July 11, 2012

Discern rightly

The spiritual gift of discernment carries with it a black and white outlook. Those who have this gift can be as hard on themselves as they are on everyone else. Being aware of this easy slide from discernment to criticism, I am working at how I think about people. While it might be a good thing to discern problems, errors and disobedience so I can pray about them, it is also a good thing to have positive thoughts and be thankful.
This and other spiritual gifts are related to faith. Romans 12 speaks of them and how they are used, but the verse before the list says, “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned” (Romans 12:3).

As I struggle with how I think about others, I also swing back and forth regarding my self-esteem. The extremes of pride and self-pity are the fleshy version, but as Romans says, I need to stay with a biblical view, God’s view of who I am as well as the spiritual condition of others. I cannot be blind to the negatives, but must not let them give me reason to become negative myself. 

Today’s devotional reading offers a way to do that. This affirms that my efforts to govern how I think about others are on the right track. 

The verse is about spiritual growth. While God makes it happen, His people are to engage in spiritual disciplines that put us in the right place for His transforming work.
For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge. . . (2 Peter 1:5)
This verse affirms how any new Christian will want to change. As faith develops, developing virtue begins to have more appeal. As virtue grows, a desire to learn more about God will grow too. However, even ‘older’ Christians must “work out our salvation” so as God works in me, I need to cooperate.

The devotional writer says this: You will find it less easy to uproot faults — than to choke them by gaining virtues. That is, weed the garden rather than trying to choke out the weeds by planting more flowers. 

This applies to how I think about others and myself. I cannot smother criticism with praise, yet it is helpful to weed it out by not dwelling on my faults, and still less on the faults of others. In every person who comes near, I should look for what is good and strong; honor that; rejoice in it, and as I can, try to imitate it. He concludes that my faults (real or perceived) will drop off, like dead leaves, when their time comes.

This is good advice. Yet there is one caveat. Should God give me a perception of sin in my life or sin in the lives of others, these thoughts are not to be dismissed or replaced by positive thinking. As Oswald Chambers says in My Utmost for His Highest “When we discern that people are not going on spiritually and allow the discernment to turn to criticism, we block our way to God. God never gives us discernment in order that we may criticize, but that we may intercede.”

Lord, when I’m “tipped over” my discernment turns to a critical spirit or becomes blind altogether. And I stop praying. Instead of trying to balance this problem by my own efforts, I need to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Otherwise, I will not and cannot use this gift as You intend. Today, may I abide in Christ and confess any shortfall as it happens. Deepen my faith in You.

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