Category Archives: Spiritual Guidance

Discernment: Light for Darkened Eyes

Image of Discernment text

If you haven’t noticed, In The Word Ministries has dedicated at least one teaching series each year to the general topic of truth.  We’ve delved into truth through series on the whole counsel of God, seeking truth, and the wisdom of God, just to name a few.  And now, in support of  this year’s theme, 20/20 VISION, we are focusing on the topic of discernment.

Why discernment?

So what!  Why should we care about discernment?  Without spiritual discernment we risk “the light within us becoming darkness”.  There are many factors that affect our ability to know truth.  For purposes of this teaching, I’ll share two that immediately necessitates the need to cultivate a spirit of discernment.

Truth redefined  

In the 21st century there is little understanding or agreement as to what truth really is.  As defined in the postmodern world absolute truth does not exist. Supporters of postmodernism deny long-held beliefs and conventions.  They maintain that all viewpoints are equally valid.

Political posturing and social jockeying have taken the pursuit of truth to new levels.  Individuals and organizations utilize misinformation (the unintended sharing of false information) and disinformation (the deliberate creation and sharing of information known to be false) to influence advocacy and individual agendas.   Even institutions once deemed guardians of truth—media, government, business, and non-governmental organizations—are now viewed suspiciously.[1]

[1]  The 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer Global Report

The Heart wants what the Heart wants

People reject a standard for truth because of their greater desire to do “that which seems right in their own eyes”.  But what is right?

A recent Barna Research study, The End of Absolutes: America’s New Moral Code, found no agreement on the definition of morality today.

What is it based on? Where does it come from? How can someone know what to do when making moral decisions? According to a majority of American adults (57%), knowing what is right or wrong is a matter of personal experience. This view is much more prevalent among younger generations than among older adults. Three-quarters of Millennials (74%) agree strongly or somewhat with the statement, “Whatever is right for your life or works best for you is the only truth you can know,” compared to only 38 percent of Elders. And Millennials (31%) are three times more likely than Elders (10%) and twice as likely as Boomers (16%) and Gen-Xers (16%) to strongly agree with the statement.  

People want “what they want” including freedom to choose what fits their preference and life style, even if it means disobedience to God.

The Need for Discernment

Your eye is the lamp of your body; when your eye is sound, your whole body is full of light; but when it is not sound, your body is full of darkness.  Therefore be careful lest the light in you be darkness.    Luke 11:34-35 (RSV)

In our text Jesus teaches the “Parable of the Lighted Lamp” to the Pharisees and the crowd.  Jesus uses the metaphor, the “lamp of the eye” to describe the use of the eye for more than “sight” but also for “light”.   Jesus explains when the “eye is bad”, the problem is not due to a lack of light—but due to a lack of perception or how they see truth.   Even with light, only those with eyes to see will see it.

Discernment is needed to provide “light” within us to contrast error with the goodness of God.  The lack of spiritual discernment is like color-blindness–it may not seem that important initially but its harm become evident when your life depends on it.  Error paints the world, not in terms of black and white, right or wrong, but in dangerous “shades of gray.”  Be careful lest the light in you be darkness.

Spiritual Discernment: A Request for Discernment

Then God said to him: “Because you have asked this thing, and have not asked long life for yourself, nor have asked riches for yourself, nor have asked the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern justice.”  1 Kings 3:11 (NKJ)

Discernment, the process of keen insight and good judgment, has always been desired by men as they attempt to successfully execute their duties as leaders, managers, and advisors. Requesting spiritual discernment, on the other hand, is something that requires a fuller understanding of its power and personal responsibility.

In the Old Testament, Daniel depended on spiritual discernment in his role as ruler over the province of Babylon and chief administrator over all the wise men in Babylon.  As Daniel interpreted his vision to King Belshazzar, he acknowledges it was “he (an angel) who told me and made known to me the interpretation of these things.” (Daniel 7:16)   Daniel sought spiritual discernment.  The psalmist asked the Lord to “open my eyes that I may see wondrous things from your law.” (Psalm 119:18) “Opening the eyes” metaphorically described supernatural vision enabled within the psalmist to comprehend the astonishing things God revealed in His Word—that which could not be physically perceived.  The Psalmist prayed for spiritual discernment.

