Friday, November 9, 2012

The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment- Chapter 6


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.)
Chapter 6: The Will and Discernment
- This is a quote from later in the chapter, but I thought it was a good summary: "Discerning God's will . . . is the skill of understanding and applying God's Word with the purpose of separating right from wrong."  (Page 117)
- When he started talking about two kinds of will, I was not anticipating what was coming.  I was expecting the difference between His general will (for all) and His specific will (for an individual).  Definitely the author's Reformed Theology comes out strongly in this chapter.
- I think we all would disagree with it, but I want to be careful to say that I disagree with some of his explanation of God's "secret will."  He said, "It is the will through which God has decreed all that will happen." (Page 110)  About this: (1) I do believe that everything God says will happen will happen. (2) I do not believe God has decreed all that will happen- He knows all that will happen, but He has not decreed it to be.  If, by "decree," he just meant that God says what will happen, that would be one thing.  However, it seems clear that he is saying God decrees it and causes it to happen.  I do not believe tht is true about everything. (3) I find it interesting that throughout the book he has pointed us to God's Word, but after making this statement, he referenced the Westminster Shorter Catechism. (4) He did also quote Isaiah 46:9-11, part of which states, "I am God and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning."  My perspective is that God know what the end is from the beginning and that He will bring that end to pass.  However, I do not think it implies that God has decreed every little thing from beginning to end. (5) I do not believe God's sovereignty is  limited by my explanation.  God is sovereign, but that does not mean that He makes everything happen that happens. (6) Saying that Jesus was slain before the foundation of the world and saying that "He [God] does decree that evil will take place" (Page 111) are worlds apart in my mind. 
- After all that disagreement, I do agree with the thought that part of what God does or allows is off limits to our speculations.  I think we often try to figure that out when we should be working on living what is clearly revealed as His will in His Word.
- He lists three specific things that are definitely God's will- the more I look at them, the more humbling they are: 1) Be filled with the Spirit, 2) Be sanctified, 3) Be thankful.
- "Today it [God's will] is given to us in its full and final measure in the Bible the Word of God." (Page 113) Amen!!  I also like the following quote on the same page: "The life of discernment is, therefore, a Word-focused  and Word-directed life, which develops a Word-saturated mind."  May we all long for and work towards having a "Word-saturated" mind!
- He talks about the need for discernment especially in the areas where the Bible does not speak explicitly.  I agree wholeheartedly.  It seems to me that one of the problems with our modern-day Evangelicalism (broad view which includes us) is that so many come to these areas requiring discernment and use their own thinking or the thinking of another man instead of seeking out God's mind and applying truth from His Word to the situation.  (I feel like this has been said multiple times in the previous chapters, but I think we must keep this in mind that most people, yea, most believers are using this kind of reasoning.  We must confront them with the Scriptures and exhort them to search them out themselves.)
- His statement "when we are living in God's will, obeying his will as it has been revealed to us, there are no right and wrong decisions" was a little definite for me.  (Not saying I think it is definitely wrong, just made me cringe a little.)  However, the older I am the more I see there are certain decisions like this in life.  We knew God wanted us to come to Moldova.  We believe he would have us pick a missions agency to help us and our church.  We came down to two- we agreed with both in doctrine and philosophy.  We needed to make a decision.  We told the Lord just that and went with All Points.  We are very happy with our agency, but I cannot look back and say that to choose the other one would have been "wrong" or "against God's will."  Maybe the statement above seems too definite because so many would use this reasoning for things that are clearly outside of God's will based on the principles of His Word.
- I did appreciate his step-by-step approach to get to this discussion of God's will.  He first covered that truth and error are delineated in the Bible.  In this chapter, he is showing that and understanding and application of that truth to the situations in our lives helps us to see what God's will is.
- I'm glad that he pointed out that while everything is not mentioned directly by the Bible, everything does tie into God's plan for His people, and therefore is dealt with in Scripture.
- Despite reservations from elsewhere in the chapter, I really appreciated something he said near the end: "Our spontaneous thoughts and actions are a sure measure of our spiritual growth, our spiritual maturity, and our spiritual discernment."  (Page 120)  When I look at my spontaneous thoughts especially, I see that there is much room for growth.  I don't believe the Lord would have us continually beat ourselves up over those flaws, but simply use them as a reminder of His great grace in our lives and as teachable moments to grow in Him.
I've had my say, what say you?


