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Spiritual Discernment: How to Stay *Online* with God - by Lorraine Espenhain

Spiritual Discernment: How to Stay *Online* with God

The man without the Spirit of God does not accept the things that come from the Spirit, for they are foolishness to him. He cannot discern them, for they are spiritually discerned.” [1 Co 2:14]

Many times, when we take a look at this verse, we tend to focus on what St. Paul is saying about unbelievers without discerning in our own spirit that there is also a message for those of us who are in Christ as well.

First, let’s take a look at what St. Paul taught regarding the unbeliever. In a nutshell, Paul wrote that the reason why people who do not believe in Christ have a difficult time accepting the truths of Christ is because they do not have the Holy Spirit living within them. They do not understand the things of God because only the Holy Spirit can impart that understanding. And since they do not have the One who imparts this understanding living within them, they are not able to grasp these truths or even accept them.

Taking it for Granted

Sometimes it’s easy for those in Christ to take the presence of the Holy Spirit within them for granted. We forget that the only reason why we are able to understand the Scriptures, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, or even some of the deep teachings contained in many spiritual classics, is because of the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. He is the One who teaches us all things and gives us the spiritual understanding that we possess. If He were to depart from our lives, we would be just as confused and ignorant as those who do not belong to Christ.

This is why, any time we attempt to share our faith with those outside of Christ, the very first thing we must do is ask the Holy Spirit to open up their hearts so that they will be able to discern what God is saying to them through us. Unless that discernment is granted, we speak to them in vain, for they cannot understand spiritual truths apart from the Spirit of God. Our words will sound like utter nonsense to them.

But what about those in Christ who do have the Spirit of God? Is there a message for us in Saint Paul’s words as well?

There is, indeed.

Since we know that the things of God can be made known to us only through the Spirit of God, it is imperative that we nurture the spirit within us on a daily basis so that, when God speaks, we will discern that He is speaking and respond in the manner that He desires. This principle simply cannot be emphasized enough, and yet, it is probably more neglected than any other principle in the Church today.

Stay Thirsty

When we receive the Gift of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we must not treat this grace as a one-time event that needs no nurturing or cultivation. Does a man drink one cup of water at the beginning of his life and have all that he’ll ever need for the rest of his life? He may try, but he will quickly dehydrate and die if he doesn’t change his philosophy in a hurry.

In the same way, although those of us in Christ have received the Gift of the Holy Spirit, we must continually be filled with the Spirit and nurture the spirit within us if we are going to walk in His power and be open to His guidance when He speaks. What goes for the unbeliever goes for the believer as well. Spiritual truths can only be spiritually discerned. If we want to be able to discern them, then we must give ourselves over to spiritual things so that, when the Spirit speaks, we will recognize this and respond accordingly.

If I never pick up a spiritual book, if I have the prayer life of a paperclip, if I assist at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass whenever I feel like it and receive the Sacraments but one or two times a year, I am giving the Holy Spirit very little in my life to work with, aren’t I?

Many times we end up making our own decisions (and suffering the consequences thereof), not because God was not willing to lead and guide us, but because we ourselves were not willing to sow to the Spirit in our daily lives through prayer, spiritual reading, etc. If we do not give ourselves over to these spiritual disciplines, then we are going to go quickly “offline” with the voice and Will of God, and we will find ourselves thinking, acting, and reacting with the mind of man instead of with the mind of Christ.

Don’t Expect Angels

God wants to have a loving and dynamic relationship with each one of His children. He wants to teach, correct, train, and guide us in every area of our lives. Not only this, but He has called each one of us to specific works of service. But if God is a Spirit, then it must be understood that His voice can only be spiritually discerned.

We can’t sit around hoping for angels to appear to us every time we need God’s direction in our lives. Angelic visits are glorious beyond imagination, and life-changing, I’m sure. But let’s face it. Most of us will never be privileged to experience this. Truth be told, this is not the primary way in which God has chosen to speak to us. Dreams, visions, and angelic messengers are wonderful, but they are not the norm, and do not come to all.

Instead, God has caused His Spirit to abide within each of His children so that we can have an instant line of communication with Him. It is through the Spirit that we commune with God, and He with us. If we want to discern His voice and His Will, we must give ourselves over to spiritual things.

When you and I devote ourselves to prayer, spiritual reading, etc., we are keeping ourselves “online” with God. When He speaks, leads, guides, corrects, etc., because we are walking in the Spirit, we will immediately discern when this is taking place. God speaks to us through His Word, through the Church, through other people, through dreams and visions, and yes, even through our circumstances.

But if we aren’t giving ourselves over to spiritual things in our daily lives, we will not recognize His voice when He speaks, and we will respond to those things in the same way as the unbeliever does: with ignorance, unbelief, denial, and disobedience. Only eternity will reveal, my brothers and sisters, how many times the Lord spoke to us in different ways, and we were not attuned to His voice because we had allowed the things of this world to distract us and keep us from cultivating the spiritual life within us through prayer, spiritual reading, and meditation.

More Than You Are

In conclusion, I want to share with you a funny, yet wonderful story. In 1994, when Walt Disney’s The Lion King came out, a friend of mine took his two little boys to see the movie.

In the movie, Mufasa (Simba’s father) had died, but one night, he spoke to Simba from heaven. Mufasa was displeased with his son because he had shirked his responsibilities by giving himself over to “Hakuna Matata” and the wonderful life instead of taking his rightful place as Mufasa’s successor and performing his kingly duties.

Mufasa spoke seven words to Simba: “You are more than you have become.” Seven simple words. And yet, those seven words caused my friend to start weeping profusely in the movie theater.

His little boys kept saying, “Dad, why are you crying? Why are you crying?” My friend was crying because as he listened to those words, he immediately discerned in his spirit that God was speaking those words to him. Although he was giving himself over to prayer, spiritual reading, and other spiritual disciplines, my friend admitted later on that he had been holding back on God. He wasn’t yielding his life to God as he should have.

There were certain ministries to which he was being called, and he was delaying his obedience to God. But because he was giving himself over to spiritual things throughout the week, when God spoke, he listened.

He didn’t see or hear Mufasa talking to Simba. He heard the voice of His Heavenly Father speaking to him.

I share this story with you to show that we must never put God in a box when it comes to how He chooses to communicate to us. Sometimes, we’re so busy looking for God to speak to us one way, that when He speaks to us another way, we don’t discern His voice.

But if we are nurturing the spirit within us each and every single day, we will discern His voice and His Will no matter how He chooses to speak, as my friend had clearly learned.

If spiritual truths can only be discerned through the Spirit of God, then let us make it our practice, dear friends, to seek out the Spirit, sow to the Spirit, give ourselves continually over to the Spirit, and nurture the spirit within us so that when our Father in Heaven speaks….

…we will clearly heed His call.

‘The Lion King’ Image Copyright Disney

About Lorraine Espenhain

Born in Philadelphia, PA, Lorraine now lives in New Mexico. She is a wife, homeschooling mother, religious instructor, and freelance writer with 200+ articles on She also has her own children’s column at Agua Viva, her diocesan newspaper. Meet Lorraine
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