The Gift Of Discernment

“And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ,” – Philippians 1:9-10 (ESV).   

Discernment is a word that is not used very often these days. But that does not mean it is not important.  Life is full of choices. Sometimes those choices are momentous: deciding on a career path, choosing a marriage partner, having children, or retiring from full-time work. Other choices are not quite as momentous, but they are important nonetheless because they give shape to our life: moving to another place for a new job, pursuing further education, finding a new church—all these decisions shape who we are and who we are becoming. Discernment is about making the right choice.

Charles Spurgeon said, “Discernment is not knowing the difference between right and wrong, it is knowing the difference between right and almost right. There is so much that sounds right and feels wrong. Spiritually speaking, cultivating the habit of discernment means we lean on God’s Spirit to know what is right from what’s almost right.

1 Kings 3:9 says, ”Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil…” (1 Kings 3:9 ESV) Discernment is a quality of attentiveness to God that, over time, develops into the ability to sense God’s heart and purpose in any given moment. We become familiar with the tone, quality, and content of God’s voice.

We develop discernment by spending some quiet, unhurried time absorbing the truth of His Word and listening to God. We can pray for discernment as the Psalmist did in Psalm 119:25 (NIV): “I am your servant; give me discernment that I may understand your statutes.” Then we can apply what we have learned when we “have trained …to distinguish good from evil.” (Hebrews 5:14). The Scriptures open our eyes to see all of our experiences from God’s perspective so that we are able to make wise choices.

God is always ready to impart wisdom to his children. Proverbs 2:6 says, “For the LORD grants wisdom! From his mouth come knowledge and understanding.” James 1:5 says, “If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.”  Wisdom is critical to making the right choices. 

Our challenge for today and every day is to make it a priority to spend time with the Lord in His Word. We may have to reorganize our schedule or wake up earlier. But it’s well worth the effort—discernment and wisdom await us if we put into practice the truths we absorb daily.

Discussion Questions:

  1. If someone asked you to summarize discernment in one sentence, what would your summary be? 
  2. How do you define Biblical wisdom? 
  3. How do you put discernment into practice?

Finding Strength In The Strength Of God

“David said to the Philistine, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head.… All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.” – 1 Samuel 17: 45-47. 

Who doesn’t love the story of David and Goliath? One protagonist is a shepherd boy, the other protagonist a mighty 6’9″ Philistine warrior. Goliath is a big guy by modern standards, and he would have been absolutely colossal in Biblical times. Yet, the underdog chose to fight. He chose the weapon. He swung the weapon with deadly accuracy. But the main thing David did not do was to rely on his own strength or his own armor. His strength came from the strength of God. He relied on God’s strength. Psalm 89:17 says, “You are their glorious strength. It pleases you to make us strong.”   

In David’s case, relying on God’s strength didn’t mean sitting on the side of the hill and waiting on God to take care of the Philistine. David trusted God’s strength and providence enough to take action. To the casual observer, it may not have looked like God was doing anything. But David was able to do what he did because he was actually relying on God’s strength.

If we want victory over the giants in our lives, we too have to learn to rely on God’s strength. We can experience His power. The power to change. The power to endure and persevere. The power to love the loveless. This power is available to every man, woman, and child who would put their trust in Him. If we want change in our lives, it won’t be by your power, but by the power of God. God never asks us to carry our burdens and fight our battles in our own strength. He asks us to give our burdens to Him. Psalm 55:22 says, “Give your burdens to the Lord, and he will take care of you. He will not permit the godly to slip and fall.” God is always in control.

God calls us to be strong and courageous. Instead of worrying about our strength for the future, we need to rely on the strength we are given today. Just think for a second: if it was up to each one of us to make ourselves like Christ, if we had to work out our salvation and our circumstances on our own, most of us would have given up years ago. But God is in control. He has a plan for us, and even our weaknesses and failures can’t stop the One who is in control of all things from fulfilling His plans for our lives. This doesn’t mean we sit back and do nothing. Instead, we trust the God who controls all things for His perfect purpose.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Is there a way to measure the strength of God in your life? If not, how do we determine if God’s strength is part of our lives?
  2. What can you do this week to trust God and His power?    