  1. The "will of God" was an area of misunderstanding and fog in my mind during my teenage and early college years. With many big decisions during those years, I wanted to know and follow God's will. Unfortunately, much of what I had heard preached was finding an "internal peace" or "having a verse of Scripture speak to you." The will of God took on a very subjective, touchy, feely kind of concept. Several lessons I had learned regarding God's will were reflected in this chapter, and I learned even some more in this chapter.

    But first.... my 2 cents on his Calvinism rhetoric. "As difficult as it is to believe, God's secret will extends even to things that are evil, though God himself does no wrong." (pg.111) Uh, yes.. it is difficult to believe. How Calvinists reject that their beliefs lead God to be the author of sin, I do not understand. God is Sovereign enough to give man a free will and it not mess up His overall plan.

    "So when we speak of discerning God's will, we do not speak of this, his secret will." (pg.111). I was expecting the same division of God's will as Jacob had been expecting. I had not expected this. At the same time, I did find aspects of this division helpful and true. The author states that we should not seek to know God's secret will. I believe this is why fortune tellers and horoscopes are wrong. It seeks to delve into what is to be hidden from man. At the same time, there is an aspect of this that Christians can offend. My pastor preached an excellent sermon on the will of God where he mentioned that we often want to know what to buy or choose so that we will have the least amount of problems or misery. Then, if we have problems, we say it must not have been God's will. We want to know which car will not have problems in the future. We ask God if we are supposed to marry a person with the intent of wanting to know if we will have an easy or problem free marriage. Someone I know talks often about having "bad feelings" about purchases or decisions. Problems, pain, and persecutions can also be God's will. While we can study and make wise decisions, we can be tempted to seek some form of future knowledge that really is not ours to know, nor should it be the base on whether we do/choose something or not.

    "Where the Bible contains no explicit guidance, God gives us freedom and responsibility to choose what we will do. We do not choose randomly or haphazardly but with prayer and reliance upon Scripture." My uncle had told me years ago something to the effect of the first sentence in the quote. He said God doesn't have one wife picked out for a person but that he is free to choose whoever. With a decision as big as who one marries, this bothered me when I heard this and I could not accept what he said as true. To an extent, I agree with the quote, but have a hard time believing that God does not have a specific will in things such as who to marry.

    "Thankfully, as we have seen, the power and ability to discern are given at the moment of conversion, so we can have confidence that with effort even a new Christian can be discerning." (pg.116) While there is definitely a maturing and growing that occurs from spiritual birth and on, I think there is a danger of underestimating what a new believer can and should be capable of doing through Christ. A new believer can be Spirit-filled. A new believer can have victory over sin. I appreciated his statement here.

  2. (part 2)
    I appreciated the author's example of advice he gave his sister and her husband. "I have told them that they should not base their decision on what they perceive as open doors or feelings of internal peace. Rather, they should look for principles that would govern this move." (pg.117) This helps bring knowing and following the will of God out of the subjective and more into the tangible and objective. Too often, the peace described by believers in making decisions is some nebulous, mystical thing. Instead the peace should be based upon a study of the Word and assurance that God's principles have led us to the right decision.

    Close to the end he discusses the sufficiency of Scripture, which was great.

    The statement of "Our spontaneous thoughts and actions are a sure measure of our spiritual growth, our spiritual maturity, and our spiritual discernment" was convicting. While I know God has brought me a long way on this, I know I have much further to go on this.

    This chapter was helpful in assuring me of things I have been learning over the past decade regarding God's will and making it not as nebulous and even scary as I used to be.

