Are you a first-timer to LDS Perfect Day! If so, welcome!
Click here to see what this blog is all about and how you can get the most out of it.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

The Gift of Discernment Part 2: The Gift of Discernment 101

Taken in, taken in again. Wrapped around the finger of some fair-weather friend.

Many people tend to consider Adam and Eve as kind of dazed, confused, bewildered, maybe even air-heady while they were in the Garden of Eden. I've seen some presentations which portray them as pretty close to that.

I disagree. Before they got us all into this mess, they had not yet sinned nor even transgressed. They walked and talked with God, face-to-face, and were worthy of our admiration as a man and woman in their glory. I think they were quite likely literally and figuratively head-and-shoulders better than us.

And yet, they were deceived.

That fact alone ought to give us all a healthy respect for what our common enemy is capable of. Satan is a liar, “the father of lies” (John 8:44). He is so utterly convincing, that he deceived a glorious man and woman -- the physical father and mother of our world -- to betray God, with whom they walked every day.

Even the best of us can be taken in.

In this regard, Satan's operations haven't changed very much in 6,000 years. He tells many truths to put across a lie. And the moment you're enticed to examine the lie, to contemplate it, and maybe just tolerate it just a little, you believe the spin, and you accept as reality the deception he's presenting.

Once you buy into his lie, you make an agreement, and come under his spell and the influence of his interpretation of events. Then it pretty much plays itself out; it becomes self-fulfilling. These agreements define your relationships with Satan, God and everybody else. And it can be devastating to just let this stuff roll on unchecked and unchallenged. I mean, look what happened to Adam and Eve.

Under all of heaven and earth, there is but one name which stops all of Satan's efforts dead in their tracks: Jesus Christ. It is in and through His power and authority that our world was created, unclean spirits are cast out, that darkness becomes light, decay becomes life, and sadness becomes joy. Jesus' name IS power...including and especially the power to detect and discern Satan far quicker than we're accustomed to.

The Gift of Discernment in All its Potential

When you truly wish for greater discernment, you're seeking far more than just knowing what's right and what's wrong, what's evil and what's holy, what's light and what's dark. In its purest, highest form, discernment is the ability to see as He sees, to hear as He hears, to feel as He feels, to forgive as He forgives, to know what He knows and to love as He loves.
"Discernment is so much more than recognizing right from wrong. It helps us distinguish the relevant from the irrelevant, the important from the unimportant, and the necessary from that which is merely nice. The gift of discernment opens to us vistas that stretch far beyond what can be seen with natural eyes or heard with natural ears. Discerning is seeing with spiritual eyes and feeling with the heart—seeing and feeling the falsehood of an idea or the goodness in another person. Discerning is hearing with spiritual ears and feeling with the heart—hearing and feeling the unspoken concern in a statement or the truthfulness of a testimony or doctrine." (Elder David A. Bednar, "Quick to Observe", devotional address given at Brigham Young University on May 10, 2005)
With the Gift of Discernment active in your life, God will show you all the grandeur and wonderment of His greatest creations -- the human soul. Not only yours, but also those you may or may not walk among everyday. It will bring you to tears as you pray for that cashier you spent only 30 seconds with at Walmart, as well as the orphaned child in Kosovo whom you will likely will never meet in your life. As your heart sinks to the lowest depths possible, God will also raise it so that you can discern those vistas Elder Bednar mentioned -- vistas that transcend time, space and the multi-dimensionality of God's Kingdom. You will be awed at His magnificence, and the intricacies of the planning and caring He invests in His trillions of children individually, almost as if each is His only child.

Continuing with Elder Bednar's address, he says that "we learn that the gift of discernment operates basically in four major ways.
  • First, as we “read under the surface,” discernment helps us detect hidden error and evil in others.
  • Second, and more important, it helps us detect hidden errors and evil in ourselves. Thus the spiritual gift of discernment is not exclusively about discerning other people and situations, but, as President Cannon taught, it is also about discerning things as they really are within us.
  • Third, it helps us find and bring forth the good that may be concealed in others.
  • And fourth, it helps us find and bring forth the good that may be concealed in us. Oh, what a blessing and a source of protection and direction is the spiritual gift of discernment!"