The Power Of Forgiveness

“Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn others, or it will all come back against you. Forgive others, and you will be forgiven.” –  Luke 6:37.

“I want to forgive him, but I just can’t get there. What he did to me is inexcusable and unforgivable. You would agree with me if you knew the circumstances.” You have probably heard those same words in some variation. Forgiveness is hard to do, but we as followers of Jesus are called to pardon those who wronged us. In essence, we are to no longer blame or be angry at those who did us wrong.

Matthew 6:14-15 says, “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Clearly, Jesus is saying that our horizontal forgiveness of others is related to our vertical forgiveness from God. The absence of horizontal forgiveness translates into the absence of vertical forgiveness.

In many cases, we are looking for some action from the people who wronged us.  We want them to change or apologize before we forgive them. The Bible suggests an alternate strategy. Colossians 3:12 tells us to “…clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” Philippians 2:4 says to “…look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.” Ephesians 4:32 instructs us to “…be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.”  

God’s forgiveness is now our standard. Forgiveness is a precious gift we’ve received…and one we’re called to give others. But sometimes people get stuck by thinking that if we forgive it’s as if we’re saying that what the other person did, didn’t matter. That is not true. After all, we can only forgive when there’s something to forgive. Forgiveness acknowledges that the other person has done something wrong, and is truly at fault. When Christ uttered, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing,” (Luke 23:34), He knew all too well the depth of the deep offense against Him. But we need to remember that Jesus didn’t die for a select group of people. He died for everyone. That includes those who have been good to us and those who have harmed us. Understanding what God did for us is the best way to learn how to forgive.

Rick Warren summed it up in this quote: “And you know when you’ve experienced grace and you feel like you’ve been forgiven, you’re a lot more forgiving of other people. You’re a lot more gracious to others.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is forgiveness to you?
  2. Is there power in forgiveness? Why or why not?
  3. What happens if I don’t forgive?

The Power of Prayer

“I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them.” – 1 Timothy 2:1. 

How important is prayer?  The Bible would seem to indicate that it is very important. Take the early church: Acts 2: 42 says, “All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper and to prayer.“ And in Acts 4, when Peter and John were wrongfully arrested and then set free, the church prayed. “When they heard the report, all the believers lifted their voices together in prayer to God…After this prayer, the meeting place shook, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. Then they preached the word of God with boldness.” (Acts 4: 24, 31)   

When most people think about prayer, they often think of a big list of things they want to ask God to do for them. Or maybe they think of those long prayers that sound grand. Prayer is simply talking to God: it is simply talking to God in order to grow in our relationship with Jesus and to grow in our love and loyalty to Him. If Jesus himself spent time in prayer when He was here on earth, how much more do we need to open our hearts to commune with the Lord?  If such times of communion have been missing from your life, you can begin today.

So when and how do we pray?  First, have a set time and place for where you will pray. This helps you to stay consistent and to create a habit of spending time with God and making space to grow in your relationship with Him. The reality is we make time for the things that are important in our lives. We should fight to make time for God on a daily basis. You may also want to consider a prayer list.  A prayer list establishes what and who to pray for. 

We need to remember not only what God has done but who He is. God is a loving Father, who loves to see you grow and doesn’t expect you to be perfect on day one. He loves every time that you come to Him, He loves every moment that you sit and spend time with Him, so when you know that, it changes everything. 

Prayer is a privilege. But that privilege is not limited to a morning quiet time. Don’t underestimate the power of a 10-second prayer where you are just thanking Him and talking to Him throughout the day.

When we pray, God moves on our behalf. Prayer must be the foundation of everything we do if we desire to see God move. It needs to be ingrained in our daily lives, becoming our first response and not our last resort.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you ever needed to pray about something but just didn’t know how? How did you overcome this obstacle? 
  2. God cares most about our prayer attitude. Think about a time when you came to Him with an attitude of desperation, repentance, or humility. How did God respond?  

