Christian Decision Making: Four Rules of Discernment

We all have times in our life, whether in our professional life or our family life, when we need to make decisions: every day small decisions but also major life changing ones. Choosing one path by necessity closes others.  In our business life, we gather data do a cost-benefit analysis, conference with key stakeholders and hopefully make a good decision. In our personal life the process may be less formal but is essentially the same.  

As Christians we also must also consider what God’s will is for our life. This is not just one more variable  to trade off in the cost benefit study however. Doing God’s will is central to and in fact the essence of living a Christian life.  We’ve all seen bracelets  marked with “WWJD” for “What would Jesus Do?” This comes close to describing the desire to do God’s will though the correct phrase should probably be more like “ What does Jesus want ME to do in this situation?”  

How can we discern God’s will?  Are we just rationalizing to find justification for doing our own will? Are we being unduly influenced by others and in fact doing their will?

The following four rules are proposed for helping in this discernment process:

  1. Seek the path that provides the greater glory for God.

As John wrote in his Gospel:

“Whoever speaks on his own seeks his own glory, but whoever seeks the glory of the one who sent him is truthful, and there is no wrong in him.” (John 7:18)

If we seek our own glory we are in danger of being blinded to what God wants. This can be extended to include our children, our business, or our friends. Doing something for the glory of others can seem noble but it is still putting God second if it is not glorifying God.

  1. Reject banalisation (or see God’s wonder in the ordinary)

The things of God are always extraordinary.  We need to be careful that we don’t think of something as unimportant because it seems so ordinary.  We can be tempted to reduce high things to a lower level by saying things like : “that’s nothing but….”. Mother Teresa’s Sisters of Charity do some pretty ordinary things when caring for the poor but they are clearly doing the will of God.

  1. Do not equate human success with evangelical fruitfulness.

It’s not about the numbers but about obedience and surrender. We need to choose Christ over every  criteria of human success.   An author that sells millions of books and fills auditoriums is not necessarily more fruitful than a middle school teacher with influence over a few dozen students.

A business needs to make a profit to continue existing but being successful at maximizing profits should not be construed as a sign of God’s blessing. If, however, a business is providing goods or services that help and edify others then it is possible to say that a business is doing God’s will.

“This is how you can know the Spirit of God: every spirit that acknowledges Jesus Christ come in the flesh belongs to God, and every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus does not belong to God. This is the spirit of the antichrist that, as you heard, is to come, but in fact is already in the world”. (1 John 4:2-3)

  1. Reject the temptation to make things easy.

Do not water down the faith. Do not compromise with what you know to be true.

“Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect”. (Romans 12:2)

In addition to these for guidelines one should always in addition seek counsel in important matters. A good spiritual director, confessor, or accountability partner can be most valuable in  helping us see past our ingrained biases. For more advanced study on the topic of spiritual discernment you may want to look into works of theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar or the spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola from which these rules are based.
“Plans fail when there is no counsel, but they succeed when advisers are many” (Proverbs 15:22)