The Three Signals: God, Satan and You

"But ye are commanded in all things to ask of God, who giveth liberally; and that which the Spirit testifies unto you even so I would that ye should do in all holiness of heart, walking uprightly before me, considering the end of your salvation, doing all things with prayer and thanksgiving, that ye may not be seduced by evil spirits, or doctrines of devils, or the commandments of men; for some are of men, and others of devils.
Wherefore, beware lest ye are deceived; and that ye may not be deceived seek ye earnestly the best gifts, always remembering for what they are given;" (D&C 46:7-8)

One of this blog's most frequently-asked questions is, "How can I know if a prompting is from God, Satan or just myself?" or "How do you know when you've heard the voice of the Spirit?"

I've posted some insights in these following past posts (prime recommendations have asterisks):

* Rend the Veil of Unbelief, Part 5: Hearing Him

* Pondering the Word of God, Part 1 - The Divine Tuning Fork

* A Spiritual Call to Arms, Part 3 (The Invitation)

01. "Calleth On My Name"

01. Are You Truly Awake?

02. Walking and Talking with God, Part 1

03. Walking and Talking with God, Part 2

04. Walking and Talking with God, Part 3: Trust

* 05. Walking and Talking with God, Part 4: Fearlessness

* 06. Walking and Talking with God, Part 5: The Perfect Start

14. Spiritual Land Mine #3: Encouraging or Accepting Adulation

* 18. Spiritual Land Mine #6: Conquer "The D Word"

22. Spiritual Land Mine #8: The Missing Link to Seeing the Lord

* Lectures on Faith 2, Part 1: Why Its Absolutely Essential For You to Hearken to God

* Lectures on Faith 2, Part 2: Recognize and Avoid Satan's Pick Up Lines

Step Out of the Darkness and Into the Light

Every moment demands that we choose, over and over again, between that which comes from the Lord and that which comes from the devil. As tiny drops of water shape a landscape, so also do our minute-by-minute choices shape our character. (This is why I believe that living the eternal gospel every day is in many ways harder than dying for the Lord).

Thankfully, the Lord, in His wisdom, has provided some insights which we can employ to the effectiveness of our spiritual pursuits.

First, I believe that there are three voices which speak into our minds and hearts - the voice of God (goodness), Satan (evil) and ourselves (indecision, which is swayed by the previous two voices). God's voice is always broadcasting. So is Satan's. The voice of the Spirit is usually very quiet. Said Isaiah,
“And the work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever” (Isaiah 32:17)
Ironically, Satan's efforts can also begin very subtly, as soft as a baby's breath. Hence we read,
"for he is the founder of all these things; yea, the founder of murder, and works of darkness; yea, and he leadeth them by the neck with a flaxen cord, until he bindeth them with his strong cords forever." (2 Nephi 26:22)
It's natural for the third voice -- our own -- to come to the forefront in our decision-making processes, because the characteristics of these two signals can be very similar. Thus, we must look at their content. That, I believe, is where differences begin to appear:
“There is nothing which is good save it comes from the Lord: and that which is evil cometh from the devil” (Omni 1:25)
"For behold, a bitter fountain cannot bring forth good water; neither can a good fountain bring forth bitter water; wherefore, a man being a servant of the devil cannot follow Christ; and if he follow Christ he cannot be a servant of the devil.
Wherefore, all things which are good cometh of God; and that which is evil cometh of the devil; for the devil is an enemy unto God, and fighteth against him continually, and inviteth and enticeth to sin, and to do that which is evil continually.
But behold, that which is of God inviteth and enticeth to do good continually; wherefore, every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God.
Wherefore, take heed, my beloved brethren, that ye do not judge that which is evil to be of God, or that which is good and of God to be of the devil.
For behold, my brethren, it is given unto you to judge, that ye may know good from evil; and the way to judge is as plain, that ye may know with a perfect knowledge, as the daylight is from the dark night.
For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God.
But whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil, and believe not in Christ, and deny him, and serve not God, then ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil; for after this manner doth the devil work, for he persuadeth no man to do good, no, not one; neither do his angels; neither do they who subject themselves unto him.
And now, my brethren, seeing that ye know the light by which ye may judge, which light is the light of Christ, see that ye do not judge wrongfully; for with that same judgment which ye judge ye shall also be judged.
Wherefore, I beseech of you, brethren, that ye should search diligently in the light of Christ that ye may know good from evil; and if ye will lay hold upon every good thing, and condemn it not, ye certainly will be a child of Christ." (Moroni 7:11-19)

So how can you know good from evil?

You have to search for it. Search how? Search diligently. OK then, search what?

