The gift of discernment is biblical and wonderful, but it has mainly been exercised in its negative form. We tend to think of "discernment" as the gift of ferreting out someone's heresy or sin, and rarely as "discerning" someone's godliness or talent.
I met a man who has a car ministry to missionaries, and the Lord is blessing the work, but he got beat up all the way to where he is today---by fellow believers. As soon as they joined his board of directors they began to find a raft of things he was doing wrong. Everybody has the "gift of criticism," and few have the other administrations of the Spirit listed in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12. (I myself have just exercised this gift of criticism in the paragraph you just read.)
So on Christmas Day, when I found myself somehow trapped in the bathroom with my older son arguing about the laziness of another family member, it was definitely a work of the Holy Spirit when we suddenly did something we have rarely done: We went beyond negative "discernment." Normally, the "discernment of sin" step is followed by the "writing off" of the person in question, and that's the end of the process.
But by the grace of God, I said to my elder son something like this: "Look, we both know he's lazy and it's annoying and he's annoying. And we can just leave it at that and tell him he's lazy. But that's a cheap shot. Laziness is a problem like any other problem that can handicap a person---sloppiness, addiction, bad temper, whatever. He is miserable in his laziness. The lazy person works harder than anybody, because he has the tireless job of trying to avoid work all day. Not to mention that you and I also have annoying faults. We both love him, right? Let's think about how we can help him out. What's the best way to come alongside him?"
That's when the conversation in the bathroom turned a corner and started to be productive. We shifted from critic mode to creative mode. A fair amount of brainstorming ensued, of parsing the problem into small and doable pieces. It may have been a first for us. It had never even occurred to me that there was something to do after getting somebody's number.
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