In the New Testament, Paul describes the dilemma of the unregenerate as they attempt to receive spiritual discernment.  “But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Corinthians 2:14)

The unregenerate is denied spiritual discernment.

In our study text (1 King 3:9-14), King Solomon, upon ascension to the throne of Israel, asks the Lord for what he feels is essential in order to serve this great nation.  Here Solomon models for us the key essentials in approaching God and requesting spiritual discernment.

First, Solomon recognized his position as a servant before the Divine Regent of the world (Is. 33:22).  He was retained by God to administer all the functions of government on behalf of God.  Solomon was to be judge, lawgiver, and king.  Secondly, Solomon requested an understanding heart to judge the people.  Solomon was concerned with possessing not only compassion and tenderness for the people but that he would perform his duties with virtue and integrity so that the people would feel they were treated justly, honestly and free from bias.  Finally, Solomon asked for the ability to discern between good and evil.  To discern (shama) is interpreted to mean to perceive or to hear.  More specifically it means to hear in such a way as to give one’s undivided listening attention.  The main idea behind shama is the need to “perceive the message being sent”.  In other words, Solomon is asking that he will hear a word from God to help him distinguish between good and evil.

The Message paraphrase expresses Solomon’s request this way: “Give me a God-listening heart so I can lead your people well, discerning the difference between good and evil.  For who on their own is capable of leading your glorious people?”  

Because of Solomon’s request for discernment, God honored Him with more than he could have ever imagined (1 Kin. 3:12-14).

To discern good from evil has become more difficult as evil rapidly gains new levels of acceptability each day.  Just listen to the news or read your favorite blog.  People are calling what’s wrong right and what is right as wrong (Is. 5:20-23).   Charles “Chuck” Swindoll, Christian pastor, author, educator, and radio preacher, has noted three troubling changes in our nation that highlight the need for spiritual discernment.

  1. The blurring of the line between right and wrong, truth from error, and between morality and immorality
  2. The growing ignorance of biblical knowledge and the following of Scripture as our moral guide
  3. The intensified embracing of post-modernism and secularism by Christians

Read 2 Timothy 3:1-5, 16

Imagine in your spiritual mind…

  • What this nation would be like if our elected officials asked for understanding to discern justice as they administer their duties?
  • What would our cities look like if people had God-listening hearts to guide their relationships with others?
  • How would our churches operate if they asked God for spiritual discernment to serve the communities with understanding hearts?

It is time for us to be intentional in our pursuit of spiritual discernment as we continue in these “evil and wicked days” (Ep. 5:15-21).  Like Daniel, we must seek it.  Like the psalmist, we must pray for it.  Like Solomon, we must humbly yet boldly ask for it.

Finding Your True North

“Stop loving this evil world and all that it offers you, for when you love the world, you show that you do not have the love of the Father in you.  For the world offers only the lust for physical pleasure, the lust for everything we see, and pride in our possessions. These are not from the Father. They are from this evil world.  ”      1 John 2:15-16 (New Living Translation)

As part of my Girl Scout experience, I was given the opportunity to earn several merit badges.  I specifically remember working on my camping badge and learning how to utilize the North Star if I found myself lost in the woods.  Later I discovered that there was another “north”.  It’s called true north.  It differs from the compass north I used in Girl Scouts in that true north is depended on the traveler first knowing “where they are”.  It is important to know our “spiritual true north.” Not knowing our true north leaves us vulnerable to Satan lies and exposed to misdirection by the world.

What does finding your true north mean?  In Bill George’s book, True North, he says, “it’s the internal compass that guides you successfully through life.  It is your orienting point – your fixed point in a spinning world – that helps you stay on track.  It’s based on what is most important to you, your most cherished values, your passions and motivations and the sources of satisfaction in your life.”

