Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The Importance of Discernment

Our society seems to live by image. Image is everything. How do you portray yourself? How attractive are you? How good are you at stirring a crowd? How good are you at being cool? What’s hot right now? From politics to the movies, from the media to the church, our nation lives by image.

I mean, certain politicians we wouldn’t want babysitting our children, yet they sound cool, and so we vote for them. Kanye West is still cool, even though he is 54 million in debt. What about Richard Gere and his 5 marriages? Well, he’s got great hair, right? Oh yeah, look at those sounds and lights, and let’s not see if the “worship” is theologically accurate.

Perhaps I exaggerate slightly, but not by much. Why is it that we look only at image, and not at what is underneath? Why are we content with the shallow? Why do we make an idol out of the cool? I think there are several reasons.

First, we have been trained. Western culture has trained us to be image-conscious. Commercial after commercial, movie after movie, book after book, has taught us that character counts for very little, as long as you are “cool.” And how is cool defined anyway? It seems to be whatever is popular at the time. But who decides that? Who has that power?

Second, it is a matter of spiritual blindness. Our flesh tells us to look at what is seen, not what is unseen. Don’t get me wrong. God gave us our senses, and I am glad to have good eyes. But we need other eyes too- eyes of discernment. Eyes that look past any smoke and mirrors that are being put up by those who have things to hide. It is my settled belief that faith is not blind. It is a matter of discernment, and a matter of following the truth at any cost. If we have faith, we will have discernment. It’s not a matter of “It doesn’t matter because God will work it our anyway.” It’s a matter of, “God will work it out, but we are still responsible for what happens on this earth.”

Third, it is much easier to look at the surface. It is easier to see a pretty face than the selfish heart under that face. It is easier to see the powerful speech than the motives and goals of the one who is speaking. It is easier to see “An easy, thousand dollar loan,” than the fact that money has to be paid back. You see? And many people want it that way. How many products (and people) would be sold if we actually looked past the surface? How much temptation and deception could be overcome if we sat down and thought about what we were really being offered?

Yes, it is easier to look at one layer, but is it wise? Is it beneficial? How many men have been caught by beautiful gold-diggers? How many women have been caught by a man’s charm? How many people have been caught in credit-card debt from buying something pretty and unnecessary? How many nations have suffered under leaders that made false promises? History is replete with the broken hearts and dead bodies of such victims.

Even the most godly can fall into this trap. In the Bible, we come to the story of Samuel and David. Israel had already tried tall, dark and handsome. Saul had good looks and a humble demeanor. He had talent, and he had passion. He was also disobedient and willing to live in spiritual blindness, making excuses for his sin and refusing true humility.  Samuel nearly made the mistake a second time. Told to go to Bethlehem, to the house of Jesse, he faithfully went. When Jesse’s sons were brought in, the oldest was handsome and strong. Samuel thought he was the one. But God said no.See, God wasn’t looking for someone who looked good. He was looking for someone who was good. He found his man in a young shepherd boy, the youngest of Jesse’s sons. This kid loved God with a purer heart than almost anyone else, and had developed the courage and strength that would make him a great king. But could that be seen just from a casual look? No. No one looked at David twice until he chopped off Goliath’s head.

And that is the point. My roommate has a bad hip. He is sometimes slow to speak and can have a stutter on occasions. He has an overbite. And he is one of the strongest, hardest-working people I have ever met. He is sharp, too. I think I’m smart, but he can use logic to take me apart, and he has the street smarts and discernment to see who is good and bad. He wants to work in special education, and eventually begin his own school. He could be a great person, if he was given a chance. But because most people judge on appearance, he has no chance.

I really, really wish we could get to the place where we looked past the surface to see what was underneath. I especially wish for it in relationships. I’m human. A pretty face catches my eye. However, over the years, I’ve been thankful for God’s protection. Many of the women that I have been attracted to have later shown their true colors. Now, it seems more of my desire is for someone that just loves Christ and will treat me right. I am truly blessed I have this perspective now. It will save me a check-in at the Heartbreak Hotel. After all, “charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” I mean, looks are great, and I admire beauty, but in all reality, that is the icing on the cake. And no one can eat just icing without getting sick.

On the other hand, I really, really wish people would just be themselves, good or bad. I’d rather see people in their full colors, telling who they are, then people wearing a mask. I’d rather hear people say, “I’m a hot mess,” than for them to say, “I’m fine,” then find out after their suicide that they were struggling. If someone is angry, I wish they would just admit it. In other words, show who you really are. Be authentic. The world is crying for authentic people.  

Besides, there is a benefit to yourself if you are authentic. Last Sunday, my pastor gave a message on confession and healing. It feels good to share. Your loads are being carried by other people, and a load that is shared is a load that is easier to carry. I know when I have had the courage to bare all my whole day is lifted. And I don’t have to make people guess what is wrong- when I really want them to understand and support me. Why do we do these games, anyway? Is there no one we can trust to be real with? Is all of life a test, to see who we can really lean on? Or is it our pride, our independent spirit that says we should be strong and handle whatever comes our way? I know sometimes for me, it has been both. But in all reality, that type of thinking is very, very damaging, to us and to others. Everyone should have a core group they can trust. If no one else, at least one friend who is “closer than a brother.”

So let’s be discerning, but let’s also be authentic. Let’s look past the surface, but let’s also not hide our true selves. Even the bad can be a benefit to other people. Where would we be if David was only “hallelujah” without the “Lord, how long?”

Ok, I guess I’m beating a dead horse. You get the point. But the question remains- will we practice true discernment, and true authenticity? Or will we continue the status quo?

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