It was my first afternoon visiting the elderly in a local care home. I got my housework done, had a spot of lunch and decided to get in the bath. I began reading Colossians and became totally engrossed. I suddenly realised I was due at the care home in about twenty minutes. It is a 15 minute drive. What kind of idiot gets so engrossed in contemplating God’s will that they forget to actually go out and DO it. Honestly!

And then came the temptation to break the speed limit in order to get there that bit quicker, and to appear somewhat less of an idiot when I met Pauline, who was to be my guide and fellow pastoral visitor. Who would be any the wiser if I broke the speed limit a little? Does it matter if Christians break the law, even if everyone else does it?

Meh. I stayed at the speed limit, and I wasn’t actually as late as I’d thought. I apologised to Pauline, who was very gracious. I also apologised to God for being an idiot.

Speaking of idiots – what kind of numpty nonsense is it when person A is praying for person B, who is about to embark on a mission of public speaking, sharing the gospel across the land, and person A asks God ‘let them throw eggs, Lord, and when they throw eggs at [person B], may they hit someone else’? How is that in the slightest a godly, or holy spirit-inspired prayer?

Julian of Norwich says that when we love God, He (or the holy spirit, to be precise) makes us desire something, for which we pray, and then the prayer is fulfilled. This is because we are praying in God’s will. A numpty prayer that asks God to make someone act maliciously, and that the result of the malicious act will be that some poor sod gets covered in egg… It doesn’t take a genius to figure that that particular prayer was not exactly inspired by the holy spirit, does it?

In the day and age of the discovery of the Higgs Boson, when there are certain notable scientists claiming that Christianity is only for stupid people, that God categorically does not exist, prayers like the one above (reportedly spoken by a church leader) really don’t do God any favours. You know the old saying ‘if you haven’t got anything nice to say, then say nothing’? Maybe sometimes Christians need to change it slightly to ‘if you haven’t got anything sensible to say, then say nothing.’

Discernment in the Christian life is not optional. God gave you a brain for you to use it. Question what you see, what you hear. Compare it to the living God, to Jesus, and how he behaved when he walked among us. If something doesn’t sound like it comes from God; it probably doesn’t!

This is not to say there will not be disagreements, even among the most discerning and wise of believers. This is because we are fallen. It is also because sometimes the answers that we think we know so readily are actually impossible for the human mind to grasp. It’s like looking at a ten-thousand-sided planet. We catch a glimpse of beauty from a certain angle and we insist that the whole thing looks like this, but actually we can only see one-ten-thousandth of the whole! But what is impossible for you and me is not impossible for God, and it is wiser sometimes to agree to disagree than to have everyone pulling in different directions. I challenge you, as I challenge myself, to seek wisdom and to prize discernment.

‘Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom… the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.’

James 3:13,17