What Is Discernment? 6 Ways to Grow More Discerning

What Is Discernment? 6 Ways to Grow More Discerning

What Is Discernment? 6 Ways to Grow More Discerning

Every Christian should grow in discernment. It is discernment that enables us to tell the difference between right and wrong. Spiritual discernment is a shield against spiritual deception. Without discernment we would be adrift in an ocean of differing viewpoints and pitted against one another. So how do we grow in discernment? 

Every Christian should grow in discernment. It is discernment that enables us to tell the difference between right and wrong. Spiritual discernment is a shield against spiritual deception. Without discernment we would be adrift in an ocean of differing viewpoints and pitted against one another.

In 1 Kings 3:9, Solomon asks for a discerning heart so that he could lead God’s people and to distinguish between right and wrong. He went on to lead the Israelites through a time of peace and wrote much of Proverbs. Yet he failed to discern the risks that having too many wives and concubines would bring to his life. As wise as Solomon was, he is a flawed example of discernment.

But Jesus is the ultimate example of discernment. John 2:24-25 shows us that he knows all men and the contents of their hearts. So how do we gain discernment?

God ties discernment to spiritual maturity, and spiritual maturity links to wisdom, knowledge and understanding. Discernment is an acuteness of understanding. It’s a spiritual gift as well as something to grow in.

As a spiritual gift, it’s given in special circumstances so that God’s will is fulfilled in the moment. As a skill, it is grown over time as one studies and applies God’s word.

Discernment is a desirable quality to cultivate as one who walks with God. But how do we do it?

woman in front of a white brick wall thinking, popular statement that are theologically unsound

Gain Knowledge

“The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge, for the ears of the wise seek it out.” Proverbs 18:15

Are you learning and growing? Knowledge of God’s word is key to growing in discernment. How well do you know God’s word? Are you studying it on your own or relying on others to interpret it for you? To know God’s word is to study God’s word. This means getting into the Bible on a day-to-day basis. It means digging deeper by cross referencing and seeing what else God has to say on a subject. It’s reading study notes and commentaries, if you have them available. If we don’t know God’s word, then we won’t know how to discern what is from God and what is not from him.

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Apply Understanding

“My son, preserve sound judgement and discernment, do not let them out of your sight; they will be life for you, an ornament to grace your neck. Then you will go on your way in safety, and your foot will not stumble, when you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet. Have no fear of sudden disaster or of therein that overtakes the wicked, for the Lord will be your confidence and will keep your foot from being snared.” Proverbs 3:21-26

I wish we could say that gaining discernment was a formula we followed in the correct order. But it’s not. It’s something that we grow into and as these verses say, it’s something that we must preserve. When I canned peaches, I needed to prep my supplies and my fruit. It was an hour-long process, but the end result was the taste of summer in the middle of winter.

So it is with discernment. On a continuous basis, we input new information and experiences to learn from and apply to future situations. And it’s often in the winter seasons of life that we experience the benefits of storing up discernment.

a plant growing among rocks

Grow in Wisdom

“But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure, then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.” James 3:17-18

It’s too easy to intertwine the world’s wisdom with God’s. Sometimes what seems best isn’t best when it’s laid next to God’s word. Godly wisdom contains attributes that are lacking in the world’s understanding of wisdom. So we must ask ourselves: Is it pure? Does it love peace? Is it considerate? Does it submit to God’s ways? Does it bring about a harvest of good fruit and mercy? Does it show favoritism or is it impartial and sincere?

These questions guide us in a discerning path. We build wisdom that leads to discernment on the foundation of knowledge and understanding.

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Receive God’s Anointing

“As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him.” 1 John 2:27

God gifts us with his anointing, and we get to receive it. It’s this anointing of the Holy Spirit that reveals where our hearts are pulling us and it shows us the steps to take. It corrects our course and directs our steps. The Holy Spirit is the culmination of the power of God impressed within us. It’s what makes the word of God living and active—totally appropriate for any situation we find ourselves in. To receive God’s anointing is to receive discernment.

father and child reading the Bible together, things to teach your children about the Holy Spirit

Experience God’s Grace

“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” Ephesians 2:4-5

Keeping this truth in the forefront of our minds helps us to keep growing in God’s grace. His grace is what reveals and conceals. It reveals how much we need a savior, and it conceals or covers our desperate sinful state. But it’s learning to live God’s ways and being willing to make mistakes that we grow in discernment.

Acting on our beliefs activate our faith. And as we live in righteousness before God, we learn how much we need to depend on his grace. This dependence deepens our discernment because “self” gets pushed out of the way.

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Grow in Maturity

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” Ephesians 4:2-3

As we grow in discernment, we wrestle with the idea that we then need to share it with everyone. We make the mistake that every one of our discerning thoughts is for their benefit. Sometimes it’s true if the Spirit directs us. Other times, it’s the Spirit prompting us to pray. Discernment is for individuals as well as the body of Christ.

This is where maturity in Christ makes a difference. Discernment and maturity grow together. We make mistakes, but we also make a difference in people’s lives. The hallmarks of maturity are humility, gentleness, patience, and forbearance supported by love. Discernment without judgment occurs through knowledge of God’s word and observation of God’s ways with men.

Discernment grows over time and our choices affect the pace and extent of our growth. Discernment is the ability to perceive and distinguish. It grows as we grow in knowledge, understanding, wisdom, and maturity. It’s our ability to know whether God is leading us in one direction or another. Discernment is a gift of the spirit and a skill we cultivate.

Jessica Van Roekel is a woman on the journey to wholeness through brokenness. She believes that through Christ your personal histories don’t have to define your present or determine your future. Her greatest desire is to see you live this “God-life” with all the power and grace that God provides. Jessica lives in a rural community with her husband and four children. She leads worship on Sundays, but seeks to be a worshiper every day. You can connect with her at www.welcomegrace.com  and on Facebook: www.facebook.com/yourJessicaVanRoekel

Jessica Van Roekel leads worship in her local church and writes at www.welcomegrace.com. She believes that through Christ our personal histories don’t have to define our present or determine our future and writes about the transforming power of grace. Jessica lives in a rural setting surrounded by farmland and her husband and children. You can connect with her on Instagram and Facebook.


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