Spiritual Discernment

Spiritual Discernment and Vocational Decision-Making

Amy K. Bleach

Liberty University

Abstract

Choosing a career path can be a daunting and uneasy time for young adults. It is perhaps even more overwhelming for Christians since they add into that decision making process whether their choice is what God desires for their life. As the student begins planning, career counseling could be a wise choice for them. It can provide guidance and reassurance along the way. Taking surveys like Horton’s Decision-Making Survey, can help reveal God’s plan.

Results help direct the student to find more meaningful life and career paths. In the information that follows, students will categorize themselves either in the bulls-eye approach, the wisdom approach with biblical or pragmatic emphasis, or the relation formation approach. Counselors can better help counselees reach career decisions and discern God’s will in a way they deem comfortable by learning which approach they fall within.

Keywords: active listening, bull’s eye, biblical wisdom, career choices, counseling, discernment, decision-making

Spiritual Discernment and Vocational Decision-Making in Careers

Decision-making for students can be very troublesome because they have so many choices (Horton, 2009).

Students may have an overwhelming sense of confusion. To impede the situation, Christian students desire their choices to be in accordance with God’s will. During this decision-making process, they think about what school they will attend, classes to take, and what career path they will choose. In Gary Friesen’s book, Decision Making and the Will of God, he espoused different ways to help a person discern what the will of God is for their life (Horton, 2009).

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The first approach, the bullseye, talked about providing students with discernment and aid in decision-making. The next method was the wisdom approach which had subcategories. These subcategories included biblical wisdom and pragmatic wisdom approaches. The third approach was called the spiritual formation approach (Horton, 2009).

Horton (2009) defined the bulls-eye approach, also known as the traditional view, to mean that God has a perfect plan for someone’s life. With the bulls-eye approach, God desires Christians to be in His will. He unfolds this will through prayer, as He guides them to make solid choices (Horton, 2009). Christians feel a sense of inner peace from the Holy Ghost when prayers are answered. Therefore, with the bulls-eye approach, it operates as spiritual navigation system guiding the person to arrive at their spiritual destination (Horton, 2009).

In contrast, the Bible is the ultimate source to guide discernment according to the biblical wisdom approach (Horton, 2009). Followers of this approach discern using reasoning, strengths, capabilities, receiving sound counsel, and talents. Believers in the biblical wisdom approach feel that God has detailed plan, but he does not always reveal this plan.

In contrast, those that follow a pragmatic wisdom approach discern using reasoning, common sense, sound counsel, strengths, and talents (Horton, 2009). The Bible does indeed assist in those choices, but it is secondary to the aforementioned values. Believers in the biblical wisdom approach place significance in obtaining direction from specific bible verses instead of the more pragmatic values of reasoning, talents, common sense, sound counsel and strengths.

Lastly, relationship formation advocates believe that though God may not have specific plan for everyone’s life, He is an active part in all believers lives and the world (Horton, 2009). This group of individuals feel that God gives a person free will since He does not give the individual a precise path. However, astute decisions are made when a person forms an intimate and then subsequently mature relationship with God. The Bible is an integral aspect of this, but God is most concerned when a Christian grows and matures, taking their own responsibility and structure in our Lord (Horton, 2009).

Personal Position

Survey Findings

After taking the Decision-Making Factors Survey, the beliefs, and values that I found most important were consulting the Bible, considering the circumstances, using common sense, and recognizing and responding to the needs of others (Horton, 2009). The areas I found as important were consulting with wise counsel, considering personal desires and interests, praying for specific guidance or answers from God, and considering personal strengths, talents, gifts, and abilities (Horton, 2009). Other areas I marked as somewhat important in discernment were depending on a sense of inner peace from the Holy Spirit, praying for wisdom to make godly decisions and interests, and looking for signs of confirmation from God (Horton, 2009).

