J. Marshall Jenkins

Author, Therapist, Spiritual Director

Discernment: The Art of Really Living Your Faith

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Discernment separates the wheat from the chaff.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled (Matthew 5:6).

In the previous post, “Courage, Fear, and the Ambiguities of Life,” we discussed courage as the strength to move forward in the face of life’s ambiguities. But that can serve the vice of recklessness rather than the virtue of courage without something more, a compass and rudder to complement wind and sail. What else do you need?

Common sense answers that you need smart decision-making. Size up the situation and react using cost-benefit analyses, decision trees, trial-and-error, induction, deduction, and processes of elimination.

But you are a child of God, not a computer. Who you are matters. Who God is matters. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also, and you only have zeroes to enter in your cost-benefit analysis without the values that come from who you are, what you are for, and whether your God is love or mammon.

To better size up situations and react, separate the wheat from the chaff in your own soul. Determine whether your energy comes from adrenalin or joy, whether your sense of beauty comes from lust or love, whether your guilt comes from getting caught or being untrue to yourself. In a word, distinguish between motives bestowed by the one true God who loves you and those from the countless false gods who don’t know you from Adam.

We call this sifting, sorting process, “discernment,” from the Latin, discernere, meaning, “to separate or distinguish.” Separating requires more than one hand putting the wheat on the right and the other putting the chaff on the left. It requires eyes open, awareness in the moment, really seeing what you handle. It requires more than a sharp eye for the wheat and chaff out there, but a sharper vision of the wheat and chaff within.

One more dimension of discernment makes it more than a psychological skill set, but a spiritual orientation: love. According to Shalem Institute’s Rose Mary Dougherty,

Discernment is ultimately about love.  It is about seeing, in the moment, the loving action and compassionate action that is mine and having the freedom to respond and to act.  The freedom I am speaking of here is an interior freedom.  It is often described as an attitude of total receptivity.[1]

Those who practice discernment move beyond nominal belief on Sunday mornings to fully lived faith every day. If you want to go there, state this intention from Paul every morning and be patient with yourself on the lifelong journey of living it:

And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God (Philippians 1:9-11).

 

[1] Rose Mary Dougherty, Discernment: A Path to Spiritual Awakening. (Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist Press, 2009), p.29.

J. Marshall Jenkins

About J. Marshall Jenkins

J. Marshall Jenkins is an author, psychotherapist, teacher, and spiritual director. For several years he has been writing on the Beatitudes for people in emotional pain, publishing biweekly here on his Beatitudes Blog at http://www.jmarshalljenkins.com. His newest book, Blessed at the Broken Places: Reclaiming Faith and Hope with the Beatitudes, is now available through Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

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5 Replies

  1. Michael Parnell

    Discernment processes work. I am using it here in my current church in a small group setting to discern direction for our congregation.

    1. J. Marshall Jenkins

      So glad you said that, Mike. I think you are doing one of the most important things a pastor can do. Discernment is not just for individuals in the privacy of personal prayer and daily mindfulness. It is for the church as a body. Currently, I am reading Luke Timothy Johnson’s, Scripture and Discernment: Decision-Making in the Church, on the crucial role of discernment processes in a truly vital church and on corporate discernment in New Testament congregations. Imagine how much more relevant the church would be if people saw it as a family to turn to at a crossroads for shared discernment. That would be so much better than its current image as a group of people who merely share common beliefs and draw the lines in the same places.

  2. Your timing is incredible, thank you.

    1. So glad, but I won’t take too much credit. Good times for discernment come often!

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