To discern is to look at what we see, either physically or in our understanding, with a close consideration of its real content and character. It suggests, "A looking into or inside of."
Discernment is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit to believers. I observe that all believers have some measure of discernment, but certainly some are especially gifted and strong in this ability.
Joshua discerned, regarding Achan as Achan stood before him. He knew to give him opportunity to confess what he had done, saying "confess your sin." I have questioned why God would give Joshua the extended job of finding the reason for the defeat at Ai, when God knew who and what the problem was that caused Him to with-hold victory in that battle. To have the drawn out job of calling each of the twelve tribes of Israel before you, family by family from each tribe, that would be an exercise requiring patience. It would also be an exercise in development of the skill of discernment. I conclude, from this and other accounts given in Scripture, that God expects that we discern things, finding truth by usage of this process.
One of my sisters tells of a dream in which Jesus took her for a walk in a beautiful garden.
She tells of the gorgeous flowers about which she was commenting to Jesus, saying how excitingly beautiful they were. Jesus told her to "feel" a certain stem of flowers and then pointed her to "feel" another stem of flowers. She said to Him, "these look as real as the others and they are not real, they are silk." Jesus then told her, "be careful and look closely." He had told her to discern.
All the Disciples were given the ability to "see" what did not seem to appear. Jesus had employed this act of "seeing inside of" in their presence many times during their three year boot camp course, preparing them to be a different kind of warrior, a warrior in the spiritual realm. This facet of ability, which comes with the gift of discernment, is frightening to some people. Jesus must have surprised the Pharisees and the Sadducees on several occasions when they came to Him with questions intended to trick Him. He could "see" through the intention and address them straightforwardly, taking the trick out of the equation.
The gift of discernment can be perverted and used by some for profit, making it objectionable to God. All of our spiritual gifts can be misused and thereby perverted, if we are not keeping ourselves under the direction of the Holy Spirit. Those who can discern the intent behind people's words and actions are often too quick to address it and criticize. The gift of discernment is most effectively used when those who discern accurately see and then intercede for the situation.
How often have those who discern keenly thought that everyone else was as clearly aware of a fact as they were, only to speak it and find that everyone else and sometimes themselves, think they are nuts? I recall entering a store that was owned by a lady in the Church I attended. Working there was a gentleman who also attended our Church. As I entered, one of them was on one side of the store and one on the other side of the store, but I "knew" as I entered the store that they were engaged in a serious affair. Both were married to someone else. I did not gossip this thought, because I beat up on myself for having such a nasty and impossible thought. I was not going to pray about this "knowing" because I could not believe the idea. Later I discovered, each of them left their spouses and went somewhere else together. That was a lesson for me about the fact of being able to discern what is otherwise not visible. The demand for us all is to take time, as God required of Joshua, to seek out the facts, to "feel" the object of consideration, to pray, to seek the Lord's revelation in all matters, so that we are not deceived. Also, we have information by which we can intercede in behalf of the situation and the people involved. Only rarely are we permitted to speak to the person or persons about what we know. That should be done only by the Holy Spirit's instruction.
Ramona, Master of Arts in Ministry, BA in Biblical Studies, I am an Ordained Minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
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