by David Roper, Guest to the Catch
“I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment…” (Philippians 1:9).
I have a good friend that I fish with now and then. He’s a very thoughtful man.
After climbing into his waders and boots and gathering his gear around him, he sits on the tailgate of his truck and scans the river for fifteen minutes or more, looking for rising fish. “No use fishing where they ain’t,” he says.
He calls to mind the question: Do I fish for souls where they ain’t? (And here I define “fishing” and acting and speaking in ways that draw people to the loving-kindness of Jesus.)
Our separation as Christians is not horizontal, but vertical; not spatial but ethical. We are to be unlike the world in our behavior, but squarely in it, as Jesus was. He was “the friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Luke 7:34).
So I have to ask myself: Do I, like Jesus, have friends that are outside the pale, or am I content to huddle with my good Christian friends? If the latter, I’m fishing for souls “where they ain’t.”
But spotting “fish” is more than being around them; it’s also being attentive—like my fishing-friend who sees feeding trout where I don’t see them: fish tailing for nymphs, or sipping midges off the surface. His senses are exquisitely trained.
Paul writes accordingly, “And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in…all discernment…” (Philippians 1:9). Paul’s noun, “discernment,” has to do with sense perception—sensitivity to one’s surroundings. (It’s used in one classic source for catching the subtle fragrance of a flower.)
Discernment, in this sense, is heart–kindness that sees beneath the surface of the off-hand remark; it hears the deeper cry of the soul. It asks, “Can you tell me more?” and follows up with compassion and concern. “There is much preaching,” George Herbert says, “in this friendliness.”
Such love is not a natural instinct. It is solely the product of prayer.
And so I pray: “Lord, may I today become aware of the cheerless voice, the weary affect, the down-cast eyes, and all the other marks of woe that I, in my natural insensitivity and self–preoccupation, may easily overlook. May I have that love that springs from and is rooted in your love for me that I may love others with discernment.”