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Over the last few years, my son and I have begun taking guy’s trips each year around his birthday. We have had a great time on these little adventures with just him and me. The first year, I decided to take Maverick hiking along the Manistee River. It’s a beautiful trail that came highly recommended as one the most beautiful in Michigan. Mav and I prepared all of our supplies – packs, tents, food, cooking supplies, sleeping bags, bug spray, bear spray – we were going to venture into the wilderness for two days. Just prior to hitting the trail, we made a bad life choice and ate Arby’s in Cadillac. Now I need to admit, I like hiking, but I’m not in the best of shape, so carrying a 40-pound bag for 20 miles was exhausting. My son by contrast is all muscle. He is just ripped and completely in shape. We started the trip with the fresh air, faint sounds of the river in the background, and a stunning, winding trail in front of us. Early on in the hike though, we made a mistake. We came to a fork in the trail and took a wrong turn. We only walked about 100 feet or so down the wrong path, but the problem was that 100 or so feet was completely downhill. As we reached the bottom and realized our mistake, we learned that our skills for discerning between the actual trail and little offshoots were lacking. We walked up the hill and back onto the trail powered by an Arby’s beef and cheddar sandwich and a vanilla shake. The rest of the hike we were much more careful about committing, both to trails and food. We never made a wrong turn again. Our mistake had taught us discernment. Also, I don’t think I’ve eaten Arby’s since.

Discernment is about staying on the path. It is the outflow of wisdom. Discernment is seeing, understanding, and then making a choice. Basic discernment is choosing between right and wrong. It is seeing the difference between good and evil. In the story of Solomon’s request to God for wisdom, he prays, “Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?” (1 Kings 3:9). The newly crowned King recognized his need for God’s guiding hand. He petitions God to show him right from wrong and fact from fiction. He asks for discernment or an understanding mind.

“…inclining your heart to understanding; yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.” (Proverbs 2:2-6)

“…understanding will guard you.” (Proverbs 2:11)

“They are all straight to him who understands, and right to those who find knowledge.” (Proverbs 8:9)

“On the lips of him who has understanding, wisdom is found.” (Proverbs 10:13)

            “The wisdom of the prudent is to discern his way.” (Proverbs 14:8)

“When a land transgresses, it has many rulers, but with a man of understanding and knowledge, its stability will long continue.” (Proverbs 28:2)

“Teach me good judgment and knowledge, for I believe in your commandments.” (Psalm 119:66)

Having understanding or discernment is more than black and white decisions. Discernment is navigating “unmapped darkness.” Discernment is making wise decisions, when it’s not simply a question of right or wrong, but between choosing better and best. Charles Spurgeon said, “Discernment is not knowing the difference between right and wrong. It is knowing the difference between right and almost right.” It is discerning the answer to, “God, what path would you have me take?” “What job offer should I accept?” “What college should I attend?” “What church should me and my family be part of?” “What house should we buy? Should we sell our house? When should we sell our house?” The pastors I get to serve with will often pray for wisdom and discernment. The prayer for wisdom is from James 1:5. Asking God for discernment is realizing, “Not every fork in the road has a biblical arrow.” Not every decision will have a specific Bible verse.

In early 2021, I found a quote from John Piper. I copied it down on a sticky note and put it in the front of my Bible. Piper wrote, discernment “is how we follow God’s leading through the process of spiritually sensitive application of biblical truth to the specifics of our situation…His Spirit shapes the mind and heart through the Word and prayer so that we have inclinations toward what would be most glorifying to Him and helpful to others.” Discernment is developed by faithful study of the Scripture, which re-tunes and re-shapes our hearts and minds to the Holy Spirit, which then softens us to wise counsel. This is discernment.

For a portion of a hike that Mav and I went on, we were on the North Country Scenic Trail. It’s a trail that starts in Vermont and ends in North Dakota. Along this specific part of our hike, blue marks were imprinted on trees along the path. It was a constant reminder that we were on the right track. The Scripture serves as the same type of guidance for us. We want to stay on the straight and narrow, so the Scripture helps us know that we are on the right road. Wisdom and discernment start with God. The Lord has revealed His will and His way in the Scripture. The Psalmist wrote, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105). But it isn’t going to tell us where to step or where to stop for the night. Again, Piper writes, “People whose minds are saturated with God’s word and submissive to His thoughts have a wisdom that in eternity will prove superior to all the secular wisdom in the world.” If we truly want to be discerning about the “gray” areas of life, we must get the “black and white” issues of life settled. God’s Word gives us His definitive will or path as we can call it for illustrating purpose as the following: (Please forgive the extensive “S” alliteration.)

