Interest is growing among Christians who want to deepen their experience of God and to discern their life choices in a prayerful way. We need a method for discerning major life decisions and noticing God’s presence.
In counseling we are often asked to assist people facing major life changes. They want to make a decision congruent with God’s call on their life. They also want that decision to be free from personal attachments that obstruct hearing and receiving God’s lead with confidence. We all want our decisions to be accompanied by an inner peace that comes from a sense of being aligned with God’s desire for us.
Eugene Peterson in his book The Jesus Way: A Conversation on the Ways That Jesus Is The Way, describes how this decision making process works as he talks about Abraham’s faith. “Was it not this lifetime of internalizing the commanding and promising but invisible God and then stepping out on the road in obedience? Was it not this readiness to leave wherever he was and leave whatever he had in order to embrace the vision, the covenant, and the command? Was it not a life of responsive openness to God and a matching indifference to whatever conditions he found himself in? Was it not a lifetime disposition to receive God rather than to satisfy himself?”
A method of discernment is a way of noticing patterns of attraction and repulsion when we are contemplating our choices. We are looking for how we are being drawn by recurrent deep desires and experiences that give us, “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). We search for ways in which we tempted to be disobedient to the will and command of God.
A Discernment Process
- Formulate the question about the decision that we are facing or issue we need to resolve.
- Be open to not incline more toward one option rather than another, but allow our preferences to be shaped by our ability to love God and others. We must be willing to be influenced by God’s guidance.
- Take time to pray over the matter paying attention to how we are being drawn or led.
- Make a choice based on the results of “head work” and “heart work.” Head work is the process of weighing the pros and cons as we consider all relevant information. Heart work includes sitting with the choice our reasoning has determined to be the best, and checking to see if our feelings go along with what our mind had decided. These are feelings that confirm or call into question the decision made through our thinking process.
- We need to discuss the matter with a trusted friend or someone who is committed to helping us be truthful, patient, and persevering in our search for God’s call. This is a good protection against our self-deception.
- Talk with everyone who will be intimately affected by the decision being made.
- Trust God and act even though we might feel fearful and uncertain. We are called to trust God’s power at work to bring good out of everything. “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
A well-discerned choice may include enduring some periods of struggle and pain while being supported by a deep sense of God being with us and for us. We should avoid making a decision if we are feeling confused, anxious, or distant from God.
“Faith is a trusting obedient life on the road, the way. Faith is a resolute “Yes” to the promises and commands of the living God, God as present. And faith is a firm “No” to an idol subject to manipulation and control, a god that we can see and touch and test.” (Peterson, (46).