He who answers a matter before he hears it, it is folly and shame to him.
— Proverbs 18:13
This has been one of my life verses for several decades, and lately it has been coming to mind quite a bit. Avoiding premature judgments is a goal, rather than something I’ve arrived at, but I’m growing into it.
We live in a time when, as the Bible foretold, everything that can be shaken will be shaken (Haggai 2:6, 7; Hebrews 12:26, 27). Perplexing events and behaviors are unfolding daily before our eyes, from a personal level on up to international affairs. Many things which go on around us can be quite inexplicable if we do not understand them from a spiritual perspective. Consequently, prophetic perception and spiritual discernment are becoming increasingly necessary if we are to live and respond as Christ-followers.
If we want to grow in spiritual discernment, an important component is learning not to form judgments too hastily. A lot of believers spout ungracious, ill-informed opinions regularly, reacting to what they think is being done or spoken, not hearing matters out fully. This is fleshly, and it causes both disunity in the Body of Christ and a shameful witness in front of those who don’t yet know Jesus.
How can we grow in gracious discretion that impacts our world for Christ’s glory?
1. First of all, we must actively seek the Lord for His vantage point on everything. James 1:5 promises that God will liberally supply wisdom wherever we are lacking, if we will only ask. As we practice seeking His perspective, it becomes easier, over time, to hear His heartbeat on various matters.
2. We must teach ourselves to listen carefully to people and to withhold immediate judgments and opinions. Hear them out. Learn to weigh what is being said. We can mentally ask ourselves questions, such as:
- Am I accurately understanding what is being said, or am I reacting to key words which are hot buttons for me? (Take the time to ask questions, rather than jumping to conclusions. People don’t always communicate clearly what they mean, so we may need to ask for further clarification.)
- Do I have all the information? (Assessments based on partial information tend to be erroneous.)
- Am I seeing the whole picture? (We tend to latch on to only one angle, thinking we are seeing it all. Listening to others’ viewpoints helps us to form a clearer, more well-rounded picture.)
- When I disagree with others’ words or actions, what might they know that I don’t? What experiences are influencing them, of which I am unaware?
- What is their core reason for what they are doing or speaking? What heart attitude is motivating them? (But we should be careful not to hastily assume we know their heart — especially if we are attributing negative attitudes toward them.)
3. Listen with a spirit of charitable love, according to 1 Corinthians 13. Even when someone has an impure motive, there are often deeper issues at the root, such as fear, insecurity, or lack of feeling valued. If we can see into the root problems with compassion, we may be able to assist with solutions, rather than just writing them off as “wrong” or “bad.”
4. Take time to ponder a matter before the Lord. Be patient to receive His counsel before speaking into situations. As prophetic people, we are always to “speak as the oracles of God” (1 Peter 4:11). Prayer often expands or changes our viewpoint.
5. When forming an opinion, we should keep in mind that what seems obvious to our natural understanding may not be in alignment with God’s plan. God never violates His Word, but He doesn’t always adhere to standard protocol, either. His ways are often hidden, and can only be discovered through revelation from the Holy Spirit.
6. We must learn what is our domain of influence and what is not. It is not necessary to have an opinion on everything. Psalm 131:1 gives some good advice: “My heart is not haughty, nor my eyes lofty: neither do I exercise myself in great matters or in things too high for me.” Some things we have no authority to change — nor should we have. Some things are none of our business.
7. Especially when it comes to having an opinion on someone else’s judgment call, sometimes it is best to say, “I don’t know. Perhaps we should just let God deal with it and see what bears out over time.”
If we train ourselves to allow a time lapse between what pops into our heads and what comes out of our mouths, the words that we speak will have the potential to produce blessing. We will be able to impart God’s wisdom to people, which is far better than merely sharing an opinion.