            God’s will is that we are saved – 2 Peter 3:9
            God’s will is that we are Spirit-filled – Ephesians 5:17-18
God’s will is that we are being sanctified – 1 Thessalonians 4:3
God’s will is that we are submitting to authority – 1 Peter 2:15
            God’s will is that we are being sacrificial – Romans 12:1-2
            God’s will is that we are faithful in suffering – 1 Peter 3:17

Pastor and Bible teacher John MacArthur has a little book called “Found: God’s Will” that goes through the commanded will of God. In the last chapter, he addresses the issue of who to marry, where to go to school, and the other “gray” areas. He writes, “If you are doing all…of the basic things, do you know what the next principle of God’s will is? Do whatever you want!” How can that be? Again, the Word of God reshapes and retunes our hearts and minds. David writes, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4). The Word of God takes root in our hearts and begins to transform our desires. We begin to naturally, actually more supernaturally, desire what our Heavenly Father desires. This is the transformation that the Holy Spirit brings to our lives. The Holy Spirit guides us. Our will begins to be conformed to His will. The Apostle Paul writes, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2). When we saturate our minds and hearts with the Scripture, the Holy Spirit conforms and renews our minds. Paul Koptak writes, “As we follow him on that way, we also learn that we are at a new crossroads every day, and every day must choose to follow Jesus again.”

One other way that discernment shows itself is in the counsel we listen to. In C.S. Lewis’s wonderful book “The Screwtape Letters,” in a masterful way, Lewis through letters, tells the story of an older demon training a younger demon. Even though the subject is dark, the book is instructive and at times humorous. In one of the later letters from Screwtape to his nephew and student Wormwood, he writes, “And since we cannot deceive the whole human race all the time, it is most important thus to cut every generation off from all others.” In this letter, Lewis warns of being cut off from history and wisdom of ancient authors. I would take this also to apply, though a slight stretch, to wisdom from those further down the path. Proverbs says, “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise” (Proverbs 13:20). We must walk with the wise. We must sit with, listen, and spend time with those who have gone a little further down the path than we have. Then and only then can we be discerning. If there’s such a thing as a shortcut to wisdom and discernment, it’s learning the easy way, rather than the long, hard way.

Maverick and I finished our hike. We walked 20 miles in a little less than 24 hours. We drove another hour north to Traverse City to have a burger and fries at Don’s Drive-in. I also ordered a strawberry shake that looked like a five-gallon bucket with a straw sticking out the top. It was a fitting end to an exhausting hike. After every road trip, we must eventually return home. Every journey must come to an end. In “Pilgrim’s Progress,” Christian and his friend Hopeful eventually reach the Celestial City. As they enter the city, bells ring, angels escort them, “ten thousand welcomes” greet them, trumpets sound, songs, shouts, angelic choirs sing, and the king opens the gates and His kingdom to them. The city is described as a place where “you shall reap what you have sown – the fruit of all your prayers, tears, and sufferings for the king along the way.”

Your journey and mine will eventually come to an end. Will we have lived as wise and discerning men and women? Or will we be the fool who has squandered away his life? Jen and I think about these questions a lot. We talk about what kind of old people we want to be. We know there is no guarantee, but we talk about what type of parents to our adult children and grandparents we want to be. Winston Churchill once said, “When youth departs, may wisdom prove enough.” I recently asked Joe Stowell, former president of Moody and later Cornerstone University, how to end well. I figured here was a guy who was a pastor, author, husband, father, and grandfather in his 70s. I had a clean sheet of paper and a pen ready for what I expected to be a lengthy answer. He simply said, “Finish every day well.” I like Joe a lot, but his answer annoyed me. “That’s it?” I thought. But the more I have pondered that answer, the more I realize that that answer is what Jesus said. “Don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today” (Matthew 6:34, NLT). The journey of wisdom, of ending well can be daunting, even overwhelming. How can I be a wise, kind, pure old man? How can I grow to be gentle and patient? The answer was so simple that I had missed it: “Finish every day well.” I must strive to be discerning and wise, kind, and pure today! I don’t know what tomorrow holds, but I must strive to end today well. If I want to be a wise, kind, pure, gentle, and patient older man, then I need to start today by practicing those things. There isn’t a magical transition at the path marked “old age” that radically transforms our character and personality. Eugene Peterson in his pastoral memoir calls it, “A long obedience in the same direction.” Like Christian at the eternal Celestial city, old age is reaping what we have sown in the days, months, and years of our life. Paul writes, “God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap” (Galatians 6:7). This isn’t a rush to age or even act old, but to live wisely in every stage of life. Kidner writes, “Each age has its appointed excellence, to be respected and enjoyed in its time.” Youth is only wasted on the young when they fail to use their strength and energy to build, invest, and develop godly character for the future.

