Can You Cultivate More Discernment?
DISCERNMENT is “the power or faculty of the mind by which it distinguishes one thing from another.” It can also be “acuteness of judgment” or the “power of perceiving differences of things or ideas.” So says Webster’s Universal Dictionary. Clearly, discernment is a quality to be desired. Its value is seen in Solomon’s words: “When wisdom enters into your heart and knowledge itself becomes pleasant to your very soul, . . . discernment itself will safeguard you, to deliver you from the bad way.”—Proverbs 2:10-12.
Yes, discernment will help us to resist “the bad way,” which exists in an abundance today. And it brings many other benefits. For example, parents often hear their children say, ‘You just don’t understand!’ With a little probing, parents who are discerning know how to draw out the feelings and issues that are troubling their children. (Proverbs 20:5) A discerning husband will listen to his wife and gain insight into her thinking and feelings rather than jump to conclusions. The wife will do the same with her husband. Thus, “by wisdom a household will be built up, and by discernment it will prove firmly established.”—Proverbs 24:3.
Discernment helps a person to handle situations successfully. Proverbs 17:27 says: “Anyone holding back his sayings is possessed of knowledge, and a man of discernment is cool of spirit.” A discerning person is not hotheaded, rushing into every situation without thinking. He carefully ponders the possible outcomes before committing himself. (Luke 14:28, 29) He also enjoys more peaceful relations with others because a “mouth of discretion” leads him to choose his words carefully. (Proverbs 10:19; 12:8) But, most important, a discerning person humbly recognizes his own limitations and looks to God rather than men for guidance. This is pleasing to Jehovah and is another reason for cultivating discernment.—Proverbs 2:1-9; James 4:6.
Israel’s Lack of Discernment
The danger of failing to exercise discernment is seen in an event in the early history of Israel. Looking back on that time, the inspired psalmist said: “As for our forefathers in Egypt, they did not show any insight into your wonderful works. They did not remember the abundance of your grand loving-kindness, but they behaved rebelliously at the sea, by the Red Sea.”—Psalm 106:7.
When Moses led Israel out of Egypt, Jehovah had already shown his power and his determination to free his people by visiting ten plagues on that mighty world power. After Pharaoh let the Israelites go, Moses led them to the banks of the Red Sea. However, the armies of Egypt marched after them in pursuit. It seemed as though the Israelites were trapped and that their newfound freedom was to be very short-lived. So the Bible record says: “The sons of Israel got quite afraid and began to cry out to Jehovah.” And they turned on Moses, saying: “What is this that you have done to us in leading us out of Egypt? . . . For it is better for us to serve the Egyptians than for us to die in the wilderness.”—Exodus 14:10-12.
Their fear may seem understandable until we remember that they had already seen ten outstanding demonstrations of Jehovah’s power. They knew firsthand what Moses would remind them of some 40 years later: “Jehovah brought us out of Egypt with a strong hand and an outstretched arm and with great fearsomeness and with signs and miracles.” (Deuteronomy 26:8) Hence, as the psalmist wrote, when the Israelites turned against Moses’ direction, “they did not show any insight.” Nevertheless, Jehovah, true to his promise, inflicted a stunning defeat on the forces of Egypt.—Exodus 14:19-31.
Our faith could similarly falter if we were to greet trials with doubt or indecision. Discernment will help us to view things always in perspective, remembering how much greater Jehovah is than any who may be opposing us. Discernment will also help us to keep in mind what Jehovah has already done for us. It will help us never to lose sight of the fact that he is the One “guarding all those loving him.”—Psalm 145:18-20.
Gaining Spiritual Discernment
Discernment does not automatically come with age. It must be cultivated. Wise King Solomon, who gained international fame for his discernment, said: “Happy is the man that has found wisdom, and the man that gets discernment, for having it as gain is better than having silver as gain and having it as produce than gold itself.” (Proverbs 3:13, 14) Where did Solomon get his discernment? From Jehovah. When Jehovah asked Solomon what blessing he wanted, Solomon answered: “You must give to your servant an obedient heart to judge your people, to discern between good and bad.” (1 Kings 3:9) Yes, Solomon looked to Jehovah as his helper. He asked for discernment, and Jehovah gave it to him to an unusual degree. The result? “Solomon’s wisdom was vaster than the wisdom of all the Orientals and than all the wisdom of Egypt.”—1 Kings 4:30.
