“I am your servant; give me discernment that I may understand your statutes.”
What do we need to do in order to act on God’s will in our lives, to be confident that we are doing what God wants us to do? It’s not enough to know the Bible well, we need to take everything we do and say to God in prayer. That is where discernment comes into play: God will help us to understand what He is asking of us right now, when we lift up our questions and uncertainties. As followers of Jesus we are dependent always on God for what to do now and what to say now.
So often the circumstances in our lives are changing and we are growing in following Jesus, so we need to turn more and more to Him for direction and purpose.
Listen, my son[and daughter], accept what I say…I instruct you in the way of wisdom and lead you along straight paths. When you walk, your steps will not be hampered; when you run, you will not stumble (Proverbs 4:10-12).
If we are praying for discernment in whatever we do and in whatever happens to us, the Lord will provide the wisdom and understanding we need. And we can depend upon what He is saying to us, for He knows each of us so much better than we can possibly know ourselves. Step by step on our journey, we are to turn to the Lord. The basic ability we need in all of this is the ability to hear His “gentle whisper” (NIV: 1 Kings 19:12) which is usually drowned out by the very noisy, insistent voices of our minds. We need to dive into the spiritual practices that will enable us to pay attention to his “still small voice” (RSV translation).
Centering Prayer is a great way to accomplish our desire to hear the Indwelling Spirit of God speak to us directly in our minds. Like any meditative practice, at first it is very hard to sit in quiet because our minds go nuts with interruptions. What we need to do is to learn how to observe our thoughts, but not be bothered or give into them. As an observer, we can begin to see the sources of those thoughts that have been with us for so long—the “shoulds” that we learned from our parents, our teachers, our classmates, and the culture when we were very young. As we recognize the source of many of them, we can step back from their influence so that we can hear that “still, small voice” of God. As we observe them, they have less and less influence on us, so that the quieter voice of God can be heard. Those old thoughts become like old friends. In my case the need to be on time rings loud and clear in my mind—my parents were the source—until I remember to breathe and let it go. I can know I will be ten minutes early to some event and the pressure still comes up in me to BE ON TIME! B-r-e-a-t-h-e.
The more we can sit quietly with our own thoughts, the more we can sit in silence, in the presence of God. And there, we find peace and joy and love. Once we can just observe our thoughts, sitting in the silence becomes an easy daily task. Now, we are ready to hear God’s voice when it comes to us. Other practices that help us recognize God’s presence in our lives are keeping a gratitude journal, doing the Daily Examen, and lectio divina. We need to do something regularly which helps us to see God’s actions throughout our days. Years ago, I led a gratitude group at our church. We all kept a daily journal. As I started the journal, I realized that I had to see God at work in this world in order to have something to write down that night. So I started paying attention. Before that journaling, I was not aware of God’s actions in my world. I kept that gratitude journal for 10 years. Since then I have not had any trouble discerning God’s presence in or around me.
The Daily Examen is an Ignatian exercise. There are five steps to this daily prayer:
- “Become aware of God’s presence.
- Review the day with gratitude.
- Pay attention to your emotions.
- Choose one feature of the day and pray from it.
- Look toward tomorrow.”
The third suggestion I would make is Lectio Divina, another Ignatian exercise. In Lectio, we slowly read a short passage of the Bible, say 3-4 verses. After the first reading, pause to see what word or phrase had special meaning for you this day. Then, read it slowly twice more, also pausing to think on that phrase. Then, take the time to think and/or write about what God is highlighting in the passage for you and what it means to you today.
Discernment comes as a result of prayer, of meditation on our issue with God. We wait for the understanding to come of how we are to think, what we are to do. In these three practices, God is highlighting what He wants us to know in these circumstances, at the time when we are in deep communion with Him. And with this discernment, we can have confidence in what God is asking us to do.
Questions to ponder over the week: Do I count on God to provide the discernment I need in my life, or do I just go ahead with my own understanding? Can I hear the voice of the Indwelling Spirit within me? And then do I turn to the Lord for more understanding, for discernment?
Blessing for the week: May we be the people of God who seek His wisdom, His discernment in all that we do. May we follow His lead in our lives, knowing that He will ensure that we discover our purpose and live it.
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- I am giving away a 10-week journaling guide to Jesus’s Two Great Commandments. If you are interested, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will send it to you, free of charge.
- My latest books, “Called to Help the Poor and Needy” and “A Study Guide to the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount” are now in bookstores and on line. The first is about the more than 2,000 verses in the Bible which detail God’s instructions for caring for those in need. The second is a journaling/pondering guide to Jesus’s most complete sermon.