Ruth Haley Barton opens chapter seven of her book Sacred Rhythms with a quote by Ernest Larkin. He says, “Discernment in its fullness takes a practiced heart, fine-tuned to hear the word of God and the single-mindedness to follow that word in love. It is truly a gift from God, but not one dropped from the skies fully formed. It is a gift cultivated by a prayerful life and the search for self-knowledge.”
Barton describes discernment as a habit.
“It’s a way of seeing that eventually permeates your whole life.”
When you are in the habit of discerning then you are also in the habit of being attentive and noticing. You have developed eyes that are no longer blind to what God is doing. In a sense, your heart beats in rhythm with his. This is somewhat romantic language to describe the ability to know what God is doing, hearing his wisdom, and following His direction.
Barton describes our need to know that we are doing what’s right, “Life is full of the need to choose… we want to know that we are making our choices in God, that we are living our life according to the purposes for which God brought us to this particular time and place.” In order for us to live in the rhythm of discernment we need to believe that scripture can be trusted, that God is good, and that he communicates to us through his Spirit.
As I seek to know God’s will, I want to be attentive to which options give me life and move me closer into the presence of God.
What will develop in me the best character in accordance with the implications of my decision?
Notice how this decision measures with the thought of your faith community and also how it affects others. Does this help foster love in my faith community and in my own household? If you don’t have a Christian community then consult a Pastor or a person of faith.
Also, where does this decision lead to farther down the proverbial road? What are the future implications? Am I trading in the eternal for the immediate?
We also need to be aware that it may not be a question of certainty but instead a need for wisdom through courage, confidence, trust, and presence.
“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself. And the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in everything I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire and I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”
– Thomas Merton, Thoughts on Solitude
May we rely more on the wisdom of God than our own. May we also practice the disciplined and intentional methods to discern His will for our life choices. May we enter into each decision and path knowing that God is with us and that he will complete the work he began in us.
What do you think is important in the practice of discerning the will of God? Please leave a comment.