Gordon Smith is President of the Overseas Council in Canada. He was formerly academic dean and associate professor of spiritual theology at Regent College in Vancouver. His newest book is The Voice of Jesus: Discernment, Prayer and the Witness of the Spirit, published by InterVarsity Press.
You say there are two questions that every Christian should be able to answer: what is Jesus saying at this point in your life? And how do you know it is Jesus? What does it mean to be able to "discern" the voice of Jesus?
The context in which we are attentive to the voice of Jesus is what's happening to us personally. And when I say that I mean emotionally. That is, the emotional contours of our lives become the soil in which we discern, sift, or determine what is truly from God and what is not. Discernment is all about attending to what's happening to us emotionally in a way that's informed by the mind, by the breadth and witness of the Scriptures, and by the counsel of other Christians. But it's really testing our own hearts to see if this comes from God.
The more I read the Scriptures the more I realized how central the emotional life of Jesus was to him for the joy that was set before him, but especially when I read the Psalms. And then when I came to Paul's writings, "the deep longing for a peace that transcends all understanding." "Your joy would be complete." And I kept coming up against these texts in Scripture and realizing that the emotional life is far more central to the spiritual life than I'd realized.1