Friday, October 5, 2012

The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment- Chapter 1

(A few friends and I are reading this book together.  Each week we are reading one chapter.  On Fridays, I am posting my comments, then giving them the opportunity to add their thoughts as well.  If you would like to join us or simply find out more about the book, you can read about it here.)

Note to my fellow readers: By this being the first time I've done something like this, I have no idea whether I will follow some kind of pattern or if I will organize my posts differently from week to week.  As of right now, I simply plan to share what was a challenge to me and add a few simple comments.  I look forward to whatever input you may have as well.

- I thought the opening story about the counterfeit money was fascinating . . . even if I didn't think it tied in with his introduction very well!

- "In this book I hope to show that discernment is a discipline."  This helped me to think of discernment as something that I can grow in, something to be developed, and not just something I either have or don't have.

- "[This book] is written for all those who believe that it is the duty of every Christian to think biblically about all areas of life so that they might act biblically in all areas of life."  I think we often don't act biblically because of the work it takes to think through things and see how God's Word applies to the situation.  I want to be the type of man that does things because of a biblical reason!

- "We may learn to discern truth from error, good from bad, better from best."  He is right- discernment touches a variety of types of decisions.  I hadn't thought of it that way before.

Chapter 1
- He discusses Solomon's recognition of his need for discernment.  While reading this section, I thought of you guys, my friends.  I know I need discernment in the decisions I face.  However, I recognize that each of you has areas of responsibility that I do not have and challenges that I do not face.  It is my desire that the Lord use this book to help each of us to discern the mind of the Lord in the responsibilities He has given us.

- I thought he nailed it: "An age when many consider spiritual immaturity a mark of authenticity, and when people associate doubt with humility and assurance with pride."  I feel he has his fingers on the pulse of many believers.

- When discussing spiritual immaturity being a reason for lack of discernment, he used the illustration of children- how they will put anything into their mouth when they are little.  He said, "Only with maturity will children learn that what looks good may not truly be good. . . . immature believers are prone to sample anything."  For us as men, as believers, as preachers of the Gospel- there are a lot of things out there that look good.  May God give us the wisdom to look past appearances and to understand what is good and what is not.  A "sample" of one bad thing may not kill us, but we will not grow if we have that habit of "sampling" things that are unhealthy.

- The thought that lack of discernment is characteristic of an unbeliever was a challenge to me.  It should be true of them, for they do not have Christ.  It should NOT be true of me, one who has been bought by the precious blood of Christ.

- He quoted J. C. Ryle on the ways that the Gospel can be spoiled- by substitution, addition, interposition, disproportion, and confused and contradictory directions.  He then wrote, "Discernment, then, is not an end in itself.  Rather, discernment is the means to a far greater and nobler end."  This helped me see my need for discernment as I attempt to share the Gospel.  Moldova, Canada, and the United States have their share of those spoiling the Gospel- may the Lord help us not add to it!

- I thought his "Key Thought" section at the end was a very good summary of the chapter.  It condensed what he said in the preceding paragraphs and gave a good review.  I hope he continues it throughout the book.

I've had my say, what say you?

Discussion on Chapter 2


  1. First of all, thank you, Jacob, for heading this up and suggesting the group book study. I'm looking forward to not just seeing what I gain from this book, but also glean from the others what they learn and think.

    I chuckled a little at your comment regarding the introduction. I thought the illustration of the Nazi's plan to dump counterfeit money into Britain was a captivating historical illustration.... I just had to spend some extra time after reading the introduction to figure out how it was being applied to the theme of the book itself. The author really did not specify the connection other than decisions having consequences. My guess was just the fact that people being unable to discern between the real currency and the fake would bring dire results in the world economy, so us today not being able to discern will bring grave consequences. I felt like there needed to be a better bridge between the illustration and what followed in the introduction. An extra sentence or two would have done the trick... or maybe he was trying to help us exercise discernment ;0)