  3. As they say, better late (this week) than never (last week)!

    Clearly, I disagree with his view of predestination and sovereignty. I thought it quite ironic that he would discuss this along with “finding the will of God”. It would appear that I don’t need to find the will of God, because it will find me! I found his statement that “God’s secret will extends even to things that are evil…” especially revolting. Now that I’ve established my non-Calvinist stance…on to other things.
    His quotation of Eph. 5:17-18 reminded me of a truth I concluded from that passage. If drunkenness is against God’s will, wouldn’t taking a drink be a step away from God’s will and toward the will of Satan?

    Several things about his counsel to his brother-in-law regarding moving to NYC stuck out to me.
    -Don’t base your decision on peace. While I agree that peace alone should not be the guide, does not the Scripture say, “Let the peace of God rule in your hearts…” (Col. 3:15)? My understanding of “rule” is “to act like an umpire”. It seems that the total dismissal of peace is unwarranted.
    -Will he be able to provide for his family? It seems that this statement is telling us that financial evaluations can help determine God’s will. While this may be possible in some situations, does this hold up to all scenarios? In the spirit of Matthew 6, it appears this advice would be contradictory to Scripture. (Those on the other side of the thought will point to I Tim. 5:8. It appears to me that the verse is referencing cash on hand, rather than decisions of faith.) If I had followed Tim’s advice on this point, I would have never moved to Charlotte. I had no promise of being able to provide for my family, and yet 18 months (and one new baby boy) later, I have no debt, and just as much money as when I left.

    I loved this quote. “While the Bible does not speak to every issue, every issue will somehow tie into God’s plan for the redemption of his people. This will in turn lead us to God’s purposes and finally to God’s will.” I’ve always thought that everything we do matters. I never put it in these words before. (Reading Andy Stanley’s Principle of the Path helped me affirm this truth.)

    “Our discernment must be held to issues in which God has given us the ability to see and obey.” This is an important truth! Sometimes, I must humbly remind myself that I don’t need to know what or why. God decided it, I can’t change it, so why should I worry/think/wonder about it. [Strangely enough, he doesn’t apply this truth earlier when speaking of election/predestination. He calls it God’s “secret” will, but it is so secret that Tim knows about it!]

    I loved his mention of discernment in emotions. This is a good point. I would say, rather, that emotions reveal our level of discernment, reflecting the way we perceive things to be. Our attitudes and emotions tell most of our story, much more than our actions.

  4. Jacob, I thought your grouping of "us" as within broader Evangelicalism as strange. I'm not offended, or worried about you being a "compromiser". When I think of myself, I don't think of myself as an Evangelical. Historically, Biblically, Practically, etc. I see myself as a Fundamentalist. Perhaps you were going for Conservative vs. Liberal? I know many on the left side of theology would group everyone to their right as Evangelical. Perhaps that was the source of your reference.

    1. John, I did it just to see if you were paying attention! Ok, just kidding about that. I do not consider myself an Evangelical. However, most people outside of the Fundamental Independent Baptist movement would put us in that broad category. I wanted my statement to be enlarged to include more, hence I used a designation that most other people would use.
      In other words, instead of taking a lot of space to say what I wanted, I used what is more often used. I did that because while I see making decisions with man's thinking a problems in our circles, I see it as an even bigger problem with those who would consider themselves Evangelicals.
      Does that make sense?

    2. It makes perfect sense. You were using other people's designations for us.

  5. Sorry my comments are VERY late. We have been on the road with missions conferences for several weeks straight with VERY limited internet access. As it is, this entry and chapter 7's as well will be very brief as they are being drafted in a McDonald's parking lot. :-)

    Comments on Chapter 6:

    Many good points have been made already about issues in this chapter, but I just wanted to take a minute to address one quote I could not pass up...

    - " In this passage [Is. 46:9-11] God reveals his absolute sovereignty over all of Creation. He alone rules all things through all times. He rules the actions of the birds and the choices of human beings." Now, my last name might be Peacock and I have been accused of being a 'bird brain' on more than one occasion, but God does not control the choices of human beings. That is what sets us apart from animals...He has created us with a FREE WILL to make choices. I could go on for quite some time about this, but this was a major flaw that I could not overlook and avoid mentioning.

    Other than that, I think the rest of the guys covered the rest of my points already so I will save my time not retyping the same thoughts!