Discernment by Desire
From Gospel Translations
Most of the choices we make in a day are not made after consciously weighing a list of criteria. We dress and eat and sit and walk and a hundred other things without consciously asking: Is this the will of God? I think this is inevitable and good. It reveals our true inner nature. If we are going to do what pleases God, most of the time it will be by reflex, not reflection.
This means that one faculty of discernment is deeper than reflective reason. What faculty is that? Perhaps we should call it the discerning faculty of desire. If choices are being made moment by moment without reflection, then the faculty of desire is not merely following the dictates of reason; it is following its own nose. Desire, or something closely connected to it, "smells" the preferred choice and embraces it before reflection.
I have said this before. What is new to me these days is that this same method of choosing seems to apply to choices we make even after very long reflection. Suppose you have to choose the next lead worshipper at Bethlehem. One step would be to reflect on the commandments of God in the Bible. Another step would be to extrapolate from the Bible certain guidelines that are not explicitly addressed by Scripture. This takes "wisdom" and we are to pray for it according to James 1:5.
Of course this assumes that alongside biblical reflection we are observing all the relevant facts of the situation. In the case of the lead worshipper, for example, we should be observing his character, spiritual life, musical ability, pastoral skills, background, personality, reputation, etc. This is the raw material that the biblical principles have to work with.
But it seems to me that there comes a point when all the biblical teaching has been applied, and all the observation has been performed, an all the wisdom has been prayed for, and many choices (many candidates) have been ruled out. The circle of possible remaining choices is small. But inside it there are still several good choices, not just one. Our finite minds do not know all that God knows and we are at the limit of what we can discern by prayerful, spiritual reflection on the Bible and the person and the circumstances.
God could speak to us in a dream or a prophetic word or some other revelatory way the way he did to Philip in Acts 8:26 or to Paul in Acts 16:9. But he may not do this. And it does not appear that this is his normal way of leading us. What then are we to do?
The new thing that I am seeing more clearly these days is this: we are to do what we do 90% of the time when being led by the Spirit of God. We are to let our Spirit-shaped desires be our guide. We are to discern by desire. In other words, when we have narrowed down the choices into a small circle enclosed by biblical principle and spiritual wisdom and careful observation, then inside that circle we prayerfully ask: in which choice do we delight? According to Psalm 1:1-2 the alternative to walking in the counsel of the ungodly is to delight in the law of the Lord. Our faculty of delight is crucial in keeping us from folly.
The assumption here is that our faculty of delighting or desiring is healthy and God-saturated. And that is the great challenge of the Christian life: “Be transformed in the renewing of your mind that you may approve (not just prove, but approve, that is, test and then delight in) the will of God” (Romans 12:2). Our great need is to be people whose delights are the very delights of God.
Seeking to be continually transformed with you,