    For me personally, I had not specifically thought on the tie between spiritual discernment and spiritual maturity or even a mark of whether one is saved or not. With his first statement on page 25, "On the other hand, a person who regresses from solid food to milk is a person who is desperately unhealthy, and who will soon wither away and perish," I was wondering in my mind where he stands on eternal security. Does he believe one can lose his salvation if there is not a growth in discernment? Later, on the same page, he answers my question: "Those who have professed faith in Christ cannot backslide indefinitely. Sooner or later it will become clear that they are not believers at all and surely never were." While we will not be going around to people in our ministry with a "discernment detector" to gauge people's discernment and determine if they are saved or not, I did find this information helpful. As missionaries, our goal is to preach the Gospel, make disciples, and then hand over the ministry to trained nationals. To whom do we choose to hand the ministry over? For what do we look for in their lives? The Bible gives qualifications in I Timothy 3 for pastors, but how do we help develop those qualifications in the lives of the men we disciple? How does one become blameless, faithful in marriage, vigilant, sober, of good behavior, etc.? Would it not be spiritual discernment? I'm thinking that a focus on teaching spiritual discernment (thinking biblically) is crucial to developing leaders who can be ordained in ministry and allow us to move on to our next work for the Lord. On a personal level, spiritual discernment is what I need in order to be and remain qualified as a minister of the Gospel. I want to learn how to develop this more.

    In regards to those from whom we seek godly counsel, this issue of spiritual discernment is crucial. I want to be sure that those from whom I seek counsel are marked as men with spiritual discernment. As you mentioned, Jacob, this isn't something that we have or don't have (like a light switch being on or off), but I do want to seek counsel from those who demonstrate a progress down the path of this discipline.

    I look forward to continuing in the book and asking God to help me progress in this discipline of spiritual discernment. He has my attention and desire to grow in this aspect.

    1. Clearly, his historical illustration was showing the effects a lack of discernment could have. It was that he did not "build the bridge" (as you termed it) and link the thoughts.

      As far as the indications of a lack of or presence of discernment, the biggest help to me was the thought that growing believers should evidence it. If I am not evidencing it, I must ask myself if I am growing.

      We want counsel from men who have discernment, but if we have it ourselves, we will be able to eat the fish and spit out the bones!

      Thanks for your comments/participation!

  2. I, too, have enjoyed this first phase of this group read through the introduction and first chapter and appreciate being able to be a part. Before I get into my own comments, let me quickly ditto a few from Jacob and David. First, I would agree as well about the intro and in fact had a similar thought as David of wondering if that was a test of discernment to figure out WHY it was in there. :-) Secondly, I had also marked in my notes to comment on the sentence where he states, "An age when many consider spiritual immaturity a mark of authenticity, and when people associate doubt with humility and assurance with pride." Boy, we sure do see that all over today, don't we? Sadly, is how readily accepted it is. Thirdly, I thought the illustration drawn to someone who regresses from solid food to milk as being unhealthy was very good as well. Lastly, I would agree in the matter of his concluding paragraph being an excellent summary as well as a good "quick reference" to read back through periodically when time does not permit a full reading of the chapter but a mental refresher of the principles is needed.

    In addition to these thoughts, there were a two other things in Chapter 1 that stood out to me:

    - "We live in an age where too many who profess to be Christians rarely consider their spiritual maturity - they do not have childlike faith Jesus so values but a childish, immature faith. In this way they are like so many Christians since them." I thought the word picture give in childlike versus childish faith was a fitting one. Childlike faith yields spiritual discernment - childish faith yields spiritual immaturity.
    - "The church of our day urgently needs to heed the message of this second letter of Paul to Timothy. For all around us we see Christians and churches relaxing their grasp of the gospel, fumbling it, in danger of letting it drop from their hands altogether. A new generation of young Timothys is needed, who will guard the sacred deposit of the gospel, who are determined to proclaim it and are prepared to suffer for it, and who will pass it on pure and uncorrupted to the generation which in course will rise up and follow them." THIS is the burden of my heart! To see GOD work in the hearts of some young people who will yield to the power of the Holy Spirit in their lives and take that Godly heritage that has been handed to them and " the race with patience looking unto JESUS..." (Heb. 12:1-2) But as the generation preceding these young people, how are we handing on what we have been given? Psalm 78 gives a Biblical mandate in verse 4 of what things we should be sharing with the next generation. Is our focus on the difficulties we face or on the God of the impossible. The answer to that question alone will have a profound impact on the next generation.

