Discernment is a "natural" quality of the Spirit that indwells us, and becomes the fruit of living in and by the Spirit. However, we are still human and live by the momentum of the old nature until it is "put to death" by allowing the Spirit to work and take over in us.
We have tried to explain what to do to gain discernment. But this could easily set us up to try to do on our own what only the Holy Spirit can do. Discernment is not acquired just by practicing certain positive actions. Like a good plant when watered it will grow spontaneously if the weeds are eliminated. So we will now focus on hindrances to discernment. The more these hindrances, i.e weeds are recognized and dealt with, the more the new nature in our spirit, which incorporates discernment, will be to allowed to grow and operate in our daily life.
Hebrews 12:1 advises us not just to deal with sin, but also to throw off everything that hinders. In this section we will deal not so much with sin but with some common hindrances which dull our spiritual senses and limit our capacity to sense the discernment that is in the Holy Spirit who dwells in our spirit. Some of these points may seem like a repeat of the points we have already covered, but they should be considered as the other side of the same coin.
Trust in the natural man
We are born, raised, educated and surrounded by a natural environment. In this environment it is almost universally accepted that doing right things is good. Although doing good and being right may make our lives and even the world somewhat better, it is not what the Christian life is really about. Many of us have even learned to be naturally religious. Study the Bible and do what it says. We do know that this will not save us, but we assume that it will please God and accomplish things for His kingdom. Sorry, this falls far short and we must see something much deeper.
Isaiah. 64:6 "... all our righteous acts are like filthy rags . . ." seems quite strong. But if we really receive revelation on this matter we will never be truly happy practicing our own righteousness.
Only the indwelling Life of the Holy Spirit can please God, and only He can perceive and know the mind of God. Concerning our good natural abilities the verdict is delivered in 1 Cor. 2:14; "the natural man cannot perceive the things of God, in fact they are foolishness to him." Until we accept this verdict we will remain severely limited in our capacity to
discern. For more on this please secure a copy of Experiencing Christ as Our Life, as described on the final page of this writing. That booklet has helped thousands to live by HIS LIFE rather then their own. Unwilling to deny the self
The natural man is so wrapped up in the self, and is so self active that unless it is denied, even put to the cross, it will always assert itself. Fasting is a significant form of denying the self and greatly improves discernment. Fasting from other forms of self gratification can have similar benefits in setting us free from the constraints of the self.
In Matthew 16:24 Jesus said that unless we take up the cross and die to self we cannot follow Him. Jesus often speaks and then asks us whether we are following what He has said. If we cannot deny, ignore, and override our self we will not be able to follow what He is saying. Taking up the cross is much more then being willing to go through hard times. It is a matter of living a crucified life. It is being willing to ignore me, my, and I until I can say with Paul, "I have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer I who live.. . ." (Gal. 2:20).
Full of our own opinions
At the Mount of Transfiguration dear Peter had a great opinion. Seeing three famous persons he reasoned that they should build three shelters. A well-meaning reaction to what he was observing. Of course, he didn't understand what was going on, but like most of us, even if we don't know what is happening, we always have a good opinion. Fortunately the Voice from heaven interrupted him and brought the mind and intention of God into the situation (Luke 9:33). If only the Lord would be so free to interrupt and correct us we might often be spared from acting on our facetious opinions.
In John 11 Jesus' heart and intention concerning Lazarus was far beyond the natural comprehension of Mary and Martha. He even explained what He was about to do. Nevertheless, they had opinions and expressed them, each time obscuring the Lord's actions (John 11: 21, 39).
In Acts 10:14, during Peter's vision of the sheet, he even tried to correct the Lord when he said, "Oh no. Lord." Fortunately, after the Lord repeated the vision three times, Peter was willing to drop his concept. If we would learn to lay down our opinions and look into His eyes and hear His voice, our discernment would be much clearer.
Fear of man
Proverbs 29:25 tells us that the fear of man is a snare. When we are afraid of a person or concerned about
impressing people, we become subject to those fears. While we do need to respect and honor people, we must exercise our heart to fear only the Lord.
'What will people think of me?" holds many people in bondage. It controls what they wear, how they act and eventually even what they think. When the question of what others will think arises, learn to declare even as the apostles declared, "We must obey God rather than men!" (Acts 5: 29).
