Thursday, November 15, 2018

How to Discern the Will of God

How to discern the Will of God

As Catholics we know that anything that aligns with Scripture, Tradition, or the teaching of the Church is the Will of God, since these are sources of truth for us. But, often times, we have to discern the Will of God on matters that don’t pertain to morality or doctrine. There is no Church teaching on whether I should move to another city, buy a particular house, marry a certain person, or become a priest or a nun.

What do we do then?

Discerning the Will of God is all about asking the right questions, living differently, and following your heart (hear me out on that last one!).

Ask the Right Questions

Saints and sages from every age have been pondering this question: “What do you want me to do, Lord?” They have found that the answer to this ultimate question comes by answering a series of smaller questions. These questions can help us discern God’s Will, whether we are concerned with our vocation or state in life, or we’re pondering any type of big, life-changing decision.

Try praying with the following questions:
  • Will this bring me closer to heaven? Does it give God glory?
  • What is the path of greatest love? Am I willing my own good or the good of the other?
  • Will this option help me fulfill the duties of my state in life? What does my current state in life allow?
  • Does it make sense based on my skills and talents?
  • What are the pros and cons of each option?
  • What does my conscience tell me about the morality of each option?

These questions will help filter out the noise of life and dig down to the heart of what God wants for us.

Begin Living Differently

After a couple has been married several years, they don’t have to ask each other what they desire in a given situation. They just know. They’ve shared enough of their lives together to intuit the will of the other.

We can have that same relationship with God, if we are willing to live a little differently. Just by focusing more on our prayer life, receiving the sacraments regularly, and keeping an eye out for the fruits of the Spirit, we can foster the kind of relationship with God that makes it easier to discern His Will.

  • A few minutes a day. Prayer is key. It’s how we enter into dialogue with the Lord. It’s how we listen to Him. It’s how we get to know Him and grow to love Him better. The more we know and love God, the better we are able to discern His Will. Even a few minutes a day can make all the difference (see Dynamic Catholic's "Prayer Process" for a simple method of prayer that anyone can use)

  • Grace for the keeping. Sin darkens the intellect and weakens the will – the two things God gave us to discern His Will and walk in it. The antidote is the divine life of God, and we receive that new life through the Mass and the Sacraments.

    Receiving the sacraments more frequently can feel like a burden at first, especially when there are so many other responsibilities demanding our time and attention. But, going to Confession at least once a month is doable, as long as we schedule it. And maybe there’s a parish nearby that offers a quick Mass during the usual lunch break.

  • Flesh and fruit. In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he lists the works of the flesh and the fruits of the Spirit:
    “Now the works of the flesh are plain: immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God …”

    “… but the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law.” (Gal 5:19-23)
    If we make decisions out of the works of the flesh or when enslaved by them, we will almost always choose wrongly. If we make decisions out of the fruits of the Spirit, or if we see the Spirit bear these fruits in our lives after we make a decision, then we can be sure we have chosen rightly.

Follow Your Heart

Sometimes, the best thing we can do is follow the heart. Of course, our hearts are not infallible. As Jeremiah reminds us, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt; who can understand it?” (Jer 17:9). While it’s not the only guide we use when discerning God’s Will, it can be one of them. After all, God created our “hearts”, our inner-life where our soul, will, and desire are located. He has planted desires within us as a way to draw us to Him. So, it’s worth hearing what the heart has to say.

And at any rate, if we love God and are filled with His love, then our hearts will be worth following. As Augustine said, “Love God, and then do what you will.”

For more on how to discern the Will of God from a Catholic perspective, see the following articles:
Pax Christi,

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