Wednesday, January 14, 2015
Six Principles of Discernment
The word discern comes from the Latin dis- “off, or away” + cernere – “to distinguish, separate, sift, set apart, divide, or distinguish. Thus, to discern is to distinguish or sort out what is of God, and what is of the flesh, the world or even the devil. As such, discernment, in its root meaning is something that ought to precede decision and aid it.
But when it comes to discerning between various courses of action that are both good (e.g. marriage and priesthood), feelings and desires do matter and may help indicate the will of God for us. For when God wants us to move in a direction of something good, he most often inspires some level of desire for it. He leads us to appreciate that it is good, attractive and desirable.
Learning to listen to our heart therefore is an important way of discernment. There may, for example, be a good thing proposed for us to do, yet we feel no joy or desire to do it. Such feelings should not be wholly dismissed as mere selfishness or laziness. It is possible that our lack of desire is a sign of a “no” from God. On the other hand, we may experience a joy and zeal to do, even things that are challenging, and these desires too may help us to discern that God has prepared and wills for us to do that very thing. Hence desire is an important indicator, among others, in deciding between courses of action that are both, or all, good. Ultimately God’s will for us gives joy.
Principle 4 – Organic development – This principle simply articulates that God most often moves us in stages rather than in sudden and dramatic ways. While it is true, in most lives, there are times of dramatic change, loss, and gain, it is more usual for God to lead us gently and in stages toward what he wills for us.
Here is a sermon excerpt in which I developed the last principle in a context wider than this article. For the context of the sermon was not discerning between various good options, but rather the discernment that distinguishes God from the idols and errors of this world.