So perhaps you’ve taken one of those spiritual gifts assessment and realized that you have the gift of the discerning of spirits and/or discernment. While this is an incredibly powerful tool, the gift of discernment can be a lot to manage on an emotional level. If you don’t understand this gifting, you may find it easy to falsely believe that you are emotionally unstable; fine one minute and then the next minute you are completely distracted by intense feelings…feelings like fear, despair, lust or weariness. When this happens, you may find yourself thinking, “I thought I had overcome _____ (fear, greed, lust, etc.), how could I possibly be dealing with it again?”
Well, the good news is that you have been entrusted with an incredibly powerful tool that has great potential to help, protect and deliver people who are in desperate need. The hard thing is that this is not an easy gift to operate well in. If you have the gift of discernment but do not have a VERY disciplined mind, you could easily be a very unhappy person. This gift has the potential to make you powerful and effective in the body of Christ or miserable. The choice is yours. If you’re willing to do the grunt work of learning to operate well in this gifting, then let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work.
What exactly is discernment? First, there is the spiritual gift of the discerning of spirits. This gift alerts the individual to the presence of an evil spirit. This includes the ability to discern when principalities, powers, and rulers are operating as well. Then there is discernment, which is the general quality or ability to recognize, judge, distinguish, or ability to grasp what is obscure to others. If you have the spiritual gift of the discerning of spirits you likely also have discernment.
Let me give you a quick example of what each of these might look like in operation. First, let’s take the spiritual gift of the discerning of spirits. I remember one time I walked into church. I hadn’t walked more than a few feet when, Wham! Intense feelings of rejection! It was like hitting a wall cloud. I quickly examined myself. Had my thoughts gone to something that made me feel rejected? No, I was good on that count. Had something happened to change my personal state of mind? No, nothing there. Ok, this wasn’t about me. I was discerning something. It was an evil spirit of rejection. The next thing that happened was that two people stood out to me that I believe were either under attack from this spirit or were in agreement with it. I felt led to pray for them, so I found an empty room and did so. I could feel it lift. One word of caution here: this gifting takes wisdom. The knowledge of what is happening in the spiritual realm is not given so that we judge, criticize or talk about the people who may be affected by an evil spirit. If we use our gifting in these ways, we are turning something that God intended for the good of others for evil. This takes maturity, humility and learning to keep much of what the Lord shows us to ourselves if we are to use this gift to benefit the church and not harm it.
A self-check is always in order when discerning. It’s good to take a look at where your thoughts were before you felt the presence of something, such as fear, rejection, insecurity, etc. If your thoughts were entertaining ideas that would open a door to, say lust, beforehand, be quick to repent. Don’t get stuck wallowing in self-condemnation. After repentance (if called for), determine if what you were discerning has lifted. If it hasn’t, you may have also been discerning what is operating on a larger scale. In this case, it’s time to pray for whoever may be affected by this spirit.
In other situations, you may find that your thoughts were nowhere close to what you are suddenly discerning. In this case, go right to prayer for others. If God has given you a gifting that is used in deliverance, then consider how God may use you to accomplish deliverance in this situation. God gave you the ability to discern spirits for a purpose, so look for that purpose and act upon it.
The discerning of spirits is a vital tool that the Lord has equipped His church with. It’s God’s way of giving “eyes” to his people to see into the spiritual realm. With it, we are given a type of knowledge to know what they enemy is up to, and this knowledge is power! Power to set the captives free!
The general quality of discernment is a broader ability that enables a person to discern good from evil, right from wrong, truth from lies, prophetic words given, words of knowledge, the Lord’s voice, the thought and attitudes of other’s hearts, the holy from the profane, believers from unbelievers, signs of the times, the will of God, what is pleasing to the Lord, etc.
So, how exactly do we discern? We are taught by the Holy Spirit, 1 Corinthians 2:13-15 says, “This is what we speak, not in words taught by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truth in spiritual words. The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man’s judgment: ‘For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?’”
Some practical ways that discernment would be used within the body of Christ would be: discerning truth from lies when listening to a sermon, a prophetic word given, or a tongues and interpretation. The individual with this gift would also be helpful in determining a good course for the church to take or when determining what the will of God is in a given situation. When the church needs understanding or a wise judgment to be made in a given situation, the person with this gifting would be equipped to help.
A word of caution for those with this gifting would be to exercise wisdom and patience in the use of this gifting. Honor for others, especially those in authority over you, is always called for. Refrain from a critical judgment of others who may not be able to “see” what you see. Consider how to incorporate discernment with the rest of your spiritual gifts. For example, a teacher may be able to bring forth understanding to the body through his/her lessons taught. A member of the worship team may be used to impact the spiritual climate through what he/she is discerning. This may be done through prayer or leading the congregation into a corporate agreement through the words in a worship song. The intercessors of the church will be powerfully effective when combining discernment with prayer. May you use this incredible gift to bless and encourage the church!