Spiritual discernment is knowing God’s will in particular circumstances.
As an adult Christian, you have already faced significant decisions in your life. And you probably wondered, “What does God want me to do?”
- Am I studying the right major?
- Do I move to this new city?
- Do I take this new job?
- Is this the right church for me?
- Do I ask her to marry me?
But you also realize that God isn’t a cosmic GPS who dispenses directions for all our challenging decisions.
Yet, on the other hand, we know that God loves us and wants what is best for us.
So how do we resolve the challenge of knowing God has a unique plan for our lives? Yet, he doesn’t always explicitly tell us what to do.
What’s the answer?
What is the Definition of Spiritual Discernment?
Spiritual discernment is knowing God’s will in particular circumstances.
And determining God’s will involves biblical wisdom. That means distinguishing truth from error based on an intimate relationship with God.
That is a mouthful. But before we unpack that definition, let’s answer a critical question.
Why Doesn’t God Just Tell Me What to do With My Life?
Most Christians want to know and follow God’s will for our lives. And that desire is strongest when we are struggling with difficult decisions.
And we want the answer, NOW!
But in many of those situations, God seems silent. He doesn’t dole out directions for a fun and trouble-free life. Why not?
Because God wants to have an intimate relationship with each of us. A relationship based on trust. And a closeness based on our worshiping, glorifying, and enjoying him.
And from that intimacy, we gain wisdom, discernment, and strength.
Does God Have a Specific “Will” for All of Us?
In a word, “Yes!”
And for Christians, God has a plan for each of us (Ps. 139:16). We know that because he has given each of us a spiritual gift through the indwelling Holy Spirit (1 Cor 12, Rom. 12). We are to use it to fulfill our unique role in the church.
What Does an Intimate Relationship with God Look Like?
You cannot know God’s will for your life if you don’t know God! Spiritual discernment depends on having an intimate relationship with him.
Several prerequisites are necessary to create this relationship. For example, you:
- Must be a Christian and know Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 1:18–31)
- Genuinely want to know his will rather than just wanting to justify your desires
- Be consistently living a Christ-like lifestyle
- Be willing to adapt to God’s direction for your life
An intimate relationship means a life of ever-increasing faith and trust.
- First, we increasingly obey and rely on the Bible as our sole guide for life. Our submission to the Holy Spirit is evidenced by going where he points us from his Word.
- Second, our prayer life is robust and resounds with Scripture. Remaining intimate with Jesus in my daily life makes me more confident in my decisions.
What Resources Do We Have for Spiritual Discernment?
The four most important resources for discerning God’s will include:
- The Bible
- The Holy Spirit
- Godly lifestyle
1. First Resource: Bible
Spiritual discernment involves knowing God’s character and will for each of us.
But to draw closer to God and live a godly life, we must study, meditate, memorize, and obey the Bible (Rom. 12:1–2; 1 Thess. 5:14–17; 2 Tim. 3:16–17).
By obeying the Bible’s commands and principles, our lives correspond with God’s thoughts and ways. Our obedience helps us more easily understand his ways and “hear” his voice.
In most cases, the Bible makes God’s will obvious. For instance:
- Obey and honor parents (Eph. 6:1–2)
- Proclaim Christ (Acts 1:8)
- Meditate on the Scriptures (Ps. 1:2)
- Show love to others (1 Corinthians 13)
However, there will be times that God’s will for our lives is more obscure. During these times, we lean on prayer and the Holy Spirit for additional help.
Regardless of our challenges, God never asks us to do anything:
- That conflicts with the Bible
- That is beyond our abilities
2. Second Resource: The Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit is God. And he indwells every Christian and is indispensable in spiritual discernment.
For example, he:
- Is the “Spirit of truth” leading us in truth and wisdom (Jn 16:13)
- Illuminates Scripture (1 Cor. 2:10-13) so we can understand and apply it
- Recalls memorized Scripture applicable to our decisions
- Helps us interpret what God is doing in and around us--which can inform our choices
- Has given every believer at least one spiritual gift with unique talents and abilities (1 Cor. 12)
3. Third Resource: Prayer
We’re crazy sometimes. We want God’s direction, but we forget to ask God!
God promises to give his children wisdom when they ask (Jas. 1:5) and guide our path (Prov. 3:5–6; Isa. 58:11; John 8:12).
