“Discernment—Where to Start?”

"Seeking God" (Easter Vigil, Chartres)

How do you discern the will of God for your life?

This is one of the most important spiritual questions to ask, yet one of the most difficult to answer. Just as you have to develop your own personal relationship with God, no one can do your discerning for you.

While there are no sure formulas, here’s a good place to start your discernment process that I have found very helpful in my own life:

1. Humble yourself before God.

“Let go” of your attachment to certain, set outcomes and ways of being in the world. In gratitude for God’s mercy, grace and love, open yourself to however the Holy Spirit may want to use you to serve Christ.

Jesus is our example. He surrendered whatever impulse he may have had to further his own self-interest. He voluntarily “emptied himself” and took the form of a servant, even to the point of giving up his life to obey God’s will and purposes for his life. (Philippians 2:5-11)

2. Offer yourself to God.

At the same time, bring yourself fully into the discernment process. You may think that surrender means emptying yourself of all your desires and everything that makes you “you” in order to discern the will of God. Not so. Discerning the will of God is not done in a vacuum.

To relinquish your will to God, you need to know your own will. To offer yourself in God’s service, you need to know what your unique self has been prepared to do. Your personal interests, abilities, personality, passions, and experience all go into the “you” that you are offering to God as a “living (not dead, not formless) sacrifice” (Romans 12:1).

You may want to lead a group, to create something, to start a new business, to do something nice for someone, or any number of other things. Don’t look for the “right” thing to do for God at this stage, but be honest with God about your will and vision, as best you know them. Ask yourself, “What is deep within my heart and mind that I want to do with my life?” (See Deut. 1:23; Luke 1:3; Acts 15:28 for a few biblical examples of leaders who sought to serve God by considering what seemed good to them, in consultation with God and others.)

3. Release your will and vision to the Holy Spirit.

Once you’ve specifically told God what you want, then release your will and vision as fully as possible. Ask the Holy Spirit to refine your thinking and heart’s desires for your life, or to replace them altogether. Pray to want what God wants, to see God’s vision for you, and to be able to align your will completely with God’s purposes for you. (See Mark 10:46-52; Luke 22:42.)

All of this calls for self-reflection and genuine openness to God’s working within you. The process requires time, prayer, and patience to learn how to recognize and yield to the voice of the Holy Spirit.

Discerning the will of God, then, is more a matter of walking by faith, a step at a time; than it is about getting a complete vision for the rest of your life all at once, and then going out to do it. In other words, to discern the will of God is not about simply getting God to answer to your question, “What should I do?”

Rather, discernment is the fruit of a process of personal transformation. As you repeatedly humble yourself before God, offer your body as a living sacrifice, and seek to renew your mind by soaking up Scripture and listening attentively to the Holy Spirit, you will grow in your ability to discern the will of God for your life.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12 :1-2, NRSV)

The Point: The best place to begin any discernment process is in extended prayer. However, don’t just seek an answer from God. Seek to be transformed by God. Humbly empty yourself of your own self-interest before God, while you simultaneously offer all of your unique self to God. Tell God what you want, while you keep asking, “But what do you want, my Lord?” Keep watching to see what happens as you continue to pray and listen for the voice of the Holy Spirit-within your thinking, perspective, feelings, and circumstances. And go from there.

A Prayer: “Heavenly Father, take my will and let it be completely conformed to your will for my life. Help me to see better what is in my heart and how you made me. Teach me how to offer myself fully to you, as a fully engaged individual, uniquely made and called. Teach me how to recognize the voice of the Holy Spirit, and use my life in ways that best serve Christ’s purposes. Amen.”

© Timothy C. Geoffrion, 2010. All rights reserved. Please share this article with as many people as possible, with proper acknowledgment of authorship and web-address.

2 Comments

Filed under Spiritual Life Coaching

2 responses to ““Discernment—Where to Start?”

  1. I think this is discernment process is right on. When I sensed God directing me to leave my last church as pastor, my immediate approach was to say, “OK, Lord, where do you want me to go?” I was surprised when what I sensed in my spirit to be his response was, “Where do YOU want to go?” I was even more surprised when I couldn’t adequately answer that question. It took almost a month of discernment before I could. Then he allowed me to begin looking. Once I had some options, one of them fit perfectly with what I said I wanted, but I had to yield that to the Lord to be sure I heard him telling me to go there and not myself. Both the knowledge that this church (my current one) is what I wanted AND what he wanted was crucial for me to survive very difficult days here. This is all very much along the lines of the process you outlined, even though I hadn’t really thought of it in terms of those steps.

    A discernment tool I found very helpful is adapted from Ignatius of Loyola and outlined in ch. 6 of “Developing Intimacy with God: An Eight-Week Prayer Guide Based on Ignatius’ ‘Spiritual Exercises’,” by Alex B. Aronis.

  2. Tambe Stanley Nkongho

    I LIKE THIS PROGRAM IT IS FULL OF EDUCATION AND INSPIRATION
    I AM BLESSED BY IT.

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