Christian Counseling on Discernment

There are many gifts of the Holy Spirit.  One is the charism of discernment which is especially useful in deliverance ministry work. This is a very special grace, a grace defined by the charismatic renewal. This is a supernatural ability given by God as a gift.  It isn’t listed with the traditional gifts - wisdom , counsel (good judgment), fear of the Lord, but is as old as the hills.

The Holy Bible teaches we must always test the spirits that present themselves, as opposed to automatic acceptance.  Blindly accepting is not discernment.  It’s an error to assume the enemy isn’t involved in the church. Therefore, when someone says, “The Lord told me – – – –“,  it is okay to discuss their experience with them in order to authenticate the validity of that experience.  1ST John 4 says, Beloved, do not believe every spirit; instead test the spirits to see whether they are from God  1st Thessolonians 5:20-21 - Christians test everything! We must be very cautious about people’s holy hunches.  If we neglect to test the spirits, we may go down the wrong path.

In some situations discernment is not necessary because it’s simply a non-moral choice. For example painting a room blue or green.

There is a distinction between discernment and decision-making. Decision-making is used in completing a crossword puzzle. Decision-making has its place, but so does discernment. The non christian would gather info to make a decision, while the Christian would ask God’s assistance.  Discernment greatly exceeds decision-making because it incorporates spirituality into the decision-making process.  When discernment is necessary but reduced to mere decision-making that is like shooting yourself in the foot.

Listen - When Jesus told the Apostles that he was going to Jerusalem and that the religious leaders were going to kill him, St. Peter said, “No way Jesus!” St. Peter thought he was right in rebuking Jesus. Jesus looked him right in the eye and said get behind me Satan. Now if Jesus said that to an Apostle, what about us poor souls in the 21st century being deceived.

The person considering sex outside of marriage. There is no discernment required, but instead resisting temptation.

The Jewish priests who killed Jesus probably thought they were doing God a favor.

I’m gonna get into some very serious spiritual warfare about discernment.  Some are basic and some are advanced.

Realize that mastering these things takes a lot of prayer and practice. Look at regular language. As children, we have to learn it.  So today you are beginning on a journey of discernment. Maybe today you can hear a little, but with a lot of practice you will be able to hear God’s voice.

Eight Ignation terms:
1)  Discernment of Spirits
2)  Holy Indifference
3) The Good versus the Better
4) Consolation and Desolation
5) False Consolations
7) Impediments to Discernment
8) How to Discern - Types of Discernment

Discernment of Spirits  -  MOTIONS OF THE SOUL

There is a real art and science to Ignation discernment.

How do we discern what is from God and from the enemy?  St. Ignatius provides several ways to make this possible.  It is a very good system and easy to learn its basics in a short time.

St. Ignatius defines the enemy as the devil himself, the other demons, the spirit of the world, the spirit of the world in us, and our fallen nature. (So when you hear me say the enemy, I’m speaking about....)  The mature discerning person knows that deception is part of the discernment process. A mature discerning person trusts their heart but is vigilant about the enemy’s trechery in confounding God’s plans for us.  They pray begging God to protect them from self deception and demonic interference.

To discern the voice of Jesus among the myriad of other voices in the natural world and in the spiritual realm is the task of discernment.

Become aware - which is the gateway to discernment.  (Light of Christ)

Understand - When St. Ignatius speaks of “Discernment of Spirits” he means the Holy Spirit and the enemy working inside our souls.  Understanding how the Holy Spirit and the evil spirits impact our mind, will, emotions, memory, temperment, vices, virtues, means that we have to learn to listen to the movements of both spirits impinging in us. This is not the end—awareness and understanding are not discernment.  Action is required.

Everything in discernment of spirits is directed toward action: toward firmly accepting what is of God and equally firmly rejecting what is not.”

Already stated,becoming aware and understanding is only phase one.  These are necessary but insufficient.  The necessary step is to act.  Three frogs on a log decide to jump into the water. How many frogs are in the water? Let me give you the answer. None! All they did was decide to jump into the water. They did not take the necessary action. Hearing God’s message is one thing, but if you don’t use it, you loose It, and discernment never materializes.  Discernment is incomplete without a response.  A good discernment will unleash energy for service.

It is not recommended by St. Ignatius that cross carrying should be part of the discernment process.  All crosses must be humbly accepted, but we must not choose a discernment by picking the path with the greater cross.  Jesus himself asked to be delivered from the cross.

The Holy Spirit does not usually lead us into new light unless we have already put into practice the light we were previously graced with.  It’s the same story as the talents. Those who use them get more.

St. Ignatius believed that through God’s love and mercy the indwelling spirit is always deep within our souls prompting us to desire the good and holy. He also believed that the enemies animosity and hostility toward us is always deep within our souls prompting us to desire evil wicked things. In a nutshell, that’s the spiritual warfare we have within ourselves every moment of every day and night.

