Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Best Book on Spiritual Discernment

I don't think I've read anything better on individual and corporate discernment that chapter 3 of Ruth Haley Barton's Pursuing God's Will Together: A Discernment Practice for Leadership Groups. Here are some main points (the chapter is much richer than what I've bulleted here).

  • If you don't know how God is leading you, you won't know how to lead others.
  • Discern first; add ministries only if God tells you to.
  • A common leadership mistake is: to assume we can assemble a group of undiscerning individuals and expect them to be discerning leaders.
  • "Without spiritual discernment it won’t matter whether you have a clearly articulated discernment process, use Robert’s Rules of Order or just offer perfunctory prayers to bookend your meetings—discernment is not going to happen! The people aren’t right and they’re not ready." (52)
  • "There is no individual discernment outside a communal setting and no communal discernment without individual discernment. Each individual profits from the communal activity of discernment and the community profits from each individual’s discernment." (53)
  • Spiritual discernment is a process that takes place in and through the Trinity.
  • Realize that the impulse to discern—to want to respond to Christ in this fashion—is in itself a “good spirit” that needs to be cultivated.
  • Needed: a deep belief in the goodness of God. "In order to surrender to the discernment process, we need to go beyond intellectual assent to cultivating a deep, experiential knowledge that God’s will is the best thing that can happen to us under any circumstances. We need to hear God’s voice whisper words of assurance to us, “I know the plans I have for you, plans for welfare and not for your harm” (Jer 29:11), and believe them in the depths of our being." (55)
  • Love is our ultimate calling - love for God, love of self, love for others and love for the world.
  • Be committed to doing the will of God as it is revealed to us. "It does no good to discern the will of God if we are not committed to doing it." 
  • Discernment is way more than decision making; it is a way of seeing that can permeate our whole life. "Cultivating the habit of discernment means we are always seeking the movement of God’s Spirit so we can abandon ourselves to it." (57) 
  • "The discernment of spirits helps us to distinguish the real from the phony, the true from the false, in the external world but also in the interior world of our own thoughts and motives." (57-58) Barton links the moods of consolation and desolation to discernment of spirits.
  • The first and most essential dynamic of discernment is the movement toward indifference... In the context of spiritual discernment, indifference is a positive term signifying that “I am indifferent to anything but God’s will.” (63) Be free from undue attachment to any particular outcome. Ask yourself: "What needs to die in me in order for God's will to come forth in my life?" 
  • Pray, asking God for wisdom. (See James 1:5)
  • Notice without judging: "Another dynamic of discernment is the ability to notice everything pertinent to the situation—both external and internal—without judging, at least at first." (64)
  • Pay attention to dreams: "There is nothing in Scripture to indicate that God has given up on speaking to us in dreams. In fact, in my work as a spiritual director I often encourage people to pay attention to their dreams because when we are asleep we are less ego-defended and more able to receive a prompting from God that is beyond what our cognitive faculties can accept." (65) 
  • Gather and assess information: "Another dynamic of discernment is the ability to ask good questions and to allow those questions to help us gather data and gain perspective." (68)
  • There's more...   what an excellent chapter!