discernIt used to be relatively easy to tell the difference between right and wrong. What used to be black or white now seem to be just shades of gray. This article makes a great follow up to my article entitled Beware Shades of Gray. The Lord is always able to tell the difference between good and evil, so there must be ways for us to tell the difference. Here are seven tools you can use to discern right from wrong and good from evil, and in general just make better choices. 

1 – What do the scriptures say?

This will take some interpretation. Last time I checked the scriptures were pretty silent on the topic of snorting cocaine or doing personal projects while on the clock at work. However, the beauty of the scriptures is that even if they don’t address a particular topic, they do. They may not say, “Don’t snort coke,” but they do tell us how to live healthy lives. If you read the Word of Wisdom in section 89 of the Doctrine and Covenants, how can you think about that counsel then say that the Lord is okay with pumping yourself full of drugs? Really. The scriptures hold the key to solving all of life’s greatest ills. The more we become familiar with what they say, and where they say it, the more clearly we will see where the world has departed from the teachings of the Savior, and how we can fix our own problems by living those same teachings.

2 – What do the Brethren say?

One of the greatest blessings of being a member of the Church in these days is to have living prophets to speak to us about modern issues. If you look at the Conference issues of the Liahona magazine you will find almost every topic under the sun, complete with heaven-sent counsel on how to live and deal with life in the last days. Reading the Liahona magazine will provide you with some timely and time sensitive advice. If you need more than the current printed word, you also have www.churchofjesuschrist.org to turn to. You can even do your scripture study on www.churchofjesuschrist.org.

3 – Use history to weigh your options

The old adage that those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it, is correct. Unfortunately, Satan has gotten very creative and has introduced many items on the menu that have never existed before. But history can still be used as a guide in many instances. Legalizing same sex marriages may be new to this century, but a good look at the importance of the family can show us how destructive the breakdown of the family has been throughout history in any society. Knowing where we have been can help a lot in seeing where we are headed. The only difference between human nature in 2000 B.C. and human nature in 2000 A.D. is four thousand years. The nature of man does not change, just the date on the calendar.

4 – What if?

Sometimes when we are contemplating doing something that might be questionable, ask “What if?” What if everyone did this? What would happen to my town if everyone chose to do this thing or to live this way? How would it affect families? How would it change my neighborhood? If everyone in my town started to drop trash on the sidewalk or roadway instead of finding a trash can to put it in or if everyone in town started to ignore the traffic laws, what would my town be like? How would people start treating each other if everyone believed or acted in this way? This is what authors do when they write books. They take a premise and ask, “What if?” We don’t act in a bubble. What we do affects other people. If others did as we want to do, how would that affect society?

Too often we are tricked into thinking that our behavior has nothing to do with other people, that it only affects us. Learning to look at the big picture by asking “What if?” will help us look at the long range results of our decisions. For example, if I stop my scripture reading, will it really hurt me? Think about what happens to people when they cut themselves off from the scriptures? Better yet, go read the scriptures to find out the answer to that one.

5 – Let your conscience be your guide

Okay, all Jiminy Cricket wisecracks aside, using your conscience is a good solid choice in most instances. The Light of Christ is in all of us, whether or not we are members of the Lord’s Church. This is what we call our conscience. It was placed there by God to teach us right from wrong, and help us make good choices. When we make poor choices we experience guilt or remorse. The purpose of those feelings is to help us feel our way toward being a better person. The more sensitive we become to how we feel about whether something is a good choice or a bad choice, the more consistently we can be good. Sometimes we need to get to a quiet place, either mentally, physically, or both, before we can really listen to what our conscience is telling us. We all have it, so let us use it to good advantage. 

6 – Use the Spirit

Even when we have done everything else to try to discern between the choices we have before us, sometimes a clear answer is not evident. The purpose of the gift of the Holy Ghost is to help us learn the Lord’s viewpoint on things. He shows us what the Lord would do in a given situation. The Spirit can teach us things the eye cannot see and the ear cannot hear, nor yet have entered into the heart of man. Prayer is always an important part of decision making, especially when they are big decisions or ones that may have lasting consequences. As a confirmed member of the Lord’s Church, you have a member of the Godhead as your personal tutor. Use Him. You may need to add fasting to your prayers, but ask in faith and the answers will come.

7 – Sometimes it is not a matter of right vs. wrong

Sometimes what you choose does not really matter to the Lord. The trick is learning how to tell the difference between the times that it does and the times that it does not. If I get a job offer with XYZ company, everything may look fine on the surface. What may happen to me or my family if I take the job? I don’t know what the future holds. Wisdom dictates that we seek a higher power before making major decisions in our lives. What if taking this job will eventually lead to my inactivity in the Church because of new friends or lifestyle? What if the new move will put my family at a disadvantage that could be avoided by not taking the job or not moving to a new place? Where does the Lord want me to be right now, and what will lead me to be the best provider and servant in the kingdom in the long run?

The answers to these questions are impossible for us to discern on our own. If such things concern us then we need to take them to the Lord and seek for answers from Him. Making blind or calculated choices is sort of like cooking. You may have all the right ingredients, but you don’t necessarily have complete control over the final outcome. There are so many things that can happen to cause changes in the end product between the time you start and the time you end. Sometimes we have the ability to make course corrections along the way, but sometimes we do not. The Lord sees the end from the beginning, and hence can give us wise counsel as to whether going down a certain path is even advisable. But sometimes you just have to make a decision and go with it. The Lord will not always tell us every step to take. He does expect us to use our best judgment and be proactive in our behavior.

There are times when we take things to the Lord and we receive a direct answer as to whether or not we should do a certain thing. There are also times when it does not really matter to the Lord which path we take, as long as our hearts are in the right place. But we will never know for sure how the Lord feels about something if we do not take the time to ask. Consider taking the time and making the effort to ask such questions as spiritual life insurance. Asking is always good, especially if you already have a plan in place. The Lord likes it when we have thought things through and then seek His counsel.

Final Thoughts

Learn to ask the right questions. Unlike a Magic Eight ball, the Lord’s answers are not random. Learning to ask the right question will aid in getting the right answer. This takes practice and time, so be patient with yourself and with the Lord as you learn how to do it. For example, let us look at that job with XYZ company. I could just ask the Lord if I should take the job, but that shows no thinking or consideration on my part. But if I go to the Lord and lay out to him what I have done to get the job, the advantages and concerns about the job and possibly the move to a new location, then I can ask a whole host of questions and expect an answer. Don’t ask them all at once because, as you have probably experienced before, the Lord’s answers don’t usually come in encyclopedic form, they usually come in yes or no versions.

After explaining what you have done, and how you feel about things, you could tell the Lord that your concern is that you be the greatest use to Him in the work of salvation for yourself, your family, and for others. Will this move on your part be in the best interest for all involved? Or you could ask the Lord where He would have you serve. “This move looks good to me. May I take this job and make this move with your blessings?” You could tell Him that you have certain reservations about the situation and that you would like some insight into what you can do to remedy the problem then spend time meditating on possible solutions and let the inspiration come. Once we have done our homework, with carefully thought out questions, the Lord will help us sort things out in the best way possible.

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How Shall I Judge? Seven Tools to Make it Easier