When I think about wisdom and discernment I think of the way a map and compass work together. The map being the wisdom of seeing the whole picture and the different ways and routes to take to get to a final destination. The compass works in conjunction with the map as we use it to guide our way, the compass shows which direction to take and how to stay on course. How easy it would be to lose sight of the direction, in the midst of a great expanse with so many options, without knowing whether we were going north, south, east, west. Without the compass we would get lost! So is true for our lives, operating without the discernment. The force that controls the function of a compass is a magnet inside the compass, which is attracted to a greater magnet inside the earth’s core which aligns the north end of the compass to the Earth’s north pole. So is true with discernment, there is a greater force at work that is leading us in the right direction for our lives.
To better understand discernment, I sought out what others would define discernment as.
2: an act of perceiving or discerning something
Chip Dodd, author of The Voice of the Heart, defines discernment as seeking to see clearly the attitudes and behaviors of another for the purpose of making trustworthy decisions in relationship. Discernment has a questioning attitude of healthy fear and appropriate doubt. It grows out of seeking Truth not safety.
John Piper describes discernment in this way: “Most of the decisions we make are not spelled out specifically in the Bible. Discernment is how we follow God’s leading through the process of spiritually sensitive application of biblical truth to the particularities of our situation. In this case God does not always declare a specific word about what to do in every single situation but His spirit shapes the mind and heart through the Word and prayer so that we have inclinations toward what would be most glorifying to him and helpful to ourselves and others.
Hannah Anderson, modern day female theologian and author of All that’s Good: Recovering the lost Art of Discernment, explains that “Discernment is not just about getting the right answers, or making the right decisions, it is about becoming the right people. Wisdom, discernment and the other factors of our ability to make decisions in this life begins with our humility.”
When I think of the opposite of discernment I think of when I was in High school. When every decision made was influenced by external, usually unhealthy factors but at the same time I knew everything there was to live life! In high school I believed there were 2 types of kids—book smarts and street smarts. The book smart kids made everything seem so easy and everything they did was golden in regards to school. But as I observed their lives, I saw that they struggled to make every day normal decisions. Some of the smartest kids I knew also made horrible choices. They lived under the pressure of performance and gained all their worth from their IQ. Though I wanted so desperately to be classified with book smart kids, I had the street smarts. Which meant I just floated through life not being noticed and able to talk my way out of or into anything. Also not always a good thing. As hard as I tried, and the others tried, we all lacked the understanding and maturity and life experience to discern situations and problems to move forward in wisdom and so we all were capable of making bad decisions.
Every day is filled with making choices. Even if we don’t actively make a choice, not making a choice is still making a choice not to! No one stumbles accidentally into obedience; in obedience we make a willing and conscious effort. For so long I lived from the stand point that life will just accidentally happen, but that was to protect myself from disappointment in case things don’t turn out the way I wanted or from frustration when life got too hard. When I made a bad choice the narrative in my head was that something was wrong with me and it kept me stuck in the cycle of toxic shame which then led me do whatever to avoid guilt and shame at any cost and only perpetuated the cycle of avoiding decision making.
Also in the process of my decision making, many times it based out of how I was feeling, whether I was even aware of my feelings or NOT! Psychology research has shown that about 80% of our decisions are based out of emotions rather than logic. And so many of my feelings were rooted in lie based thinking and doubts, which lead to making decisions through the lens of these lies as my truth. I could not tell you that at the time though because I was in survivor mode and just making decisions out of that unhealthy place, believing this is how everyone lives. And this way of thinking was reinforced by the world and culture we live in by many platitudes we hear—do what makes you feel happy, only the strong survive, and whatever it takes to get to the top. All of which made me compromise on what I know to be true, but also my decisions kept showing me what was really in my heart-what I trusted in and believed in more, than God and his promises. Also another pattern that plagued my life and decisions was Codependency, as I was a slave to other people’s opinions and how they felt. This was largely the driving force behind many decisions. Which reinforces why my best thinking got me into Recovery.
As I began the journey into Recovery and got counseling, the Lord began to open my eyes to how unaware I was to my decision making. One of the first things my counselor told me to do was to pray every day for wisdom and discernment. I had no idea what it would look like but just that I needed it because up till this point my decisions had lead me into disaster after disaster. I remember at times my sponsor would tell me whatever you feel like doing don’t do it, actually do the opposite and then call or text me and we can walk through it. This process felt as if it was going to be impossible but that’s exactly where the Lord needed me and what He does best. With man things are impossible but with God all things are possible. And He needed me to see my need for seeking out His Truth– I literally needed the Lord to tell me which foot to put in front of the other and how to walk this life out.
