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Spiritual Discernment: The Missing Gift

Spiritual discernment is woefully lacking in our churches today, and this is causing a lot of problems as a result.
by Lorraine E. Espenhain | Source:


"A rebuke impresses a man of discernment more than a hundred lashes a fool." (Pr. 17:10)


Sometime ago, I was approached by a man in my church who was interested in starting a church newspaper. Because he was aware that I had served as the editor of a newspaper in a former church, he asked if I would assist him in starting up a newspaper for our parish church. He would be the editor of this newspaper, and I would assist him in compiling the materials to be published. Before starting this work, it was agreed that the purpose of the newspaper would be to edify, instruct, and encourage church members in our holy Catholic Faith. This newspaper would not be about entertainment, but about edification.   


   Several months into this endeavor, problems began to arise. This man, although sincere in his desire to put out a good newspaper, openly admitted that he had absolutely no knowledge whatsoever of the Sacred Scriptures or the Catechism of the Catholic Church. When articles would be submitted to him for publication in the newspaper, he would publish them, not on the basis of what is stated in and supported by the Scriptures or the Catechism, but on the basis of what sounded right or comfortable to him. If something wasn't warm and fuzzy, if it just didn't sound right to him, the article got rejected.


   Conflicts began to arise between me and this man because of this. In vain, I tried to reason with him to get him to see that there are two sides to God's Word. There are times when the Scriptures encourage and comfort us, and there are times when they challenge and correct us. I wanted the newspaper to be balanced by publishing material that presented the truths of God's Word from both perspectives, and not just one. Because this man himself did not have any knowledge whatsoever of God's Word, he could not be reasoned with and would not budge from his position.


   I eventually felt compelled to resign from this ministry, as this man was not spiritually qualified to serve as an editor of this newspaper. When you are heading up a ministry in which any kind of religious instruction is going to be provided, you become a spiritual gatekeeper. A spiritual gatekeeper must have a good working knowledge of the Sacred Scriptures and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. If he does not possess this knowledge, then all of his decisions will be based on what sounds good or right to him, rather than on the truths which are stated in the Word of God.


   The editor, although a sincere man, was sifting material and filtering it through his ideas of what sounded right instead of using the Word of God as a filter. He was sincere, but completely lacking in spiritual discernment, and this lead to a plethora of problems down the road.


   This dear brother in Christ, however, is not alone. Spiritual discernment is woefully lacking in our churches today. Last night, at the Vigil Mass, our priest stood in front of the congregation holding a Bible in his hand. Speaking to the people gathered together, he said, "How many of you have read this book from cover to cover?" Three people raised their hands, and one of them was the Deacon. The priest then looked at the congregation and said, "When it comes to the study of this Book, the Protestants put us to shame." The priest then challenged the people to spend time reading at least one chapter of the Bible a day. "I can guarantee you," he said, "that if you will read at least one chapter of the Bible a day, your life will be changed."    Indeed!


   If we do not immerse ourselves in the Word of God on a daily basis, we are going to remain insensitive when the Spirit is speaking to us through something that we may be reading or listening to. A man who loves this world and who refuses to detach himself from all of its useless distractions and preoccupations is going to be easily offended when presented with the truth. If he spends all of his free time watching television, reading secular novels, or drinking beer with his friends at a football game, he is going to be the first to get offended if he goes to Mass on Sunday morning and listens to the priest give a challenging homily. Because he did not immerse himself in spiritual things all week long, he will not be able to discern when the Spirit is speaking to him, challenging him, or correcting him through the priest's homily. He will respond in his flesh because he has been walking in his flesh and catering to his flesh all week long.


   Not so with the man who has immersed himself in spiritual things all week long! When he listens to the priest's homily, he will immediately discern in his spirit that it is not the priest, but rather, the Spirit of God who is speaking to him through the priest, and he will respond in the manner desired by God. He will respond with repentance, if necessary, and obedience.


   In the proverb referenced above, Solomon gives us a case scenario involving two men. One man is wise and discerning, and the other is not. In this case scenario, both men need to be corrected, for they are both in error. Because the first man is wise and discerning, all he needs is a simple rebuke to get him back on the right path. Because he has spiritual discernment, he is able to recognize that the Spirit of God is speaking to him through the rebuke of an earthen vessel, and he responds appropriately. He repents and obeys. Not so with the fool who lacks spiritual discernment. According to Solomon, you can beat this man with a hundred lashes of the whip, and he will still remain incorrigible. He will remain incorrigible, "unteachable," and impossible to persuade or convince because he has no spiritual discernment whatsoever. Long story short… you will get absolutely nowhere with this individual.


