Excerpts from Listening Hearts: Discerning Call in Community, by Farnham, Gill, McLean & Ward (1991)
In discernment we move through and beyond our feelings, our thoughts, and our reasoning about what God wants of us, to be led by God’s Spirit toward action.
Discernment of call involves intuition and insight, “…for that which has not been told them, they shall see, and that which they have not heard, they shall understand” (Isaiah 52:15; RSV). As we respond in faith and action, we gain insight.
Discernment is often tentative and uncertain. We may not feel a great sense of having found the truth… Ultimately, discernment requires our willingness to act in faith on our sense of what God wants us to do. Then the way reveals itself in response to our faith.
God speaks, touches, and reveals in God’s own way and in God’s own time. Still, the presence of certain conditions, such as trust, prayer, and patience, makes discernment of God’s call more likely… It is God’s call, not mere decision making, that we seek.
In order to discern which path is authentic, all involved need to desire to know God, to be willing to be pervaded by God’s presence. We need to go through a process that cleanses our vision to see what is true and frees our will to act on what we see. Here are some ways we may prepare to hear God’s call.
Trust: we have to be willing to trust God and one another.
Listening: Discernment involves listening. We must listen with open hearts and minds, especially to what we don’t want to hear. We must let go of our preconceptions and expectations… We need to listen with our bodies as well as our minds… We must listen in silence.
Prayer: Prayer for discernment involves listening. Through prayer we seek for ourselves total attentiveness to the all-embracing presence of Christ. For Christ is found in the circumstances, the people, and the things of daily life.
Knowledge of Scripture: Scripture is central to discerning call. It gives us access to the experience of God’s people in history. Moreover, as the living Word of God, Scripture continues to communicate with us.
Humility: Humility, grounded in self-knowledge, helps us to avoid the distortions of both inordinate self-confidence and exaggerated self-doubt. A humble person is someone who is without pretense, down to earth… An attitude of humility allows us to accept dependence on God and one another and to be open to God’s turning us in a new or unexpected direction.
Patience and Urgency: It is God’s call, not our call. So we need to be patient… Still, while patience is called for at times, a sense of urgency is sometime imperative.
Perspective: Do not make an idol of discernment. “The only priority worth having is knowing and loving God. Stay in the space of Love. Do not be lured out of it.” If discernment follows, fine; if not, so be it. Let it rest lightly. “Release your discernment from your ego and expectations. Flow as a stream that is useful to those who can take” from it and is “in no way diminished by those who can’t.”
At the same time, “Be true to what is inside. Put weight on it. Live by it. Hold it with sufficient tentativeness to be open to others…and with sufficient tenacity to live it out until moved differently.”
Seeking God does not demand the unusual, the spectacular, the heroic. It is in the hear and now, the ordinary situation of normal life, that we find God. A true call is likely to be modest in scope. If we try to save the world, we become immobilized.
Obstacles to discernment can arise from:
1. Cultural values that do not reflect God’s values
2. Prosperity- remember the rich man who is possessed by his possessions
3. Self-interest- God’s will usually involves other people’s interests as well
4. Self-absorption- the world is bigger than us.
5. Self-righteousness- this arrogance is a sense of being separate from others on moral grounds
6. Desire for security- remember, the foxes have lairs and birds have nests,
but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.
7. Desire for certainty- faith is not certainly but the courage to act in the face of uncertainty.
8. Human time frames- these must give God a chuckle. Impatience is a major impediment to
9. Self-doubt- we must trust in ourselves as well as God
Signs of God’s call to watch for:
1. Peace and serenity that endures through ups and downs
3. A temporary experience of disorientation, followed by calm and serenity
4. Tears that are comforting and tranquilizing, rather than disturbing and fatiguing
5. A sudden sense of clarity
6. Strands of experience that seem unrelated begin to converge and fit together
7. Persistence of a message that keeps recurring through different channels
The real test is not how much we want to do something but how much love is a part of what we want to do.