Peace And Quiet

“Before daybreak the next morning, Jesus got up and went out to an isolated place to pray. Later Simon and the others went out to find him. 37 When they found him, they said, “Everyone is looking for you.” – Mark 11:35-37. 

There are thousands of luxuries being advertised that are supposed to make life easier. Those things appeal to us because who doesn’t dream of living a simple, worry-free life – a life uninterrupted by the chaos we face in our daily lives. But living a simpler life is seldom simple. Making life simpler doesn’t involve some sort of luxury or program:  it starts with turning towards God and removing any clutter in your life. One of the best ways to achieve a simpler, stress-free life is to have a quiet time with God. God has the power to not only comfort your heart but also to remove any confusion, anxiety, clutter, and pain from your life. 

Setting aside regular time in our schedules to focus on our heavenly Father is the best way to make sure we hear His “still, small voice” when He speaks to us. Too often having a quiet time is seen as a luxury when we have less on our to-do list rather than a daily necessity. If that is our mindset, we are missing out on the blessings that come from making daily time with God a priority in our lives.

So what’s a quiet time? Well, it says in Scripture that Jesus would often withdraw to a quiet place in order to pray. Mark 11:35 says“Before daybreak the next morning, Jesus got up and went out to an isolated place to pray.” During this quiet time, Jesus habitually removed himself from the busyness of life and spent time in intimate communion with His Father.

If Jesus needed this time apart with the Father, it would seem logical to assume we need it just as much, if not more so. We need time each day when we remove ourselves from the busyness and ever-increasing demands of life to spend time praying, reading God’s Word, and quietly listening to what God has to say to us.  You cannot get to know someone unless you spend time with them, and you cannot get to know God unless you spend time with Him. Philippians 3:7-9 (CEV) says, “But Christ has shown me that what I once thought was valuable is worthless. Nothing is as wonderful as knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I have given up everything else and count it all as garbage. All I want is Christ and to know that I belong to him.” 

What does it practically mean to “know” Jesus? What does that pursuit look like, what should it look like in your everyday life? Few questions are more important. Deep down, I truly believe every Christian wants to experience a deeply personal and intimate relationship with God. A quiet time is an effective vehicle to better know God not just in your head but in your heart. A quiet time can be life-changing.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you have a regular quiet time? Why or why not?
  2. What different ways have you tried to intentionally connect with God? Were some more meaningful or impactful than others? Why do you think that might be?
  3. What would it take for you to make this a priority in your life?

Draw Near To God

“Seek the Lord while you can find him. Call on him now while he is near. Let the wicked change their ways and banish the very thought of doing wrong. Let them turn to the Lord that he may have mercy on them. Yes, turn to our God, for he will forgive generously.” – Isaiah 55:6-7. 

We all experience times of change. Time of change is a good time to remember that Jesus came to make a way for us to be near God. In His life, death, and resurrection, Jesus built a bridge between us and God allowing us to have continual, unhindered communion with our Creator. It is time to draw near to God.  

If we want to see God alive and active in our lives, James 4:8 tells us we need to: “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you” Drawing near to God is not trying to work for our salvation by what we do and the changes we make. It’s opening our eyes to see who He is and experience Him for ourselves. Sometimes God is not near because we are afraid to give God unfettered access to our lives. We are afraid of what changes He may choose to make. But when we put up barriers, they can block us from truly knowing God.  

Jesus taught that coming close to God is a top prior­ity—the one thing that undergirds everything else: “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” (Matthew 6:33). And in Jeremiah 29:13-14 we read, “ If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you,” says the Lord…” (Jeremiah 29:13-14).

The more I’ve drawn near to God, the more I’ve experienced Him in my life. The more I pray, the more I realize He hears me. The more I read my Bible, the more I realize how true and unchanging He is. The more I choose to trust Him, the more I’ve miraculously witnessed His faithfulness. If you’ve found yourself searching for change, for more in your life, first draw near to God. He is the answer to all your questions and concerns.   

Drawing near is not a physical act. It’s not reflecting on your achievements or what you have done right in your life. It’s not something that automatically happens when you attend church each week or by being faithful to your small group. It is an act of the heart.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you taken time today to pursue God? 
  2. Do you recognize His pull on your heart to draw near?

