Discerning Discernment

On the way to my Arabic class a few months ago, the Lord spoke something to me in the car: “Discernment is the gift of ‘knowing better.'” I loved it when God spoke it to me, and I love it now. In one simple statement, the Lord summarized the essence of the gift of discernment: it is “knowing better.” Discernment is a gift of knowledge and wisdom. It is, in its essence, the gift of knowing and knowing the truth behind what may appear, what may seem to be, or what may look a certain way. The bottom line of discernment: it is a ministry of truth (Psalm 119:125, Proverbs 3:21, Proverbs 17:10, Proverbs 28:11).

For many years I walked in the gift of discernment and I didn’t realize what it was: I just called it “a knowing.” I would be sitting in a situation where everything spoke one thing, and I would just have this gnawing knowing deep down within that told me something else. About two years I sat in a McDonalds in Puerto Rico with my former apostle and four other women. I was there for her conference and the conference itself went fine. The women present were responsive and interested, and it was universal that they wanted me back the following year. Everyone at that table, my former leader included, told me I would be back next year…yet I sat there…and inside I had this knowing feeling that I wouldn’t be back. I knew I wasn’t returning. Nothing in my circumstance spoke to me that I wouldn’t be back. Everything looked great and promising, the encouragement that things were good was evident, and there was nothing to indicate otherwise. But…I knew. Six months later, I was no longer under my former leader and there was no chance I was going back for her event. In that specific instance, discernment let me know what circumstances were not – and discernment was right.

We don’t hear much about discernment in today’s church. We like to hear a lot about healing, about tongues, about faith, and about ministering…but we don’t like to talk about discernment. I think the reason we avoid discernment is because somewhere inside of many in the church today there is the avoidance of ‘knowing better.’ In a discerning church, we know better than to think prophets walk in a building and start speaking cars, money, and houses over a church in total disrepair and totally out of order. We would know better than to just believe what someone says as truth because they are on TV or the radio. We wouldn’t just throng to every leader and teacher who seems to have a name that is visible to the public. What we would do is rightly assess every teaching, every leader, and every circumstance according to the Holy Spirit.

Discernment is, first and foremost, a ministry of the Holy Spirit. We learn in John 14:26: “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My Name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” (NIV) If the Holy Spirit guides us into all truth, that means that, by the Holy Spirit, we are able to discern what is true from what is false. It’s not some sort of spooky, ethereal thing, but something practical in everyday life. As the Holy Spirit inspires the Word, so we recognize the truth of the Holy Spirit in the interpretation, guidance, and reading of the Word. It also means that we know what is true by the Word. The ministry of discernment is what makes the ministry of the Holy Spirit alive and active in our lives. When we are in situations that raise questions, it is the Spirit that brings the Word of Truth to our recall and our hearts (John 17:17, 1 Corinthians 2:13).

Right here we’ve said a mouthful that we need to consider deeper. The ministry of discernment is, indeed, about discerning truth in every situation. It also tells us about error, which is the opposite of truth. In being able to identify truth, we are also able to identify error. Through discernment, we have the ability to discern all types of error: those pertaining to doctrine, those pertaining to our spiritual lives, and those pertaining to our everyday lives…because they are all connected. In the Bible, it says that Jesus knew the thoughts of the Pharisees and leaders (Matthew 12:25). This wasn’t telepathy, this was discernment! As the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6), discernment was a practical part of His everyday life and interaction. It wasn’t just about doctrine, it was about knowing who walked among Him, who was for Him, and who was against Him. When we walk in discernment, we can operate the same type of gift, knowing who is for us, who is against us, and who to trust and who not to trust.

Spiritual things can sound complicated when they are explained. Sometimes I think people do this on purpose, to make themselves sound smarter or more enlightened than others. Sometimes I just think it happens because the individual trying to present the issue tries to encompass too wide a scope and doesn’t break the matter down enough for us…in other words, they don’t operate in a lot of discernment. Discernment helps to break down some of these complicated spiritual things and make them practical. For this reason, discernment is awesome because it makes it so we don’t have to question so much all the time: God gives us the ability simply to “know” as needed. With discernment, we don’t have to memorize the whole Bible, we don’t have to carry around a Bible commentary, or constantly text or message people for interpretation. When matters arise, issues arise, spirits arise, problems arise…God gives us the ability to know.

Discernment operates in a few different areas. Some of them we are familiar with, some we are not, and some we hear a lot about, but we do not have understanding about them.