Where I Place Myself

Based upon my answers from the survey, I most fit the relationship formation approach. From my understanding of the approaches, I fit relationship formation because I believe that God makes us agents of free will. By using common sense, consulting wise counsel, considering my strengths and talents, and thinking about “my” desires and interests, I form my close personal relationship with Christ. According to Horton (2009), I do not view God’s relationship with me as a helicopter parent; He does not make all my decisions for me. I choose my path, but I do this through prayerful consideration and consulting the Bible. Additionally, Horton (2009) used the analogy of a shepherd and his flock when comparing our relationship with our heavenly Father. He lovingly guides us but does not dictate our every move. I am relying on guidance from God, rather than a predetermined path as would be for those in the bulls-eye approach to discernment (Horton, 2009). Talents, abilities, common sense and wise counsel are equally important, however, I do not place them above the Bible like those in the pragmatic wisdom approach. I do rely on prayer and Bible for guidance from God. I do believe God reveals His plan as some do in the biblical wisdom approach (Horton, 2009). Bible reading and prayer are the ways I communicate with God, thus forming a mature relationship with Him. This too fits into the category of what Horton (2009) called relationship formation. From choosing this path, I am taking responsibility for my choices and actions, but God is at the center of my thought process (Horton, 2009) God is our Father and teaches us, but we have the autonomy to make our own decisions. As a parent, we guide our children, but we do not make every selection for them. Our children grow and mature and eventually make wiser decisions. This is the same process those that believe in the relationship formation approach go through.

Furthermore, McMinn (2011) stated that reading the Bible and prayer leads to spiritual formation. Spiritual development begins with prayer, worship, and reading the Bible. This allows us to form a bond and relationship with God. When we practice these things, we become more Christ-like and therefore more spiritually mature (McMinn, 2011). We must always strive to be more Christ-like, but we will often fall short. To me, as long as we are constantly working to be better and closer to God, then He will honor that effort. The opportunity to serve and love others follows the steps of Jesus. The Bible says that we are to be the “salt and light” to the world (Matthew 5:13-16 New International Version). These are all characteristic of the relationship formation approach (Horton, 2009).

Past and Present Influences

Factors that Influence my Spiritual Discernment

My worldview as a maturing woman both past and present influences my discernment (Entwistle, 2010). Since birth, I have always been “in” the church. My father was a preacher and both parents were teachers. Our household was a loving and grace-filled environment. We went to church every Sunday, we participated in outreach on a regular basis, and prayed together every day. I accepted what I was taught in Sunday school, and I believed in God from a very early age. As I reached the teens years, I began to have more questions. Being especially in tune with recognizing the hypocrisy of Christians, I did not like how judgemental many of the older patrons of our church were. I did not see them loving others as Christ loves us and that put a bad taste in my mouth. I was afraid of that harsh judgement of they knew of my transgressions and did not feel I could truly open up and share my weaknesses. Making the situation worse, I was a preacher’s kid. Our family was put on a pedestal. We were expected to be perfect and without flaws. In order to come to peace with what it truly meant to be a Christian, I began relying on such factors like common sense, wise counsel and my talents and abilities and strengths (Horton, 2009). I saw my father struggle with his sin at the pulpit and as I matured, I began to see that most of the congregation loved him deeply. Over the tenure of his service, he related to them and gained their trust. He spoke the truth in love and extended grace, just as Jesus does for us. They did not look at him as a hypocrite but rather just like them, a human that sins and makes mistakes. This made him very relatable and relevant. I knew that that was how I wanted to be treated as well as how I wanted treat others.

In my junior year of high school, I began seriously thinking about my career path. Our church participated in a spiritual gifts inventory in which I took part. I scored the highest on teaching, service, and hospitality. All of these gifts deal with helping people come to understanding in a comfortable and warm environment, identifying the needs of others and working on helping meet those needs. It did not surprise me that I scored highly on those as that was the kind of environment I grew up in. I heard this little voice guiding me and helping me feel at ease about making the decision to become a teacher, but that was not my initial approach to college. A family friend offered to help pay for my schooling if I went into the pharmacy school at VCU. I applied and was accepted, how, I don’t know because that is not at all what my heart and head told me I would excel in. I listened to that voice, which I now know was the Holy Spirit, and changed my mind, even knowing I would not receive any financial help from our friend. Working in a people-heavy atmosphere, helping foster young minds, and making an impact and difference in their lives were traits of a job climate I knew were important to me. I recognized that truth comes from God, and that the Holy Spirit lead me to make the decision to be a teacher (Entwistle, 2010).

