Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A Time for Discernment

Decisions by leaders and boards of Christ-centered organizations are made constantly. For leaders, decisions are made nearly every day. Boards make decisions every time they meet.

Many of these decisions are seemingly small or routine—sometimes made offhandedly and without much thought. Other decisions are of organization-altering magnitude. Especially with these more significant issues, spiritual discernment is fundamentally important.

As leaders and boards, we are confronted with new perspectives, emerging trends, and economic and regulatory developments. It is a daunting task to make biblical decisions against a mosaic of options!

We focus on the Bible, prayer, faith, and wise counsel—all important elements in biblical decision making—but too often we do not consider spiritual discernment in the process.

In I Kings 3:5-9 (ESV) we learn that while Solomon was at Gibeon to offer sacrifices to the Lord, God appeared to him and said simply “Ask what I shall give you.” We are commonly taught that Solomon asked the Lord for wisdom but he requested more than wisdom; he asked for discernment. He became both wise and discerning. This teaches us that God honors discernment and those who seek after it.1

Discernment is evidence of God at work and is deeply rooted in both the Old and New Testaments. The early church used the language of discernment. Paul and Barnabas were sent to Antioch with a letter that said,

"For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials” (Acts 15:28-29 NASB).

This is the language of discernment.2

Romans 12:2 (ESV) directly refers to discernment, “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

We do not get to listen to God’s voice thundering on the top of Mount Horeb. Instead, we must rely on the more subtle dynamics of the Holy Spirit witnessing with the human spirit about things that are true.

Discernment presents unique challenges in contemporary Western culture, because it requires us to move beyond our reliance on cognition and intellectual hard work to a place of deep listening and response to the Spirit of God within us and among us.3

Discernment involves thinking in a specifically Christian way about each issue. At the same time, our hearts have to be engaged in devotion to Christ. Then, and only then, will we find ourselves in tune with the mind of God and be able to make good judgments and appraisals, because to the believer is promised the presence of the Holy Spirit.4

Discerning God’s will is a spiritual dynamic beyond human wisdom. Always a key principle for leaders of Christ-centered churches and non­profits, with national and world events occurring at a frenetic pace and the second coming of Christ closer than it has ever been, the importance of spiritual discernment is vital.

We hear countless voices in a given day—some belong to co-workers, the media, or friends. Other voices exist within us (memories, emotions, or desires), and these can be the hardest to filter. For the believer, hearing the Lord is most important, so discernment becomes critical in distinguishing His voice from the others.5

As leaders and board members, we are expected to pursue discernment; the Bible repeatedly cries out for this.

1 The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment, Tim Challies, Crossway, 2007
2 “Discerning God’s Will Together: A Spiritual Practice for the Church,” by Danny E. Morris and Charles M. Olsen
3 Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership, Ruth Haley Barton, InterVarsity Press, 2008
4 The Lost Art of Discernment, R. C. Sproul
5 “Developing Spiritual Discernment,” article by Charles F. Stanley