8 For God is my witness, how deeply I miss all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. 9 And I pray this: that your love will keep on growing in knowledge and every kind of discernment, 10 so that you can approve the things that are superior and can be pure and blameless in the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2009 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Holman CSB®, and HCSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.
Paul's prayer for the people of the church in Philippi is that they would grow in real knowledge and discernment. He seems to separate the general knowledge of facts and propositions about the world from the knowledge that comes through the Holy Spirit for the sake of regeneration and sanctification. He has in mind here the knowledge bestowed by the Holy Spirit: knowledge that convicts believers in their actions. Paul prays that these followers of Christ will utilize that knowledge in order to grow in Christ-likeness by pursuing those actions that are both righteous and edifying.
The spiritual disciplines as a whole are a pivotal instrument for the Holy Spirit to use in guiding Christians. I used to believe that my general belief in God and my desire to serve the Kingdom of God necessarily meant that any coincidence in my life was a direct statement from God concerning what I should do. I humbly admit, and regret, that my naïveté lead to much heartache and rebellion. I did not fully understand that the personal spiritual disciplines were also significant in discerning God's plan.
Many things had worked out in my life. I got my Chemical Engineering degree, had a strong relationship with a young lady, found a decent job, and attended church regularly. Shouldn't that be enough? In my ignorance, I followed any sign that fell my way. If I was offered a particular opportunity at work, I assumed it meant I was in the correct vocation. As long as my relationship was not faltering, I assumed it was who I should be with. As long as I was going to church somewhere, I assumed God was happy.
I do not mean to say God was not there at all; rather, I mean to say I was not seeking God's will explicitly. Just consider the book of Job. While God was ultimately pulling the strings and had a particular plan for Job, Satan was the one sending the day-to-day troubles. To make a long story short, my life completely fell apart and I ended up further from the Lord than I ever could have imagined.
Now, whenever I become restless or whenever I am counseling someone, the first question I ask is why the individual should think they know what God wants.
As I reflect upon my decisions after college, I realize I should have had no confidence that I had any clue what God desired from me or for me. I was not in-tune with God because I did not seek Him. I did not read Scripture regularly, I did not pray, I did not meditate, I did not fast, I did not seek to fellowship with other believers, I did not journal, and I did not seek to know God more fully.
While I do not think the Christian can maintain all of those activities to the maximum, if I am not doing any of them at all, then why should I ever think I know the will of God? How could I ever recognize the direction of the Holy Spirit? I am a long ways from those troubling days, in large part because of consistent personal spiritual disciplines.
I encourage you to think about what reasons you have to think you recognize the conviction of the Spirit. I am not saying you can never know the Spirit if you are not working at the disciplines. I also do not think our actions in the disciplines force God to respond. What I am suggesting is that if you are not engaging in the disciplines, then I do not think you will be able to fully recognize and appropriately respond to the convictions of the Spirit.
Make a list of the disciplines you practice, and attempt to focus those disciplines toward hearing the Holy Spirit. How might they apply to the current situations in your life?
- Before you make critical decisions (even mundane decisions if you are willing), pray that the Holy Spirit will act explicitly upon you.
- If you ever feel restless or unsure about particular instances in your life, analyze whether or not you should be confident that you are understanding God's prompting based upon your spiritual discipline practices and the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5.22-3).
- If Paul was willing the pray for the wisdom and knowledge to have the necessary discernment in choosing which actions were righteous, then we should be willing to pray the same prayer for ourselves and our fellow church members. Take a moment in your quiet time for such a prayer, even if it is only repeating Paul's exact words.