Here's what I found out when I searched "search" and "diligently" in the scripture search engine (here)

The scriptures

"Now these sons of Mosiah were with Alma at the time the angel first appeared unto him; therefore Alma did rejoice exceedingly to see his brethren; and what added more to his joy, they were still his brethren in the Lord; yea, and they had waxed strong in the knowledge of the truth; for they were men of a sound understanding and they had searched the scriptures diligently, that they might know the word of God.
But this is not all; they had given themselves to much prayer, and fasting; therefore they had the spirit of prophecy, and the spirit of revelation, and when they taught, they taught with power and authority of God." (Alma 17:2-3)

The Book of Mormon
"O my sons, I would that ye should remember that these sayings are true, and also that these records are true. And behold, also the plates of Nephi, which contain the records and the sayings of our fathers from the time they left Jerusalem until now, and they are true; and we can know of their surety because we have them before our eyes.
And now, my sons, I would that ye should remember to search them diligently, that ye may profit thereby; and I would that ye should keep the commandments of God, that ye may prosper in the land according to the promises which the Lord made unto our fathers." (Mosiah 1:6-7)
"And your minds in times past have been darkened because of unbelief, and because you have treated lightly the things you have received—
Which vanity and unbelief have brought the whole church under condemnation.
And this condemnation resteth upon the children of Zion, even all.
And they shall remain under this condemnation until they repent and remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon and the former commandments which I have given them, not only to say, but to do according to that which I have written—
That they may bring forth fruit meet for their Father’s kingdom; otherwise there remaineth a scourge and judgment to be poured out upon the children of Zion." (D&C 84:54-58)
"And now, behold, I say unto you, that ye ought to search these things. Yea, a commandment I give unto you that ye search these things diligently; for great are the words of Isaiah.
For surely he spake as touching all things concerning my people which are of the house of Israel; therefore it must needs be that he must speak also to the Gentiles.
And all things that he spake have been and shall be, even according to the words which he spake.
Therefore give heed to my words; write the things which I have told you; and according to the time and the will of the Father they shall go forth unto the Gentiles.
And whosoever will hearken unto my words and repenteth and is baptized, the same shall be saved. Search the prophets, for many there be that testify of these things." (3 Nephi 23:1-5)
This last scripture is especially important in that the Lord said that although diligently studying His words is essential, we must also hearken to His words, repent and be baptized (which I believe could also mean that we should covenant with Him). Hence,
"But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves." (James 1:22)

But what if the scriptures don't address the thing I need help with?

The Lord has done a terrific job of highlighting all the virtues and characteristics of a true Christian in the scriptures. His answers are true and timeless. But with all that's in them, we may still encounter some moments of confusion. We sometimes need more definite, definitive answers.

It's helpful in such instances to remember that the word of the Lord can come via the Holy Ghost, in personal prayer, in addition to the scriptures.
"Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart. Now, behold, this is the spirit of revelation" (D&C 8:2-3).
Elder. Marion G. Romney described what it's like to actually receive a sentence from the Lord:
"Revelation is the means by which God communicates with men. Revelation is indispensable to an understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The very nature of the gospel is such that without the active and constant operation of the principle of revelation, it could not be understood nor could it be had.
Another manifestation of revelation is the unspoken word, a good illustration of which is given us by Enos. He says: '...while I was thus struggling in the spirit, behold, the voice of the Lord came into my mind again, saying:...' (Enos 10.) Then he tells us what the voice of the Lord put in his mind.
This is a very common means of revelation. It comes into one's mind in words and sentences. With this medium of revelation I am personally well acquainted. Flashes of ideas that come into one's mind represent another type or manifestation of revelation. Listen to this statement of the Prophet Joseph:
'A person may profit by noticing the first intimation of the spirit of revelation; for instance, when you feel pure intelligence flowing into you, it may give you sudden strokes of ideas, so that by noticing it, you may find it fulfilled the same day or soon; (i.e.) those things that were presented unto your minds by the Spirit of God, will come to pass; and thus by learning the Spirit of God and understanding it, you may grow into the principle of revelation, until you become perfect in Christ Jesus.' (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 151.)" (April 1964 General Conference)
Still, the personal revelation you obtain should be congruent with already-revealed truths:
"General Commandments are given by God through prophets for the benefit of all His children. They are the natural laws of growth and happiness for individuals, of stability and freedom for nations."
Obedience to General Commandments schools and prepares us to discern and obey the "Personal Commandments" given us by the spirit." (Stephen R. Covey, "The Divine Center", p. 247)
This is congruent with what brother Joseph said:
" . . . we never inquire at the hand of God for special revelation only in case of there being no previous revelation to suit the case . . ." (History of the Church, Vol. 1, p. 339)
"We cannot keep all the commandments without first knowing them, and we cannot expect to know all, or more than we now know unless we comply with or keep those we have already received" (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 256).

