Bread – Discernment

November 4, 2013


Readings for Monday, November 4, 2013, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Neh. 6:1-19; Rev. 10:1-11; Matt. 13:36-43; Psalms 56,57,58,64,65

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Discernment is an important ability, because with it we can have insight into people’s motivations, can see trends in random facts, and can sense when there is safety and danger. Most importantly, with this gift from God we can receive understanding about what we should do, separate evil from good, and turn away what is bad for us and receive instead what is good for us.

In our Old Testament reading today, we see Nehemiah’s discernment in the following passage: “Now when I went into the house of Shemaiah…he said ‘Let us meet together in the house of God, in the temple. Let us close the door of the temple, for they are coming to kill you…’ … But I said, ‘…I will not go in.’ And I understood and saw that God had not sent him, but he had pronounced the prophecy against me because [my enemies] had hired him.” Neh. 6:10-12

How we get discernment?

Well, first it is a gift of God. That being said, we cannot say we do not have discernment because that is not our gift. The reason I say this is the passage from Hebrews: “But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” Heb. 5:14. Discernment can be strengthened through training. How?

How do we train? I think the secret to this question is locked up in the last clause in the sentence from Hebrews, “to distinguish good from evil.” The purpose of discernment is “to distinguish good from evil.” And we train in discernment by learning how to and practicing how to distinguish good from evil.

To separate two things, here good and evil, we must know what both things look like. This can be tricky with evil, because evil masquerades as good quite often. And it can be particularly difficult for us if we are relying on ourselves, because our hearts are naturally sinful and, therefore, we are inclined to discern evil as good, or at least good-ish.

So how do we know what the good looks like? We know it because God has given us His revelation, His Scripture, to establish the measuring line, the plumb line, against which we can judge, against which we can test and discern.

So discernment is a gift, but it is a gift which all have received because we have been given Scripture. And by reading, learning, and digesting Scripture, by integrating it into our hearts and minds, we have established the baseline of what is good, against which we can test other things. This is the first half of the practice of discernment, learning what the first half looks like. But it is also the second half of the practice of discernment, because if we know what the good is, then we can see clearly what is not good. By knowing one, we know the other. By practice with God’s written revelation, we are practicing actual discernment in real life. Of course, it is often the Holy Spirit which brings our study of Scripture to mind when needed in a particular moment of discernment, so that we are empowered at that point in time to accurately discern.

Why could Nehemiah discern Shemaiah’s true motivations? Because Nehemiah was grounded in Scripture and he had his marching orders from God. His marching orders were to build the walls and gates of Jerusalem, something that the surrounding temporal powers did not want. He knew the work which God wanted him to do and he judged what he was being told against the standard of what action would either help that work or hurt that work.

So, another way of helping us practice discernment is to know what work we are being asked to do by God. And we already know a lot of that – we know that we are to proclaim the gospel, love our neighbors, worship the Lord, obey the Lord, do all things so that God receives the glory and not ourselves.

Do we know when we are being dragged away from loving our neighbors? Do we know when we are being tricked into disobedience to what God has clearly commanded? Do we know when the quality of our worship is diminished because of some perceived flaw in the service or the pastor? Do we know when we are making sure that the glory falls on us rather than God?

Of course we do. And in so doing we are exercising discernment.

We are more able to tell right from wrong than we often give ourselves credit for. The problem then is not our ability to discern but our willingness to discern.

And that is the rub, isn’t it? Discerning is hard work, not because of what it is but because of what it demands. Discerning makes demands upon us because we must then act on what we see, we must then act on what we know. To discern is to see clearly. To see clearly imposes upon us choices which we must deliberately make. By making those choices, we confront our true selves, our true motivations, our true sins. Very dangerous stuff to our ego, our self-image, our pride.

But discernment is also a blessing, because in discerning good from evil, right from wrong, the best from the better, and in then seeing clearly our inability to choose well, we then also can see clearly what Jesus has done for us and what He is doing for us. We can discern Him in our lives and the lives of others.

And we can see clearly that, but for Him, we would have no choice because we would be dead in our sins, unable to discern, unable to respond, unable to act, unable to live forever.

And so, in a very real sense, our power of discernment derives from our being woken up by God and raised by Him to eternal life. In many respects, it may be the first gift, the discernment that I am a sinner in need of a Savior, the discernment that Jesus Christ is that Savior, the discernment that I need to repent of my sins and turn to the One who died that those sins, all of them, might be eternally forgiven and that I might have eternal life.

If you have accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior, you have discernment. Now, how strong is it? Well, ask yourself the question of how well you have been exercising it. Probably not much.

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© 2013 GBF

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