Because we’re talking about God, we can fill that blank with a lot of words, all of which are true. “Comfort” is the word that probably leapt to mind first, from 2 Cor 1:3. And while many need comfort in these days, we’re going to look at a different word.
One of the things we need most in these days is discernment. The dictionary tells us that it is “the ability to judge well.” That pretty much sums it up: we need the ability to judge well. And we need it because, historically, humans are pretty bad at it. We’ve been bad at it for a very long time—Hey, let’s eat some of that fruit, it will make us smarter than God!
If we’re bad at something, how do we get better at it? It begins with “the God of all…,” in this case, the God of all discernment. God invented discernment, and has an infinite supply, so we start by seeking Him. And seeking Him involves a couple of things.
The first thing is having a conversation with Him about what we need. We call those conversations “prayer.” Note that they’re conversations, not just someone reading a list of the things they want. A conversation involves speaking and listening, and like every conversation, we should be listening to God more than we’re talking to Him. (Two ears, one mouth, and all that.)
Wait, God is going to talk to me? Yes, though perhaps not in the way you might be looking for.
There’s a well-known joke about a guy stranded on the roof of his house during a flood. He’s praying for all he’s worth for God to save him. A boat comes, another boat comes, finally a helicopter comes to take him away. He refuses all of them, insisting that God will save him. He soon drowns as the flood rises, and when he gets to heaven, he tears into God for not saving him. “Who do you think sent the boats and the helicopter?”, God replies. 1
God was speaking to him, pretty plainly as it turns out, but he didn’t hear Him because He didn’t speak the way the man was expecting. God speaks in a lot of ways. Sometimes His spirit speaks directly to ours. Sometimes He puts the words in the mouths of people around us. (Not just friends and not just believers—God is not limited in who He speaks through, see Num 22:22–34).
Wait a minute, it sounds like I need discernment to know when God’s talking to me. And I’m talking to God about needing… discernment. Right, that sounds like it could be a problem, doesn’t it? But not as much as we think.
Jesus tells us something very important in John 10:27—“My sheep hear my voice…” If we are his sheep, i.e. have surrendered our lives to Jesus and committed ourselves to following Him, then we will hear Him. He has put His Spirit in us, and God’s Spirit calls out to the Spirit in us. We just have to listen. I recognize my wife’s voice in a crowd because I’ve spent over half my life listening to her.2 The more we listen to God, the more we recognize His voice. But there’s another way God speaks to us.
For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division between soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. Heb 4:12.
Notice what God’s word is—it’s discerning. It’s able to judge well. And notice what it judges well—the thoughts and intentions of our heart. Many of us aren’t very discerning because we’re not in His word, allowing it to do its job. We think we know ourselves, but, as mentioned at the beginning of this post, we’re lousy at knowing ourselves. Jesus knew from the beginning (John 2:24–25) we don’t know ourselves.
So, how do we hear God when we ask Him for discernment, or any other thing?
- Listen more than we talk when we pray.
- Develop a habit of listening for His voice all the time.
- Get, and stay, in His word, and ask Him to speak to us through it.
Some of these principles are applicable out here in the world, too. We should listen more than we talk. We should have a habit of listening. And we need to exercise God’s discernment in separating the good from the bad in what we hear.
How do we do that last thing? It starts and ends with listening to Him, obviously, but there are some things we can do in the middle to use the brains God has given us.
- Learn the difference between a good argument and a bad one. Bad ones have things we call “logical fallacies.” I had a short Twitter discussion a few years ago that turned into a post. Bottom line, the person I was talking to said I should believe what he was quoting because it came from a reputable place (see “appeal to authority”). You can read my post to see how that turned out. Learn what the fallacies are (the link above has a list), and learn to recognize them when they’re used.
- Listen to people who disagree with you. Seek out people who disagree with you. This includes the media you watch/read. The biggest problem with social media is that it is all programmed to give you what they think you want. You have to work hard to counteract the programming. Do the work. Start by not getting your news from social media.
- Learn that some people just want to watch the world burn. Them you don’t need to listen to. This was Eve’s second mistake—not recognizing fast enough the serpent doesn’t care about anything but destruction (“steal, kill, and destroy”; John 10:10).
- Learn to call wrong wrong, no matter who says it or is doing it. It doesn’t matter if it’s a politician in your party, or a preacher you like, or a friend you like, or a family member you love. If they’re wrong, they’re wrong. Think of people on opposing sides today (Republican/Democrat, MLB owners/players, Almond Joy/Mounds lovers). All of them completely overlook when someone on their “side” does or says something wrong and/or idiotic or both. If it’s wrong, it’s wrong no matter who does/says it.
- Learn when to hold on loosely, and when to not let go. Some things make for interesting discussions, but don’t really matter. Some things are worth fighting for. Learn the difference.
There’s a lot of chaos in the world today. There are a lot of things being said about the chaos. Most of it is nonsense. How do we know what’s nonsense and what isn’t? Discernment. As a song reminds us, God “brings our chaos back into order.” Any problem is too big to solve apart from God, the giant ones just make it obvious. But nothing is impossible with God (Luke 1:37). There are no problems He can’t solve, but He usually uses us to solve them. Discernment comes in learning what He wants us to do, obedience comes in doing it.
What does He want you to do in this particular chaos? Are you doing it?