Training Your Perceptive Powers
1. To what was the profession of the Christian ministry likened in prophecy, and how did Jesus make clear its meaning?
THOSE who follow the profession of true Christian ministers today were likened in prophecy to fishers and hunters. Foretelling a time when God would perform a work of reconciliation, Jeremiah recorded: “‘Here I am sending for many fishers,’ is the utterance of Jehovah, ‘and they will certainly fish for them; and afterward I shall send for many hunters, and they will certainly hunt for them from upon every mountain and from upon every hill and out of the clefts of the crags.’” (Jer. 16:16) The meaning of this prophecy was made clear when Jesus told his disciples: “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”—Matt. 4:19.
2. Why is the training of our perceptive powers important to the ministry, and how is this illustrated?
2 If we are to qualify as expert hunters and fishers of men, we must be followers and imitators of Christ Jesus. We must first of all acquire an accurate knowledge of God’s Word as Jesus did, grasping its full significance so that we are able to discern clearly the outcome of our course of action. This means applying ourselves seriously to the training of our perceptive powers for use in the ministry. Coming out of the world, we are novices in the art, tenderfeet. Anyone can carry a gun into the woods, but that does not make him a hunter. The skilled hunter is intent on his objective, with eyes and ears alert, watching for any sign of quarry. He knows that otherwise he might go hungry or, worse, stumble into a lion’s den or step on a deadly snake. The successful hunter learns to recognize every sign of game, he learns to interpret these signs properly in their setting and he learns to use these signs to hunt down his quarry. Similarly, as the hunter’s skill is perfected in actual experience, and just as Jesus learned obedience in suffering, training our powers of discernment as Christian ministers is not the mere grasping of theoretical ideas. (Heb. 5:8) We must make an application in the field ministry of the choice wisdom gained from on high if it is to be practical and if it is to come to full fruition. Only in this way can it work to our own salvation and to the saving of those sought out.—1 Tim. 4:16.
3. Why are discipline and a close schedule important in training our perceptive powers?
3 Such a course cannot be followed without considerable effort. “True, no discipline seems for the present to be joyous, but grievous; yet afterward to those who have been trained by it it yields peaceable fruit, namely, righteousness.” (Heb. 12:11) Righteousness is a course of right doing and if we are to take hold of it we must have our perceptive powers trained by proper discipline. This means closely scheduling ourselves to avoid developing lazy habits or drifting off into indifference. Searching for the hidden treasures of God’s Word and using the knowledge most effectively in the field demand an alert and observing mind. What results do you suppose the hunter would get who sits dreamily in the shade, his gun propped against a tree?
4. In what two ways particularly can our powers of discernment be trained?
4 The proverb says: “A wise person will listen and take in more instruction, and a man of understanding is the one who acquires skillful direction.” (Prov. 1:5) Since taking in accurate knowledge and getting the sense of it is one of the first requirements in training our powers of discernment, we must seriously apply ourselves to the art. Let us consider two ways this can be done: by study and by observation. The experienced hunter realizes that knowing what to look for is basic knowledge in his profession. Therefore he has learned to recognize and distinguish the different kinds of animal tracks. He comes to know the feeding habits of various kinds of game, the meaning of all the different sounds he hears and whether they are of immediate concern in realizing his objective. With this equipment he is prepared to track down his prey and stalk it. Only the novice or tenderfoot just walks around until the game jumps out in front of him.
5. Why can we not be satisfied with a mere surface view of what we study in the Bible?
5 Our study of the Bible must follow the same pattern. Since we must have accurate knowledge ourselves if we are to be most efficient in our commission as hunters and fishers of men, then we must first of all employ these same techniques of hunting and fishing in our search for the hidden truths of God’s Word. Therefore we must learn to develop a keen awareness of what we study and how it relates to our ministerial commission. We will not be satisfied with a mere surface view but will be alert to every facet of meaning of the material under consideration.
6. In preparing for the Watchtower study, what more can be done than just marking the answers to the printed questions, and why is it so important to do more?
