How to Make Discernment Your Default

“Discernment,” a wise person once said, “is not knowing the difference between right and wrong; it’s knowing the difference between right and almost right.”1

This quotation captures the difficulty of discernment. Plenty of the images, videos, and sound bites we encounter every day carry an overtly worldly and unbiblical worldview. Rooting out what’s clearly wrong takes some discernment but not as much as when the message is couched in language that gets a lot right while falling short of the actual truth.

The father of lies loves to use these types of resources to weasel his way into the minds and hearts of the undiscerning believer. If he can hook us with the “almost right” part of the message, maybe he’ll be able to snare us with the subtle falsehood lurking beneath the surface. Whether it’s a seemingly innocuous ad, the newest “Christian” podcast soaring to the top of the charts, or a work of fiction written by a supposed believer, we must never let our discernment defenses drop. 

I wish that I could say that there’s a shortcut to discernment—an easy, foolproof route. Three simple steps that you can take and voila! you’ll be a Solomonic discerner. But, like many other aspects of the Christian life, the road to discernment is long: a marathon rather than a sprint. However, just because there’s no Instant Pot® quick cook option doesn’t mean we should abandon the track altogether. We’re bombarded by thousands of messages each day, many of which carry with them a whiff of “almost right.” We need discernment now. We must bow the knee and implore the God of wisdom to give us hearts and minds able to separate the truth from the lies.

Interceding on behalf of his fellow believers in Philippi, Paul gives us just such a prayer. 

And I pray this: that your love will keep on growing in knowledge and every kind of discernment, so that you may approve the things that are superior and may be pure and blameless in the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:9–11)

Pray for Discerning Love

Scripture often marries the seemingly mutually exclusive counterparts love and truth. God says of Himself that He is abounding in both faithful love and truth (Ex. 34:6). John tells us that Jesus came to earth “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Solomon tells us to bind love and truth about our necks and to never let them depart from us (Prov. 3:3). And, perhaps most familiar of all, Paul told the Ephesian church to “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15). 

However, the world has made great strides in its attempt to drive a wedge between these two virtues. Its proponents argue that in order to genuinely love another person you must accept all that they are and stand for. Certainly, you don’t have to look far to find believers who have miserably failed at navigating the difficult path of “speaking truth in love.” We often either show approval with our silence or fail to show love with our harsh, condemning words. 

Friend, you and I need growing, discerning love. We cannot be content with simply knowing the right answers and disseminating them without any concern for the person at whom we’ve aimed our “discerning” words. To borrow from Paul, if I “understand all mysteries and all knowledge . . . but do not have love, I am nothing” (1 Cor. 13:2). All our so-called discernment will be nothing more than filthy rags if it lacks the love of the Savior. 

Wise Father, I often fail to speak truth in love the way that Christ did. Fill my heart with agapé love for my fellow believers and for those yet outside of the Body of Christ. Give me discernment that is overflowing and abounding in love. I don’t want to be just the keeper of the “right answers.” I want to patiently, humbly, kindly, and gently share the truth of Scripture. Give me, Lord, a growing, discerning love. Amen.

Pray for Help to Approve What Is Superior

Every day is full of judgment calls. We decide what is “superior” from the time we get up until we pillow our heads again at night: from what to eat for breakfast, which outfit to wear, which route to take to work, which email to answer first, which show to watch, which book to read, or which link to click. The list could go on for days. 

The stakes of most of those choices are very low—eating toast or an egg in the morning probably will not have severe consequences. Of course, these low-stakes options are not what Paul is referring to when he prays that the Philippians would “approve what is superior.” Perhaps he had the same thing in mind as when he wrote these words to the Colossians: “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things” (Col. 3:2).

Discernment requires a mind whose default position is in the heavenly places. Once again, Paul gives a prescription for this. 

Finally brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any moral excellence and if there is anything praiseworthy—dwell on these things. (Philippians 4:8)

If you want discernment—a mind that approves superior things—you must fix your thoughts on what is honorable, just, pure, lovely, and commendable. Yikes. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I can make that happen. We can’t, of course, but we are united with the One who can. Run to the throne of grace and find help in your time of need (Heb. 4:16). 

Father, my mind is often stuck on things of this world. My default setting isn’t to approve superior things but to love things that are earthly and fleshly. While I live in this world, give me a heart that dwells on what is lovely and pure, commendable and just, honorable and true. I know I will never have a discerning mind without this, Father, and I cannot do it alone. Renew my mind to think thoughts after Yours. Take each of my earthly thoughts captive and give me the mind of Christ. Amen.

Pray for Personal Holiness

What is the point of discernment? Often I want to be discerning so that I can look good in the eyes of others and have a witty response to “them” (whoever they may be). But Paul gives us a different reason. The goal of discernment ought to be personal holiness.

As surely as we have been purchased by the blood of Christ and sealed with His Holy Spirit, we are a new and holy creation. When He looks upon us, the heavenly Father sees only the pure righteousness of the Savior. While that is a glorious reality, we must also live with a difficult truth. We do not yet experience the fullness of that holiness. For this reason, Peter admonishes his readers: “But as the one who called you is holy, you also are to be holy in all your conduct” (1 Pet. 1:15).

Sound daunting? I think so too. That’s why as we seek to walk in the newness of life we must also implore the Giver of that life to conform us to the image of His Son.

Holy Father, make me like Jesus—holy and blameless, above reproach and of good reputation before all. Do this, Father, not for my own glory but for Yours. Give me discerning love that approves what is excellent so that I can be further conformed to the image of Christ. Expel from my heart the desire for man’s applause and approval as I try to discern right from almost right. Instead, keep my focus on eternal treasure. Help me to evaluate everything my senses consume by the standard of Your Word for the sake of Your kingdom. And in so doing, Father, make me holy. Amen.

Want to learn more on the topic of discernment? Check out the podcast episode, “How to Be a More Discerning Woman, by Melissa Kruger” on the Revive Our Hearts podcast. 

This quote is often attributed to Charles Spurgeon. Source not readily available.

About the Author

Cindy Matson

Cindy Matson

Cindy Matson lives in a small Minnesota town with her husband, son and daughter, and ridiculous black dog. She enjoys reading books, drinking coffee, and coaching basketball. You can read more of her musings about God's Word at

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