When my children were young, I read them George MacDonald’s books The Princess and the Goblin and The Princess and Curdie. Curdie was a lowly coal miner’s son with an extraordinary gift of discernment. A simple handshake told him whether or not someone was who he appeared to be. Instead of a normal human palm, Curdie would feel an animal that represented the person’s character.
What a wonderful gift. Wouldn’t you like to know whether the interviewee is an industrious beaver or a leech before you hire her?
But what happens when your discernment reveals that someone you want to trust is really a snake? What happens when your insight puts you in the uncomfortable position of being misunderstood or makes you look like the bad guy?
In MacDonald’s story, when Curdie meets the queen’s doctor, he discovers why she is not getting better. Despite the doctor’s apparent devotion, his palm shows he’s a serpent.
Thus enters the problem of discernment. What can Curdie do with his understanding? Who will believe a coal miner’s son over the respected royal physician? How can he explain to those who trust the man’s loyal facade?
Discernment is “the quality of being able to grasp and comprehend what is obscure.” By definition, discernment deals with the hidden. I Corinthians 2:15 associates the ability to question, examine, scrutinize, and discern with those who are spiritual.
As wonderful as discernment is, it can create problems. Those who don’t pick up what we perceive may criticize and even ostracize us. We face the uncomfortable choice of trusting our radar or believing what someone presents.
When we sense something is wrong how should we proceed?
Your uncle has agreed to watch your kids, but now you feel uneasy. Don’t tell yourself: “My uncle makes me uncomfortable, but he’s family. Surely, he wouldn’t hurt his own relatives.” Explore your discomfort before you entrust you precious children into his care. It’s not mean to be cautious. It is better to be misunderstood than to risk their welfare.
People accused Jesus of having a demon when He recognized their intent to kill him (John 7:19-20). Follow His example: “24 But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people. 25 He did not need any testimony about mankind, for he knew what was in each person” (John 2:23-25, NIV).Listening to your radar may mean more work in the short term. It may mean missing an event you wanted to attend. You may be misunderstood. But it may save you a lot of grief in the long run.
Ask for wisdom.
The Bible makes an astonishing promise: “Everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened” (Matthew 7:8). When your radar alerts you something isn’t quite right, ask God for wisdom on how to proceed. He promises to guide you.
We lose what we don’t use (Matthew 25:28-29). Like anything else, discernment grows with practice. Exercise the insight the Holy Spirit gives you.
Ignorance is not bliss. Welcome discernment.
How has discernment protected you? Click here to share your thoughts.
Debbie W. Wilson
Photo by: John Eisenschenk
Diane Allen says
Excellent post Debbie. It has taken me a long time to learn to listen to this inner discernment.
Debbie Wilson says
Diane, I think most of us have wrestled with this at some time or another. It can be confusing when no one else seems to see what we sense. I’m glad you’re practicing it now.
Amy Nowak says
My husband’s discernment saved my life. When I was temped to dive off a cliff into a wide pool of water, some people enjoying the view encouraged me to jump. But as I stepped near the edge, my husband took my arm and led me away. I was upset because I wanted to have fun! We found out later there were rocks below. The Spirit’s prompt leads to life, and ignoring it can be deadly.
Debbie Wilson says
Amy, your experience gave me goose bumps. I’m so thankful your husband listened to his internal warning and stopped you. I love your summation, “the Spirit’s prompt leads to life,” even when it seems to be taking away our temporary fun.
Ann Musico says
Definitely Debbie – I think we can all relate as we’ve all felt the tug to do or not do something or to trust or mistrust someone – and couldn’t give a concrete reason. But that insight and discernment are amazing tools God has given us. I need to listen more carefully sometimes and move a little more slowly!
Debbie Wilson says
Ann, you’re right. Discernment tells us when to trust as well as when to be careful. Thanks for reading and sharing.
Hi, I realize this is a old article but I’m wondering if you can share any books on discernment.