Discernment is highly valued all over the world. From early childhood we are trained to discern by observation what is acceptable in our society. Moving from Europe to the U.S. I experienced a whole new paradigm of cultural expectations. I did not realize that the average American has a much greater wardrobe than people from other counties. It took me a while to discern why people started offering me hand-me-downs after I had worn my "church-dress" on four consecutive Sundays. My lack of cultural awareness made these kind Christians assume that I was too poor to purchase sufficient clothing to wear a different attire each week.
Discerning cultural cues is important for functioning as part of a society, but in this day-in-age our discernment must go beyond the superficial. This time of rapidly shifting values calls for an increased measure of spiritual discernment. This discernment is marked by the maturity of the Christian to know and act upon God's will so that the believer is not tossed to and fro by the waves of human cunning and deceitful schemes (Eph. 4:12)
Almost daily I find myself in the position of seeking to discern God's will: Interpersonally, I wonder how to advise a friend whose marriage is marked by her husband's hostility towards her faith. Politically, I ask myself how to respond to the current gender issues. In child-training I think about the implications of exposing my kids to stories about friendly dragons, if the Bible is explicit about identifying Satan himself as the dragon.
We need to be able to discern between good and evil in order to know what pleases God and also to expose unfruitful works of darkness (Eph. 5:10), to approve what is excellent (Phil 1:9), and to live according to God's will (Rom. 12:2). But how can we attain discernment?
1. Ask God
It pleased God to endow Solomon with discernment when he asked selflessly (1. Kings 3:9). In the same way we can ask God who transforms us by the renewal of our minds (Rom 12:2). The Holy Spirit will also teach us if we are willing and will guide us to understand that which we already possess, namely Christ in us.
2. Know God
Increasingly grasping this mystery of Christ in us, the hope of glory, is what leads us to maturity according to Col. 1:28. Since Christ lives in us, our hope is set on the glory that awaits us. We will know Him fully (1. Cor. 13:12) and be like Him (1. Cor. 15:51). This transformation begins here and now as we increase our desire to know Him and to follow Him. Christ in us also strengthens us to accomplish this (Phil. 4:13). In Eph. 4:12 Paul emphasizes that our knowledge of Christ is in direct correlation to our maturity of faith. Here maturity is explained as knowing Christ so well that we start looking like Him. Therefore discerning His will results from walking in His footsteps.
3. Know God's Word
The more skilled we are in the word of righteousness, the more easily we will be able to distinguish good from evil (Hebr. 5:14). The word of God discerns the thoughts and actions of the heart (Hebr. 4:12). Knowing, understanding and putting God's word into practice will enable us to discern whether our thoughts and desires match up with God's.
This can seem like an overwhelming task! We need to keep in mind that discernment is not attained overnight but is something we are trained to possess by constant practice in distinguishing good from evil (Hebr. 5:14).
It is my prayer "that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God"(Col. 4:12) and "that your love may abound more and more with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ... to the praise of God." (Phil. 1:9)