Good vs Better

St. Ignatius taught about the good and the better.  This means the good versus the best. He is saying that the best is better than the good.  Having the intention to do the better, instead of the good, is the proper disposition for correct discernment.

Sometimes there are two good choices and we must pick the best of the two choices. The discerning soul can wrestle between choices of what is good and what is better.  A person with two choices must pick the better one, not the good one. The “good” choice instantly becomes a “bad” choice when we can choose better. If we pick the lesser of the two goods we have actually chosen poorly.

Likewise, when we are confronted with two bad choices, discernment requires that would pick the lesser of two evils.

Types of Discernment

Discernment requires insight, discretion, and judgment. These three things correspond directly with St. Ignatius’first, second, and third type of discernment.  Some say that discernment isn’t just a matter of pure revelation, others say it’s not only reasoning, and others say it’s getting an understanding about the motions of our souls.  They are all right.  It can be any one of the three or any combination of them.

First Type

When this type of discernment genuinely occurs, there is no process, it’s instantaneous clarity with certitude directly from God.  They know, that they know, that they know, and they are actually correct.  There is no having to think about it, or ponder it, or pray about it.  There is instantly clarification and certitude, so there no need for discernment.  This is usually associated with a deep sense of peace.

The mechanisms involved.  This 1st type of discernment happens through inspiration and illumination.  Inspiration fills the heart with overflowing certitude while illumination’s light dissipates darkness which interferes with clear discernment.

Even with this 1st type discernment, St. Ignatious recommends, if there is time, work through the second and third type of discernment process.  He recommends these other methods to double and tripple check whether the 1st type discernment is the Holy Spirit or the enemy.

St. Ignatius also recommends and warns that the person with a first type discernemnt never act on it in isolation.  The first type discernment requires disclosure to your spiritual authority. This 1st type is a rare charism. “ 801 in the Catechism declares that no charism is exempt from being referred and submitted to the Churches shepards”. Good conversation is a really important part of 1st type discernment. There is wisdom in a multitude of counselors.

The reason to explore the other discernment methods and to place ourselves under spiritual authority is because the authentic first type of discernment is very, very rare.  Conclusions drawn from inspiration and illumination must be tested.  Because often a person genuinly believes they have had this rare 1st type experience but they are wrong.   It’s also commom for the enemy to fain 1st Type Discernment.

Second Type
This second type of discernment is the most common procedure when the first type of discernment does not occur. The second type isn’t instant certitude, but is guided by awareness, understanding consolations/desolations,  and accepting/rejecting the motions of our soul.  It’s time line can be very short or very long.

Sufficient clarity is obtained by tracking consolations and desolations. So the second type of discernment is figuring out God’s will based on our consolations and desolations.  We look at the patterns that develop betweenthe attractions in our hearts in comparison to the resistances in our hearts.

But how can the second type of discernment happen if a person does not understand consolation and desolation?  In consolation the good spirit leads us more than the evil spirit. Likewise, in desolation the evil spirit leads us more than the good spirit.

They don’t usually experience their discernment experience as, “I’ve decided”.  It’s more gentle like the answer has always been out there and now they see it clearly.  It may also be perceived as, Hey that’s what my heart wanted all the time.

Third Type

When the 2nd discernment process doesn’t work, the 3rd type should be applied.This third type is a rational form of discernment.

Unlike the first type of discernment which really isn’t discernment because it’s instantaneous certitude, and unlike the second type where we are looking at our consolations and desolation’s (which is a review of our consciousness) Not to be confused with the examination of conscience, the 3rd type is a little more mechanical. In the 3rd type of discernment we weigh the pros and cons, the advantages and disadvantages, look at them, pray about them. It’s like math, if one column adds up to three and the other column adds up to seven, a tentative discernment is to pick the seven.  The tentitive discernment derived from the numbers, is then to be tested against which gives the greater glory to God and which is best for our salvation.  Whatever algorithm we apply, the final discernment must be made when we are in consolation and tranquility.  St. Ignatius warns that we should never attempt the third type of discernment when our hearts are in desolation.

Within this third type of discernment St. Ignatius recommends several exercises to help the discernment process along.

1 - Pretend you are a spiritual director giving direction to someone who has the same exact problem as you have.  And then tell them what you recommend.  In doing this you are probably speaking your own hearts best advice.  That answer would be a correct discernment.

2 - Imagine that you were on your deathbed reviewing your entire life.  Review your current discernment decision from this perspective.  If you look back at each of your alternate discernment choices, the choice you feel best about, and you put it into action - discernment well done.  If you look back at a choice and regret it, then your action would be - not to proceed.

3 - We can imagine ourselves in the future and determine which discernment would give us more joy and peace.  Selecting the one with more joy and peaceThat is probably the better choice. (Remember the good and the better) Don’t forget the lesser of two evils.

4 - Another strategy would be to imagine the amount of fruit coming from each choice.  Which would produce 30, 60, or 90 fold?

