Thursday, July 05, 2018

Consolation and Desolation: How to Discern the Voice of God

Downtown Monroe
How do we discern that the voice we hear is God’s and not merely our own, or that of our culture? I think it is a learned ability. 

We abandon ourselves to the movement of God’s Spirit. It’s like floating in a tube down a river, allowing the current to transport us wherever it will. Sometimes we hold tight as we shoot the rapids. Sometime we float, moved by the gentle flow. Both floating and rapid-shooting require submission. We do not control the speed or the direction. We trust that the river is taking us where it wants, at its pace.[1]
Discern-ability involves what the Bible calls “discernment of spirits.”[2] 1 John 4:1 instructs us to "test the spirits to see if they are from God." 

St. Ignatius believed the dynamics of spiritual discernment involve "consolation" and "desolation." Consolation is the sense that this is good, this is right, and God is present in this. Desolation is the loss of sense of God’s presence, that something is not right about this. A sense of consolation can be an indicator that this is from God; a sense of desolation can indicate that this is not from God.[3]

This is so helpful to me! I have found that these senses regularly accompany times of discernment. When I experience a “peace that passes understanding,”[4] it can be a sign that God is leading me. When I feel barren or empty, I judge this as not from God.

[1] This analogy is from Ruth Haley Barton, Pursuing God’s Will Together.
[2] 1 Corinthians 12:10
[3] I owe this insight to Barton, Ib.
[4] Philippians 4:7

My two books are:

Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God (May 2016)

Leading the Presence-Driven Church (January 2018)

I am now writing:

How God Changes the Human Heart

Technology and Spiritual Formation