The spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him: a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the LORD, and his delight shall be the fear of the LORD. (Isaiah 11:1-3)
Now, LORD, my God, you have made me, your servant, king to succeed David my father; but I am a mere youth, not knowing at all how to act—I, your servant, among the people you have chosen, a people so vast that it cannot be numbered or counted. Give your servant, therefore, a listening heart to judge your people and to distinguish between good and evil. For who is able to give judgment for this vast people of yours?”
The Lord was pleased by Solomon’s request. So God said to him: Because you asked for this—you did not ask for a long life for yourself, nor for riches, nor for the life of your enemies—but you asked for discernment to know what is right— I now do as you request. I give you a heart so wise and discerning that there has never been anyone like you until now, nor after you will there be anyone to equal you. (1 Kings 3:7-12)
Moving on from there, he went into their synagogue. And behold, there was a man there who had a withered hand. They questioned him, “Is it lawful to cure on the sabbath?” so that they might accuse him. He said to them, “Which one of you who has a sheep that falls into a pit on the sabbath will not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable a person is than a sheep. So it is lawful to do good on the sabbath.” Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and it was restored as sound as the other. But the Pharisees went out and took counsel against him to put him to death.
When Jesus realized this, he withdrew from that place. Many [people]followed him, and he cured them all, but he warned them not to make him known. (Matthew 12:9-16)
And this is my prayer: that your love may increase ever more and more in knowledge and every kind of perception to discern what is of value, so that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:9-11)
The previous articles described the ways we can use the spiritual gifts the Lord has given us, including the gift of prophecy, to build the Kingdom of God. In this article, I want to focus on the gift of discernment. This gift is also referred to as the gift of wisdom, knowledge, or understanding (Isaiah 11:1-2). When the Lord told Solomon to “Ask something of me and I will give it to you” (1 Kings 3:5), Solomon asked him for “a listening heart” (3:9). Here was the Lord’s reply: “Because you asked for this—you did not ask for a long life for yourself, nor for riches, nor for the life of your enemies—but you asked for discernment to know what is right— I now do as you request. I give you a heart so wise and discerning that there has never been anyone like you until now, nor after you will there be anyone to equal you.” And from this point forward, Solomon became known for his many acts of wisdom and discernment.
A great example of the use of the gift of discernment in the New Testament is described in Matthew 12:9-16. Jesus had stirred up a hornets’ nest. The Pharisees were already feeling threatened by the way he had challenged their teachings, and Jesus’ healing on the Sabbath was the last straw. They started looking for a way to get rid of him. So what did Jesus do? He left that area and continued his ministry quietly, waiting for the storm to blow over.
While this may seem merely like avoiding conflict, Jesus was showing the discernment that characterized his whole life. Jesus chose not to contend directly with his opponents. He had the judgment to know when to engage them in an argument and when to stay quiet and out of sight. In this case, by retreating from the controversy even for a short time, Jesus was able to continue ministering and winning people over. He sensed that the time had not yet come for an open confrontation.
Discernment can be a tricky process. Our passions or fears can be strong enough to push us in the wrong direction. Circumstances can back us into a corner and make us think that there is only one way out. When we face hostility, it’s only natural to want to strike back. When we feel afraid, it’s only natural to want to run. But with practice, we can get in the habit of stopping to pray in critical moments and asking the Holy Spirit to help us make the wisest move in our situation. As we master our passions in this way, we can become a valuable instrument in the Lord’s hands.
Today is a good day to begin! As you go through your day, stop and ask the Holy Spirit whether you’re on the right track. When faced with a choice, pause to pray first. Take a deep breath and say: “Come, Holy Spirit” before you react to a tense situation. Then, when you feel a nudge in a certain direction, try it out—especially if that prompting gives you a sense of peace or confidence in God. Take that first step toward developing the spiritual gift and habit of discernment.
Remember this, we all have an essential role to play in God’s plans. We all need to get out there and do something to build the Kingdom of God! It’s impossible to know what that “something” is in each situation. We all have different gifts, different life situations, different opportunities that will present themselves each day. But one thing is sure: Each of us will have an opportunity to do something important for the kingdom of God.
Starting today, try your best to be open to your Father’s promptings when it comes to the people you meet, the situations you encounter, and the movements of your heart. And then take a step in whatever direction you think he is leading you. The results may surprise you!
“Holy Spirit, deepen in me the gift of discernment and wisdom. Help me to be open to your leadings so I can be more useful to you in my words and deeds. Heavenly Father, I am not sure how to start. But I will take a step in faith today. Show me what you have for me to do, and how the spiritual gifts you have given me can bear fruit for your kingdom.”
Many thanks to The Word Among Us (www.wau.org) for allowing me to adapt meditations in their monthly devotional magazine. Used with permission.
Questions for Reflection/Discussion
1. Take some time to meditate and reflect on the Scriptures at the beginning of the article. What do you think God is trying to reveal to you through them?
2. In Paul’s prayer in Philippians 1:9-11, why does he relate an increase in Christian love to discerning “what is of value”?
3. How would you define the spiritual gift of discernment? What role does this gift play in your life? Can you give some examples?
4. The article gives a few practical examples of how the gift of discernment can be used in our daily life. Are you willing to experiment with some of these to open your self more to this gift?
5. The article also describes obstacles that can keep us from fully exercising the gift of discernment. Which ones do you wrestle with? What steps can you take to overcome them in your life?
6. What other steps are you willing to take to open yourself more to the gift of discernment?
7. Take some time now to pray for a deepening of the gift of discernment and a greater confidence in exercising it. Use the prayer at the end of the article as the starting point.