Monday, March 30, 2020

Anonymous Asks (86)

“How can I become more spiritually discerning?”

Great question. Discernment is something to which every Christian should aspire. Maybe the wisdom of Solomon is not a realistic goal, but each one of us can get better at making clear distinctions between things that please the Lord and things that don’t.

Let me suggest five ways we can start moving in that direction.

1. Make the effort. Does that sound painfully obvious? Maybe it is. But if you have ever tutored high school students, you know that some people have a stubborn unwillingness to get to work at solving a problem. “It’s no good. I’ll never get it. What’s the point?” Maintain that attitude toward spiritual discernment, and you never will. No good thing in life comes without trying. Paul told the Ephesians, “Try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.” There is no reason to think he was merely making a polite suggestion.

2. Pray, and be prayed for. Two parts to this one: first, ask the Lord for his help in developing discernment. “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” The key there is to believe God is sufficiently caring to meet your request, and sufficiently capable to accomplish what you would not be able to in your own strength. The second part is to ask for prayer from others. Asking God to help our brothers and sisters in Christ develop to maturity in the faith is part of being properly-functioning members of the same spiritual body.

3. Use the right standard. Making distinctions between good and evil — and between good, better and best — requires comparing options to an unchanging standard. In Old Testament times, that standard was the law of Moses. For the Hebrew, knowing God’s will and approving the excellent was a product of instruction in the law. The Christian standard is equally unchanging. It is “the faith, once for all delivered to the saints”. Discernment requires that we first get a solid handle on what Christian orthodoxy means. Paul says to the Corinthians, “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves.” In short, there is no substitute for Bible study.

4. Stop doing what the world expects. No matter how well you know your Bible, do not imagine you will ever become more discerning unless you are willing to live out what it teaches. “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.” To change your way of thinking, start by changing the way you live, the things you put in your head and heart, the places you go and the way you use your time. A student is not wiser than his teacher. If you live like the world, you will think like the world ... and that’s the best case scenario.

5. Be sceptical. John says, “Do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” Gullible people accept everything they are told hook, line and sinker. Mature Christians don’t trust every Bible teacher they hear, or even their own impulses. Instead, they listen, assess, compare what they are taught with scripture and watch to see what any given course of action produces in the lives of others. When someone who claims to speak for God counsels you to live in a way that did not work out well for people in the Bible stories you know, alarm bells should ring. When someone says, “Do as I say,” watch to see whether they live it out.

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