5 Ways to Sharpen Your Discernment Skills

Adam blamed God and Eve for his sin. Eve blamed the serpent. And the serpent most likely smirked. These three shared more than just being wise in their own eyes. They rebelled against God after they cast discernment to the side.

Ah, discernment—a fifty-cent word for a priceless treasure we all need but too few possess. It’s the invaluable ability to judge between truth and error, good and bad—and even good and best. A lack of discernment has sent many to the Emergency Room (“Hey, y’all! Watch this!”) and into sin (“I’ll just do it this one time.”)

God blesses some Christians with the spiritual gift of discernment. It adorns them like lights on a Christmas tree. Others of us pray for it like a beggar. Those in-between probably don’t realize their desperate need for it. I paid little attention to my need until after I led my first women’s Bible study.

That Moment the Need for Discernment Reveals Itself

When my fellow women’s ministry members asked me to lead a Bible study, I hesitated. I’d never led one before.

“You only have to facilitate this best-selling Christian book by a popular author on a relevant topic,” they said.

Sold. I’ll do it.

I bought the book, studied the leader’s guide, and watched the DVD. And groaned. Every lesson felt empty and devoid of real truth or power that could make a difference in our lives.

My spirit cried, Abort! Abort! But what did I know? The delightful author exuded love for Jesus. Sure, her lessons felt more like psychology than Scripture, but it was probably just me. She’s the professional. She’s sold oodles of books.

Just teach her lessons and let it go, Jean.

Instead of mentioning my concerns to the women’s ministry leaders, I soldiered on. I cast the gnawing of discernment to the side.

As I prepared for the final lesson six weeks later, I watched the DVD Bonus Material. And groaned. Again.

The author had praised her pastor throughout the lessons, but never mentioned his name. Until now. I knew him instantly. He’s a high-spirited pastor who preaches a popular man-centered, health and wealth gospel. Everything crystallized. Her book held a form of godliness, but it lacked gospel power because her pastor’s false teachings had crept into her book (2 Tim. 3:1–7).

I clearly needed more discernment.

Beginning the Quest for Discernment

I bowed my head, asked forgiveness, and asked the Lord to teach me. Then I called the head of the women’s ministry and asked her forgiveness, especially since, as a member of the women’s ministry, I’d unwittingly and regrettably stamped this misguided author with our ministry’s seal of approval.

She and the other members forgave me without reservation. Together we committed to seek God for better discernment skills—and to teach the women of our church how to sharpen their skills using biblical tools, not man-made wisdom.

Five Biblical Tools to Sharpen Your Discernment Skills

1. Prayer

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. (James 1:5)

Even the wisest among us can use more discernment. Thankfully, God delights to give wisdom to all who ask for it. Pray for godly wisdom to be able to discern well and for the conviction to heed its leading rather than ignore it.

Attempting to sharpen our discernment skills without prayer is like using a butter knife to perform surgery. The results will never turn out like they could and should.

2. God’s Word

Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. (John 17:17)

I used to read books about the Bible more than I read the Bible itself. I let others tell me what the Bible says more than I let the Holy Spirit teach me through His Word.

When my biblical literacy was low, I couldn’t discern a lie about Jesus from the truth. I couldn’t recognize when a Bible teacher was slipping—or leaping—into error.

Wherever biblical literacy is low, false teaching and misunderstandings run free.

3. Awareness of Satan’s Schemes

We would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs. (2 Cor. 2:11)

God calls Satan many things: liar, murderer, accuser, tempter, enemy of humanity, a roaring lion, and the deceiver, to name a few.

Satan has devised every possible scheme to ensnare mankind in sin. But he’s powerless over truth. Thus, one of his main tactics is to keep mankind away from the Bible. If he can’t keep us from it, he’ll seek to limit or twist our understanding of it until we’re gagging on God’s Truth and slurping up his lies.

Satan’s age-old schemes work as well today as they did in ancient times. He just has more advanced technology at his evil fingertips.

Satan’s success depends on our ignorance of God’s Word. It’s easier to misinform the uninformed.

4. Awareness of Areas of Susceptibility

The time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions. (2 Tim. 4:3)

We’re all capable of falling for error, especially in the areas of our passions. Knowing our vulnerabilities allows us to shore up our weaknesses with the belt of truth. But since we are often blind to our own weaknesses, trusted friends or family members can offer valuable insight.

Would friends say we’re too trusting? Likely to believe anything anyone says? Or perhaps we’re chronic skeptics who doubt everything we hear—including truth. Carefree spirits might be inclined to overextend their “freedom in Christ,” whereas avid rule-followers might demand compliance even to rules God never gave.

Once we identify where we’re most susceptible, we can look to the specific truths in Scripture that shore up our vulnerabilities.

The more aware we are, the less fooled we’ll be.

5. Godly Counsel

Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety. (Prov. 11:14)

Like the well-meaning author of my Bible study failure, if we hang out with leaders, teachers, and friends who have a low view of God and Scripture and a high view of man, we can dull our discernment skills. When we spend time with those who make much of Jesus and the Bible rather than man, like iron sharpening iron, they help hone our skills.

We can learn to discern truth with the godly or fall into error with the masses.

Discernment Isn’t a Given

Discernment isn’t a given. It’s a gift and a skill God wants us to treasure and sharpen.

If Adam and Eve ignored discernment in a perfect world, we’d be foolish to think we’d never do it in our sin-filled world. All of us have been wise in our own eyes at some point, and we will be again. But if we pray, study God’s Word, stay aware of Satan’s schemes and our areas of susceptibility, and walk with the godly, we’ll sharpen our discernment skills and become even more wise to truth.

About the Author

Jean Wilund

Jean Wilund is passionate about leading women into a greater understanding of the Bible and a deeper relationship with God. She serves Revive Our Hearts as a member of the blog team and a moderator for the Women's Ministry Leader Facebook Group. She writes at JeanWilund.com. Her first book, Embracing Joy: An 8-Week Transformational Bible Study of Habakkuk, releases September, 2023.