Display until March 24, 2015
The Neatest Little Paper Ever Read ®
By Ron Ross
Have you ever had a hunch about someone or something and sure enough, your hunch was right? That is a form of discernment: you saw, you heard, and you just knew that you knew. Discernment is a capacity we all have, but one that you must nurture for maximum benefit. Theologian and ethicist, the late Lewis B. Smedes defined discernment as “seeing reality for what it is.”
There are three steps to discernment:
Step one: Contemplate. As a young and enthusiastic pastor (in my 20s) of a small church in Kansas, I had all kinds of ideas about how our church could impact our little town of 857 residents. Several times I drove to the farm of Ward Butler, an elder in the church and a man old enough to be my grandfather, to tell him about my fantastic idea. He would sit politely and listen. When I finished, he would say to me, “Well, Pastor, let me think about that for awhile.” Mr. Butler was discerning – he knew that fast decisions are often bad decisions, so he would not jump on board to my latest idea without contemplation.
When you face something out of the ordinary, something that doesn’t seem quite right, or something that has the possibility of having a good or bad consequence, help yourself and contemplate the idea for a while. Then go on to step two.
Step two: Adjudicate. I know this is a legal term, but it applies directly to the idea of discernment. To discern demands that you decide (like a judge) between good and evil, right and wrong, truth and lies. To adjudicate intelligently, you must own a set of values, an understanding that there is such a thing as right and wrong, good and evil, truth and error.
You use your well thought out values to discern what is true, what is good, and what is useful from that which is lies, evil, and hurtful; then you decide. But before you act, you move to step three.
Step three: Anticipate. An important part of the skill of discernment is the ability to peer into the future. One of the best questions I was taught to ask when making a moral judgment about something was, “What if everyone did it?” Think about it: What if everyone lied, would that be good or bad? What if every married couple stayed faithful to each other, would that be good or bad? What if every person ignored the law – or what if everyone was law-abiding?
Every court judge, every married man or woman, every law-maker and law-enforcer, and YOU, have a fast answer to these questions. Anyone with a measure of common sense knows what happens when laws are broken, immorality is rampant, and evil is ignored. A discerning person is one-step-ahead, he is aware of the long-term consequences of the ideas he accepts, the words she uses, and the actions he takes.
Then you act – only after you have discerned as carefully as you can.
Discernment has a very practical use for you – it will keep you out of trouble. Both of us could easily list the good and bad choices we’ve made. In most cases, the bad choices we made happened without sufficient discernment. Perhaps that is why Professor Smedes also said, “The work of discernment is very hard.”
(c)2018 Ronald D. S. Ross
©2014 Ronald D. Rosss
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