Change The Way You Think About Groups

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead. 

Let’s be honest here. We all know there is a gap between who we are today and who we want to be. Maybe you want to develop a new skill, improve a relationship, or get in shape. But we all want to grow into that better version of ourselves. Christians aren’t immune from this desire. We each have things we want to change. Change comes as we practice the teachings of Jesus. But it’s hard work, and it is nearly impossible if we’re trying to do it alone. That is why small groups are so important.

Small groups are an integral part of what we do at Northstar. If you think about it, Jesus had a small group of 12 disciples. Jesus expected that His followers would participate in public worship, but He knew that discipleship was about going deeper in community with those who are committed to Him and the church. Small groups are a primary vehicle for making disciples. With the support of a small group, we can learn and grow in our relationship with Jesus.

The truth is we need each other: the support, the encouragement, the help along the way. The Christian life is not easy and there are so many hills and valleys along the way. Hebrews 10:24-25 says, “Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.”

But the biggest way that small groups effect change is that they take church beyond Sunday. Imagine you want to lose weight, so you go to the gym for one hour a week. While it’s good that you exercise, you probably just end up sore, tired, and sweaty without the real long-term effects you were seeking. Losing weight and being healthy requires a good diet and regular exercise. If a person’s spirituality is limited to one hour a week, it will be difficult for them to grow. A small group leads to growth by creating more opportunities to learn and grow spiritually. And small groups enable you to take what you have learned and put it into action. James 1:22 says, “But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves.”  In worship services, we listen to the Word, but it’s in our small groups where we focus on helping each other apply the Word.  

God gives us community as a way to become more like Him. There’s something powerful about believers joining together, making each other accountable and being a sort of witness of one another’s lives. We need people checking in on us, asking the hard questions, and challenging us to really live out our faith. If you are not a member of a small group, please consider joining one this semester.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you have someone or a group of people that you can be authentic, be yourself with, without any facades or false fronts? 
  2. Small groups are about doing life together. A place where you can grow closer to God, closer to others, and closer to your purpose. Agree or disagree?

Change Is A Choice

Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live!” – Deuteronomy 30:19.

As John Maxwell observed, “Life is a matter of choices, and every choice you make makes you.” Crack the Bible open and you will find account after account of individuals who made hard choices during their journey of following God and as a result, enjoyed His rich blessings. Every choice we make either moves us closer to God or tears us further away from Him and His purpose for our lives. We have a choice. We make decisions every day. We can make things happen or not happen by what we decide. 

Change is intentional. What do we want to change in the next six months? What do we hope to change in the next year? Are you going to be healthier, stronger, and more mature? Are you going to be less in debt? Are you going to be more like God wants you to be? Change will only happen if you choose to change. It requires a choice.  

We indeed have choices and the first choice is who we will serve. We have a choice of who helps guide our choices and decisions. As Christ-followers, we are called to be people that are motivated and guided by the life and teachings of Jesus.  In spite of our best efforts to do that, we still screw up. We make choices we regret.  We make choices we think there is no coming back from. We wonder how we can recover from a choice we made yesterday or decades ago. 

Fortunately, we have a wonderful promise from God. In Romans 8:28, the apostle Paul writes: “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” This verse reminds us that as terrible as some things might be, because of our poor choices, God is able to bring purpose and meaning to it. He is able to bring good out of it and work it into His good purposes for our lives.

Change requires making choices. It’s not enough to dream of changing. It’s not enough to desire change. In order for you to change, you will need to make a decision. You must choose to change. You can only muster the faith to embrace and choose change by knowing His love, knowing His character and trusting Him.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you ever seen someone’s life change so much that you couldn’t deny it was God changing them?
  2. What can you do this week to change an area of your life that needs changing?   

A Change In You

“The circumstances we ask God to change are often the circumstances God is using to change us.” – Max Lucado. 

