The Lost Art of Discernment

By Jackie Gable

My little boy just turned eight months old and everyday he becomes more aware of his surroundings. His eyes and ears are constantly perking up with interest. Soon he’ll be able to identify shapes, colors and animal names and sounds. Unfortunately, I can’t just download all that information into his head, but rather he must learn it…a process which takes time and practice.

The word “discernment” means to separate by understanding, to distinguish, or to judge with knowledge.

We discern things all the time. For instance, we need discernment to know which hole in the wall is a door, which shoes make a pair and the correct foot on which to wear them, and so on. At one point of your life you didn’t know those things. You lacked the discernment. But now that you’re older and wiser, it’s become like second nature.

More important than physical discernment is spiritual discernment. I’m not talking about knowing the difference between good and evil spirits as spoken about in First John 4:1 (although that is important, too). Rather I’m talking about seeing and understanding the needs and feelings of others while possessing the ability to judge the right course of action.

A perfect example of someone with spiritual discernment was Jesus Christ. While on this earth he was constantly in tune with the needs of others (He still is by the way). He knew when to speak, when to listen, and even when to refuse to speak. He observed the spiritual and physical needs of others. We too can know people’s spiritual and physical needs, but this knowledge is not magically acquired. It takes time, patience, graciousness, and lots of quiet observation.

Here are some real-life illustrations with simple suggestions on how to be a young lady of discernment:


Your clothing speaks volume about who you are! What you wear and when you wear it, believe it or not, takes godly discernment. Believe me; I know how difficult and frustrating this topic can be. But I hope your desire to be stylish and attractive is accompanied with modesty and humility.

One major area we need discernment with our clothes is whenever we are around boys. Always be conscience of your neck line and skirt height when sitting. Believe me when I say they take notice! Sometimes it’s better to defer to a less-flashy outfit or avoid styles that accentuate all your assets. You can still be pretty and stylish without being a stumbling block.

Even looking beyond modesty, there are various situations that require our attention. Church, for instance, should be a place where you always look nice. You wouldn’t wear the same thing to church that you would to the mall! A young lady of discernment will see and understand the importance of dressing appropriate and looking nice in whatever situation.

Friendships & Acquaintances

As girls we like our friendship circles. There’s comfort and security within a tight clique of friends. But teenagers have the nasty habit of leaving people out. It’s not wrong to have close friends, but it is wrong to have an unfriendly attitude toward those outside your circle.

A good example of this would be a sleep-over. Maybe it only involves three or four girls and not everyone is invited. Again, this isn’t a crime, but the young lady with discernment will not go around talking all about it to those who weren’t invited. Even if your intentions are not to rub it in, by making it a big deal you may be hurting others.

Remember, discernment means paying attention to the needs and feelings of others in order to judge the right course of action. Forgoing your comfort zone at times may be required. Including the unpopular is a wonderful way of showing Christ’s love and can be the most gratifying.


Have you ever said the wrong thing at the wrong time? Or maybe it was the right thing at the right time? Your speech is probably the best way to gauge whether or not you have discernment. It’s easy to go overboard with our words, or get out of control in a funny moment. Even talking with an adult is different that with a child.

I think it’s interesting that at times Jesus kept quiet. If there were anyone who had a right to talk, it’d be Him. He had great discernment with His words. Sometimes our friends just need to be heard, just like sometimes you need to be heard. You will demonstrate a lot of maturity and discernment if you can master the moods of others. {“Rejoice with them that do rejoice and weep with them that weep.” Romans 12:15}

We also need a great deal of spiritual discernment when speaking to the lost. Witnessing to a family member is different than a stranger. The words we choose are so important, too. The last thing you want to do is confuse them or cause them to reject the truth by your choice of words! Our mouth must be yielded to the Holy Spirit so as to only say what He wants. This, too, takes practice and diligence.

So you see, there is much to be said and learned in this area of discernment! I encourage you to develop the skill now. It is a spiritual discipline and unfortunately, has become a lost art to many a Christian.

“…a wise man’s heart discerneth both time and judgment.” Ecclesiastes 8:5


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