Discernment 101

Discernment: we talk about it. We encourage the people in our care to engage in it. But even so, sometimes we’re not sure exactly how to define it or how to wade into it. This post offers a starting point.

Decisions are intellectual exercises. People gather information from a number of sources, evaluate it, and create actions and a timetable based on the outcomes of their analysis. When people make decisions, they seek to control the outcome. Discernment is an attentiveness – cultivated in the head, heart, and gut – to God’s work in the world so that we might join God in those efforts. Wisdom about the matter for discernment unfolds in God’s time and through many of the same sources upon which decisions are made, plus some that might be discounted when acting purely on logic. Below are some of the key elements of discernment.

Create an atmosphere for discernment. Consider the location, room arrangement, and touchstones that would make your space most conducive to listening for the wisdom of the Holy Spirit.

Set aside distractions. Name and turn over agendas and worries that could keep you from focusing on God’s yearnings.

Worship in your space. Read scripture. Pray. Sing. Remember and acknowledge that God wants good for you.

Refine the question for discernment. You are more likely to get a clear response if your question for God is finely-tuned.

Pray for indifference. Indifference means that, because you trust God’s intentions, you will refrain from nudging the outcome in one direction or another.

Gather relevant data. Use every resource at your disposal, including but not limited to hard data, conversations with others, scripture, individual and collective memories, pro/con lists, imagination, intuition, feelings, and your senses. No data source is off limits in discernment, because God speaks in a number of ways.

Discuss the data. Name what you have discovered through gathering the data – especially the surprises.

Pray for wisdom. Ask God to weave the data together and to help you step back and view the interwoven whole.

Make friends with silence. We are so unaccustomed to silence that when we do experience it, we often feel uncomfortable with it. Start with short spans of silence (30 seconds or so) and build capacity from there. In doing so, you give God a bigger opening. Wait on God to speak.

Identify the resolution that seems to be emerging. What are you hearing?

Test the resolution. Ask God for confirmation that you have discerned correctly. (See criteria for identifying, “is this God?”) Tweak the plan as needed.

Take action. Honor the faithfulness of God by moving forward boldly with the action you have discerned.

While this outline is for individual discernment, you can tweak it at any point to involve others.

Image courtesy of Hermano Leon Clip Art.

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