Discernment

"Our decisions and our search for guidance take place in the active presence
of a God who intimately cares about our life situations and who invites us to
participate in the divine activities of healing and transformation."

— Frank Rogers, Jr.


Christians believe we are not alone in the midst of uncertain insights and conflicting impulses. Discernment is the intentional practice by which a community or an individual seeks, recognizes, and intentionally takes part in the activity of God in concrete situations.



Discerning the Spirit as an Individual
What does God want me to do? How can I know for sure? We yearn for divine guidance, especially when voices within us seem to conflict. How do we tell the difference between self-deception and God's leading?

What decisions make us cry out for guidance? What conflicting pressures come from outside us? How do we assess advice to take care of ourselves when it comes from a culture that also idolizes self-fulfillment?

The aim of discernment is to enhance one's participation in the work of God, for the glory of God and the healing of the world. There is no method that guarantees how the Spirit will be discerned because the Holy Spirit can't be captured in a formula. But we can learn ways to practice discernment that help counter self-deception and heighten the possibility that God's Spirit can be known. How might action itself be part of a method of discernment?

Discerning the Spirit in Communities
The communal practice of discernment places group decisions within the context of God's transforming activity. How can groups get beyond party interests, personality clashes, and power strategies that crowd out genuine dialogue and respect? In what ways can we prepare the soil for fruitful group discernment?

Consensus is a distinctive model for group reaching decisions. When have you seen this model in action? How did it function? How does consensus compare with a 'majority rules' model for making decisions? In what ways does each model make space for dissent to be voiced and respected? When a final decision is made, how does the community treat those who disagree with the proposed course of action?

Seeking wisdom as a group requires a lot from participants and be an exhausting process. When do you find most challenging about communal discernment personally? For your faith community? What changes in polity would your community have to make in order to adopt a model of communal discernment?

When Discernment Deceives and When It Doesn't
How can we know for sure when self-deception and personal power are at play in our discernment? When someone maintains that "God told me to do this," by what criteria can we evaluate such a claim? How did the Israelites distinguish between true and false prophets (Jeremiah 28:1-16)? What advice did the early church give for discernment (1 John 4:1, 1 Thessalonians 5:19-21)?

The Promise in the Practice
What promise does the practice of discernment bear for you? For your faith community? How might this practice provide opportunities to imagine solutions we did not anticipate and help us to find better paths toward the future?


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The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.


— Galatians 5:22-23
 
   
 

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they
are from God; for many false prophets have gone out into this world.


— John 4:1
 
   



© 2006-2011 The Valparaiso Project on the Education and Formation of People in Faith