    I am looking forward to continuing on in the chapters to follow and be challenged to evaluate and allow the Lord to grow me in my spiritual discernment.

    1. Thad, thanks for your input as well. I agree- the word picture was very poignant.

  3. Well, its not even 9am eastern, and I'm the last one to respond. Everyone else lives to the east! Thanks to Jacob for inviting, organizing, and following through.

    -I never considered discernment to be a discipline prior to this book. "Discernment is a discipline, and like other disciplines such as prayer, and reading the Bible, it is one that all Christians should seek to practice and should seek to practice Biblically." I guess I thought of discernment as an automatic result of education or instruction. Rather, conscious action must be taken to examine events or situations in light of Biblical principles which have been learned.

    -I never considered the fact that one could "regress" in discernment. However his text in Hebrews 5 was quite clear. Backsliding Christians are also declining in their discernment. This does not mean they are losing facts, but they are losing the application of those facts.

    -"I do not intend to do the work of discernment for you." I great thought. As a leader, I wonder if I am giving the tools for discernment, or if everyone will be perpetually dependent on me to do their thinking for them. I think it can be a challenge to begin developing discernment when the leaders have extensive Biblical education and the learners have almost none. Its almost like we don't know where to start. Furthermore, many want discerment-produced answers (i.e. Can a Christian drink?) without having the time to learn Biblical principles necessary to discern. Therefore, they come to us, they need an answer, we give it to them...and soon a pattern emerges. We are thinking for them.

    -I am curious as to how he would define discernment vs. wisdom. He began one section with Solomon's acquisition of wisdom and related it to discernment. Later he says that the unsaved have NO discernment. I know a number of unsaved people that follow many of the wise principles of the book of Proverbs. He may restrict the discernment term to areas of spiritual decision. Splitting the hairs between spiritual and practical can become...well "hairy".

    -I do have some reservations regarding the lostness of those without discernment. Truly, the unsaved do lack discernment, but using a lack of discernment as a test of salvation seems a bit shaky. We in our day would immediately question the salvation of a man sleeping with his mother-in-law or someone who took the actions of Lot. II Peter 1 refers to those who forget that they have been redeemed from the old sins. I beleive some of his statements have truth, but really wonder when it comes to application. I guess we will have to be very discerning as we measure the lack of discernment lest we call undiscerningly call someone lost because we did not discern that they were saved. :)

    -It was interesting to note that he seemed to limit his discernment applications only to the gospel. Focusing only on the gospel is a current evangelical trend. I want to be discerning in all areas--such as baptism, church leadership, separation, prophecy, and the life principles of proverbs. Perhaps I'm "reading in between the lines" too much.

    - I anticipate reading the coming chapters. I believe I will learn much (as I already have) from Tim.

    1. John,

      This wasn't a race, so you need not worry about being the last one. (Oh, and we ALL don't live to the east!)

      I appreciated your comments on the challenge we face of simply sharing with others our growth in discernment, or helping them grow in it as well. I think the child analogy works here as well. At first, they are going to need everything from a leader. I do not think it is building a habit to provide it for them at first. However, we must take care to try to help them grow as time goes by.

      You are right about the evangelical practice of focusing on the gospel- to the exclusion of other doctrines or practical Christian living. I cannot speak for him, but it seemed like he was showing the most extreme/important example in order to state discernment's purpose. However, I could be wrong. I bet we'll get a better picture in the upcoming chapters.

      Thanks for your thoughts as well!