   This lack of spiritual discernment is causing a lot of problems in our churches today. It causes church members to wrongly persecute priests and other church leaders who refuse to compromise when it comes to teaching and preaching the entirety of God's Word. It breeds false teachers among us whom Satan raises up to teach people things that they want to hear instead of what they need to hear. Because of an overall lack of spiritual discernment in our churches today, the political correctness of our culture has now crept into the church and completely permeated it. As a result, if something is not politically correct, it's not of God; it's of man. If it stings or makes us uncomfortable, it's of the flesh, not of the Spirit. If a bishop, parish priest, deacon, or religious instructor teaches a hard truth in an uncompromising way, he has an attitude problem. It is he who needs to repent and straighten up, not the individuals who are being addressed.


   This is what happens, brothers and sisters, when a parish priest can ask a congregation how many people have taken the time to study God's Word from cover to cover and only three people raise their hands.


   If you are not spending time in the Sacred Scriptures on a daily basis, on what are you basing your opinions, stands, and philosophies? Are you basing them on the world's ideas of what is right or wrong? Are you basing them on what sounds "right" to you?


   A man who spends no time with God in prayer and in the study of His Word will not have spiritual discernment. It's as simple as that. Everything that comes his way will be sifted and processed through the filter of his own natural understanding instead of through the Spirit and Word of God. When people like this then get placed into positions of ministry within the Church itself, incredible chaos ensues. What you have is the blind leading the blind.


   We are now at the beginning of a new year. If you have not already cultivated the practice of reading the Word of God on a daily basis, I want to encourage you to start doing so now. Read one chapter a day. If the chapter is too long, then read half of it one day, and the second half the next day. Read slowly, thoughtfully, and prayerfully. What is God saying to me through this story or this passage? What changes need to be made in my life in the light of what I have just read? Is God calling me to perform a certain action through what I have just read?

   Pray after you have read. "Lord, I have just read that you want me to love you with all of my heart, mind, soul, and strength, but I don't know how. Show me how. Show me what changes need to be made in my life so that I will love you with this intensity that you deserve. Show me the obstacles in my life that are keeping me from loving you as I ought. Change my heart, taking out of it the things that are not your will for my life and planting in it the things that are your will."


   I can guarantee you that if you will do this every single day, your life will be changed and you will possess the spiritual discernment that all of God's children should possess. 


   I once read of a man who was born with horrible eyesight. His eyes were so terrible that he couldn't see four feet in front of him. You literally had to be standing right in front of his face in order for him to see you clearly. His family took him to the doctor and had special eyeglasses made for him. The first time he put them on, he couldn't speak. He looked all around him and saw things that he had never seen before. Trees, mountains, flowers. He was stunned into silence as he viewed a world that had always been before him, but was unseen.


   In the same way, many of us have become deaf to the voice of God, not because God no longer speaks, but because we are lacking the spiritual discernment that enables us to hear His voice when He does speak. God speaks to us in many different ways, and He speaks to us often. When we detach ourselves from the useless distractions and preoccupations of this world, and when we give ourselves completely over to spiritual things, such as prayer and the reading of God's Word, we become tuned in to the Spirit; we become sensitive to Him.

   When He speaks to us through something that we are reading or something that is being said, we immediately discern in our spirit that it is not the earthen vessel who is speaking to us, but God, who is merely using that earthen vessel, that book, or that circumstance. 


   We become amazed, like the man with the poor eyesight mentioned above. Before our ears are opened, we tend to think that our God is a silent God who keeps himself at a distance. But when we immerse ourselves in spiritual things, such as the reading of God's Word, our ears become opened, and for the first time, we see just how often God speaks, and we become amazed. Like the man mentioned above, we are stunned into silence as we listen to a Voice that had always been speaking to us, but until now remained unheard.


   Brothers and sisters, let us listen to what the Spirit is saying to us through this teaching. Let us make the necessary changes in our lives so that we will have the spiritual discernment that is necessary to live as God desires…


… and to carry out the work to which all of us are called.




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