The Primacy of Scripture

Even then, the personal revelation -- the "personal commandments" -- we (and others) receive should not contradict what we find in the scriptures:
"If anyone, regardless of his position in the Church, were to advance a doctrine that is not substantiated by the standard Church works, meaning the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price, you may know that his statement is merely his private opinion. The only one authorized to bring forth any new doctrine is the President of the Church, who, when he does, will declare it as revelation from God, and it will be so accepted by the Council of the Twelve and sustained by the body of the Church. And if any man speak a doctrine which contradicts what is in the standard Church works, you may know by that same token that it is false and you are not bound to accept it as truth." (Pres. Harold B. Lee, The First Area General Conference for Germany, Austria, Holland, Italy, Switzerland, France, Belgium, and Spain of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, held in Munich Germany, August 24–26, 1973, Reports and Discourses, p.69)
"It is not to be thought that every word spoken by the General Authorities is inspired, or that they are moved upon by the Holy Ghost in everything they read and write. Now you keep that in mind. I don't care what his position is, if he writes something or speaks something that goes beyond anything that you can find in the standard church works, unless that one be the prophet, seer, and revelator -- please note that one exception -- you may immediately say, 'Well, that is his own idea.' And if he says something that contradicts what is found in the standard church works (I think that is why we call them 'standard' -- it is the standard measure of all that men teach), you may know by that same token that it is false, regardless of the position of the man who says it." (Pres. Harold B. Lee, "Place of the Living Prophet, Seer and Revelator," Stand in Holy Places, (1974), p.162-163; originally delivered July 8, 1964)
"When is a prophet a prophet? Whenever he speaks under the inspiration and influence of the Holy Ghost. Men frequently speak and express their own opinions. The Lord has not deprived men of individual opinions. Good men, men of faith, have divergent views on many things. There is no particular harm in this if these views are not in relation to the fundamentals. Some men are Democrats, some Republicans. Some believe in a particular political philosophy and some are bitterly opposed to it, and yet they are faithful men with a testimony of the gospel.
When prophets write and speak on the principles of the gospel, they should have the guidance of the Spirit. If they do, then all that they say will be in harmony with the revealed word. If they are in harmony then we know that they have not spoken presumptuously. Should a man speak or write, and what he says is in conflict with the standards which are accepted, with the revelations the Lord has given, then we may reject what he has said, no matter who he is. Paul declared that he, at times, gave his own opinion in his writing." (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation 1:187)
"It makes no difference what is written or what anyone has said, if what has been said is in conflict with what the Lord has revealed, we can set it aside. My words, and the teachings of any other member of the Church, high or low, if they do not square with the revelations, we need not accept them. Let us have this matter clear. We have accepted the four standard works as the measuring yardsticks, or balances, by which we measure every man's doctrine.
You cannot accept the books written by the authorities of the Church as standards in doctrine, only in so far as they accord with the revealed word in the standard works.
Every man who writes is responsible, not the Church, for what he writes. If Joseph Fielding Smith writes something which is out of harmony with the revelations, then every member of the Church is duty bound to reject it. If he writes that which is in perfect harmony with the revealed word of the Lord, then it should be accepted." (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, 3:203-4)
"Prophets are men and they make mistakes. Sometimes they err in doctrine. This is one of the reasons the Lord has given us the Standard Works. They become the standards and rules that govern where doctrine and philosophy are concerned. If this were not so, we would believe one thing when one man was president of the Church and another thing in the days of his successors. Truth is eternal and does not vary. Sometimes even wise and good men fall short in the accurate presentation of what is truth. Sometimes a prophet gives personal views which are not endorsed and approved by the Lord....
Wise gospel students do not build their philosophies of life on quotations of individuals, even though those quotations come from presidents of the Church. Wise people anchor their doctrine on the Standard Works.... There is no need to attempt to harmonize conflicting views when some of the views are out of harmony with the Standard Works....
We do not solve our problems by getting a statement from the president of the Church or from someone else on a subject. We have been introduced to the gospel; we have the gift of the Holy Ghost; we have the Standards Works and it is our responsibility to get in tune and understand properly what the Lord has revealed and has had us canonize." (Elder Bruce R. McConkie, in a Letter to Eugene England, BYU Professor, February 19, 1981)
"The standard works are scripture. They are binding upon us. They are the mind and will and voice of the Lord. He never has, he does not now, and he never will reveal anything which is contrary to what is in them. No person, speaking by the spirit of inspiration, will ever teach doctrine that is out of harmony with the truths God has already revealed....
Men who wear the prophetic mantle are still men; they have their own views; and their understanding of gospel truths is dependent upon the study and inspiration that is theirs. Some prophets—I say it respectfully—know more and have greater inspiration than others. Thus, if Brigham Young, who was one of the greatest of the prophets, said something about Adam which is out of harmony with what is in the Book of Moses and in section 78, it is the scripture that prevails. This is one of the reasons we call our scriptures The Standard Works. They are the standard of judgment and the measuring rod against which all doctrines and views are weighed, and it does not make one particle of difference whose views are involved. The scriptures always take precedence." (Elder Bruce R. McConkie, "Finding Answers to Gospel Questions," Letter dated 1 July 1980. Published in Teaching Seminary Preservice Readings, Religion 370, 471, and 475 (2004))
“All that we teach in this Church ought to be couched in the scriptures. It ought to be found in the scriptures. We ought to choose our texts from the scriptures. If we want to measure truth, we should measure it by the four standard works, regardless of who writes it. If it is not in the standard works, we may well assume that it is speculation, man’s own personal opinion; and if it contradicts what is in the scriptures, it is not true. This is the standard by which we measure all truth” (“Using the Scriptures in Our Church Assignments,” Improvement Era, Jan. 1969, p. 13).”

