Discernment is most simply defined as the ability to judge well. Discernment is something that anyone can have or develop at least to a certain degree. But for Jesus followers, beyond basic life experience, discernment is something that God gives and reveals to us. It is a gift and a blessing from him, but like every gift it can be abused.
Recently I was a little frustrated and annoyed at the actions and choices of a friend of mine, mostly because it created an inconvenience for me. Discernment derived from life experience told me that these choices were self-centered and an attempt to find satisfaction in life. My God given discernment recognized that while these choices were not, in and of themselves, sinful they were not going bring this person the fulfillment hoped for and in fact would lead away from intimacy with Jesus.
So what’s a person supposed to do with this discerned understanding? My first reaction was to criticize. I had a strong impulse explain emphatically to my wife how foolish and immature this person was being. Being the (ahem) mature spiritual leader that I am I resisted that impulse and instead decided to pray. “God look at how foolish and immature this person is being! Would you please give them a smack upside the head and smarten them up?” Those may not have been the exact words I used, but it’s pretty much the spirit of the prayer.
Oswald Chambers has said, “God never gives us discernment in order that we may criticize, but only that we may intercede.” My prayers were not intercession; they were nothing more than criticizing this person to God instead of my wife. Graciously, my God given discernment quickly revealed to me my own foolishness and immaturity. I quieted myself and listened for God’s prompting and found my annoyance began to transform into compassion (again God given). I was then able to truly intercede. I prayed that God would work through these self-centered choices to reveal to my friend that the fulfillment sought is only in total surrender to Christ.
So what will you do with the discernment God gives to you?
One of the cool, cultural quirks about living in small town Saskatchewan and Alberta is that when you pass an oncoming vehicle everybody waves. It doesn’t matter if they know you or not, and it’s usually just lifting a finger or two off of the steering wheel in a sort of red-neck salute, but everybody waves.
I can remember as a new driver being eager to visit my relatives in Neilburg, Saskatchewan so that I could finally be the one in the vehicle to do the salute. And when we moved to Golden Prairie it was very natural to fall into the habit. In fact on trips to the city it would take me half way to Calgary to get out of the habit, but it’d only take me a couple of miles out of Medicine Hat to pick it up again.
When we moved to Falkland, BC one of the first things I noticed was that nobody waved. I had assumed that small town Western Canada was small town Western Canada regardless of if you were on the prairies or in the mountains, but I was wrong. I decided I would make it my personal crusade to change the culture of that little town. It didn’t work. I got a finger salute alright, but I’m pretty sure that guy misunderstood my intentions.
Hindsight has taught me a valuable lesson in this. The subtle message I was carrying in my well intentioned but misguided mission was that they needed to change to be more like me. I’ve come to realize that this was a hindrance in my true mission of expressing Christ to that community.
It’s true that in 1 Corinthians 4:16 Paul urges the people to imitate him, but what he’s talking about is the way in which he showed them Christ-likeness in day-to-day circumstances. He challenged them on issues of sin, but did not try to oblige them to conform to his culture.
We in the church have a particular culture and we need to pray for discernment to be able to boldly and without compromise convey Christ to the culture around us without at the same time imposing our own culture. In fact we need to make an effort to in every way possible identify with and embrace that culture. Our message should not be “change your culture to be more like me,” but “let Jesus change your nature to be more like him.”
Come to think of it, we could use that message inside our church culture a little more too.
Many people are very uncomfortable when they read about God’s wrath and the violence that accompanies it. In Isaiah 59:16 and again in 63:5 I found two very similar statements that shed some critical light on this. Both verses indicate that no one was able to accomplish the work of salvation so God did by himself. Then as the sentence continues, in 59 it says that his righteousness sustained him, but in 63 is says his wrath sustained him. This tells us that God’s anger and wrath are part of, and flow out of his righteousness, his virtue and morality.
It is difficult to find an illustration that helps us understand this because God remains perfect holy and pure in his wrath (in fact if he did not act on it he would abandon his holiness) while we decidedly do not. In spite of that, I will forge ahead and risk the folly.
While working at Rafter Six Guest Ranch I was leading a horse through a confined area of the corral system past another loose horse. The second horse didn’t like that the horse I was leading had crowded into his personal space and tried to let my horse know it with a swift kick. Unfortunately he missed and ended up nailing me full on my right buttocks.
Horse herd culture works on a well defined pecking order. A dominant horse needs to ensure all lower horses are kept in their place or he will fall to a lower place on the pecking order. Most of the time this is done with intimidation though sometimes a bite or a kick is necessary. For people to safely work around a herd all the horses must know that all humans top this pecking order.
My response to being kicked was based on this hierarchy. I turned on the offending horse and began to whip the lead shank around and around, slapping it on the ground in front of the horse and pushing him into a corner. I never touched him with it because even though he was afraid, he never turned his butt to me but instead indicated submission. I stopped and lowered my head and the horse turned and approached me whereupon I petted his nose to let him know I accepted his apology.
Admittedly this analogy falls short on so many levels, but my wrathful response was righteous and necessary. God’s wrathful response to my sinfulness fell fully on Jesus, for which I am and will be eternally grateful and surrendered to his righteousness.