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The Schools: Discerning God’s Will
How do you know what exactly God wants you to do? The author offers three guidelines for discerning and knowing God’s will.

You may be completing high school – after spending 12 years in a highly structured environment. Perhaps you are looking to get ‘re-tooled’ for a career change. The question, What next? looms large. For some, this may be the first major decision you’ve had to make about the direction your life will take. Certainly you’ve had input from a variety of sources . . . parents, school counsellors, youth leaders, friends. But it can all seem partial. Who really understands me? Do I understand me? Simply put, God does know exactly who you are, and He can guide at such times.

There is no greater security than to know that you are where you are because the Lord has led you there. After a decision has been made, the most satisfying state to be in is to be able to say, with some degree of confidence, that this is the house, the job, the person, the purchase, the course of action, etc. that I believe God has led me to. A good discernment process in our spiritual direction will help free us from the self-doubt and fear that often accompany a difficult choice.  

But how does one go about discerning God’s will in order to enjoy such confidence in the choices we make? Thomas Green, a contemporary Jesuit spiritual director, has much to say about this in his Weeds Among the Wheat, one of the more helpful books I know of on this topic.  

Green lists three qualities of heart that are essential dispositions for anyone seeking to discern the will of God.

The first quality he lists is humility. We must be humble because faith situations are always obscure, and because our discernment is always impeded to some extent by our own sinfulness. The genuinely discerning soul should always be marked by a healthy self-doubt and by an openness to be guided by the Lord through others.

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The next essential quality is courage. Discernment is not a substitute for faith; it is a way of choosing how to act in faith. The only way we will ever tell if our process of discernment is accurate or if it needs adjustment is by acting, in faith, on what we sense God telling us. Green writes, “Faith gives us the courage to risk. The healthy self-doubt that comes from humility does not lead to timidity, or paralysis, but in the discerning heart to the courage to risk.” 

We might be mistaken, but the Lord does not ask us to always be right. He asks us to act in faith, always true to the best understanding of God's will that we can attain. Both a subjective certainty of having discerned God's will, as well as an objective uncertainty of where the Lord is leading us can co-exist.

And finally, Green identifies peace as the most confidence-establishing quality we can have,

The Lord always speaks in peace. Turmoil, anxiety and restlessness are never signs of His voice since they are forms of desolation.

The process of discerning the particular ways that God guides each one of us will lead us to the unique intimacy that we enjoy as His sons and daughters. And to the degree that we have done our best to discern God's direction for us, we will be able to act in faith that this course of action seems right unto the Spirit. We can then enjoy the confidence that the Lord is both leading us, as well as delighting in watching His purposes unfold in our lives.

Rob Des Cotes is a spiritual director and pastor. He teaches Contemplative Traditions at Trinity Western University.

Originally published in Options, Winter 2009.




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