We have looked at four dimensions of discernment. We could look at many others, but I’ll bring this segment of our study to a close by examining a fifth element…
Discernment is making crucial distinctions.
(1) We must distinguish between ambition and purpose. Ambition is a result of egotism; purpose is a response to grace. Discernment comes to those who choose to live for the glory of God, not themselves. This is tricky, and we can be easily deceived by our own self-interests. But even when we don’t always get it right, we must not lose sight of this essential principle.
(2) We must distinguish between happiness and joy. We live in a time when a “prosperity gospel” (which is no gospel) has made us think that finding and following God’s will is like going to a party. But the Gospel says it is more like journeying to the Cross. Jesus never thought that the way to know God’s will was whether or not it made you “happy.” He knew the Christian life is full of challenges, but even as he faced the Cross, he did so with joy (Hebrews 12:2), because he knew that doing the will of God is the strength of our life.
(3) We must distinguish between success and significance. The will of God may actually “reduce the numbers,” but it never erodes the importance of what is being said and done. Here is where discernment intersects the counter-cultural nature of the Gospel. We find and follow God’s will in the midst of a fallen world. What we say will not always be received well and what we do will not always be celebrated. But discernment reminds us to live by significance, not success.
(4) We must distinguish between expectations and desire. Ask any person and they will tell you that it’s possible to drown in a sea of expectations. People can easily ask us to do too much and to do things that we are not actually called to do. Discernment is based on desire—“thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Again, we will not always get it right, but we know that doing the will of God is not the same as doing what everyone expects us to do—either in terms of number or nature.
We become a discerning people by making these kinds of distinctions. All of them (in one way or another) call us to differentiate between an ego-driven life and a God-directed life. We will never get things perfect in this scheme, but at least we will know we are facing in the right direction.