6 For example, when you prepare for the congregation Watchtower study, do you do more than just locate and mark the answers to the printed questions at the bottom of the page? Remember the example of the hunter who tracks down his prey and stalks it. To consider but one paragraph at a time, with its question and answer, is like the hunter who sees only one track at a time without any recognition as to what it represents in relation to the trail his quarry has left. Such a hunter can soon lose the spoor completely and, as a result, return to camp without his quarry. While we will undoubtedly benefit by learning only a few answers to a few questions in our study, we must not forget the counsel of the wise hunter Paul, who said: “That is why it is necessary for us to pay more than the usual attention to the things heard by us, that we may never drift away.” (Heb. 2:1) How much more beneficial and lasting the results of our study will be if we get the “sense” of the entire article, recognizing and applying each point of study to the development of the article’s theme, considering the application of all cited but not quoted Bible texts, outlining in our mind the main arguments and Scripture proofs that lead in a clear trail to the important conclusions that are always the objective of each study article printed in The Watchtower.
7. What heightened perception will result from conversation with our brothers on new and difficult points learned?
7 Personal study is enhanced if we are alert to discuss with our brothers new or difficult points learned. Not only do these points thereby become more clearly discerned but they are more certain to become a usable part of our storehouse of knowledge, readily available as foundation blocks on which other new and advanced truths can be built. This constant turnover of acquired information will insure against stagnation, and important principles first learned many years previous will always be fresh when needed in making decisions. In conversations with the brothers before and after meetings, going to and from the territory, in preparing for written reviews in the theocratic ministry school, your interest in sharpening your own perspective will stimulate the interest of others and you will be accomplishing good for both yourself and your brothers. “There is a frustrating of plans where there is no confidential talk, but in the multitude of counselors there is accomplishment.”—Prov. 15:22.
NEED OF GROUP STUDY
8. Why are group studies so vital to a full and accurate discernment of God’s Word?
8 However, helpful as personal study and private discussions with others may be, we must still attend the group meetings in our immediate neighborhood if we are to develop our perceptive powers in study to the full. Just as we look to God’s channel of communication for instruction in his Word, so we should seek the organized discussion of those instructions for their fullest comprehension. When we study in a group with others who are mature we are protected against drawing unwise conclusions as a result of private interpretation of some point of counsel. We are in a position to compare our brothers’ answers with those we have prepared. Are you alert to this opportunity and provision? Do you check your knowledge and understanding with what is being discussed? You may be in complete agreement with what is said. Still you will learn new ways of expressing the same thought and will certainly acquire some new ideas at each meeting. But if you hear a point expounded that you do not fully comprehend or that you have understood differently, then you will by all means want to make a note of it for later clarification so that your pursuit of the truth will not be diverted through hazy or wrong conclusions. A wise and experienced hunter will never allow himself to be drawn off the trail when the going is unsure. He will slow up and reconnoiter until he is sure of his directions and then he will move ahead again in all earnestness in pursuit of his quarry.
9. (a) What attitude of mind at the public meeting, service meeting and theocratic ministry school will benefit us the most? (b) Why should we welcome every opportunity to exercise our discernment?
9 Similarly we should be awake and alive when listening to the instructive talks presented at the public meetings, the service meetings and in the theocratic ministry school conducted at the Kingdom Hall. Sometimes we may be inclined just to sit and let the talks pour down over us, absorbing only those points that manage to stick with us. This is much like the hunter who passively though optimistically waits for the game to drop into his lap. A real student of God’s Word will learn to listen as did Jesus’ disciples, intent on grasping more than just the essentials. (Mark 4:10) If we are truly alert when listening to a talk we will not only be hearing the words being spoken but will also be thinking, learning to follow the speaker’s outline, evaluating the speaker’s ideas, associating the points being introduced with those already presented, weighing evidences offered in support of arguments, considering the completeness of proofs presented or of answers to questions that the subject has raised. Later, to test our perception and to fulfill our further responsibility to make good use of what we have learned, we can try giving a summary of one of the talks to someone who could not be present. Cite the points that were covered, the arguments and scriptures used in proof. Such thoughtful and careful attention to what is being said requires practice and keenness of discernment, but many a tenderfoot has become a skilled hunter after applying himself diligently to the art. Besides, when God’s Word is being expounded in our presence, what other attitude should we have? Simple appreciation of the truths being offered and a sincere desire to learn should be sufficient to cause us to “pay more than the usual attention,” but when we realize how vital the training of our perceptive powers is to spiritual advancement and maturity, we will welcome every opportunity to exercise our discernment.
