Begin: Breath prayer for Discernment: Ps 119:125
Psalm 119 is a cry for understanding & discernment that comes from God and His Word.
Brothers in the Lord at Keur Moussa Abbey in Dakar, Senegal sing Ps 119:1-40 in French.
Let’s look at Mary as an example of practicing discernment:
Let’s look at Mary for example.
Read Luke 1:26-33
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, c the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be.
And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
- What feelings did Mary have?
- Did she quickly react to those feelings?
34 And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”
35 And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of c the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. 36 And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.”
38 And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
Mary Visits Elizabeth: Luke 1:39-45
Mary Visits Elizabeth & Her Discernment grows
In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!”
Truly transformational knowledge is always personal, never merely objective. It involves knowing of, not merely knowing about. And it is always relational. It grows out of our relations to ourself and those around us, especially those we say we love, and our of our growing relationship with God.
She had learned about God from reading the scriptures. Even though a woman, she had access to classes for girls that some places of worship or perhaps her parents provided. She knew about God’s love and mercy to her people and His promise to send a Savior. She may have thought even that she loved God and was willing live for Him and honor him in all she did. She may have thought of herself as a diligent student of the Scriptures and perhaps even considered herself an obedient girl.
- How did Mary’s “knowing about God” and “knowing about herself” change?
- What did Mary learn about herself?
- What shows us that she indeed WAS a good student of the Scriptures? (see vv. Luke 1: 46-55) :
- What things may she have been not quite sure of, for which she sought further discernment?
Various Aspects regarding Faithful Discernment:
“Discernment is the process that allows a person to see, without confusion and ambiguity, what differentiates things.” – Pierre Wolff
“Discernment is the process of making choices that correspond as closely as possible to objective reality, that are as free as possible from our inner compulsions, and that are closely attuned to the convictions of our faith.” (Wolff)
“Discernment is the spiritual practice that accesses and seeks to understand what God is trying to say.” Henri Nouwen
“Biblically, discernment is spiritual understanding and experiential knowledge acquired thorough disciplined spiritual practice, of how God is active in our lives, which leads to a life ‘worthy of our calling’ (Col. 1.9) It is a spiritual gift and practice that ascertains and affirms the unique way God’s love and direction are manifested in our lives , so that we can know God’s will and fulfill our calling and mission within the mysterious interworking’s of God’s love.” Henri Nouwen
From the definitions, what are some of the different aspects of discernment?
“Discernment is rooted in the core disciplines of the Christine life: prayer, community, worship & ministry. “(Nouwen)
Knowing who we are one key to discernment.
“Discernment is about our core identity as God’s beloved children, experiencing the divine presence in the human heart through discernment, and knowing when to act, when to wait, and when to be led or acted upon, according to God’s time.” (Nouwen)
The foundation of all discernment is
Whose we are?
Who we are?
Who is with us?
“Discernment is about listening and responding to that place within us where our deepest desires align with the desire of God, as discerning people, we sift through our impulses, motives and options to discover which ones lead us closer to divine love and compassion for ourselves and other people and which ones lead us further astray.” (Nouwen)
Discernment is the gift and result of a growing knowledge about God and a growing understanding about ourselves. We discern so that God can transform us, so we can rightly know, rightly act and rightly live to honor and glorify God. This desire to honor and glorify God is the foundation of all true discernment. Part of discernment is KNOWING SELF.
An understanding of the interdependence of knowing self and God has held a lasting and respected place in Christian Theology.
Thomas a Kempis argued that “a humble self-knowledge is a surer way to God than a search after deep learning”
and Augustinie’s prayer was “Grant Lord , that I may know myself that I may know thee.”
