The task of discernment is to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit among the many other competing interior voices. Discernment's goal is to accept what is from God and reject what is not. Hearing God's message is one thing, but discernment is incomplete without a corresponding response to unleash energy for service, healing, and spiritual growth.
Whatever method we try, the final discernment must be made when we are in a tranquil mood with spiritual and emotional peace. 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 sheep know their shepherd's voice. If you're not His sheep and He isn't your Shepard, how can you know his voice in order to discern? (John 10:1-3). Even when we are in good standing with Jesus, the human mind is full of noise and clutter, making it hard for us to mentally slow down, focus, and listen to Him. Even our prayer sometimes goes at warp nine. To hear God, we must quiet down the noise in our hearts. Therefore, discernment becomes even more complicated, if not impossible, when the person has a psychological disorder. Nevertheless, through God, all things are possible, including discernment.
There are several tried and true discernment methods and best practices.
The First Method
Some Christians experience instant clarification with certainty, so discernment is unnecessary. They know, that they know, that they know, and they are actually correct. There is no having to think about, ponder, or pray about it. When this type of discernment genuinely happens, it's through God's inspiration and illumination. His inspiration fills the heart with overflowing certitude. At the same time, the Light of Christ dissipates interior darkness, which interferes with clear discernment. Be aware that this first method of discernment is a rare and potentially dangerous experience. It's so easy for the enemy to manipulate us with locutions, impulses, pride, etc. Sometimes, good people project their desires onto God and validate their decision by falsely believing God confirmed their choice. We must be very cautious about our holy hunches. Conclusions drawn from inspiration and illumination must be tested because, without testing, we may be following the enemy rather than the Holy Spirit.
This type of discernment can increase the potential error of a private discernment. What is the problem with private discernment? They need to test the spirit as is recommended by sound discernment practices. What if the person with private discernment is a church leader? The best practice is group discernment. It rules out fanaticism.
Suppose a private revelation would lead someone to conclude and pursue something that would not be in God's or Christiandom's best interests or may cause difficulties. In that case, it becomes evident that the revelatory discernment would be wrong, even though it appears to be inspired to them. For example, someone once said God wanted them to burn down an abortion clinic. It sounded more delusional than inspired.
Blind acceptance is not discernment. The Holy Bible teaches we must always test the spirits instead of automatically accepting them as valid. 1st Thessalonians 5:20-21 says, "Christians test everything!" 1 St. John 4 says, "Beloved, do not believe every spirit; instead, test the spirits to see whether they are from God.
Wisdom informs this method of discernment requires meaningful conversations with friends and family but especially with a spiritual authority. There is wisdom in a multitude of counselors, and be sure to include the Holy Spirit. Also, best practice requires other methods of discernment to further test.
The Second Method
This is the most common discernment method. This method isn't instant certitude; it requires praying, pondering, and introspection. Discerning clarity is guided by attraction and resistance in the heart and what we think and feel about those attractions. This is complicated because the human heart can be evil. 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 one thousand roaring Lions. We can imagine ourselves in the future and determine which discernment would give us more joy and peace. Selecting the one with more happiness and peace. That is the better choice.
The Third Method
This third type is a rational form of discernment. We weigh the pros and cons, the advantages and disadvantages, look at them, and pray about them. It's like math; if one column adds up to three and the other adds up to seven, we would choose the choice that adds to seven. It's more mechanical than intuitive. The third method of discernment is more like God gave us a brain, and we should use it. Any discernment derived from the numbers is tested against which offers the greater glory to God and which is best for our salvation.
Just as there is a distinction between spiritual fasting and dieting, there is also a distinction between discernment and decision-making. When making a moral decision, discernment greatly exceeds decision-making because it incorporates the Holy Spirit into the decision-making process.
Types of Discernment
An entrusted discernment is a delegated discernment. When people cannot discern using the usual methods, they accept an entrusted discernment. They think, "I've tried everything for a long time with no clarity or certainty. I will go to my pastor and accept his advice as if it were my discernment." It's like going to a mentor, an academic advisor, or someone well-equipped with the knowledge, skills, and abilities to correctly advise. The drawback is that when accepting guidance, it short circuits one's own learning how to discern. It's just like being given a fish instead of learning how to fish. It helps with the immediate decision but doesn't help them in the long run. An entrusted discernment is usually for something urgent. After the crisis, they could meet to increase the discerner's ability to accurately hear God themselves.
A tentative discernment occurs when you have almost decided. It's when you are getting close to a final choice, but you still need to be 100% sure. This is a tentative discernment. During this process, it's very common to second-guess yourself, and it's also okay to simultaneously pursue what you think is your best choice. In other words, walk through the door being considered and use that new experience to make a final discernment, present it to God, and listen for His confirmation. He will either confirm or put you back to work in the discernment process. Even if we believe our choice is for God's greater glory, we should resubmit it to him as a final double-check. Better safe than sorry, but try to avoid becoming paralyzed with over-analysis.
A Christian community should discern together, never in isolation. It's done through intentional communal discernment. Group discernment includes all the skill sets and graces of individual discernment but also requires new skill sets like how to get along in humility. Humility allows the religious community to be open to the Holy Spirit. What is God saying to them in this time and in this place? It's often not a democracy where each person gets a vote, and it's often not a monarchy where the leader's vote is the only one that counts. In religious communities, it's a time of group prayer and fasting. Married couples can also avoid a lot of disharmony by group discernment. With any issue they disagree on, best practice, they put it before the throne of God and wait upon Him.