I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.
In management literature one often comes across references to discernment as a strategic decision making mechanism, and there is a lot of ongoing research that connects this concept to leadership. Of course, biblical literature refers to this aspect of leadership from the time of Solomon in the Old Testament (1 Kings 3:9) who asked the Lord for the gift of discernment between good and evil. King Solomon treasured this capability much above the riches of the world and the Lord blessed him with a wise and understanding heart that would fuel a discerning mind.
As we traverse this information age, the power of discernment is an essential tool that every individual needs to have. Every day we are bombarded from all sides with every kind of information. Most of us have heard opinions and justifications on almost every topic, be it social, political, environmental or religious. The oratory skills of the speakers can go a long way to convince a gullible audience. If we are not discerning by nature, our weak minds can be easily controlled by the words and actions of those around us.
How do we acquire this unique gift of discernment? One prerequisite for this is a firm foundation of a set of values or truths that acts as a standard of comparison when we are faced with dilemmas, both ethical and otherwise. We should be so well-grounded in these that any circumstance that leads us away from this internal beacon should set off an alarm in us, and we will once again be in control of our immediate context.
The next step is to gain control over our perception of the events that occur in our lives. We have to mentally train ourselves to reject outcomes that do not jell with the foundational values we uphold. Very often, we tend to fall prey to the environment we live in. We are prone to immediate reactions and retaliations. Our admiration or ourdisapproval is captured by outward appearances that please the eye or clever arguments that have been artfully structured to appeal to the ear. We live in a world that justifies adultery, abortion, communal killings and environmental abuse. It celebrates material prosperity attained through any means and carefully nurtures the class differences this results in. This is where our power of discernment comes to play as we discipline ourselves to avoid the immediate appeal of these attractive offerings and focus on the long term results of the choices we make.
To get live lessons on discernment, there is no greater teacher than the Lord Himself. Through parables and biblical incidents, He painstakingly taught His disciples what discernment was all about. The prodigal son shows us the reaction of a father that, in the circumstances, was quite unexpected. From a far distance he sees his son returning, having wasted his entire fortune. The best of parents would have shown some reserve, even asked for an explanation, admonished the son for his waywardness— but not this parent. He sensed the change in his son and welcomed him like a prince. His discerning mind was in complete control of any immediate misgivings he may have had, and he reacted with loving forgiveness that flowed from his heart.
Jesus Himself often revealed a sharply discerning mind. John 8 gives us an account of the woman caught in adultery. When brought to Jesus, He is quick to point out the hypocrisy of the accusers rather than the sinfulness of the woman. Equally discerning is the Lords reaction to Martha’s request to send Mary to help her with the household chores. Without mincing words He tells Martha that Mary’s choosing to listen to Him was much better than being busy with too many household responsibilities. Many times, we automatically take on Martha roles even to the point of neglecting to listen to the Lord’s voice. Our own convictions must be strong and focused. Then alone would we be able to steer ourselves to our ultimate goals.
Of equal importance is our duty to build this capacity of discernment in the children that we have been given to nurture. If they have not been well grounded in Christian values and are not familiar with the Word of God, they will be like the seeds that fell on shallow ground in the parable of the sower. With so many voices to listen to, and so many logical explanations, children can flounder in an ocean of choices that may have immediate appeal but will not give them any focus or direction. It is up to us to see that the new generation develop the right values which will help them make discerning choices for themselves.