The Pharisees and Sadducees approached, and as a test, asked Him to show them a sign from heaven.He answered them: “When evening comes you say, ‘It will be good weather because the sky is red.’And in the morning, ‘Today will be stormy because the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to read the appearance of the sky, but you can’t read the signs of the times.An evil and adulterous generation demands a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” Then He left them and went away. (Matthew 16:1-4)
We need to be able to discern when people approach us with authentic curiosity and when they are only testing to find fault.
But notice how Jesus called them out. Here were people who were ready to recognize signs in nature, but look past the truth of Jesus right in front of them. That’s often the case today. People are willing to accept certain prophecies and signs and ideas that line up with their beliefs but can’t see truth in front of them. I suppose we’re all like that a bit. Our filters can get mixed up and clogged.
Hence, the need for discernment, which is sort of like keeping our filters clean and ready to sift through everything that comes our way.
Sometimes it’s difficult to see the truth in a situation. We have trouble discerning what is our own will and perspective and what is real truth. Our understanding is limited, but we put together pieces we think fit well, only to later discover we forced an inaccurate picture.
An essential question I’ve realized I must ask is,
What is true about God that helps me see the truth in this situation?
When we know the truth about God’s character, promises, and will, we can sift through the details of a situation. We still rarely have the whole picture, but the pieces we have after letting God refine it all are worth missing a few pieces. What we have and rely on is truth, even if we don’t have it in its completion.
But it’s not all up to God. We have to seek and know Him in order to listen and discern well. Without knowing what fits into His character, promises, and will, we have no foundation of what truth is. We have no firm standard. But the better we know God, the better we know truth. And that makes it easier to determine what isn’t truth.
Know God well. Then pause to look at a situation and ask and trust God to sift through and determine what reflects Him and what doesn’t. Then you can proceed with a firm foundation that you can trust.
When I was working on the itinerary for the women’s trip to Israel, I started with the 2010 itinerary. I marked each location or experience as “yes,” “no,” or “maybe.” Because most women who go on the trip are visiting Israel for the first time, there are some essentials to keep on the schedule. For those who have visited Israel before, there needs to be some variety. Israel may be small in size, but it is packed with possibilities. Why do the same thing over and over when there is so much to experience? I want others (and myself) to experience the Israel of today as much as the biblical history. I want people to get involved, talk to people, serve people, and invest in the nation.
So, when I asked if there were any places or activities that might not be on my radar that the touring company suggested, I was surprised but thrilled to hear the question, “Would you be interested in an archeological dig?”
We spent a morning at the Temple Mount Sifting Project. Truckloads of earth, containing centuries of artifacts, had been taken from the Temple Mount and carelessly dumped. Archeologists usually take great care in uncovering layers of civilizations, but all the strata were dumped together. Now, it needs to be sorted, studies, and categorized, one bucket at a time.
We learned about the project, archaeology basics, and the process we’d follow, then we got started. An archaeologist and regular volunteers were on site to help. (Who knows what valuables we would have tossed aside without them!) In preparation for our arrival, they had placed scoops of dirt, artifacts included, in buckets and added water to soak off some of the dirt. We worked in pairs, choosing a bucket, pouring its contents over the sifting frame, rinsing everything well, then sorting…every single rock and remnant.
It was tedious, yet exciting, because at any moment, we might find a treasure. It would be among the rubble. We might not be able to easily identify it, but we anticipated the possibility. We had to learn what was important and what wasn’t. We looked closely and asked a lot of questions. We relied on people who knew a lot more than we did. And we celebrated when we found something.
It’s like spiritual growth. Willingness to grow requires training and a tedious process that seems unproductive at times. It’s messy. Sometimes we don’t know what we’re looking for and think we’ve found treasure when it’s just a common rock, or we set aside something important without realizing it. We have to ask questions along the way, checking with God to gauge whether or not we’re focusing on what’s important. And when the time is right, we get to celebrate that one small gem we uncover. We work alongside others, some who know less than we do but others who are much more experienced at discerning value. And just when we think we are done, we turn around to find rows and rows of buckets still left to be sifted.
We’re not done. But we’re also not on our own.
Let someone sift alongside you, and always trust God to supervise the process.