inferior to a judgemental person not just on the level of singing, but also on the more fundamental dimension of being human.
At first glance, it may appear that a wise person has no choice but to pass judgment. That is not the case, and to understand why, consider what we know about intelligence and what it takes to succeed.
Many of us associate intelligence with IQ scores in the areas of analytical, mathematical, and verbal intelligence. Several researchers, including Howard Gardner, have discovered that intelligence comes in many forms: social intelligence (the ability to get along with others), emotional intelligence (one of which is the ability to stay motivated in the face of obstacles), musical intelligence, kinesthetic intelligence (important for athletes and dancers), spatial intelligence (important for architects), and so on. According to Howard Gardner and others, just as some people have a higher IQ than others, there is also variance in terms of other sorts of intelligence. As it turns out, there is no link between one form of intelligence and another, meaning that a person with a high IQ does not necessarily have a high level of intelligence in other areas. This means that, because there is no limit to the number of dimensions of intellect, no one person has complete dominance over another on all dimensions of intelligence. In other words, no human being is “better” to another in terms of overall performance. Indeed, one could argue that, when all intellectual dimensions are taken into account, everyone is equally gifted in their own unique way.
But why are some people more successful in life than others if they are all equally gifted? Why is it that certain people (for example, Federer in tennis) master a domain while others fail miserably at everything they attempt?
This is due to two factors. To begin with, most of us never know our unique brilliance or “God-given” aptitude. This is partly due to the fact that we pay too much attention to what others (parents, teachers, and especially peers) tell us we should do (see videos 1 and 2 on social influence), and partly due to the fact that our schools and universities do not focus on assisting us in discovering our true talents. Second, as Simonton and Gladwell eloquently argued in their respective books, Genius 101 and Outliers, success is largely dependent on chance events and circumstances that place us in the “right place at the right time” to capitalize on our talents, and most of us are simply not fortunate enough to have gotten the right breaks in life-breaks that would have allowed our special talents to blossom if they had occurred.
It is possible to be both discerning and non-judgmental at the same time if one realizes both of these features, namely that no one is superior than anybody else in terms of total intellect and that success is dependent on random events. Even for such a person, however, being a “non-judgmental discerner” may be difficult to maintain, because most of us are so used to connecting people's total worthiness to their achievement that we are either discerning and judgemental or neither.
A person who learns to be both discerning and non-judgmental, on the other hand, will find immense freedom in expressing his actual, authentic ideas about people, because he won't be burdened by the fear of being judged. Furthermore, such a person will have the dual attributes of being driven to find everyone's true-but-perhaps-hidden skills, as well as sympathy for those who haven't had the good fortune to be successful. Finally, because they will realize that the input is not intended to be malevolent, individuals will find it simpler to accept unfavorable feedback from such a person.
What are characteristics of discernment?
With an open mind and an open heart, we must approach the decision in question. We won't be able to discover God's will for us if we go into the decision-making process with a pre-determined outcome based on our own will, biases, and attachments, which Ignatius defines as an attitude of “I already have my mind made up, so don't confuse me with the facts.” Attachments are areas in our lives where we restrict our freedom and impose constraints on our choices. For example, I'll attend college wherever if it's within a day's drive of my parents' house.
Such generosity and openness take courage, because God may be calling us to do something tough, demanding, and risky. Giving up control and trustingly placing the decision in God's hands while seeking God's will over our own demands courage.
How do I ask God for discernment?
Dear heavenly Father, you count our hairs and determine our days; you hang the stars and feed the birds; you open and close doors that no one can open or close. Surely, we can put our faith in you when it comes to making significant decisions, or any decisions for that matter. We're through a similar season right now, Father, and we're aware that we're not alone. For the sake of your honor, we will trust you with generous wisdom, straight roads, and quiet hearts.
We adore you for being the God of decision-making. It is your choices, not ours, that determine the outcome. We'll make plans, but we'll entrust our actions to you. We'll pray, but we'd like you to direct our prayers to heaven. We'll seek advice, but you may count on you to veto any incorrect or incomplete information from our closest friends and mentors. We'll read through the Bible, but not for proof passages, but for you, Father. All we want and need is for you to come along.
Free us from the paralysis of analysisdesiring to make the right decision more than being virtuous; desiring to be known as smart people more than knowing you. Free us from the idolatry of believing that there is just one “ideal” option in every scenario. Free us from making decisions based solely on our comfort and the approval of others, or out of fear of their condemnation. Allow us to understand that good decisions do not always result in the most straightforward outcomes, especially at first. Allow us to make decisions without second and twenty-second thoughts.
Father, we know that your will is our sanctificationour becoming more and more like Jesusin ALL things, whether it's wisdom about purchasing or selling, vocation or vacation, this place or that place, this person or that person. Give us this zeal; make it our pleasure.
So, Father, when we trust you with the opening and closing of doors in front of us, make us more and more like Jesus. Everything we eat and drink is for your glory, as are our whatevers, whenevers, and wherevers. Amen.
Why is it important to have discernment?
Should I relocate across the country to the place where I've always wanted to live?
