There’s nothing like immersion when learning a new language, so they say. Even the language of spiritual discernment.
Discernment for believers in Jesus includes a spiritual element that needs attention if we are to hear what the Spirit of God says on any given matter. That’s where I am immersed these days as I prepare my final paper.
Gordon T. Smith, SPIR 619 professor, began class by asking these two questions of us:
What is Jesus saying to you at this particular time, in this particular circumstance?
How do you know it’s Jesus?
My role as student is to respond not only to the questions but also to the Spirit’s leading as I consider wisdom from our Christian heritage, the inner witness of the Spirit and my own affective, intellectual and spiritual sense in response.
Our two primary texts are John English’s book, Spiritual Freedom and Gordon Smith’s book, The Voice of Jesus.
There are more than a couple of things that strike me but I will begin by saying that the emphasis on a ‘real time’ encounter with the Living God through prayer is staggering. Somehow, the realization that the God of the universe enters into my space, my heart, my mind to say, “My child, I love you” feels miraculous all over again.
The other surprise is that He invites me to dialogue with Him about what He is inviting me into. The listening, silent response to his invitation to open the door and share the everydayness of life with Him evokes a deep sense of wonder at the personal, close interaction He loves. Here is one place that He shares His grace with me. Grace to respond, grace to listen, grace to recognize who I am, grace to accept His deep, deep love for me and all the diverse people of His creation.
Discernment is rooted in an encounter with the Holy of Holies. Not as a means of the dispensation of a blueprint for my life, or as a purely rational pros/cons exercise but within the intimacy of a relationship that is interactive, joyfilled, intelligent, challenging and benevolent.
Gordon asks us 4 questions in The Voice of Jesus (p. 197):
1. What do you tend to complain about?
2. What fundamental commitment (something you value) lies behind the point of frustration?
3. Is there anything you are doing or not doing that undermines your capactiy to fulfill this fundamental commitment?
4. What lies behind this pattern of behaviour?
Answering these questions honestly (difficult, I know) sheds light on our inner contradictions. Another key aspect to good discernment is Truth. And don’t we tell ourselves untruths so much of the time? Misguided perceptions and tainted interpretations become our truths and muddy insight’s waters making it hard to discern well.
“The basic difficulty is to attain detachment from our egotistical drives and to maintain a close union with Jesus. Such detachment and union are possible only through prayer and grace.” John English, Spiritual Freedom
“We hear the voice of Jesus from a posture of attentiveness and humility.” Gordon Smith, The Voice of Jesus.
Humility is another key aspect of discerning well, and a big topic for another day. I suspect that I am not the one to speak on it, anyway. That much I can discern.