We all have expectations for what life should look like, now and in the future. And then one day, life throws us a curve and we have to alter our expectations. Change can be a good or bad thing. Either way, we all struggle with it because it forces us into the unknown. Until we know how things turn out, it can be pretty stressful. It can feel like we can’t control our circumstances, so we spend a lot of time trying to control outcomes. And sometimes our misery is more from the way we think about our situations than it is the situations themselves. Consequently, many people avoid change. 

So here’s a question to ponder as you read this devotional: Do most people want changed circumstances or changed lives? Do you want to rise above your circumstances and see your life really change?  There may be times when God doesn’t change our circumstances because He wants to give those circumstances time to change us. God is always in the process of finishing what He started in us. “And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” (Philippians 1:6)

The process of changing us is not easy. But there is meaning in this meantime for you. As we ask God to change our circumstances, we can ask Him to change us as well. It is easy to think that God just wants us to do the right things and not do the wrong things. But that simply means we are turning Christianity into a self-improvement program, a moral code. But with Jesus, it’s about a relationship, not rules. The more we grow in our love and relationship with Jesus, and the closer we get to Him, the more He will begin to change us from the inside out. And as we change, we will look at our circumstances differently.  

Instead of being bitter, we’ll begin to extend grace. Instead of being hesitant we will be bold. Instead of doing what we want, we’ll be more like Jesus. Instead of being critical and easily offended about everything, our life will be filled with His joy and His peace. We’ll just begin to want more and more of God in our life, and our life will begin to change. And our view of our circumstances will change as well. 

We can think about what is good even in a bad situation. Let your circumstances change you for the better.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you spend too much time trying to control outcomes?
  2. What can we do this week to see the good in our negative circumstances?

Time For A Change

“Then they reached Jericho, and as Jesus and his disciples left town, a large crowd followed him. A blind beggar named Bartimaeus (son of Timaeus) was sitting beside the road. When Bartimaeus heard that Jesus of Nazareth was nearby, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” – Mark 10:46-47. 

Is it time for a change or changes? We all need to make some changes. Maybe it is a change in attitude. Maybe we need to change how we do business, or how we handle our temper or maybe how we handle relationships. Real change is not easy to achieve, especially without God.  

In the latter part of Mark 10, we meet a man named Bartimaeus. He was a blind man who sat on the side of the road in Jericho, hoping for people passing by to be charitable. He had no way of changing his lot in life by himself.  God was the only one who could make change happen. And when  Jesus came to Bartimaeus’ town, he wasn’t going to miss his only chance for change. It is now or never. It is Jesus or no one. What is he going to do? He shouts. The blind man literally starts yelling. He knows that he has a need. He has heard about Jesus and the wonders that He performs. So, he starts yelling. He screams for mercy. Basically, he wants to take advantage of the situation in any way he can. If we want to change, we can learn from Bartimaeus. 

Bartimaeus wanted to see. Bartimaeus lived in the dark. He had never seen the sunrise, or trees, or stars. He had never seen the faces of his own loved ones. No wonder when Jesus asked him what he wanted he replied, “My Rabbi…“I want to see!” (Mark 10:51).

All of us have reached a point where we want to change but we are not sure how to change. Whether we need help with relationships, finances or life decisions, there will always be challenges that we should not face alone. We need help. Despite others telling him to be quiet, Bartimaeus continued to beg Jesus for healing until He did it. Jesus changed Bartimaeus’s life by restoring his sight. After he was healed, Bartimaeus immediately followed Jesus.  Jesus can change us as well. With even the smallest amount of faith, God can make incredible changes which can lead to accomplishing extraordinary things.  

Have you come to that point where Jesus is your only hope of making the changes you want to make? Have you come to the place where you are tired of groping around for direction and happiness in life? Do you desire a change in your life? Let God mentor you and have the desire and faith to make those changes a reality.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. Jesus asks Bartimaeus…”what do you want me to do for you?” Wow! What a question! What if Jesus asked you this today? How would you answer it?
  2. Jesus invites Bartimaeus to “go his way” but after this transformational encounter with Jesus, his way becomes Jesus’ way. How has “going your way” transformed into going Jesus’ way?