10. What observation does Paul recommend in order to build faith, and what does this require?
10 Another important way of acquiring knowledge and information is by observation. The apostle Paul admonishes: “Remember those who are governing you [that is, within God’s organization], who have spoken the word of God to you, and as you contemplate how their conduct turns out imitate their faith.” (Heb. 13:7) Note that the apostle is not here telling us just to “copy” the actions of these men. He says we should absorb the same faith that motivates them to their exemplary deeds. That requires discernment, keen perception. Paul’s practical counsel here means that we must watch Jehovah’s leading through his organization, that is, those representing God’s organization in the congregation as overseers. Especially can we profitably observe the “faithful and discreet slave” class that he has appointed over all his Kingdom interests. “By wisdom a household will be built up and by discernment it will prove firmly established. And by knowledge will the interior rooms be filled with all precious and pleasant things of value. One wise in strength is an able-bodied man, and a man of knowledge is reinforcing power. For by skillful direction you will carry on your war, and in the multitude of counselors there is salvation.”—Prov. 24:3-6.
11. What dangers and what bad results will be avoided by our individually following the course in which God has directed his organization?
11 Jehovah is directing the course of his organization by means of his holy spirit, his active force. Over a period of eighty years in modern times we have been able to observe the reliableness of that course. Recognizing the rich blessings that Jehovah has poured out upon the “faithful and discreet slave” as a class, can we not conclude that these same benefits will result to individuals who follow that example, who pattern their course after the one taken by his organization? Why, then, should we insist on choosing our own way, setting our own standards or endeavor to evaluate our own individual judgment more highly than that of this proved faithful “slave”? That would be as fruitless as the course of the hunter following a false spoor. No matter how much one may convince himself he is on the right track, the reality is that his quarry is not at the end of the trail. Why should we delude ourselves with false hopes or personal ideas? No matter how convinced we may be or how hard we try, the prize of life is not to be had by following artfully contrived fables. (2 Pet. 1:16) “The way of the foolish one is right in his own eyes, but the one listening to counsel is wise.”—Prov. 12:15.
12. However, what snare in this regard must we be aware of, and what words of caution are contained in Paul’s admonition?
12 However, we must not be caught in the snare of blindly following an organization of men. Notice Paul’s admonition: “Contemplate how their conduct turns out.” (Heb. 13:7) Thus close observation must be made of the results of their activity, whether it is good or bad. This is in complete harmony with Paul’s further words: “Let us, then, as many of us as are mature, be of this mental attitude; . . . to what extent we have made progress, let us go on walking orderly in this same routine. Unitedly become imitators of me, brothers, and keep your eye on those who are walking in a way that accords with the example you have in us.”—Phil. 3:15-17.
13. (a) Why is real discernment so essential in following those taking the lead? (b) What is the deeper significance of ‘distinguishing right and wrong,’ and how must we learn to evaluate a matter?
13 Sometimes an overseer or someone prominent in God’s organization will take a wrong course and the bad results will not become apparent for some time. That is why discernment is essential in following the example of those taking the lead. If we were imitating men we would be easily led astray, but if we follow Paul’s counsel and seek to imitate the faith of these men, then we will be guided by God’s Word and led by God’s spirit. The exercise of our perceptive powers will train us to distinguish both right and wrong. Such differentiating between right and wrong does not mean just to see and draw contrasts or opposites. Wrong must be seen and hated for what it is, a violation of God’s law. (Amos 5:15; 1 John 3:4) So doing, we will not condone it because it is practiced by someone we may love or respect. (Deut. 13:6-9) Adam made that mistake in judgment. He knew the difference between right and wrong and he knew Eve had taken a wrong course, but he did not hate wrongdoing enough to permit it to control the love he thought he had for Eve. Had he truly loved Eve he would have sought her welfare and would have taken a course of conduct consistent with his realization that Jehovah cannot and will not bless wrong deeds. Violation of a principle is wrong no matter who is guilty. If we would develop true discernment we must learn to evaluate a matter by and in the light of God’s Word, not by the individuals that are involved.—Prov. 3:5, 6; 10:23.