5 - St Ignatius taught about the rock and the sponge.  Whoever is prayerfully considering God’s greater glory, and God’s will, discerns very gently and beautifully, rather than when it’s the enemy’s spirit, which comes with a 1,000 roaring Lions.

These visualizations are helpful to determine which is the best course of action, the best discernment possible.  These visualizations work because you have detached yourself from the stress, worry and anxiety, leaving yourself with more degrees of freedom to make a holy choice.

Entrusted Discernment

Remember the impediments we human experience which prevents discernment.  I think that is why God is so generous with his love and mercy, by offering a completely different type of discernment.  The entrusted discernment. Usually discernment’s are made on a combination of the second and third type. St. Ignatius taught we can not discern for another person, but only for ourselves. There are some exceptions to this: 2 examples.

1 - Feeling agitation or peace while looking for God’s greater glory, are the signposts on the road to correct discernment.  St. Ignatius instructs that if we don’t get this deep sense of agitation or peace they must rely on another discernment method.

2 - Ignatius also taught if for any reason we can’t make a discernment on our own, it’s just that we are unable, they must rely on another discernment method.

Again, St. Ignatius taught we can not discern for another person, but only for ourselves.  God’s a smart guy, he knows when a soul is really trying to discern but just can’t.  In His kindness God has made provissions to help these souls.  When a person is unable to discern and goes to spiritual director, this is the exception.  It’s called an entrusted discernment.

An entrusted discernment is a delegated discernment.  The person freely accepts the entrusted discernment of  the other person as if he himself made it.  The discerner says, “ I’ve tried everything, to discern for a very long time with no clarity or certitude.  I think I will go to my pastor and accept his advice as if it were my actual discernment”.

An entrusted discernment is usually for something urgent and pressing.  The drawback is that discerning for them doesn’t teach them how to discern for themselves. Correctly telling people God’s appropriate path for them, it’s just giving them the fish and doesn’t teach them how to fish.  It doesn’t help them learn to discern. Maybe once the immediate crisis is over, then they could meet to increase the discerner’s ability to accurately hear God themselves.

This is what St. Ignatius taught.  The sacrament of confession is extremely helpful in clearing out impediments to discernment.  The more a person prays the more they can trust their discernment.

Impediments to Discernment

If your thinking all the above is hard, don’t become downcast and overwhelmed by these impediments to discernment.  To us they may appear as insurmountable mountains, but to God these mountains are not even mole hills.  God is very happy to help the students of discernment through grammar school, high school, college, and graduate school.  The squeeky wheel gets the oil.  More appropriately- Seek and you shall find.

Since discernment is most often a process, and not instantaneous, the enemy can get involved in different ways to create problems.  Christians fall into all types of discernment traps.

When living from mortal sin to mortal sin, discernment is impossible.

The sheep know their shepherd’s voice.  If you’re not His sheep and He isn’t your shepard, how can you know his voice? (John 10:1-3) You can’t know the voice, therefore this person can’t discern.  Ignatiuan discernment really is centered in Christ.  Suppose you don’t have a good relationship with Christ who through the Holy Spirit helps us discern?

The human mind is full of noise and clutter making it hard to internally slow down and listen. Even our prayer sometimes go at warp nine.  To hear God we have to slow down our internal dialogue (stop talking to ourselves), but it is exceptionally necessary to really quiet down the noise in our hearts.

A tortured soul has great difficulty in discerning.  So if a person is suffering major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety, etc., it is “in human  nature” virtually impossible to discern. Nevertheless through God all things are possible, including discernment.

Sometimes people second guess themselves, thinking that they did not do a good job at discernment, when actually their discernment was spot on correct but they don’t have confidence in themselves.

We also have to be careful we are not projecting our own selves onto our discernment process.

Sometimes we avoid discernment by procrastination, never making a decision until the time runs out and the decision is made for us. Again this is not actual discernment, because discernment is pro active.  Also, the opposite ie., being rushed into a discernment is like trying to get through a revolving door that is moving at the speed of a fan.  This is called the paralysis of analysis.

There are others who repetitively re-think the question being discerned, never experiencing resolution.  This may be scrupulosity which makes discernment impossible. When a person makes a sincere attempt to discern, and makes an actual good discernment, but feels guilty this is usually scruploscity.

Another trick the enemy uses is to keep our desolation secret, not sharing with anyone, sometimes even with the confessor.  Secrets are a tool of the enemy and things should be brought under the light of Christ or rather the light of Christ should be allowed to shine deep into the caves of the soul.  As Catholic Warriors we must understand that the enemies power is weakened when his secret plans are made known. ( )

God in His love provides assistance in these cases.  I will explain now.

Tentative Discernment

When I think I’m ready to choose, I’ve made a tentative discernment.  Then, in prayer I present it to God and listen for His confirmation.  He will either confirm or put you back to work into the discernment processd.  While waiting for the Word of the Lord, it’s OK to pursue your best choice.  In other words, walk through the door and see.  It’s when you have kind of decided, but are not 100% sure.

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