Ever since “The Triumph of the Lamb” conference, I feel like I’m running through a minefield and being blown to bits every few steps. But it’s incredibly exciting because I’m seeing my total deficiency in a whole new way this time. My failures and stumbles are just the fuzzy background to better highlight the complete sufficiency of Jesus Christ. It’s all to show me my inheritance in Him! All I have to do is stay out of His way, and that’s why discernment is so important.
John’s post “Spirit Words or Goodness” rocked me to my core, because I saw the role of discernment so clearly in it. In July’s Message of the Month, “The Church in Crisis,” Martha says, “To judge is to go to my opinion, which is sense and reason without the Holy Spirit. Discernment is hearing God.” I think that that’s the clearest explanation of discernment I’ve ever heard, and the explanation for why I’ve often lacked it.
Discernment Requires Listening
I’m a talker. I came out of the womb talking. And talkers are almost never good listeners. Even when we’re not talking out loud, our minds are ‘talking.’ It’s quite wretched. Now, when I was born again, this began to change at once. I had the ability to be quiet that I just didn’t have before. And with this ability came an actual overriding NEED for silence and stillness. I’d had that need my whole life, but it was never stronger than my need to talk. Now it is.
There’s an art to listening that I never knew existed. You don’t just listen with your ears. Did you know that? I’m sure you probably did, but I didn’t. When you listen, REALLY listen, you listen with your whole body. It’s amazing!
Your ears listen for the voice. Your eyes take in the facial expressions and body movements or twitches and compare them to the voice. And every nerve in your body “listens” to the vibrations, to the energy coming off this person in waves that can’t be controlled. And you’re mostly unaware that you’re accounting for all of these ‘communications’ when you’re simply listening to someone talk.
So listening is very different from being quiet. It’s different from simply waiting for your turn to speak. And it doesn’t count as listening if you disappear into the world of your own imagination to pass the time as you please. I’m an expert at these types of ‘listening,’ but the Lord has been teaching me what it is to actually listen to someone else.
If discernment is hearing God, then I must become an expert at listening for and to His Voice. And just like He’s teaching me, this is a full-body listening that receives the smallest nuance of His Spirit. It’s not enough for Him to highlight a verse for me; I have to know what He’s telling me through it and not just what I think He’s telling me. The first is discernment and the second is guesswork and suggestion.
Discernment is More than Truth
And here’s the thing, there is a worldly version of discernment. It’s called reading people. There are those in the world who can read the truth of a person’s desires or fears, and that will take you pretty far down the backstretch. But it still can’t compare to discernment, because discernment isn’t just about discovering the truth of a person or situation; discernment is powered by the very purpose of God.
When I first began working at Shulamite Ministries, I was part-time only, just a few days a week. Because of that, I stayed with people as a guest in their homes. After I’d been with the ministry for a few months, I stayed with Martha for a bit. Every morning, I’d come into the kitchen, pour myself a cup of coffee, and then go back to my room for some quiet time or out into the garden to smoke a few cigarettes.
That all seems straightforward enough, but did I mention that prayer meetings were held at Martha’s nearly every morning during that time? That’s right. I was a guest in her home and working at her ministry, but every morning I’d walk past the gathered church to grab a cup of coffee and then walk right past them again when I left. Some mornings I said hello, and sometimes I just made sleepy harrumphs before leaving. Audacious, rude, audaciously rude…I can get pretty creative about just how horrible I was in those days. Do you know what Martha and John and the Shulamites said to me? Nothing.
I knew that I had an open invitation to join them, but I received not the smallest ounce of blowback for my apparent rejection of the Body. No one hinted disapprovingly, and there were no guilt-trips or manipulative reminders. I was given complete freedom to be and to choose. And that was mighty, mighty discernment and grace on their parts.
Unbeknownst to them (well, they probably knew a lot more than they let on), I was a flight-risk of the highest order. I was absolutely susceptible to the pull of other people’s expectations and part of me was waiting for just that. No other Christian that I’d met had ever shown me the basic respect of accepting my ‘no.’ I’d always paid for it, had to fight for it, and expected that it would cost me dearly. But Love let me be. And this Body that I love so dearly now – and who I so enjoy meeting with – had amazing discernment in dealing with me. It wasn’t just about the truth of my fears and hurts where Christians were concerned; it was about God’s purpose for me to come into this Body.
Discernment wooed where others had chased and stalked. Discernment welcomed where others judged. Without that discernment, I don’t know what my life would look like. I long to be such a discerning vessel! Like John, I pray that it will be said of me, “Here is a woman who speaks from the Spirit.”
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
1 Corinthians 13:7 ESV