I have started reading a new book on discernment. I am only a little way into the book, but it raises a question in my mind: “Is discernment easy or hard?” Before we talk about the ease or difficulty of discernment, we should be clear about what we mean by “discernment.” For me, a good operational definition is “being aware of God’s activity in our daily lives and being aware of his desire for us and how he may desire us to act, in matters large and small.”
Discernment shouldn’t be hard. The model of God’s interactions with us, as seen Eden, is one of regular, easy presence and conversation. Genesis tells us that God would walk in the garden in the cool of the evening; Adam and Even had to go out of the way and hide to avoid encountering God! Just before his crucifixion, Jesus reassured his followers that they would not be left alone:
But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you. … When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own but will tell you what he has heard. He will tell you about the future. 14 He will bring me glory by telling you whatever he receives from me. 15 All that belongs to the Father is mine; this is why I said, ‘The Spirit will tell you whatever he receives from me.’John 14:26, 16:13-15 (NLT)
Through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, God will continue to teach, convict, and encourage us, guiding us into all truth.
Hearing God and being aware of his actions and desires in our lives should be easy and natural for us. Yet for most of us, this is not the case. Two factors make discernment much harder than it should be: We don’t really expect that God will be present to us and we fill our minds and environments with so much “noise” and other voices that we effectively drown out God’s voice.
To the first point, even when we can convince ourselves that God can we present to us, we still function as if he won’t show up in my life! We set up a bit of chicken-and-egg problem for ourselves. We don’t expect to hear God, so we aren’t likely to be paying attention and really trying to hear. Not listening, we will not hear, and that reinforces our idea that God will not be present to us. The more we don’t expect, the more we don’t pay attention; the less attentive we are, the less we discern.
Here is a challenge. Set aside time each day to just listen. Begin with prayer, perhaps confessing your doubts that God will “show up” and inviting his presence. Then just be still and listen. This can be enormously hard for many people; start small. Five minutes is a good starting place. Set aside your doubts and spend five minutes being present to God and allowing him to be present to you.
As to the noise and distractions we surround ourselves with: come back in few days for “part 2!”