Updated: Oct 12, 2022
(Part 1 in a short series)
Learning to discern God’s leading can be a tough discipline. The number of hours I’ve committed to prayer over this one area is significant. Yet, the struggle was real!
During this short series of articles we will walk through the Scriptures and provide you with some practical steps and tools you can use to grow in your spiritually-fueled discernment.
As we consider this spiritual discipline there are a few elephants to be addressed.
It is not my intent to step on anyone’s theological toes as it relates to how God communicates with His children. There are varied beliefs along these lines and I’ll leave it between you and God to find agreement.
With that said, let’s go to the Bible for guidance.
In Romans 12:1-2 the Apostle Paul wrote: (1) I appeal to you therefore, brothers (and sisters), by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. (2) Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (emphasis added)
Let’s take a moment and unpack these two verses. Words matter and God’s words bring that truth to a higher level.
A Discernment Exercise
In verse 1 we will look at the following words and their meaning in their original language.
(Used Bible Hub app to research original text meanings)
Sacrifice means: offering
Holy means: set apart
Spiritual worship means: Service rendered to God
Let’s view verse one (in part) with their meanings inserted. Read both translations out loud.
”...present your bodies as a living offering, set apart and acceptable to God, which is your service rendered to God.”
How do the two readings resonate with you? You may want to take a moment and write down those observations.
Now do the same exercise with verse two.
Transformed means: transfigured, metamorphose
Renewal means: change of heart and life
Discern means: to test, to approve
Will means: wishes, desires, choice or inclination
Rewritten with the above meanings: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transfigured by the change of heart/life of your intellect, that by testing you may test and approve what is the wishes/desires/choice or inclination of God…”
Once again read both versions out loud. How did the two versions resonate with you? Take some notes on this as well.
Some may be thinking that this was a fun or even cool exercise, or you may be wondering what is the point of this exercise. I confess I’m the nerd-ish type that finds it cool.
The point of this exercise is learning one method of discerning the meaning and intent of God’s words to you.
This is a method of using our intellect (verse 2) to discern what God’s desires, wishes, choices or inclinations are for us. In other words (pun intended), discovering His will for us and our life with Him.
Holy Spirit’s Involvement
Holy Spirit (I left “the” out on purpose) is our Helper. Jesus, speaking to his disciples in John 16:7, says this: “Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.”
We also read in 1 Corinthians 2:14: “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” (emphasis added)
If the natural person (that’s you and me) doesn’t accept the things of the Spirit, we’re already at a disadvantage. This verse goes on to tell us we are not able to understand them. Why? Because they are spiritually discerned.
The Bible in its entirety is infallible and without error. We know the Scriptures were recorded by men. Scripture also tells us the Word of God was written with the full and perfect understanding and guidance of Holy Spirit. ( 2 Timothy 3:16-17.)
If the Bible was Holy Spirit guided in its writing of it, would it then follow that mankind's ability to read and grow in understanding of the text of the Bible would need Holy Spirit’s help to discern (test & approve) what it means?
Here’s a simple but practically helpful prayer for you to use as you read and study Scripture. I’ve repeated this prayer multiple times and will continue as I read the Bible:
“Holy Spirit, Helper sent by Jesus, help me to discern and understand what God has written to us. I pray my own interpretation gets set aside and I grow in hearing and understanding Your Word as you intend for me to hear and understand it. In Jesus name, Amen.”
You can adapt the words to your style, but I believe you get the point. I pray that I keep myself from reading into the text, but instead seek to let the text speak out to me through the power of God's Spirit.
In theological terms, reading into the verse is Eisegesis, which is a reading into the text one’s own ideas or beliefs. Not a good plan.
On the other hand, Exegesis, which is reading out from the text (text informing you). This is the wisest and best way to read Scripture.
Scripture interprets Scripture, as my very wise pastor of many years once shared with me. Very sage advice.
Where to next?
In the next writing we will take a look at the question, does Holy Spirit (God) still speak to us today, and if so, how?
Until next time, seek first the Kingdom, friends.