Reflections on Discernment: Heart and Mind
As we mature as Christians, we begin to realize the world is not black and white, and so discernment becomes a critical ability to develop if we are to live a life that honors God and is true to whom God created us to be. We must learn to discern good from evil, spot the angel of light and see through the disguises of wolves parading around in sheep’s clothing. This is a first in a series of musings on discernment.
We are people who tend to live in our heads, analyzing, weighing pros and cons, extrapolating the future implications of our various choices. We have come to trust our minds, the logical, depending on our intellectual skills, employing the use of decision trees to bring forth the fruit of wisdom to live life well. But we have lost our heart. The emphasis (I would say overemphasis) on our minds has eclipsed the role of the heart when it comes to living life and especially making decisions. Yet, there was a time when mind and heart were seen as mutually beneficial, each one playing a role in the process of deciding/discerning. The scriptures (Old and New Testament) link *heart and mind, even at times using them as synonyms. In Hebrews, the writer, referring to the power of the living words, writes of its ability to discern thoughts and intentions of the heart (Hebrews 4:12) and Jesus states that “You must love Jehovah your God with your whole heart and with your whole soul and with your whole mind.” (Mt 22:37) The mind and heart are to be companions living in harmony with one another, each informing and shaping the other, joined, not separated.
However with the rise of Scholasticism (11th-12th centuries) and then the onslaught of the Age of Enlightenment (17th-18th centuries), also known as the Age of Reason, the biblical configuration of the heart and mind as co-pilots on this journey of life gave way to the mind flying solo and the heart being forced to parachute to safety rather than risk imprisonment or annihilation. The heart ended up on a remote island where it gave rise to poets, artists, dancers, musicians, writers and the occasional theologian. These individuals would become the surrogate heart for the world, hinting to something beyond reason. But the mind is still flying the plane, soaring ever closer to the sun, while the heart people remain largely marginalized, appreciated as an oddity, tolerated but not given a seat at the table of decision-making and discernment.
This is not all that surprising given the world’s need to logically explain everything. What saddens me is that this tends to be no different within the church. We Christians live life, make decisions as reason and logic dictate. Depending on reason we, like the world, tend to view with suspicion and summarily discount the role of desires, internal movements of the Spirit, even the voice of Jesus. These latter things (desires, emotions, the inner promptings of the Spirit, the voice of Jesus) if acknowledged at all are not seen as having authority, but viewed with suspicion. Even the vast majority of Christian books written on the topic of discernment, while giving lip service to the role of the heart, in the end point the reader to listing and weighing the pros and cons, making a decision based on this weighing of pros and cons, then asking God to bless the choice logic dictated.
Yet, I propose this is entirely incongruent for those who have come to know Jesus, believe Him to be raised from the dead, alive and with us, and in point of fact works to our own detriment when it comes to living life in a God-honoring way. For this emphasis on reasoned, rational thought impedes our ability to hear the voice of Jesus and become aware of the subtle inner promptings of the Spirit. We do not mature (see Hebrews 5:12-14) having not partnered with God in the ongoing development of the mind of Christ (2 Corinthians 2:16). We have not spent the time needed–listening to/for the voice of Jesus in order to become familiar with the cadence, tone, tenor of Jesus’ voice - nor have we learned to sense the inner movements of the Spirit. So we are left to navigate our life using reason. However, this rational decision-making method, if used independently, can be dangerous, for it depends on and settles for the wisdom of the world because the “foolishness of God” seems just that – foolishness. It settles on using the visible and temporal realities to make its choices.
Let’s take a look at one example of reason being wholly inadequate when it comes to discerning.
Our story is found in Joshua 9:1-26. The passage tells of a group of people who were fearful of being destroyed by the Israelites and hatched a plan to fool the Israelites.
4-6 “They went as a delegation whose donkeys were loaded with worn-out sacks and old wineskins, cracked and mended. They put worn and patched sandals on their feet and wore old clothes. All the bread of their food supply was dry and moldy. Then they went to Joshua in the camp at Gilgal and said to him and the Israelites, “We have come from a distant country; make a treaty with us.” They gathered old, worn supplies to convince the Israelites that they have traveled a great distance.
In verse 7 Joshua, demonstrating that he is a little suspicious, asks; “But perhaps you live near us, so how can we make a treaty with you?”
13-14 The response of the people to Joshua is in essence “Take a look at our supplies and you decide”—“This bread of ours was warm when we packed it at home on the day we left to come to you. But now see how dry and moldy it is. And these wineskins that we filled were new, but see how cracked they are. And our clothes and sandals are worn out by the very long journey.” So verse 14 tells us that “the Israelites sampled their provisions” and based on their observations they soon concluded that these people had covered a great distance over many weeks, even months, so they ended up making a treaty with these people in direct disobedience to God. Why were the people able to pull this off? There is this little phrase that sheds light on this in verse 14; “but did not inquire of the Lord.” Joshua and the others were fooled because they were basing their decision solely on the observable, namely, those things one can see, taste and touch. Why would they inquire of God?— there was no need, they had all the information they needed to make their decision—but alas, they did not.
But are we really any different? Take some time to consider:
How do you make decisions/discern? Are you training yourself to hear the voice of Jesus? Are you sensitive to the inner promptings of the Spirit? Do you sense the growing reality of having the mind of Christ? Do you sense the ongoing and deepening ability to sense the subtle inner movements of the Spirit?
One way to begin to develop a greater ability to hear the voice of Jesus is to practice on a regular basis the prayer of Examen (Awareness Examen).
See the b musing for January, entitled becoming Aware, that tells you about this prayer practice. (b-ing.org)
This prayer when faithfully practiced will help you to become a discerning person - able to hear the voice of Jesus and sensitive to the inner promptings of the Holy Spirit.
* According to Vine’s: The Hebrew word Lebab (3824), rendered “heart” is the seat of desire, inclination, or will and can be the seat of the emotions. The “heart” could be regarded as the seat of knowledge and wisdom and as a synonym of “mind.”
According to Vine’s:
The Greek word kardia (2588), rendered “heart” (English, “cardiac,”), is the chief organ of physical life (“for the life of the flesh is in the blood,” Lev. 17:11), occupies the most important place in the human system. By an easy transition, the word came to stand for man’s entire mental and moral activity, both the rational and the emotional elements.
The above taken from Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words.
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