In our text, the Apostle John warns this early church to guard against allowing the world to define who they are (their values and beliefs).  John’s warning is still valid in the 21st century.  The world (its systems and influences) attempts to define what’s important to us in three (3) areas:  the lusts of the flesh (what makes us happy), the lust of the eyes (what we have) and the pride of life (who we are).  Like the world, believers are tempted to base their happiness, their security, and their significance on the things that the world offers.  These are the “luxurious lies of money, materialism, and marketing.”   The results of these misguided beliefs are an exhausted workforce, financially overcommitted families, and angry, disillusioned individuals.  They need to find their True North.

Solomon found neither happiness, nor security, or significance in the things the world offered.  On the contrary, he described the pursuit of these things as “vanity” or meaningless (Ecc. 12:8).  We need only to peruse the latest tabloid headlines at the grocery checkout to see the broken promises of fame and riches in the lives of individuals who thought “having it all” would make a difference.  Unfortunately they failed to look at the only Person who is able to make good on that expectation—Jesus Christ who came to provide life more abundantly (John 10:10).  They failed to find their True North.

Believers are not to “love” (agapao) the world or the things in it.  This is not a statement of a “minimalist” but the wisdom of God who warns that we are neither to focus on nor be envious of the things of this world—especially the things that are counter to the will of God (Rom. 1:25) .  Paul warned the church at Rome (and us today) not to be conformed to the world (in its thinking and behavior) but transformed by the renewing of their mind (by the revealed Word of God) (Rom. 12:2).  While we as believers cannot divest ourselves from the world, we are not to look like the world.  Our lives are to be a reflection of who we are—the redeemed children of God (Luke 1:68; John 1:12).  We are to keep our eye on our True North, Jesus Christ.

Happiness, security, and significance can only be found in God.   He is our exceeding great reward (Gen. 15:1).  We are complete in Him (Col. 2:10).  He is our strong high tower (Ps. 144:2).  Jesus understood the challenge of living in this fallen world.  That why He prayed to the Father not to remove His disciples (including future believers) from the world but to “keep them” from evil while living in the world (John 17:15).   Knowing our True North, Jesus Christ, will enable us to follow the right path.

SELAH:  In life’s journey we are often uncertain where we stand, where we are going or what is the right path for us personally.   Meditating on God’s Word will help you to “remove the cobwebs” and see more clearly.  Meditate on 1 John 2:15-16 in your favorite bible translation.  Begin with prayer inviting the Holy Spirit to join you in this time of meditation.  Read the text aloud and slowly; note “any word or phrase” that seemed to capture your attention.  Read it a second time paying attention to “the tone and emotion” the Apostle John used in this text.  Read it a final time and then sit silently and expectantly for one minute.  Then ask the Holy Spirit to speak to you through His Word.  What does He have to say to you regarding your “True North”?   Journal what you hear—share it with a friend.

Get Wisdom

“Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding.”  Proverbs 4:7 (KJV)

Is wisdom important?  When was the last time you complimented friends or family for their wisdom?  Has a political candidate ever run on a wisdom platform?   As I listen to daily newscasts and assess our current world affairs, I wondered if Jesus views us as “wise” or foolish stewards.  Do people, in general, care about wisdom? With that in mind, I input into my search engine, “where is wisdom in the 21st century?” I was overwhelmed by the number and variances in responses—7.6M to be exact.  People do care about wisdom!  So with that information in hand, we begin a new series entitled, “Desperately Seeking Wisdom” as we direct our attention to the Source and Sustainer of true wisdom—God.

Why do we need wisdom?   Wisdom is particularly important for us in our technological society, where we place a strong emphasis on knowledge.  Climate change, social oppression and injustices, political strife, the erosion of truth and trust in our traditional institutions—these are just a sample of the problems our world faces.  None of these pressing challenges can be navigated unless tempered with biblical wisdom.  Only when one abandons what seems wise by human standards to accept without hesitation the “divine viewpoint” as revealed in Scripture by the Holy Spirit can true wisdom be claimed (1 Cor. 3:19-20) .