This does not mean that we show disrespect of others or that we sanction rebellion toward authority. However, whoever we fear and seek most to please will ultimately control our hearts, direct our steps and affect our discernment.
The praise of men
The fear of man has a reverse side -the praise of men. We must be able to handle complements but never let them distract us. Accept them but do not drink them because they can have an intoxicating effect. They can easily become more important to us than God's complements. Holding a “person” or an “agenda” other than Christ
We are all called to certain duties and given certain gifts, often for particular projects. Sometimes we receive great help from certain gifted leaders. The danger lies in our potential for making these activities become our "thing” or our "agenda." When we have a "thing" even if it is noble, everything we do, the way we see and interpret anything becomes affected by that agenda.
A friend of mine is into spiritual warfare. He has great insight and experience in this area. However, this is all he sees, talks or thinks about. Eventually everything is interpreted as it relates to spiritual warfare and his discernment has become very subjective and lop-sided.
Notice that the Apostle Paul had much revelation and insight, but none of these became his "thing." For this reason he was able to discern the unique need of each church and speak particularly to it. While Christ was his one and only center he was able to speak about many issues with objective clarity and in each respective case discern the mind of Christ.
A certain teaching or doctrine in which we have special insight and perhaps even a calling to teach can be a blessing to the body. But when it becomes our "thing," we begin to identify others and ourselves by that thing. This is the basis of sectarianism and denominationalism.
Besides dividing the body, denominationalism tends to subjectively obligate believers to maintain a loyalty to the prescribed views. This reduces our objective ability to hear the Lord because of the foregone conclusions prescribed by the
past tradition (1 Cor. 3:4,11).
We must not let our nondenominational focus become a "thing." Unwittingly some make their nondenominational more of a denomination than what they came out of!
While we need spiritual leaders, fathers and mentors it is very easy to become so subjectively loyal to a person that we obligate ourselves to their particular view. We spent some years in a movement that could not tolerate any view but that of the leader. Approval and advancement was related to one's loyalty to that person. Knowing and acting according to the mind and teaching of the leader became the goal of everyone. Gradually, knowing and hearing from the Lord personally became unnecessary and eventually impossible.
While everything and everybody else was subject to severe scrutiny and criticism, everything relative to our leader or our movement was de facto right. From experience I can say that discernment is almost impossible until we are set free from such an environment.
Greedy - desire for gain
It is critical that we allow the Lord to deal with the greed and desire for money resident in our hearts. How can I have clear discernment concerning finance or investment if my heart is clinging to hopes for wealth?
Proverbs 1:19 says that, "Ill-gotten gain takes away the life of those who get it." This indicates that a person, can in effect, sell himself in exchange for gain. At the beginning he likely had the fundamental qualities of life, such as friends, integrity, respect and honorable principles, but for the sake of gain he compromised, cheated, took advantage of others, and exploited friends until he lost all those qualities of life. While this may seem extreme, greed even in small ways can erode our life and discernment.
A root cause of greed is insecurity and fear of lack or insufficiency. It might seem that gaining and having more will bring security. Those who have much can testify that more is not the answer. The answer is a fresh and deep revelation of the security we have in God. Believe, confess and declare His faithfulness. "And my God will meet all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4: 19).
One of the first verses I remember hearing when I was a small boy was recited by an elderly preacher; it was Psalm 37: 25. "I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread." This has stayed with me and saved me from much anxiety and now, many decades later I can declare it is a true word. It has
allowed me to forgo various opportunities for more money rather than compromise my principles.
Some years ago it appeared that I was being significantly, financially defrauded in a business deal. Several hundreds of thousands of dollars were at stake. Everyone en couraged me to take legal action. After prayer and fellowship with my wife we agreed not to press charges nor to expose the situation, but to trust the Lord for our future. This allowed the Lord to do a deep work in our hearts concerning money and dealing with offence.
In the meantime, we have been financially blessed and because of that experience, we have been able to discern and minister to many others in similar situations. Furthermore, when the Lord asks us to give substantial amounts for kingdom work we don't have to qualify our response by a fear of whether or not we will have enough for ourselves. We have proved His faithfulness.
Proverbs 3:34;11:2;16:18; 29:23 are just a few references dealing with the folly of pride. James 4: 6 tells us that, "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble."
