Ignatius describes a time when the evil one uses a new tactic—"deceptive spiritual consolation that is not of the good spirit and [that] will lead, if followed, to spiritual harm"—in his efforts to deceive mature Christ-followers.
Father Tim Gallagher describes it this way: "A point may come on the spiritual journey when persons who deeply love God must be aware of, understand, and reject certain attractions toward good and holy things that, if undertaken, would distract from different good and holy things to which God is genuinely calling them. . . . Holiness of life, even great holiness of life, does not eliminate the need for discernment of spirits; rather, it is precisely goodness of life that calls for the greater discernment of spirits found in Ignatius' second set of rules."
Most leaders at the very least we need a wise spiritual friend in whose presence all inner dynamics can be attended to without bias. As Thomas Merton so wisely states, "[The spiritual director's] function is to verify and encourage what is truly spiritual in the soul. He must teach others to ‘discern' between good and evil tendencies, to distinguish the inspirations of the spirit of evil from those of the Holy Spirit. A spiritual director is, then, one who helps another to recognize and to follow the inspirations of grace in his life, in order to arrive at the end to which God is leading him."
It is ironic that sometimes, as we progress in the spiritual journey, we convince ourselves that we are beyond needing spiritual guidance, when in reality, that is actually the time when the evil one switches tactics and we need spiritual counsel more than ever.
Gather and assess information. Another dynamic of discernment is the ability to ask good questions and to allow those questions to help us gather data and gain perspective. These are not necessarily questions that will get us the answers we want; rather, they are questions that will elicit the deeper wisdom we need. A good question has the power to throw open a door or a window so that a fresh wind of the Spirit can blow through.
There are many questions that help us reflect spiritually on the objective facts and also gain insight into the deeper dynamics of the situation. At different times, different questions will resonate and help us attend to the different ways God's will is manifest in and through our circumstances and in the inner, spiritual dynamics that are present. The following are some questions that leaders who want to become more discerning can learn how to ask and reflect upon honestly. The experience of interacting with such questions in more personal matters prepares us to frame better questions at the leadership table and to reflect on them honestly with others as well.