What is wisdom?  Wisdom is generally defined as knowledge guided by understanding.  Knowledge without understanding often results in misunderstandings and errors in judgment.  But I would expand that secular definition and say that “godly wisdom” is a way of thinking and conduct that is orderly, socially sensitive, and morally upright.  It is a way of viewing and approaching life that results in purposeful, God-honoring living (1 Pet. 1:13, 14).  While wisdom may be relatively easy to define it, the real challenge lies in how to acquire it.

How do we gain wisdom?  Though wisdom cannot be learned, its development begins with the access of knowledge; it must be honed by experience.  We can gain wisdom vicariously through the experiences gleaned from others—seeing how they handle situations similar to ones we may face.  For wisdom that can only be gained through experience, we might seek mentors, special “tech” groups, and life coaches, to help guide our decision making and problem solving.  These are a few examples of how we hope to gain understanding, insight, and ultimately wisdom. However, the best source of wisdom is God (Prov. 2:5, 9-10,12).

The wise person is one who is sensitive to God and who willingly subjects himself to Him. The wise person is one who goes on to apply divine guidelines in everyday situations and guided by God’s will, makes daily choices. It is only in joining the Lord’s words to experience that wisdom can be found or demonstrated (James 1:23-25).

I like Eugene Petersen’s Message translation of our opening text.

“Sell everything and buy Wisdom! Forage for Understanding. Don’t forget one word! Don’t deviate an inch! Never walk away from Wisdom—she guards your life; love her—she keeps her eye on you. Above all and before all, do this Get wisdom!”

SELAH:   Meditate on the benefits of wisdom found in Proverbs 4:5-10.  Journal how God’s wisdom has benefitted you this past week.

 

 

 

 

The Paths of God

What comes to your mind when you think of paths? For me, I visualize the well-worn shortcut I followed as a child, as I ventured to my grandmother’s house on Sunday afternoon.  While hidden from the casual traveler in the area, this path represented a familiar and direct route to my final destination. For believers, the paths of God will also lead to our final destination-eternity with Him. Join the Psalmist David as he explores the paths of God.

The 25th Psalm was written by David and given the title, “Prayer for Guidance and Deliverance.” It is fitting then that we speak of the paths of God in the context of guidance and deliverance. The Hebrew translation for path is orach (o’-rakh) and is used to described as a well-trodden road. Orach appears fifty-eight (58) times in the Old Testament; found predominately in the books of Proverbs, Psalms, and Job. Most often it is used in a figurative way, describing the way to life or to death. (Prov. 4:14)

In our text, David is asking God to teach him His paths–the ways to life (to be pursued) AND the ways to death (to be avoided). God’s paths represent His best for our lives, even when we don’t understand where the “end” will take us. We can trust in God. (v.2) We can be confident He will lead us in mercy and truth (vv. 5 and 10) and that His paths reflect His tender mercies and lovingkindness. (v. 6) As we travel the paths of God, “He will teach us of His ways and we will walk in His paths.” (Micah 4:2) Where do we begin?

  1. Meditate on God’s Word.   There we will learn of God’s ways. “They word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my paths.” (Ps. 119:105)
  2. Spend time with God.   There we better understand God’s path for our life. “You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Ps. 16:11)
  3. Listen for His Voice.  There we align our thoughts with the God’s through the Holy Spirit.  “The Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.” (John 14:17)

Knowing God’s paths will relieve worry and concern with the events in the world and in our life. Be aware of the paths God daily chooses for you. Because of His lovingkindness, we can trust that He will always “lead us in the way that you should go.” (Ps. 143:8) All the paths of God are good.

Good to the Last Byte…

Paths are very different from highways. While the later are usually traveled by greater numbers of people, paths offer a more solitary route for arrival. While highways offer a better maintained and smoother journey, paths are found in areas where the terrain is rough and uneven in spots. Paths may be well-trodden by the few who found them both dependable and worthwhile. Following God’s “paths of righteousness” (Ps. 23:3) will get you where you need to go–on earth and through eternity.