Pride has much to do with personal ego. It puts ourselves in the middle of the picture and exalts us in comparison to others whom we see as inferior. Pride is almost always related to a concept of natural goodness. When we connect our worth and our acceptance to God on the basis of doing good, being right or excelling in an activity, pride stands on solid ground. Then we determine the value of everything as it pertains to my personal interests and myself.
The answer to pride is not found in an exerted effort to be humble. If we could attain humility in this way, we would then have grounds to be proud of our humility! The answer lies rather in bowing before the Lord and asking Him to shine His light into our innermost being. When we truly do this we will conclude with David, " Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. Surely you desire truth in the inner parts" (Psa. 51: 5 -6a). We will finally see what Paul meant when he said, “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is in my sinful nature" (Rom. 7: 18).
The value of this is that eventually I come to realize that I am in constant need of forgiveness. As I draw on His great mercy and abundant forgiveness it becomes easy for me to spontaneously forgive others. Further it dawns on me that anything I have or anything of eternal value that I do is totally because of His grace and favor. So, there is nothing to be
proud about, it's not about me, it's all about Him, Grace is the divine influence upon the heart and its reflection in the life.
As a proud young father and successful pastor I dared to ask the Lord for more reality. One night when I was about to go to sleep He turned on the LIGHT! I saw myself in His light -a proud egotistical know-it-all who used his wife and family, and even the church, to build his own ego. I disciplined my children not so much for love or for their sake, but so that I would look better as a dad.
I studied the Bible to impress others with my great knowledge. I fed more on the compliments of others than on the spiritual bread of the Word. Seeing this I wept like a baby, begging my wife to forgive my arrogance. She did not under stand and thought I was having a breakdown and assured me that I was just fine. By morning I was a different person.
The Lord is still mercifully dealing with me through encounters like this; the work is still not done. But I have learned not to hide behind excuses and to give the Lord full permission to go deeper each time. It's the only real antidote for pride that I have found.
God's servants must learn to avoid partiality. Moses commanded the leaders of Israel, "Do not show partiality in judging: hear both small and great alike" (Deut. 1:17).
When Peter came to Cornelius' house he concluded, "I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism" (Acts 10: 34).
Paul gave Timothy a very sobering charge, "I charge you in the sight of God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels, to keep these instructions without partiality, and to do nothing out of favoritism" (1 Tim. 5:21).
There is nothing that limits our usefulness and clouds discernment more than allowing our natural preferences to operate in our hearts. There is no value in pretending they are not there, but the moment they try to rise up in us we must send them to the cross until our only preference is that the Lord would have His way.
Legalism precedent culture
A key characteristic of our fallen nature is the desire to control. We want to control our lives as well as to exercise control over others as opposed to trusting in the sovereignty of God. To accommodate this tendency we need to establish what is right and then do it. We make ourselves worthy by keeping the rules, and then we have the right to demand the same of others. This legalism becomes a cover-up for control.
In the case of Christians these rules are generally assumed to be based on the Bible as it has been interpreted in our tradition or perhaps by ourselves. This in itself appears so right that it dare not be questioned. However Jesus confronted the experts in this approach with these words. 'You diligently study the scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life" (John 5: 39-40).
We are now living in the days when the Lord wants to take the church into the good land. He wants to consummate the age, preparing the bride for His return. We must acknowledge, like the Israelite leaders, "We have never gone this way before" (Josh. 3: 4), This means that no precedent, agenda or great plan is adequate. We must all fix our eyes on Jesus and learn to hear and follow His voice and recognize those priests who are carrying the ark. To know the ark and who the true priests are will certainly require discernment.
Lust is the unbridled expression of the base desires of the natural man, sometimes referred to as the flesh. Giving these desires an opportunity to express themselves blinds us spiritually and discernment goes out the window.
King David, a powerful man who loved God and wrote great songs of worship, got trapped by sexual lust. Solomon, the wisest man on earth, was unable to control sexual lust and was led into confusion by his numerous wives.
Lust may also involve an obsession with any natural element: food, entertainment, sports, pleasure, or money. For the love of food Esau lost his birthright. For the love of food many people destroy their health as well as their discernment.
The above are some of the weeds that choke the growth of the good seed in the garden of our heart. May the Lord grant us diligence in weeding our garden so we can produce a harvest for His pleasure.