“The wisdom of the prudent is to discern his way, but the folly of fools is deceiving.”
As I continued to work recovery, especially through the steps, the Lord kept revealing to me over and over how I chose to overlook advice or counsel because it did not suit my purposes. I was the fool because I was so easily deceived and would even deceive myself into believing what I wanted to. I wanted what I wanted, when I wanted it, regardless of what anyone would say. But when I would find myself in bad position I usually stuck it out because my pride would tell me that I did not want to hear from anyone “I told you so”. For so long I believed it was on me to fix my life, that I had the power to fix or change and that I could do this! Whatever “this” was, but I kept finding myself back in circumstances that were less then desirable and destructive.
The people I would surround myself with were those who would tell me what I wanted to hear. Not what I actually needed to hear. But this again only kept the cycle going—To flatter friends is to lay a trap for their feet(Proverbs 29:5). Though I would justify to myself that I was a good example for all these people, I actually found myself compromising and giving in to temptation because it was easier to do then to keep fighting for what was right. I had no foundation or confidence in the Lord, only in myself and what I could do, which again lead to more poor choices, destructive behaviors, and chaotic circumstances. By God’s grace in this process, he led me to repentance and I began to feel healthy shame instead of continuing to run from the Truth and back into destruction. Through this the Lord also began to work out in me the desire for change and a new way of thinking. He showed me that I did have to do my part and He would be Faithful to do His part in changing my heart.
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
Romans 12:2 ESV
“throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.”
Ephesians 4:22-24 NLT
My part was putting off the old self and not conforming to world, which is easier said than done. Bad habits die hard! And creating new ones feel unfamiliar, but it was doing my part and being willing to give space for the Lord to do his part in renewing my mind which is the only way for real lasting change(transformation) to happen and begin to discern Gods will.
“But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” Hebrews 5:14
Through constant practice of discerning situations, and letting the Lord grow me into this practice, to see things for what they are—good and evil, right or wrong, wise or unwise, and reaping what we sow.
“My children, listen when your father corrects you. Pay attention and learn good judgment, for I am giving you good guidance. Don’t turn away from my instructions.”
Proverbs 4:1-2 NLT
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.”
Learning from my mistakes and also from others. Knowing I can make different choice, I didn’t have to keep walking down dead end roads. Choosing to lean not on my own understanding but knowing I had to keep trusting God even when I didn’t know how it would turn out and it wasn’t on me to fix. Discernment also doesn’t mean it leads to action, sometimes it’s God’s way of bringing me into understanding and how to pray.
“Get wisdom; develop good judgment. Don’t forget my words or turn away from them.
Getting wisdom is the wisest thing you can do! And whatever else you do, develop good judgment.”
Proverbs 4:5, 7 NLT
Not being passive or waiting for things to just “play out” but taking responsibility for my choices and feeling the weight of them. As much as I had run in the past, I saw I could only run for so long until eventually my choices caught up to me. But I began to see that God was putting me in situations every day, whether comfortable, easy or difficult ones, to train me up in knowing how limited I am in my own understanding which would push me to seek out Truth, wisdom and discernment from the One who holds all things together.
There is a gift of discernment if we yield to it and let it take its full effect in our lives.
“for wisdom will come into your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul; discretion will watch over you, understanding will guard you, delivering you from the way of evil…So you will walk in the way of the good and keep to the paths of the righteous.” Proverbs 2:10, 11, 12, 20 ESV
Discernment prepares me and equips me for life from the mundane tasks to the big crisis times when tragedy hits or chaos ensues, as none of us will become immune to it since we live in a fallen world. But today this doesn’t feel weird or fake in this new way of thinking. Really living into what God’s will is for me today,Discernment brings me to a place of being able to surrender what I want to the Lord and live into what He calls me to in freedom.
“Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.” 1 Peter 4:1-2 ESV
“Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, "You shall be holy, for I am holy."”
1 Peter 1:13-16ESV
Here are some questions to consider as you seek discernment from the Lord:
1. When making decisions am I impulsive or cautious?
2. Am I motivated out of fear of the Lord or from anxiety and need for safety?
3. Do my decisions prove my trust is in the Lord or myself?
4. When in a crisis am I responsive or reactive?
5. Do I spend time seeking after what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, worthy of praise(Phil.4:8) or do I spend most of my time managing my image and sin?