True knowledge of self demands that we know our self as known by God, and the true knowledge of God demands that we know God not just as an abstraction or as objective data, but in and through our lived experience. (Benner)
Self-knowledge that is pursued apart from knowing our identity in God easily leads to pride, or at least being a big pig headed! It is this puffed up, grandiose self that the apostle Paul warns against, an arrogance that we are all prone to when we value knowledge more than love. It also leads to self-preoccupation. Unless we spend at least as much time looking at God as we spend looking at our self, our knowing of self will simple draw us further in to an abyss of self-fixation. (Benner)
“Discernment is spiritual understanding and experiential knowledge, acquired through disciplined spiritual practice, of how God is active in our lives which leads to a life ‘worthy of our calling’ (Col.1.9&10). It is a spiritual gift and practice that ascertains and affirms the unique way God’s love and direction are manifested in our lives, so we can know God’s will and fulfill our calling and mission with in the mysterious interworking of God’s love”. (by Henri Nouwen)
Discernment is NOT as step by step program or a systematic pattern. Rather it is a regular discipline of listening to the still small voice beneath the rush of the whirlwind, a prayerful practice of reading the subtle signs in daily life. It is not once-for-all decision making at critical points in one’s life, ie should I take this job? Should I marry this person? Where should I live and work? Rather it IS a life long commitment to
“remember God, to know who we are and to pay close attention to what the Spirit is saying today.” (Nouwen)
Christian discernment lives and grows in both personal and community context, both solitude and community are necessary when we seek the this gift. The gift and practice of Discernment are rooted in the core disciplines of Christian life: prayer, community, worship and ministry.
A painful but joyful reality: the heart, who can know it? – only God
A. What about when I thought I sensed my mind, feelings & God’s affirmation in a choice, but it turned out terribly wrong?
- Repentance, redirection, and reflection to understand as much as possible my inner motivations and weaknesses & learn from them.
- Realize my heart & motivations are hidden to much of the time, but not to God.
B. What about when I made the choice amidst fears and apprehensions, but it turned out right?
- Reflection and re-commitment to grow in Faith and closeness to God.
- Did I make use of ALL the resources God has given me to help discern?
- Despite a good or bad outcome, do I return to simple faith in God and not give in to either pride or despair?
Based in the book, “Discernment: The Art of Choosing Well” by Pierre Wolff
- Put before your mind the choice you need to make. Clarify it in writing, stating it in straightforward and concise language.
- Write out a prayer of commitment to God’s will. Pray it and then sit in quiet for a moment.
- Pay attention to any initial leanings you have, one way or the other, that might influence your ability to know and choose God’s will. Write these down and offer them to the Lord.
- Ask God to reveal to you his will and move your heart in that direction. Be still. Record anything you notice.
- Now consider more fully all the aspects of this decision. What values help you recognize the best and most fruitful choice? Write out those values. If helpful, create a “mind map” of the values, any scriptures that come to mind and other variables that play into the decision.
- Make a list of the advantages/benefits and disadvantages/dangers related to each option.
- Consider how your decision in either direction affects “the poor” — those who are literally poor and those who have little say or power in the decision but will be affected by it (e.g., children, relatives, etc.)
- Review the information you have gathered. Do you need to include any parts of the Framework for Faithful Discernment? Now decide which alternative appears to be more reasonable. Write it down and explain why this option seems best.
- Finally, weigh the alternative you’ve now chosen. Weigh it with your heart. How does it feel to you? Bring it before God in prayer and ask for him to confirm the rightness of it. Record your response.
- Consider who in your family or community of Faith would be a mature spiritual person to share your thoughts with?
- Put these thoughts aside and plan a period of seeking greater closeness to God and freedom to desire His ways. Then come back another time and review them in God’s presence, noting any shifts or changes.
Conclusion for tonight, read together:
Col 1.9-10: 9 And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God….AMEN
The Gift of Being Yourself: The Sacred Call to Self-Discovery by David G. Benner, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press c. 2002 , expanded edition.
Discernment: The Art of Choosing Well, by Pierre Wolff, Missouri: Liguori Publications, c. 2003, revised edition.
Interior Freedom by Jacques Philippe, translated by Helena Scott, New York: Scepter Publishers, c. 2002.
Discernment: Reading The Signs of Daily Life, by the Henri Nouwen Legacy Trust, Henri Nouwen , with Michael Christensen and Rebecca Laird and, Harper Collins and Harper One, c. 2013.
The Way of Discernment: Spiritual Practices for Decision Making by Elizabeth Liebert, Westminster John Knox Press, c.2008.