Chapter 13 – Discernment


So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.

– Galatians 5:16, NIV

Ephesians 5:10 (NLT) tells us to “Carefully determine what pleases the Lord”. But how do we do this, and what does it mean to walk by the Spirit (Galatians 5:16, above)? These are beautiful words that all who follow Christ want to apply to life – but how can we learn to do that? I heard a sermon once in which the pastor told a story of when he spent a lot of time with a particular friend, they became so close that one day they were walking along a road in comfortable silence, and suddenly both burst into song at exactly the same moment, the same song, and then burst out laughing – they knew each other so well and had become so alike in their thinking that they picked up the same habits even to this extent.

I find it very interesting to watch how people pick up phrases or mannerisms or little habits from those they spend time with. May this be the same with us and God – may we walk in step with His Spirit every day and become more and more like Him; may our character be shaped to look like His and may we pick up His mindsets and attitudes as we walk through every day with Him. And just as sometimes we can know when particular people are about to enter the room because of smelling their perfume or hearing their specific footsteps, may God teach us to be sensitive to follow the smell of the Spirit so that we can follow His lead in our decisions and in our behaviour each day.

Teach me to dance to the beat of your heart

Teach me to move in the power of your Spirit

Teach me to walk in the light of your presence

Teach me to dance to the beat of your heart

– Greg Holland

God teaches people to know and discern His leading in a variety of ways, and one of the ways that this is useful to us is as a warning. Just as we can smell rotting food or other nasty smells, or as someone may say “I smell a rat”, or “something smells fishy”, so it is with holy discernment: God can show us things that may be about to happen, so as to prepare us. As well as warning smells, we are also able to smell beautiful things like good food, flowers, freshly cut grass, perfumes and other things – and these smells direct our attention and might even cause us to choose to follow what we smell. So it is with holy discernment: God can show us where He is going to act, so that we can be involved and become a part of the beauty that He is creating in a situation.

So may we surrender to God our noses – the things we “smell” in situations – and let Him teach us to discern in the ways that He wants, so that we can walk in step with His Spirit and dance to the beat of His heart! May we surrender to God the ways we discern His movement and His will, the ways we discern good from bad or right from wrong in situations, and the ways we discern what may be happening spiritually. May we give to Him WHAT we discern, too, and surrender into His hands our responses to what we discern: how we act on it.

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.

– Ephesians 5:15-17, NIV

While on my second mission trip to Estonia, in November 2012, one weekday I had some free time in the centre of the capital city, and I asked God what He wanted me to do. I felt Him prompting me to walk to a certain church that I knew of. I did not feel God telling me in words to go there, or in visions, or anything like that – it was an example of discerning His will as if I was following a smell. When I obeyed, I found that the church was open (though I later found out that it shouldn’t have been), and I had a wonderful conversation with the pastor inside (who would not usually have been there on this weekday either, but God had prompted him to go). I left feeling amazed, because God yet again made it obvious that He always has a purpose for wherever He directs us to go.

How can we learn to know what pleases God, and live in it? Firstly, I believe, through surrender of our senses so that we are open to God’s guidance, as I have already mentioned. Secondly, and equally importantly, through being intentional about our desire to get to know God’s character in order to think and live in a way that reflects His desires. God reveals Himself through all kinds of things and when we look, we notice – and He can teach us about Himself. For example, He shows Himself and His character through the Bible, and so when we commit to reading it and seeking Him through it He can develop in us a deeper awareness of what He is like. He shows Himself through nature, through other people, through situations – and when we seek Him He can show us more about Himself.

Jesus “often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer” (Luke 5:16 NLT) – what better example to follow than that of the incarnation of God Himself, the perfect image of God (Colossians 1:15-20)? When we spend time talking with God we learn to be led by His Spirit and to know His will – just as Jesus did. In John 5:19 (NIV) we see Jesus explaining to His disciples that “the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” We can imitate the behaviour, mindsets and lifestyle of our God if we choose to get to know Him personally, intimately, intentionally. May we learn to discern His thoughts and actions, and live accordingly. May we smell where He is moving and discern what is happening in situations. May we live as citizens of His Kingdom – as His children. May we be open to Him leading, and focus on Him. Let us surrender!

We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God.

– Colossians 1:9-10, NIV


My Father and my Guide,

Thank You that You know me inside out.

I want to know You better, so I can walk in step with Your Spirit and dance to the beat of Your heart!

I surrender to You my nose – please teach me to discern what You want me to discern.

Teach me to “smell” wherever You are moving and wherever You want me to go.

Teach me to “smell” the warning things You are putting in my path, and to act on them.

Teach me how to respond to what I discern.

Please shape my understanding – I surrender it to You!

May I live in Your ways, following You rather than my own thoughts and understanding.