Discernment: What is Helpful? What is Harmful?

“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything.  1 Corinthians 6:12 ESV

“Not all things are helpful.” Now that’s an understatement! As I have grown in spiritual and emotional maturity, I have come to see more and more ordinary aspects of American daily life as harmful for my health. Many common foods are harmful to my physical health. Consumerism and materialism are harmful to my spiritual health. Television and the media are, on balance, harmful to my emotional health.

I’ll write more about some of the specifics on these issues in future posts. For now, my point is simply that our American culture and environment are filled with things that aren’t good for me. Now you and I may not have the same weaknesses, but I guarantee that you have some, and many things out there aren’t good for you either. It’s your job to figure out, or discern, what is helpful for you and what is harmful.

Discernment can be a hard job. The world will try to convince you that bad is good, or at least that bad is “not bad.” Cigarettes were once marketed as good for your health until it was clear they weren’t. The tobacco companies’ fallback position was then to simply deny the harm of their products. It was all lies, but it was also remarkably effective. This example represents only the “tip of the iceberg” of the world’s practice to deceive.

Discernment can also be frightening. Perhaps you have glimpsed that a great deal of your behavior is harmful, but the thought of too much or too rapid change is intimidating. If so, the good news is that you’re normal.   I have been scared that God was calling (or would call) me to radical change. As it turns out, I have changed a lot over the last ten years or so, perhaps even radically, but it was a slow, step-by-step process. I think that’s how God does it for most of us.

So, how to start? Always start with prayer. Ask God to help you discern healthy from unhealthy behaviors. Ask him to help you overcome any fear you may have, and remember that Jesus has set us free. There is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. That’s us!

Second, recognize that the world will lead you astray. Be on guard against advertising, “common knowledge,” and don’t equate “normal” with “good.” Research the issues for yourself. Talk with friends and relatives who seem especially physically, emotionally and/or spiritually healthy. Ask them what they do that’s helpful and what they avoid because they find it harmful. You’ll learn a lot and probably find some supporters too!

Now relax having sure knowledge of God’s immeasurable love for you and infinite power.

You can do it!