Discern: 1. to perceive…see, recognize, or apprehend clearly. 2. to distinguish; to recognize as distinct or different.
One of the crucial aspects to spiritual growth—perhaps the most important—is spiritual discernment, the ability to see clearly, to be able to recognize differences in matters of spirit and heart. And, as important as it may be, I can think of nothing more difficult. To distinguish good from evil (or even more difficult, the good God intends from some other, lesser good) is no easy thing in a fallen world. From the our first parents in the garden to today, a primary failure of human beings is one of spiritual discernment—of understanding what we’re doing, why we do it, and what’s at play. When it comes to human hearts, understanding intentions and actions–nothing is more difficult than seeing clearing and distinguishing differences. Dallas Willard has written that “the hidden dimension of each human life is not visible to others, nor is it fully graspable even by ourselves. We usually know very little about the things that move in our own soul, the deepest level of our life, or what is driving it.”
Nowhere are we on more shaky ground than when we explore the actions and motives of the human heart, especially our own. As evidence of how easily we’re deceived and how prone we are to self-justification ask yourself; When was the last time I saw myself as the antagonist in a situation or relationship? When was the last time I admitted my own culpability without excuse or justification? We’re almost never the guilty party, and in those rare cases in which we admit our own failure, we usually marshal a legion of mitigating circumstances and intended intentions. We lie so easily to ourselves that spiritual growth is virtually impossible without developing a sense of discernment. But what does it look like? How does one practice it? As in all else it’s wise to look at Jesus….
Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness was the foundation for his entire mission. The choices he made there would lead inexorably to the cross…or away from it. Before he said a word, or called a disciples, or healed or delivered a single person, the battle was joined. It happened in the wilderness, and the battle field was his own heart. His only weapon was the Word of God. His test: to discern and do the will of God rather than his own. Knowing his own heart and the will of God allowed Jesus to discern both the will of God and the hearts of others.
None of us can really discern our own hearts, but we can let God reveal them to us. Lent has traditionally been a season of self-examination when we open our hearts to God’s searching and we see and abide with what we find. In the gospels Jesus often reveals peoples’ hearts with questions. Below are just a few of the questions that Jesus posed to those around him. They may be of some are worth our consideration during this Lenten Season:
What is it you want? Why are you afraid? Why are you so troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Where is your faith? Do you want to get well? What do you want me to do for you? Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own?
I believe as we abide with the answers we find we’ll become wiser, gentler people; people with the hard won grace of spiritual discernment, at peace with ourselves, at rest in God, and a blessing to others.
Soli Deo Gloria!
Rev. Don Muncie