Crafting a Discernment Process

I’ve heard this term tossed about, but what does it mean? What comprises an effective discernment process? My understanding is that this will vary from person to person.

Some basics will most likely be in common

  • Clarify the question or issue
  • Gather relevant data
  • Set aside time for reflection and listening prayer
  • Seek and pay attention to counsel from respected friends


Some things I have learned about discernment

  • Discernment is not the same thing as knowing God’s will, but it is related
  • The essence of discernment is perception of meaning, meaning that is not only true factually, but deep – penetrating to the spiritual significance of an issue
  • It cannot be rushed. To put time pressure on a discernment process is a sure way to undermine it. This sometimes means you have to give a response to a question someone has asked without having come to a clear discernment of the issue concerned
  • Look for meaning in two directions
    • Where has this thing to be discerned come from? What are the origins, roots, sources, drivers, motives?
    • Where is this thing to be discerned going? What are the consequences, knock-on effects?
  • It’s never a straight line. A naive expectation is that discernment will come like the dawn, starting in darkness and gradually getting lighter until you can see clearly. In fact, the path to clarity through a discernment process is more like a labyrinth or a maze.


For me personally, an effective discernment process must include some practices that are not about reasoning, but bear directly on my ability to get clarity

  • Lower any anxiety
  • Reconcile relational tensions
  • Repentance before God
  • Be fully rested
  • Address any physical stress


Taken together, the above is an expression of my discernment process when I am trying to understand what is going on in my world.

With the expectation that it may well be different to mine, how would you express your personal discernment process?


One thought on “Crafting a Discernment Process

  1. Rick, you’ll be pleased to hear that I too have been doing some thinking about discernment! For me, an effective discernment process includes all of the things you suggest, but I believe the starting place is key. For me, and I would suggest for any follower of Christ, the starting place for discernment is not the question I am seeking an answer to, or the data that I need to gather in order to make that decision or seek direction, but love. What do I mean by that? The place from which I MUST start is the truth about God and the truth about me – God is love, and I am completely and eternally held in his love. That truth is the bedrock from which I “live and move and have my being” and it must also be the bedrock from which I begin my process of discernment, whatever form it takes. In that way discernment is related to seeking God’s will – in that God’s will is for me to know in deeper and deeper ways that I am held within his love, no matter what. As mentors, we may assume that this is a given (and I believe many of your points above touch on this), that people know this by virtue of their faith, but I am growing increasingly aware that this truth may have penetrated our minds but not necessarily our hearts (and that’s often the journey of a lifetime!) My observation is that before we clarify the question or seek counsel in a discernment process, we must know first where we stand – what is true about God and true about me, what will not change, no matter where my discernment leads me, or even if I get it wrong. That way, although I may encounter feelings of anxiety or confusion along the way (and I love your description of it being like a maze or labyrinth), I do not start from a place of anxiety. I’m still pondering, but the more I mentor, and the more I ponder, the more I believe this is key.

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