Solomon’s experience shows us where to go in our search for discernment. Like Solomon, we should look to Jehovah. How? Well, Jehovah has provided his Word, the Bible, which gives us insight into his thinking. When we read the Bible, we are digging into a valuable quarry of knowledge that will provide the building blocks of spiritual discernment. The information that we accumulate from our Bible reading should be meditated upon. Then, it can be used to make right decisions. In time, our perceptive powers are developed to the extent that we become “full-grown in powers of understanding,” able to “distinguish [or, discern between] both right and wrong.”—1 Corinthians 14:20; Hebrews 5:14; compare 1 Corinthians 2:10.
Interestingly, we can still benefit from the discernment that Jehovah gave to Solomon. How? Solomon became adept at expressing wisdom in the form of proverbs, which were, in effect, capsules of divinely inspired wisdom. Many of these sayings are preserved in the Bible book of Proverbs. Studying that book helps us to benefit from Solomon’s discernment and also to develop discernment ourselves.
To help us in our Bible study, we can use Bible study aids, such as the Watchtower and Awake! magazines. For more than 116 years, The Watchtower has been announcing Jehovah’s Kingdom to honesthearted ones. Awake! magazine and its predecessors have been commenting on world conditions since 1919. These two magazines examine Bible truths and provide progressive spiritual enlightenment that helps us to discern errors, whether they are taught by Christendom or are found in our own thinking patterns.—Proverbs 4:18.
Another help in developing discernment is right association. One of King Solomon’s proverbs says: “He that is walking with wise persons will become wise, but he that is having dealings with the stupid ones will fare badly.” (Proverbs 13:20) It is a shame that King Solomon’s son Rehoboam did not remember this proverb at an important juncture in his life. After the death of his father, the tribes of Israel came to him to demand that he lighten their burdens. First, Rehoboam consulted with the older men, and these showed discernment when they encouraged him to listen to his subjects. Then, he went to the younger men. These showed inexperience and a lack of discernment, encouraging Rehoboam to answer the Israelites with threats. Rehoboam listened to the younger men. The result? Israel rebelled, and Rehoboam lost a large part of his kingdom.—1 Kings 12:1-17.
A vital part of developing discernment is seeking the help of holy spirit. In reviewing Jehovah’s dealings with the Israelites after their release from captivity in Egypt, the Bible writer Nehemiah said: “Your good spirit you gave to make them prudent.” (Nehemiah 9:20) Jehovah’s spirit can also help to make us prudent. As you pray for Jehovah’s spirit to give you discernment, pray with confidence because Jehovah “gives generously to all and without reproaching.”—James 1:5; Matthew 7:7-11; 21:22.
Discernment and Insight
The apostle Paul showed discernment when he preached the truth to people of the nations. Once, for example, while in Athens, he was “passing along and carefully observing” their objects of veneration. Paul was surrounded by idols, and his spirit became irritated within him. Now he had a decision to make. Should he pursue the safe course and keep quiet? Or should he speak out frankly about the rampant idolatry that he found so irritating, even though doing so could be dangerous?
Paul acted with discernment. He had caught sight of an altar with the inscription: “To an Unknown God.” Tactfully, Paul acknowledged their devotion to idols and then used that altar as a way to introduce the subject of “the God that made the world and all the things in it.” Yes, Jehovah was the God they did not know about! Paul thereby took account of their sensitivity on the matter and was able to give a marvelous witness. With what result? A number of people embraced the truth, including “Dionysius, a judge of the court of the Areopagus, and a woman named Damaris, and others besides them.” (Acts 17:16-34) What an example of discernment Paul was!
Without question, discernment does not come easily or naturally. But with patience, prayer, earnest effort, wise association, study of the Bible and meditation on it, and reliance on Jehovah’s holy spirit, you too can cultivate it.