“The memory of the righteous is a blessing, but the name of the wicked will rot.” (Proverbs 10:7)

“Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life.” (Proverbs 16:31)

“The glory of young men is their strength, but the splendor of old men is their gray hair.” (Proverbs 20:29)

That is my parting counsel and wisdom to you – finish today well. In whatever season of life you are in, sow seeds of wisdom, kindness, and honorable, godly character that will grow in the years to come, that will yield “a harvest of righteousness” (James 3:18). You may have made a mess yesterday, but start fresh today, right now! “His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning” (Lamentations 3:22-23). The voice of wisdom calls to young and old fools alike. Run from the fraternity of Fools and get wisdom. Humbly call out to God, He is faithful, kind, compassionate, and slow to anger. You may have made a lot of wrong turns, went a long way out of the way, and feel stuck at a dead end, just know that we proclaim, “Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:24). Jesus is strong enough to turn everything around and create a new you. All the foolishness that was you, can be done away with and you can be made “a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Begin in this moment with a freshness that only comes from God. “’I will give you’ – that is the Gospel in four words.” The Gospel is Good News – God has everything, and we have nothing, but in Jesus and through Jesus, the Father gives us everything, including wisdom and discernment. That will make for a nice closing chapter, both of a book and our lives.

Claire, Belle, Maverick, Ruby, Mavis,
Your Dad and I want so badly to end well. We want to end well to honor the Lord, but also to honor you. We haven’t met a whole lot of people that have ended well in ministry. Anytime we do, we sit and soak in whatever wisdom that person has to share. We pick their brains, we take notes, and just listen. It really is an intense desire of our hearts. We pray and work our butts off in hopes that it will happen. We know that if it does, it will be a true miracle of the Lord.

Ministry life is hard. It’s a different type of hard that you can’t even convey to those who don’t live it. You guys live it with us. You’ve helped with all sorts of things as Dad and I have struggled with the emotional weight of it all. Even just getting through the writing of this book, it wouldn’t have happened without you. You are home right now at 11:40 pm running the house, while Dad and I are working. You guys are amazing. You’ve seen firsthand the tears, the anger, frustration and hurt. The joy, the excitement, and the awe. 

Being leaders takes all of the wisdom and discernment the Lord will rain down on you, Job 28:28 tells us how to get wisdom and discernment, he says, “‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to turn away from evil is understanding.’” You will all be leaders. Leaders of families. Leaders at work. Leaders of a team. You were born to lead. I can see it in each and every one of you. You must fear the Lord and you must turn from evil.

My closing words of wisdom for you all are 1 Thessalonians 4:11, “And to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.”  I feel like this verse is the embodiment of what I would want for you all. A peaceable and quiet life. Hardworking and one that your testimony speaks to the unbeliever. If you have that, you have everything.


Questions for Reflection

Have you ever struggled to discern God’s will? What happened?

Of the clear, scriptural commands about God’s will, are you in line with each of them?
Are you saved? Have you repented of your sin and believed in the death and resurrection of Jesus?

            Are you Spirit-filled? Does the Holy Spirit or your own personal desires
control your life?

Are you being sanctified? Surrendering sin to God or hiding it?

Are you submissive to authority in your life?

            Are you living a sacrificial life of worshipful service to God? Generosity?

Are you faithful in suffering for doing right? Are you steadfast in those difficult moments?

Knowing that every road comes to an end, have you thought about how you want to end?

What does “finish every day well” mean to you?

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