Get "Inside Information" About Satan's Plans for You

As you immerse yourself in God's word throughout the day, you acclimate your spirit to the divine signal of truth and love.

And on that wavelength, the Lord can actually give you "inside information" about Satan's plans that will help you avoid deception and temptation ahead of time.

The Prophet Elisha got this concept. In 2 Kings 2, we read:
"Then the king of Syria warred against Israel, and took counsel with his servants, saying, In such and such a place shall be my camp.
And the man of God sent unto the king of Israel, saying, Beware that thou pass not such a place; for thither the Syrians are come down.
And the king of Israel sent to the place which the man of God told him and warned him of, and saved himself there, not once nor twice.
Therefore the heart of the king of Syria was sore troubled for this thing; and he called his servants, and said unto them, Will ye not shew me which of us is for the king of Israel?
And one of his servants said, None, my lord, O king: but Elisha, the prophet that is in Israel, telleth the king of Israel the words that thou speakest in thy bedchamber." (2 Kings 2:8-12)
The Nephites experienced something similar:
"And this was their faith, that by so doing God would prosper them in the land, or in other words, if they were faithful in keeping the commandments of God that he would prosper them in the land; yea, warn them to flee, or to prepare for war, according to their danger;
And also, that God would make it known unto them whither they should go to defend themselves against their enemies, and by so doing, the Lord would deliver them; and this was the faith of Moroni, and his heart did glory in it; not in the shedding of blood but in doing good, in preserving his people, yea, in keeping the commandments of God, yea, and resisting iniquity." (Alma 48:15-16)
When we are tuned in to the Lord, we can actively take Him up on His offer to help us avoid battles with our common enemy. He can and will give you promptings as to what Satan is planning for you. Indeed,
"We can monitor our own progress and discern the gains we make and the patterns in which we are vulnerable to temptation. I am indebted to a wise old friend (both in years and in association) of another faith who taught me to take an active interest in learning about the patterns in my life and how temptations occurred. He struggled a long time with some of his temptations and finally decided to take a proactive interest. He tried to anticipate where in his life he might encounter that 'old trickster devil' again. He became a good scout. He watched the terrain of his life and could tell where it looked like his own form of quicksand might be. He rerouted and gave up trying to see how close he could get to that quicksand without getting caught." (Marie Cornwall and Susan Howe, eds., Women of Wisdom and Knowledge: Talks Selected from the BYU Women's Conferences, p. 114)

Now what?

We've discussed the need to align with Christ -- and no one else -- in the discernment process. We've also discussed the paramount importance of obtaining the words of the Lord -- and sticking with them -- so that we can effectively and consistently avoid deception and temptation.

In my next post, we'll talk about the principles -- and a real-life example -- of how to effectively seek obtaining the Gift of Discernment.

On a personal note: I know how challenging discernment can be. As we proceed through this series of posts on discernment, it'll become (and I choose my words carefully) painfully clear to you how challenging it really is. We live in a time when there are "false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders, insomuch, that, if possible, they shall deceive the very elect, who are the elect according to the covenant." (JS—M 1:22)

I pray with Paul “unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ … that he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man;
That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may...know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God” (Eph. 3:14, 16–19).