Praying for discernment is the act of asking God to help you clarify the truth about your life. Here are some of my ideas on praying for discernment.
How to Do This Prayer Practice
1. Clarify the difference between direction and discernment.
I think that praying for discernment is a bit different than praying for direction. When I think about praying for direction, I think that you’re asking God what course of action to take or you’re making a choice, or you’re trying to decide on going somewhere, answering a mission call, etc.
Discernment to me means is asking God to help clarify and sort things out in your life, whether it be getting to the root cause of your problems, or gaining spiritual insight into your situation, or seeing more clearly what’s going on in your relationships. It’s more about finding the truth. The Bible says, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” John 8:32
2. Ask God “Why?” about your life situations.
When we pray for direction, we ask “who, what, when, where, how?” You ask God, “Who should I partner with? What should I choose? When should I do it? Where should I go? How should I go about doing it?”
In praying for discernment we ask “why?” Why am I feeling so angry right now over such a little thing? Why isn’t my marriage working out? Why do I keep making bad choices? Why is my child rebelling? Why do I feel so alone and fearful? Why do I feel like I’m not getting anywhere when I pray? Why do I keep putting off applying for a job?”
3. Get in touch with your feelings that you’re missing something to alert you that you need to pray for discernment. .
Usually people that are enjoying the way things are going in their lives don’t think to pray for discernment. By and large the people who usually pray for discernment are those who feel like their lives are out of whack, full of turmoil and heartache and conflict, not those who like things as they are. If things don’t feel right in your life, take it as a sign that it’s time to pray for discernment.
It is a fairly brave and bold thing to pray for discernment. Jesus describes it this way:
“This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.” (John 3:19-21)
4. Ask for the spiritual gift of discernment.
Discernment, especially spiritual discernment, is a very big deal. First of all, it is necessary so we’ll know the difference between good and evil. In this context, discernment is a quality that grows with an individual. For instance, a child cannot discern the danger of a busy roadway like an adult can.
Jesus talks about discernment when he says that the religious leaders know how to interpret the color of the sky to determine the coming weather. (Matthew 16:3) He contrasts this human ability of the Pharisees and Sadducees with their spiritual inability to discern who Jesus is.
Ezekiel 43:23 says about those who minister: “They are to teach my people the difference between the holy and common and show them how to distinguish between the unclean and the clean.”
Ezekiel is talking about seeing the underlying spiritual qualities of things. This verse doesn’t tell the leaders to make a clearly defined list of everything possible in the world and then rate it as good or evil. Unfortunately, the Pharisees actually attempted to do this by writing rules about everything. It didn’t work because there were too many rules to remember.
Instead this verse tells the spiritual leaders to teach people how to distinguish between things for themselves. Is this sacred or selfish? Good or bad? God-serving or self-serving? Healthy or dysfunctional? Freeing or imprisoning? True or false? Helpful or hurtful? Unifying or partisan?
5. Pray for Wisdom
Solomon prays for wisdom and God says in 1 Kings 3:10-12 “The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. So God said to him, ‘Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, 12 I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be.”
It actually pleases God greatly when we ask for discernment! What makes it more interesting is that the things God lists that Solomon could have asked for are exactly the types of things we typically pray for: good things for this life – strong bodies, provisions and wealth, relief from enemies and troubles. Perhaps there’s an ascending order to the worth of things we might pray for. Perhaps on the lower rung are our prayers for provisions for this life. This passage leads us to believe that God is pleased when we climb to a higher rung when we ask for something more useful in the Kingdom, like wisdom or discernment.
6. Expect the answer to come.
God directly tells Solomon that his prayer will be granted. This doesn’t happen often when we pray for things like getting a book published or getting into a certain college.
7. Ask for a discerning heart.
God doesn’t say that he will give Solomon a wise and discerning mind but rather a wise and discerning heart. Intellectual discernment might be more closely related to the ability and think, reason and grasp. The discernment of the heart seems to operate in a different sphere – the more spiritual center of a person’s life purposes, desires, hopes and dreams.
8. Use discernment to heal.
Discernment is more like a diagnostic tool than anything else. In the Bible it mentions the naming of spirits, and I think that when we pray for discernment God helps us put a name to a truth about our lives so we can then proceed to deal with it. Discernment is more like the uncovering of things we weren’t aware of at first glance, things we’d rather not become aware of, something like “Don’t ask, don’t tell.”
There is also another related Biblical facet to this that is listed as the spiritual gift of “discerning of spirits.” I Cor. 12 lists the gifts of the Spirit in verse 10 “to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another the distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in tongues…”
Today as in New Testament times there are those who practice deliverance by naming the evil spirit being cast out. For instance, an evangelist might pray that a spirit of fear or infirmity or alcoholism might leave a person. Psychologists work in much the same way, uncovering the root causes of our emotional problems.
9. Test out what you think you have discerned.
I John 4:1 goes a step further talking about spiritual discernment. “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. Vs. 2 This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God.”
John tells us that we even need discernment in our own churches to sort out the true spirit of Christ from other things that look similar, but are rooted in other things such as materialism, self centered individualism, political power plays, science and logic, sensationalism, voyeurism, judgmental tendencies, ego, jealousy, pride, greed and the like.
10. Act on what you discern.
Discernment leads us onto a healing path. If the answer to our prayer for discernment has uncovered a fault or problem, it leads us on the action-oriented path of repentance or confrontation of evil. Once something bad has been named and uncovered, it has to be dealt with. Now it’s time to pray for the strength and guidance to know what action we need to take!
My personal experiences and tips:
Throughout the years I have had close relationships with people in need of help and support and I have made many mistakes by taking what people say at face value without realizing that people sometimes play games to keep from becoming vulnerable or being hurt. Many times our relationship only progressed after I was able to speak the truth in love about what I saw going on between us that wasn’t helpful. Discernment is absolutely vital in all of our relationships and God’s direction is even more important in knowing what to do about what we do discern.
The Biblical origins and traditional roots of this method of prayer.
Discernment is tied to the Holy Spirit. I Corinthians 2:10 says,
The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him? In the same way, no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God…
Colossians 2:8 See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.
Copyright Karen Barber 2011