The Disciplines of Life: Discernment, Decision and Duty

This is the fourth article in our series, The Disciplines of Life. We have studied: Solitude, Discipleship and Dependability & Determination thus far. There are many disciplines that should be evident in the life of the Christian. In this article, we want to look at the disciplines of discernment, decision, and duty.

As we have been emphasizing in this series, these are called “disciplines” because they are not acquired without deliberate effort. Discipline is “Training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character” (Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, p. 360). Please consider …

 

Discernment

One of the disciplines of life that we must develop is that of discernment. As we go through life, we are impacted by people, places and events. We might consider those things stimuli (i.e. something that incites to action or exertion or quickens action, feeling, thought, etc.). As Christians, it is important that we exercise discernment in determining the source of those stimuli; are they of God or of Satan?

 

The writer of the Hebrew letter tells us that we must be disciplined to discern both good and evil and that this is a work of spiritual maturity (Heb. 5:11-14). One who has not fed upon the Word of God, first with the “milk,” and then progressing to the “strong meat” (KJV) of the Word is NOT able to properly make these right decisions!

Think about the contrast we see between the actions of God vs. actions of Satan upon our lives:

Area of Influence God Satan
Our Mistakes Offers the blood of Jesus that washes whiter than snow (Isa. 1:18; 1Jn. 1:9) Takes pleasure in them, especially if his “wiles” have contributed (Eph. 6:11)
Our Motivations Points us to the pathway of self-denial and selfless service (Mt. 16:24-26 Tempts us with self-interests, physical needs, social position, etc. (Mt. 4:3, 8; 16:23
Our Perspective Exalts the present help of the Lord (Ps. 46:1). Reminds us of the promises, whereby we can hope against hope (Rom. 5:3-5). Emphasizes the past, with its mistakes and heartaches. Magnifies our problems, by showing their hoplessness, impossibility, and pail
Our Guide Walk by faith (2Cor. 5:7; Heb. 11:6). Forget the past and reach forward (Phil. 3:13-14). Walk by sight and earthly wisdom (“the counsel of the ungodly” Ps. 1:1).

 

It is so very important, as we attempt to live for Jesus here, that we focus our attention on developing the discipline of discernment. Won’t you be persuaded, dear friend, to do that?

 

 Decision

Secondly, consider the discipline of decision. In the course of a lifetime there are many decisions to be made. Some of these decisions seem very trivial at the time and others may weigh on us because of their importance in setting the future course of our lives.  The Scriptures promise guidance in these decisions to the trusting Christian (Ps. 32:8; 25:9). The “way which you should go” often become more clear after meditation and prayer! Seeking guidance from God before making a decision is never a bad thing!

Of particular interest in considering this discipline is Jeremiah 42:3-10. First consider the context of this passage. “Jeremiah lived during troubled times. He became a prophet during Josiah’s reign (640-609 B.C.). Josiah was the last faithful king in Judah’s history (2Kings 22:1-23:7). His death (2Kings 23:28-30) marked the beginning of the last years of the nation of Judah…. Jeremiah was a biblical theologian…. Whom the Holy Spirit inspired to write fresh treatments of old themes and some ideas that were new when Jeremiah penned them…. the prophet asks people over 100 times to ‘turn around’ or ‘repent.’ ” (ESV Study Bible, pp. 1364-1367).   From this passage we glean three outstanding factors that determine the discipline of decision:

  1. Willingness to ask guidance from God (vv3 and 6, Js. 1:5). They said, “Whether it be good, or whether it be evil, we will obey the voice of the Lord our God…” We have many examples in Scripture of those who were willing to seek guidance from God before embarking on an important activity: “Moses at the Red Sea, Joshua at passage of the Jordan, Ruth in the village of Bethlehem, David in the wilderness, Nehemiah in the court of the king, Jeremiah in the prison, Peter on the housetop, and Paul on board the storm-tossed sailing craft” (Erdman, p. 40)
  2. Willingness to wait for God’s guidance (v7). They had to wait for ten days for the word of the Lord to come to Jeremiah after he asked God on their behalf. There is a song by Stuart Hamblen that speaks to the need to wait for God. The lyrics of that song are as follows:

Teach Me Lord to Wait

Teach me Lord to wait right down on my knees,
Till in Your own good time You answer my pleas;
Teach me not to rely on what others do,
But to wait in prayer for an answer from You.