GETTING THE SENSE OF COUNSEL
14. What is another factor in learning by observation, and what is involved in getting the most from it?
14 Another factor in helpful observation is getting the sense of counsel when it is given. Discipline, properly applied, will train, whether it is administered individually or collectively. “He that is reproving a man will afterward find more favor than he will that is flattering with his tongue.” (Prov. 28:23) Knowing that counsel is for our good, we cherish it as we do our heavenly Father for administering it lovingly for our salvation. But getting the sense of counsel requires prayerful consideration. Just as we cannot expect to take in knowledge and retain it without fully digesting it, neither can we grasp the full significance of discipline and training, applying it wisely, without honestly meditating upon it, considering the facts in the light of the scriptures presented, just as the skilled hunter keeps adding up evidences of game to lead in an unerring trail.
15, 16. What should our attitude toward counsel always be, whether it applies to us directly or not?
15 Regardless of the counsel given or of to whom it is directed, we can almost certainly find some way in which it can apply to ourselves if we are alert. “Reprove before all onlookers persons who practice sin, that the rest also may have fear,” said Paul. (1 Tim. 5:20) Jesus gave those listening to his sermon on the mount no justification for self-righteousness when he cautioned them: “You heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You must not murder; but whoever commits a murder will be accountable to the court of justice.’ However, I say to you that everyone who continues angry with his brother will be accountable to the court of justice.” Could any of his audience say they had never held any bitterness whatsoever toward any of their brothers? Jesus further warned his hearers: “You heard that it was said, ‘You must not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone that keeps on looking at a woman so as to have a passion for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matt. 5:21, 22, 27, 28) Who within the sound of Jesus’ voice could clear his conscience without a twinge of guilt? In these days of advanced wickedness, we too must be alert to discern the sense of all words of counsel we receive from God’s Word through his organization.
16 When a letter is read to the congregation disfellowshiping someone for wrongdoing, what do you feel? Sorrow that a brother or sister has lacked or refused to exercise sufficient discernment to imitate the faith of God’s “faithful and discreet slave”? It should grieve us. But do you also feel the need to strengthen your own position within the protection of God’s provision for right doing? Do you seriously consider those acts of conduct that have contributed, step by step, to the consequences your brother’s course has resulted in? Do you honestly look at your own course of conduct to eliminate any possibility of duplicating his error, or do you gloss over minor violations as being inconsequential, not of sufficient magnitude for any concern? The mature Christian knows he can never take anything for granted, no matter how farfetched the final results of any shortcoming may seem.—1 Cor. 10:12.
17. (a) What can be the result for not applying to ourselves the counsel and training received through God’s organization? (b) What must we do as individuals to advance to maturity?
17 If we do not apply to ourselves the counsel and training regularly received through God’s organization, then we become like the hunter who sees signs of game but who ignores them and goes off in another direction. This course is to fail in taking the first step in making wise decisions, this rendering us completely unqualified to fulfill the main purpose of our receiving knowledge and instruction, that is, to become “doers of the word,” using it in preaching and teaching “this good news of the kingdom.” Jehovah’s witnesses have an organization of truth. It has been acquired by faithfully following Jehovah’s direction each step of the way, refusing to be sidetracked by false tracks that have crossed and crisscrossed that way. If we as individuals are to advance to maturity we must uphold the truth of that organization. We must obtain accurate knowledge by using our perceptive powers, getting the sense of it and adhering to it strictly, not being turned aside into following false trails. (1 Tim. 1:3, 4) Our protection is to be found in a careful and continual study of God’s Word, in accepting reproof and seeking counsel constantly from and through God’s organization.
18, 19. What benefits are to be had in increasing our thinking ability and in training our perceptive powers?
18 This is no time to stand still. In separating ourselves from this present system of things by changing over our thinking and by associating ourselves with God’s arrangement, we have taken a forward step. If we do not increase our thinking ability we will lose our place in the New World society. Listen to Jehovah’s Word: “When wisdom enters into your heart and knowledge itself becomes pleasant to your very soul, thinking ability itself will keep guard over you, discernment itself will safeguard you.” “The peace of God that excels all thought will guard your hearts and your mental powers by means of Christ Jesus. . . . The things which you learned as well as accepted and heard and saw in connection with me, practice these; and the God of peace will be with you.”—Prov. 2:10, 11; Phil. 4:7-9.
19 Train your perceptive powers. By so doing you will not only qualify for the solid spiritual food that Jehovah is supplying his mature organization but, through your right decisions under every trying circumstance, you will be able to stand with confidence in the ranks of those who are skilled hunters and fishers of men, teachers of the Word in Jehovah’s New World society.