I began my journey at VCU receiving my undergraduate degree in English and a Master of Teaching. I taught middle school English for 15 years in the public sector and am finishing up my fourth year in a private Christian school. I have always been able to establish a quick and easy rapport with people, not just young people, but people from all walks of life. I heard over and over that I would be a great counselor, but never pursued that path until recently. The director at my current school noticed how quickly the kids latched on to me and came to me for guidance or just a listening ear. She jokingly said, “We need a school counselor here, and I think you should do it!” I didn’t think she was serious but that got the wheels turning in my head. I went to her a couple of days later and mentioned the prospect again and at that time she revealed to me that she was in fact being serious. I didn’t think twice about the decision and began researching school counseling programs. I fully and wholeheartedly believe the Holy Spirit lead me in this direction and because of that I am enrolled in the counseling program at Liberty.

Becoming a counselor will help me fill the desire to serve others. Through these experiences, I have come to understand and value a close and personal relationship with Christ by continuing to pray, serving others, and going to the Bible for guidance (Horton, 2009). I am far from mature, but I continue to strive to be Jesus’ hands and feet.

Practical Application

Strategies Used and Personal Influence

Figuring out a major as a third year undergraduate student is certainly a daunting task, let alone struggling with the idea that it might not be part of God’s will. The first step I would take would be to establish a trusting rapport with my counselee (Martin, 2017). She would need to feel comfortable and believe that I have her best interests in mind and want to guide her in a direction that she feels is appropriate. My body language should be indicative of concern and care. I would show attentiveness my smiling, giving verbal cues of assurance, and making eye contact. Active listening is an important part of counseling clients. Some active listening skills would be to summarize and ask open-ended questions (Martin, 2017). Asking about her past decision-making and family influences would also help guide my further interaction with the counselee. Once I have established that bond, I would have my client complete the Decision-Making Survey. Regardless of the results, it would be imperative that I not place my method of discernment into the mix of conversation. I should remain positive even if her approach is different from mine.

In light of our possible different discernment approaches, there are still some common factors between them, prayer being one (Horton, 2009). If the client is comfortable, we could discuss her prayer life and how that draws her closer to God not necessarily how her choices fit into God’s will for her life. This strategy aligns with my relationship formation approach without overstepping boundaries. I do not want to add more stress but rather help her determine “where she is” with God. The overarching theme is to have a close and mature relationship with the Lord and helping my client recognize that supersedes any particular discernment approach. Additionally, I would direct her to scriptures that reinforce the importance of revealing the characteristics of Christ and how we should fashion our lives after them.

In closing, this assignment has asked us to synthesize and understand the main approaches to spiritual discernment. Taking into consideration our client’s worldview is essential in truly understanding how to approach counseling techniques. This understanding helps our direction by learning how they attach meaning to their daily lives and therefore how their discernment approach is formed. It is not our job to judge or impose our beliefs on the counselee, but rather work collaboratively with them to find a solution. Making career choices is a stressful time for those in the midst of this stage. Our responsibility to our client is to ensure they work towards finding what their discernment approach is and forming a mature relationship with Christ.

References

Entwistle, D. N. (2010). Integrative approaches to psychology and Christianity. Eugene, OR:

Cascade Books.

Hindmarsh, B. (2014). The inner life of doctrine: An interdisciplinary perspective on the

Calvinist-Arminian debate among Methodists. Church History, 83(2), 367-397. doi:

Horton, D. J. (2009). Discerning Spiritual Discernment: Assessing Current Approaches for

Understanding God’s Will. Journal of Youth Ministry, 7 (2), 7-31.

Martin, A. (2017, July 13). Active Listening Skills. Retrieved April 2, 2019, from

McMinn, M. R. (2011). Psychology, theology, and spirituality in Christian counseling (Rev. ed.).

Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House.

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Spiritual Discernment. (2019, Nov 17). Retrieved from http://paperap.com/spiritual-discernment-best-essay/

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