The Importance of Discernment
“Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is” (Ephesians 5:17).
IN OUR SPIRITUAL LIVES, WE SHALL HAVE LITTLE OPPORTUNITY TO MAKE PROGRESS IF WE DON’T DEVELOP THE VIRTUE OF “DISCERNMENT.”
We must learn, as Paul puts it, to “understand what the will of the Lord is.” This is no mysterious, better-felt-than-told process. It is a matter of training ourselves to think as the Lord thinks, basing our perspective on what the Scriptures reveal His perspective to be. We must learn to want whatever He wants, not just in general but in specific relation to our own personal lives. We are naive if we think that knowing the right thing to do is always easy, for discerning the path Christ would want us to follow often requires prayerful concentration over a long period of time. But we can improve our ability to discern the Lord’s will, and if we’re at all serious about seeking God, then we’ll surely set that as a high priority. Indeed, the only higher priority would be improving our doing of the Lord’s will after we discern it.
One of the foundational principles of Christianity is given to us in Paul’s letter to Colossae: “And whatever you do,” he wrote, “do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men” (Colossians 3:23). To do all that we do “as to the Lord” means we do everything out of deference to Him. Whatever other considerations may come into play, our greatest concern is always to do the thing that would please Him most (Philippians 1:19-26). His will is always the factor that decides our deeds. If we are to do this, however, we must acquire the ability to see what His will is in specific situations. It takes training and discipline, but we can acquire this ability. We can come to be like those “who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Hebrews 5:14).
In developing our discernment, we are not totally on our own, of course. God will give us whatever help is necessary. But we must first acknowledge that we need help. We must see the importance of gaining greater skill in our understanding and then make a commitment to our own growth. Like so much else that concerns our spiritual lives, the great prerequisite on our part is an honest, no-strings-attached commitment to obedience.
“All heaven is waiting to help those who will discover the will of God and do it” (J. Robert Ashcroft).