 

Refrain:

“They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength,
They shall mount up with wings like eagles.
They shall run and not be weary,
They shall walk and not faint.”
Teach me Lord, teach me Lorde, to wait

 

Teach me Lord to wait while hearts are a-flame,
Let me humble my price and call on your name.
Keep my faith renewed, my eyes on Thee,
Let me be on this earth what you want me to be

 

  1. Willingness to obey the will of God (v. 10). The word from Jeremiah to the people was, “If you will indeed stay in this land, then I will build you up and not tear you down, and I will plant you and not uproot you; for I will relent concerning the calamity that I have inflicted on you.” This was not really what they wanted to hear. Secretly they desired to flee into the land of Egypt where they would not see pestilence nor warfare; but they wanted God’s approval of their preference.

 

Sadly, in the following chapter we find the description of their failure to obey, “Azariah the son of Hoshaiah, and Johanan the son of Kareah, and all the arrogant men said to Jeremiah, “You are telling a lie! The Lord our God has not sent you to say, ‘You are not to enter Egypt to reside there’; 3 but Baruch the son of Neriah is inciting you against us to give us over into the hand of the Chaldeans, so they will put us to death or exile us to Babylon.” 4 So Johanan the son of Kareah and all the [a]commanders of the forces, and all the people, did not obey the voice of the Lord to stay in the land of Judah” (Jer. 43:2-4).

 

The question for all of us is, are we willing to obey the voice of the Lord “whether it be good or whether it be evil.”

 

Duty

“Is there delight deeper or more delectable than that of duty diligently done? To know one’s responsibility, to face its circumstances, both favorable and unfavorable, to follow the line of duty without deviation caused by difficulties or distraction, and to fulfill the task as assigned – all this brings great joy. Between finding out our task and fulfilling the same there lies the discipline of duty, often arduous and difficult, even to the point of impossibility”

(Edman, p. 247).

 

We have many Bible examples of those who responded when the will of God called them to duty. The Apostle Paul obeyed when he was called to bear witness in Rome (Acts 23:11). Abraham went when called to go out to a land that he knew nothing about and had not seen with the promise that he would inherit that land (Gen. 12). Joseph responded to God’s call to become the ruler and benefactor of his brethren (Gen. 39). Moses, though feeling unqualified followed God’s direction to lead his enslaved people from the iron furnace of Egypt (Ex. 3). David said “yes” when God called him to leave his duties as a shepherd boy to become king over Israel (1Sam. 16). Cyrus the Persian became God’s hands and feet to order the restoration of Jerusalem (Ezra 1). Mary humbled herself to become the mother of the messiah, to see the performance of those things told her from the Lord (Lk. 1:26ff).

 

Forces that may oppose our performance of Duty include the wrath of men, the waste of years, the waves of despair, and the wickedness of the Adversary.

 

  1. The Wrath of Men

They plotted to take Paul’s life the morning after the Lord called him to witness at Rome (Acts 23:12-13).  When David became King, the Philistines came up to seek him to thwart that from happening (2Sam. 5:17). When Nehemiah sought to rebuild his city, the adversaries were present with intimidation, innuendo, intrigue, and insinuation, to resist his efforts.

 

  1. Waste of Years

“Paul was taken from Jerusalem to Caesarea on his way to Rome, only to languish for an undefined and interminable period. There was no case against him, but he had no friends at court, nor would he stoop to bribery (Acts 24:26); with the result that he remained immobile in the dungeon. His soul entered into delay and darkness, caused by the negligence and selfishness of others” (Erdman, p. 250). Moses was rejected by his people and spent 40 years in the wilderness. David was hunted by an insanely jealous Saul and spent years fleeing to escape his attempts to kill him. Elijah sat by the brook when Ahab ruled the land.

 

  1. Waves of Despair

Paul did not perish in prison. He was compelled to appeal to Caesar. The indifference on the part of others comes to an end. Moses is called by God to go down into Egypt. Elijah is sent to Ahab. Paul at Tarsus is called to Antioch. “When God’s hour strikes, you will go forward into His will. Not perhaps as you had planned but in a way which He sees is best for you.” (Erdman, p. 251). The Lord often takes the storm out of the life of His children before He takes them out of the storm.

 

  1. The Wickedness of the Adversary

And then sometimes when all of the other forces have failed to hinder the performance of duty, the adversary makes a direct attack. Sometime that may come by sickness (Lk. 13:16), other times by self-pity (Mt. 16:21-25) or by self-sufficiency (1Tim. 3:6).

 

“The Discipline of Duty is not easy nor light, its performance is painful and perilous, but its culmination is delight” (Erdman. P. 253)

 

Conclusion:

Discernment, Decision, and Duty are disciplines worthy of our pursuit! Do you possess them? If not won’t you consider carefully what we have said and determine to grow by adding them to your character?

(Source: The Disciplines of Life by V. Raymond Erdman, pp. 39–43, 167–171, 247-253)