top of page

What is Discernment? It is a Critical Skill


Discernment is a critical skill in Contemplation and can be a "Gift of the Spirit." The fundamental question for a Contemplative is," Is what I am hearing, seeing, feeling, or sensing coming from God, The Evil Spirit, or Me." The method of determining the answer is the skill of Discernment. Let's start with a basic definition and synonyms.



Discernment is the ability to judge something well or understand and comprehend something—a way of regarding, understanding, or interpreting something.



Judgment, discrimination, enlightenment, sensitivity, insight, perceptiveness, perception, astuteness, understanding, intelligence, wisdom, and awareness.

Application of Discernment

When you sense something in contemplative prayer that you feel comes from God, it is appropriate to ask yourself the following questions:


  1. Does it make sense? Is it clear? God is primarily direct and logical.

  2. Is it necessary or trivial? God seldom works with trivial things.

  3. Is it Biblical – does it fit with what I know about God?

  4. Is it excellent or loving and benefits me and others? God is Love.

  5. Is it assuring? God desires to build you up and draw you to Him.


Additionally, it may be The Evil Spirit if the message is inconsistent with what you know about God. Likewise, it is not from God if it causes you anxiety, despair, or anger. The most obvious way of identifying if it's from you is to ask yourself, "Could this be wishful thinking."  Is this obviously what I wanted to hear? If so, it may or may not be from you. You need to use your skills of Discernment. If you are new to Contemplation, please do not jump to conclusions or make hasty decisions based on your prayer experience. Test the experience against the five questions we listed above. Over time and with patience, your Discernment skills will grow, and "The Voice of God" will become more recognizable. 


How do you gain more Discernment?

James 1:5 says, "If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you." So you can pray for more wisdom and Discernment. You can also grow in Discernment by reading the Bible.

Thomas Merton's Life and Practices

Thomas Keating on Contemplation

The Contemplative Process

Christian Contemplation Introduction

The Practice of Christian Contemplation

Ongoing Steps to Learning Contemplation

Purification for the Contemplative

The Purgative Way

Saint John Paul II on The Rosary

Differences between Meditation and Contemplation

Christian Contemplation Resources

bottom of page