And we know our faith is maturing when we seek God’s will by asking for what God wants for us. And not what we want.
So, pray for God’s will (Col. 4:12; 1 Thes. 5:16–18) and expect that he will answer it (Ps. 25:4; 31:3–4; 139:9–10; Prov. 3:5–6; 4:10)!
The answer may take various forms. God may:
- Close a door
- Open an opportunity
- Point you to truth
- Give you a good counselor
- Lean on your spirit (inclining you in a certain direction)
- Let you choose because either choice honors him!
Regardless of the means God uses, when the answer comes, act on it. Remember that faithfulness brings reward (Luke 19:11-27).
4. The Fourth Resource: Living a Christ-like Lifestyle
Discovering God’s will comes out of living a godly lifestyle.
By turning away from worldly ideologies, we draw closer to God (Jas. 4:8) and hear him more clearly (1 Pet. 4:2).
In Romans 12:2, Paul says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
And this testing means “testing out” a godly life. And we "test out" God's ways, we're able to confirm that following his ways are good, acceptable, and perfect!
So the longer you persist in godly living, the more confident you become in future decisions. And it all starts with a test-drive.
How Do We Spiritually Discern God’s Will?
There are 6 Steps for Making a Decision! They spell the word “D.E.C.I.D.E.”
1. DEFINE THE ISSUE: Know what your options are and discard any that are outside God’s will.
2. EVERY COUNSELOR CONSULTED: Seek godly wisdom from at least 2-3 trusted and mature Christians (Prov. 15:22; Rom. 15:14; Col. 3:16). Especially those willing to tell you the truth whether you like it or not.
3. CONFESS ANY SIN: To keep out anything that would desensitize you to God’s leading and commit this decision to Jesus.
4. IN GOD’S TIMING: Be patient; let God work in his time, not your time. It may take time for the Lord to make his will clear to you.
5. DECIDE: After using your four resources (above) and seeking godly counsel, decide. Ask that God would reveal his plan for you in his perfect time and in a way you can understand. Now trust him and decide.
6. EXALT GOD: Praise God for helping you decide! He gave you strength and what you needed. He’ll handle the results.
How Can I Be Sure I Made the Right Decision?
There is no need to be anxious about discerning God’s will for you (Matt. 6:31–32). If it matters to you, it matters to God because YOU matter to God.
You can trust Him. God cares about every aspect of your life, and he knows what you need. He won’t take advantage of your faith. He’ll honor it.
Rather than fretting about your “feelings,” ask yourself, “Was God pleased as best as I knew how?”
The answer is "yes" if your decision:
- Comes from faith (Heb. 11:6) and aligns with what you know from the Bible (Proverbs 4:11; Psalm 119:33)
- Results in God’s glory (1 Cor. 10:31) and is meant to accomplish his purpose (Php. 2:13; 4:13).
- Reflects God’s character and promotes justice, kindness, and humility (Micah 6:8; 1 Cor. 10:31; 1 Tim. 4:12)
If Your Life “Feels” Hard, Does That Mean You Made the Wrong Decision?
Don’t let your emotions lead you astray. Challenges following your decision do not necessarily mean that you made a wrong decision (1 Peter 4:19).
In fact, there are times when God wants to mature your faith by allowing you to face trials (Rom. 5:1–5; James 1:2). To make this clear, Jesus told us that we would face opposition (John 16:33). Our three enemies will try to destroy us: our fleshly desires (Rom. 6:12), the “world” (James 4:4), and Satan (1 Pet. 5:8).
Undeniably, the persecution of Christians since the first century also shows that doing the right thing doesn't mean there will be no future challenges.
What is Your Next Step?
After becoming a Christian, Jesus is now your Lord, and you gave up your right to run your own life. While that may feel risky, you can trust Jesus. He cares about every aspect of your life, and he knows what you need.
If you are a Christian, what are the areas where you need to grow to become more spiritually discerning?
Would more time spent in prayer or Scripture be an excellent place to start? What about taking an honest look at your life and removing any idols (things you are prioritizing over God) that keep you from a godly lifestyle?
Finally, if you have a significant decision to make, you have all the tools you need. But be patient. Developing an intimate relationship with God that affects our decisions takes time.