A prayer for discernment

Heavenly Father, I approach Your throne of grace and mercy, leaving my burdens at the foot of the cross. Father today I request that Your Holy Spirit draws near as You give me discernment in all that I do.

Proverbs 3:5-6 
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways submit to him and he will make your paths straight. 

You are the God that sees, that hears and will deliver me from the grasp of the enemy.

Discernment

Open the eyes of my heart, Oh Lord, so that I may be able to identify the plans of the enemy. Guide me to make the right decisions in my life as I follow through with Your will. Raise me up, Lord, so that I would not fall by the wayside. Take full complete control of every aspect of my life.

1 Kings 3:9
So give Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people to discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?

Romans 12:2
And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

Divine Wisdom

Father, nothing in this world escapes Your sight. You are the God that sees, that hears and will deliver me from the grasp of the enemy.

Invoke divine wisdom within me so that I would not be a slave to my flesh. For the flesh is weak, but the spirit is willing.

Psalm 119:66
Teach me good discernment and knowledge, For I believe in Your commandments.

Hebrews 5:14
But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.

Obedience

Teach me to walk in obedience while I stand firm on You, my rock and fortress. I pray that the discernment that I seek awakens within me as I remain faithful to You, my Lord and Savior.

In Jesus’ Mighty name I pray, Amen!

Teach me to walk in obedience while I stand firm on You, my rock and fortress.

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a prayer for discernment

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Over the next several weeks, I would like to share with you all some of my reflections on the three weeks that I recently spent in India on a theological immersion into Hinduism.  These reflections are both spiritual and theological, personal and social.  The purpose is to clarify my own very undeveloped thoughts on many of these matters, so I wholeheartedly welcome comments and dialogue for clarification.

I applied for this course along with the trip to India for one reason: to reflect academically and spiritually on the presence of God, on the “rays of truth” as Nostra Aetate puts it, that are to be found in the Hindu religion.  I went to India convinced that discernment of those rays is no mere academic exercise.  Unless one is willing to pray with those of other religions, one will never be able to discover the presence of God within them.

And yet I went with some trepidation as well.  Although I have studied Islam briefly previously, I really have very little experience of other religions.  And while Islam worships the historical God of Abraham, Allah, to whom I’ve never had any trouble praying, the Hindu pantheon of gods presents to me a greater challenge.  What I needed was wisdom and discernment, and for this throughout the trip I prayed. 

Two scripture passages and two prayers constituted the backbone of this prayer for wisdom and discernment.  The first scripture passage is Genesis 28:16. Jacob is traveling and ready to bed down for the night.  As he sleeps, he dreams of the angels of God ascending and descending from heaven.  When he awakes, he exclaims, “Surely God was in this place, and I did not know it!”  On the third day of our trip, this scripture was given to me in prayer, and I have used it since as my guiding prayer.  Jacob does two things.  First, he recognizes that God was already present in a place that he did not recognize.  Second, he renames the place, “baptizing” it Bethel, the “house of God.”   I have prayed that I would recognize whether God was already in this place, whether this “place” was a temple of Siva, Vishnu, Ganesha, Lakshmi, or any other Hindu manifestation of the Supreme Being, Brahman.

The second passage is 1 Thessalonians 19-21, in particular the lines “Do not quench the Spirit” and “test everything; hold fast to what is good.”  I think sometimes it is easy to focus on the “hold fast to what is good” and forget that first, even to know what is good, we must “test everything,” “everything.”  Reflecting on this has given me freedom to pray in ways with Hinduism that I may not have been comfortable with before.

Two prayers have also been a staple.  The first is the “Prayer for a favor through the intercession of Father Richard Thomas, SJ.”  Fr. Thomas was the Jesuit with whom I grew up and who is most responsible for my vocation.  With the permission of the provincial of the Southern Province, Fr. Mark Lewis, prayer cards have been made seeking his intercession to receive favors.  Fr. Thomas was a man of tremendous discernment, and so I have used this prayer throughout, asking him for true discernment of spirits, that I may know the presence of God when I see it and distinguish it from the presence of evil or from simple non-presence.

The second prayer I picked up at the Ashram Saccidananda (about which I will write in some depth later on), a Catholic ashram or monastery in the state of Tamil Nadu, that has taken Hindu inculturation very seriously.  The prayer is used to begin morning, midday, and evening prayer at the ashram.  The Sanskrit transliteration runs as follows:

Om Bhur Bhuva Svah

Tat Savitur Varenyam

Bhargo Devasya Dhimahi

Dhiyo yo nah prachodayat

It translates as:

“Salutations to the Word which is present in the earth, the sky, and that which is beyond.  Let us meditate on the glorious splendor of the divine Giver of Life.  May he illuminate our meditation.”

This is my prayer also for the following reflections on my time in India.  May God, the Supreme Being, illuminate my meditations and our conversation together as we move forward in dialogue.

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Praying for direction for your life is something that can change your present and future.  Part of knowing the right direction to go is in having good discernment, or the ability to see the big picture.  Praying for discernment is the act of asking God to help you clarify the truth about your life.  Once you know the truth, acting on it can change your life.  Here are some of my ideas on praying for discernment.

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!

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.

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.

Related articles

Scripture prayer for guidance: Show me your good way.

Prayer for God’s Strength one step at a time

Finding answers to prayer during long term problems

Copyright Karen Barber 2011.  All rights reserved.

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a prayer for discernment

A Prayer for Discernment
By Sharon Jaynes

“But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” – John 14:26

Some say that the devil’s main role is tempting mankind to sin. But I believe what trumps even temptation is his role as the accuser who shackles us with shame and condemnation once we succumb to the temptation. He paces before God saying, “She did this and she did that.” He plays and replays the video in the theater of your mind, pointing out all your faults and weaknesses to bring you down. He is AGAINST you.

Just as the accuser is against you, there is someone else who is for you. Before Jesus went to the cross, He assured His followers that He would not leave them as orphans. He promised to send the Spirit who would encourage, enlighten, empower, and intercede for all believers. And then Jesus gave the Spirit a name: the Advocate. “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you” (John 14:26).

An advocate is someone who is for you and acts on your behalf. Yes! He is for you! And one of the ways that He is for you is to convict you of sin—of something that you have done that is contrary to the ways of God. God will never reveal a weakness, a sin, or a flaw in your life just for the sake of exposing it. He always reveals a deficit because it’s time to make it right—to conform you to the image of His Son. The Holy Spirit awakens your senses to an area of your life that you need to change, and then helps you do it.

While the accuser points our your weakness and makes you feel you can never change, the Advocate points out your weakness so that you can change. So tell me, who’s voice are you going to listen to? Who’s voice are you going to believe?

Let’s Pray

Dear LORD, help me distinguish between the accuser’s voice and the Advocate’s voice. I know I have a choice when it comes to whom I listen to: condemnation or correction. Thank You for Your great love that never condemns, but lovingly corrects.

In Jesus’ Name,
Amen.

a prayer for discernment

Editor’s Note: Content taken from the Girlfriends in God devotional, Whose Voice Will You Listen to Today?, written by Sharon Jaynes. You can read that piece in full here. All rights reserved.

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