I'm sure you've faced a major personal decision similar to one of these. It can be terrifying, thrilling, draining, and exhilarating all at once. We can attempt to avoid it, but making decisions is one of those basic human experiences that we all have to go through from time to time.
When faced with a decision like this in the past, I've always gone with my instincts. I'd mull over the notion in my head for a few days before deciding on the best alternative for me. Most of the time, looking back, I'd think my decision was a good one, but there were occasions when I didn't.
Even when I felt certain in my decision, I would frequently question it. I'd inquire about topics like, “What if I have a change of heart? What am I missing out on as a result of my decision? What if I'm not really interested in what I thought I was? What if I'm not sure what I'm looking for? What if what I really desire isn't the most important thing? What if what I want isn't good for me in the end, or vice versa?” etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc., etc.,
This began to change for me in college, when I was fortunate enough to form a friendship with one of my professors, who was also a Franciscan friar and Catholic priest. We were talking about important life matters one day (one of my favorite pastimes), and he stated to me, “Always follow your heart, but first and foremost, ensure that your heart is clean.”
The remark struck me as accurate right away, but I had no idea what he meant. I was curious to learn more. Over the course of our subsequent conversations, he gradually unpacked for me an old approach of decision-making known as discernment.
Discernment is founded on the thoughts of various great mystic minds in Christianity, including St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Teresa of vila, St. Paul, and St. John, to mention a few. It's based on the belief that God speaks to each of us through our hearts' and brains' good and holy desires. Despite our deep brokenness, God created us to be basically good, and He desires for us to mature into our complete selves: to become the most fully actualized, finest versions of ourselves. This is our divine mission, and it is what He created us to do.
We also have deep brokenness: anxieties, selfishness, insecurities, and wounds, in addition to this God-given loveliness. This is how the Bible refers to it “It is a sin.” These, too, speak loudly in our deepest thoughts and feelings, preventing us from becoming the person we were born to be.
As a result, we have a conflict inside ourselves between our genuine selves and our fake selves. The fight is described by St. Ignatius as a battle between a “good spirit” and a “evil spirit” attempting to seduce us, similar to the angel and devil on a cartoon character's shoulder. These voices compete for our attention and influence.
The brave part of you may be urging you to relocate across the nation, but the terrified half of you is screaming that you'll make no friends if you do, so you'd better stay there. Your wisdom may be telling you to break up with your significant other, but your libido is reminding you of what you'd be losing out on if you did. Maybe your perseverance is asking you to stick it out in a difficult job, while your recklessness just wants to hit your boss in the face with a three-hole puncher.
I believe this is what my professor meant when he said “Make certain that your heart is pure.” We must ensure that we make decisions based on the good desires in our hearts, that we make decisions based on the goodness within us (such as our strength, hope, generosity, and compassion), and that we disregard the evil (fear, greed, or pride).
To be sure, this is not an easy process. Trying to distinguish between our selfish and altruistic wants can be difficult, but it is feasible to do so over time. We gain self-awareness as a result, and we may be confident that we are responding to God's call in our lives: that we are becoming our genuine selves.
Discernment aids us in making the best decision possible for the best reasons. More than that, it gives us the assurance that we will be able to stick to our obligations. The first several years of my marriage were challenging for my wife and me. We had to put in a lot of effort to establish healthy routines of living, talking, and growing as a family. We'd both had doubts about the person we'd chosen to spend the rest of our lives with. Do you have any idea what gave us hope? Looking back on our marriage discernment journey.
Both she and I had carefully discerned and prayed about whether or not we should marry, and we had both come to the unambiguous conclusion that we were meant to be together. We looked back on that discernment as a source of strength in later moments of doubt. We were confident that God had called us to get married to each other and that we had chosen each other for the right reasons.
We were able to see those early problems as obstacles to overcome together, rather than seeing them as a sign of a bad decision, because we knew we had made the correct decision with pure hearts. It helped us see our current struggle as a step toward becoming our actual selves as a group.
You might or might not be similar to me. As I previously stated, my default way of decision-making is to trust my instincts. Maybe you, too, trust your intuition, depending on your personality (or Myers-Briggs type, if you're into that any more ENFJs in the house?). Alternatively, you might think more logically and evaluate all possibilities. Perhaps you strive to make the most rational decision possible. Perhaps you do what is required of you by people closest to you. Perhaps you enjoy being a renegade and trying new things. Perhaps you act rashly and make a snap decision. Maybe you pray to God every day for signs.
Each of these characteristics can be beneficial, but they also have disadvantages. Discernment aids us in capturing the best aspects of each. It's a comprehensive approach to assisting us in discovering the authentic, good, and beautiful desires that God has placed deep within us.
Listening to your heart, evaluating with your mind, and bringing God into the dialogue through prayer can help us clarify our motivations and desires, gain confidence in our decisions, and teach us to be honestly our best selves.
How do you know that you have the gift of discernment?
How can you tell if you have the ability to discern? Here's a clue: Those with the spiritual talent of discernment are able to see right through smokescreens and impediments to the truth.
God is the source of discernment's gift. The truth taught in His word is the source of discernment. The discernment that results from strong knowledge, comprehension, and a firm conviction in God's word is based on solid knowledge, understanding, and a firm belief in God's word.