Lesson for Sept. 25, 2011: Acting with Discernment (Proverbs 25:1-28)

This week’s treatment of the International Sunday School Lesson (for September 25) is written by Melissa Wuske, a freelance writer and editor living in Cincinnati, Ohio.


Acting with Discernment (Proverbs 25:1-28)

By Melissa Wuske

Most often we best know discernment when we don’t see it. I could name scads of political, business, and church leaders who’ve led people astray and betrayed trust. The news is full of stories of screw-ups from Washington, D.C., to the living room down the street. (I’d name names, but by the time this is published, there will be more.) It undoubtedly stings worst when it’s a minister or some other church leader or who messes up.

How can people make such huge mistakes? And even more frightening and baffling, how can someone who seems to be honorable and trustworthy in one part of his life be such a colossal letdown in another? How can a seemingly caring, godly minister make catastrophic mistakes in his marriage or finances? Why didn’t anyone see it coming? Why didn’t the minister think about the repercussions of his actions? It’s confusing, frustrating, and heartbreaking when our leaders fail to act with discernment.

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It’s easy to point out the failings of leaders. ”Like a city whose walls are broken through is a person who lacks self-control” (Proverbs 25:28). But discernment in our own lives is just as crucial. Instead of wasting time critiquing the every failing of our leaders, spend time examining and honing your life. It’s true we’re all leaders in our own way (and that our leaders are normal people just like us). Our families and coworkers see the decisions we make and either follow suit, steer clear, or feel let down. “Like cold water to a weary soul is good news from a distant land. Like a muddied spring or a polluted well are the righteous who give way to the wicked” (Proverbs 25:25, 26).

In a society that spawns (and even rewards) those who lack discernment, it’s standard practice to get ahead by ego and deceit. Qualities extolled by Scripture—like generosity, honesty, and patience—seem to have been sidelined; but God asks us to act with discernment. Work to turn the tide away from self-seeking decision making in your workplace and in your home.


Looking at Discernment in the Positive

First, we need to change our perspective. When we focus on the failure to discern and the people who’ve let us down (or the people we’ve let down), we tend toward a negative response: We clutch our hurt or flaunt our superiority. At best, we distance ourselves, finding cautionary tales in the lives of others. We think, We certainly wouldn’t do that, and surely we shouldn’t be around anyone who would.

While that may be true, we are better served by taking a positive approach to discernment. When you’re hurt, learn from it but refuse to be jaded. When you fail, strive against a defeatist attitude. When you see your values at odds with the world, reject the apathy and bitterness that can so easily creep in. When you’re at a loss for what choice to make, rely on Scripture and the trustworthy, discerning people in your life. “Like an earring of gold or an ornament of fine gold is the rebuke of a wise judge to a listening ear” (Proverbs 25:12).

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We shortchange the power of discernment when we see it as just a way to keep out of trouble. While discernment is certainly excellent at keeping us from failure, it also enables us to be right where God wants us to be. That’s where we will find our best fulfillment in Christ and our greatest effectiveness for his purposes.

Pray for God’s wisdom. He wants to give it to you. Discernment isn’t some trick that God sets up to test us. God uses our circumstances and the decisions they require to teach us and draw us closer to him. It does absolutely no good to set up an adversarial relationship with God. It will make all the difference to acknowledge he wants to equip you to make good choices.


Discernment Is for Every Day

But discernment requires commitment. It’s an everyday quality reserved not just for big decisions. If you don’t listen to God in the small things, how will you be able to hear his voice in the big things?

Paying attention to God’s Word and the world around you, and slowing down to make good decisions every day, trains you for key moments. “Remove the dross from the silver, and a silversmith can produce a vessel” (Proverbs 25:4). It’s easy to succumb to the rush, ignore the needs of others, and make decisions just good enough to keep us out of trouble; but that kind of life will fail us when the really tough choices come. The small, steady boldness of day-to-day discernment builds us into people God will use for big things. If you’re in continual contact with God, you’ll often know his will without even thinking about it.


Discernment Isn’t for Loners

Discernment can be as simple as paying attention to the world and reacting accordingly. It can be complicated balancing the wants and needs of multiple entities to come up with one cohesive right answer. The stakes are high and life is downright confusing. Supporting each other, rather than comparing and accusing, helps transform us into a dynamic body that fully honors Christ. Relying on the example and support of others can help us to align our life with God’s high standard of discernment. Pray for God’s protection of weaknesses and pivotal points in others’ lives.


Growing in Discernment

  • When has discernment led you or someone you know into an unexpected opportunity from God?
  • Name someone whose life shows evidence of discernment. How can you learn from that person?
  • In what area of your life do you most struggle with discernment?
  • Name a quality (like generosity or mercy) where you rely on pat answers instead of letting God lead.
  • What day-to-day decisions do you need to start asking God about before you act?

How can you pray for and support discernment for your friends, family, church leaders, and church members?


*Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, unless otherwise indicated.

September 19: Isaiah 45:9-17
September 20: 1 Kings 3:5-14
September 21: 2 Chronicles 7:12-18
September 22: Proverbs 25:11-15
September 23: Proverbs 25:16-20
September 24: Proverbs 25:21-28
September 25: Proverbs 25:1-10


Melissa Wuske is a writer and editor who lives in Cincinnati, Ohio. She writes for Encounter—The Magazine and is the communications director for StopTraffickFashion.com.

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