This is the ability to judge well, distinguish between truth and error, to ‘think Biblically’ what is ‘of God’ and what is not. It is being sensitive to the Holy Spirit, rather than relying on our understanding or preferences.
King Solomon asked for a discerning heart to be able to wisely govern and to know the difference between right and wrong (1 Kgs 3:5-9). Life consists of a vast array of decisions we must make – some have disastrous results if a wrong choice is made – hence the need to be able to perceive, recognise, distinguish right from wrong, know the difference between what is right and almost right, together with the best way to do something. While some people have heightened natural intuition, insight or gut feeling we all should pray for perception and wisdom to look beyond the urgent and good, to the essential and best, penetrating deeper than the skin or façade to the real motive or reason, so we know what God would have us do (1 Chr 12:32). The Bible warns against embracing any psychic ability or method (Deut 18:10-14).
Ask God for a discerning heart
Word of God, besides enabling the identification of, and hence the deliverance from evil spirits (1 Cor 12:10; 2 Tim 2:15; 1 Jn 4:1-6).
In natural matters, the Holy Spirit can ‘nudge’ us and in the spiritual there are principles involved because whatever is of God will be motivated by love, Jesus will be at the centre, it will be confirmed by the Bible, the church and believers will be built up, and righteousness promoted. No direction or prompting by the Holy Spirit will be contrary to the Bible and God’s holy loving nature. We should ask God for discernment, commonsense, a sensitive heart to hear His voice and then have the conviction to act upon it as we grow in confidence with the insight gained (Eph 1:17-19; Heb 5:13,14; Jas 1:5). The Word of God is the standard by which all choices are to be judged, as it is not in man to direct his steps for all our ways are evil continually (Gen 6:5; Jer 10:23). Obedience to God’s guidance and discernment is essential so we are not deceived and fail to fulfilling our calling in Christ (Eph 5:15-17).
Have a Bible based faith in God
agreement with God's Word (Act 17:11). Whatever supposedly comes from God must be tested as Satan the deceiver, working through his followers and demons, attempts to counterfeit God’s work although it will be warped and lead away from God, not towards Him (Mt 24:24; Jn 8:44; 2 Cor 11:11-14; 2 Thes 2:9). Thus we must distinguish if any encounter, event and communication (written or verbal) originates from the carnal human, divine or Satanic sources (Act 10:30-35, 16:16-18). Jesus didn’t rebuke Peter but rightly recognised the spirit (Satan) behind his opinion when Peter was mistakenly trying to turn Jesus away from the cross (Mt 16:21-23). The Bible counsels, “Continually be discerning…Stop judging by mere appearances, and make right judgements...A discerning person sets their face towards wisdom” (Prov 3:21, 17:24; Jn 7:24).
Wise counsel cut through the confusion, and angry emotions (Act 5:30-40). The truly spiritual person judges or discerns all things and has “the mind of Christ…From now on we regard no-one from a worldly point of view” and will be mature not being tossed back and forth by conflicting views (1 Cor 2:14-16; 2 Cor 5:16; Eph 4:14; 1 Thes 5:21). It takes experience, continuing effort and insight to correctly interpret or discern the ‘signs of the times’ besides what is of God and what is ‘wolves dressed in sheep’s clothing’ (Mt 7:15, 16:3). By observing the seasons and times we can arrive at various conclusions, however, spiritual discernment goes beyond natural understanding and intuition with the solution only found in God and the Bible, not any other source (Lk 21:29-31; 2 Tim 3:15).
Lord, what is the truth?
(Ps 25:9; Jer 10:23; 2 Cor 5:10). Pray “I am your servant, give me discernment” then as we see what God is doing we can embrace it and co-operate with Him (Ps 119:125). Paul prayed for the believers that they would discern what is best (Phil 1:9,10). If possible delay acting on decisions until you clearly discern the mind of the Lord and you have peace in your heart. Asking the advice of mature believers is also helpful. If you must make a decision do so with the knowledge and understanding you have and trust God.
When there is turmoil within it is almost impossible to hear His voice so we should endeavour to have the peace of God ruling in our hearts at all times (Phil 4:7). Zadok was a priest who clearly discerned what was right, and was rewarded for doing it when in the natural the opposite decision was the popular vote (1 Kgs 2:35; Ezek 44:15,16).
The Bible gives a solemn warning that prior to taking communion we are to examine our hearts and deal with any sin issues, so we do not take it with an unrepentant attitude as sin was the cause of His body being broken and His blood shed (1 Cor 11:27-29).
See also: choice, conscience, critical thinking, deception, decisions, false teaching, God's will, guidance (divine), hearing God’s voice, insight, intuition, judging, motive/motivation, revelation, spiritual gifts, understanding, wisdom/wise.