Discerning of spirits – The most common area we hear discernment mentioned is in the area of discerning spirits (1 Corinthians 12:10). Applying discernment as a gift of “knowing better,” discernment allows an individual the ability to know when a spirit is of God or is not of God. This is a broad category of discernment: it applies to the words people speak over us, prophetic revelation claimed to be from God, the interactions of a person who claims to be of God, and the spirit that may need to be cast out of someone. Discerning of spirits also has a broader application: it is, simply put, discerning spirits. It is being able to identify what a spirit is, from the Holy Spirit to Jezebel. Discerning spirits helps the church remain clean; know what needs being cast out and when; and what type of spirit is present in what person, church, ministry, etc. It also helps to identify order and disorder. Discerning of spirits is, therefore, essential to all facets of ministry: apostolic, prophetic, evangelistic, pastoral, teaching, deliverance, healing, interpretation, and beyond. Every call, every facet of ministry can benefit from the ability to discern spirits. When we can identify a spirit, we can rightly assess how to handle or deal with that spirit.

Discernment helps us discern true leaders from false ones – Jesus tells us: “Watch out that no one deceives you.” (Matthew 24:4, NIV) “See: I have told you ahead of time.” (Matthew 24:25, NIV) These words come right before and after prophecies about false leaders, people who will work miracles, and will be false christs, leaders, and messiahs to come. What does this tell us? Every one of us, from the greatest in the Kingdom to the least, has the ability to grow and walk in discernment. If we go against something we know, by discernment, to be true, we will have to be accountable for that. Discernment lets us know when a leader is false or true and we are called to stand on that discernment. With discernment, there is no excuse for following a false leader!

Discernment provides a practical wisdom about matters of revelation. – Revelation is an awesome thing: I describe it as God “turning the light on.” Revelation is a great power in the life if a believer, because it is a form of Rhema word. What we must remember about revelation, however, is that Rhema is not in contrast or contradiction to the Logos: they are a compliment, a part of a whole understanding of God’s Word. Jesus Himself is the Logos, the ultimate revelation of revelation and Word together (John 1:1-14). That having been said…not every thought, feeling, opinion, or even lesson we may have from God can be classified as “revelation” and should not be taught as such because it misrepresents true revelation. Then we have the fact that there are different types of revelation. Some revelation just pertains to us as people. It may be something God gives us that will help us with a difficult situation, to help us grow as people, or to correct us about something – and it is so specific and personal to us, the revelation God is giving to us isn’t meant to be shared with everybody else. There is revelation that is meant to be shared with everyone: be it a message, a teaching, a personal experience that, through revelation, God has shown us how to make it universal, or some sort of word for our day and age. Then there are areas of revelation that are meant to be shared at some time, just not right at the moment. Beyond these issues, we need to truly understand revelation from other things. If a so-called “revelation” somebody has is in contradiction to the Word, that sets a revelation in conflict with the Logos – and Rhema and Logos cannot cancel each other out. Discernment is helpful to understand revelation, what you do with it, how it applies in a greater sense (if it does at all), and whether or not something is a revelation from God to begin with.

Discernment lets us know what is true and what is error, what is right, and what is wrong. – Discernment is a practical gift, which means it applies in everyday situations. We tend to talk about discernment in terms of spirits, but discernment also applies to knowing when something is right or wrong to do as well as knowing when something being done or said to us is right or wrong. Does someone just not seem right to you, but you can’t explain it? Are you being lied to? Is someone working witchcraft around you? Are you being besieged by the spirits of control and manipulation within your midst? Is someone praying for you and your benefit? Do you see God working for you in a situation? All of these “knowing senses” are discernment working practically in your life and helping you to “walk with God” on a daily basis (Genesis 5:22, Genesis 5:24, Genesis 6:9, Leviticus 26:13, Jeremiah 7:23).

Discernment helps us know when we are hearing from God and when we are not – It’s easy to be swayed by the opinions of those around us. Sometimes the holiest people come and start telling us they have a “word from God” on our behalf and it’s nothing more than their own undiscerning self trying to dispense their opinions and advice. We have to be careful about accepting the advice of others as the word of God because sometimes advice or opinions – no matter how good they may be, how well-intentioned it may seem, or how much we may like what they have to say – may mislead us from God’s appointed purpose for us. We all want to hear we won’t have to go through anything, suffer, deal with problems, encounter stress, and that our victory/breakthrough is nigh…which means that an awful lot of people feed our desire to hear that right back at us. Sometimes people tell us things and we know it’s God…other times, somewhere inside, we know it’s not God. That’s discernment working within us to remain with God rather than hoping for something that isn’t for us or out of His timing.

Discernment lets us know how to conduct ourselves in every situation – I’ve heard people say they wish that God would just tell them how to behave in every situation. My answer: “Get some discernment and you’ll know what to do in every situation!” We know the Word tells us in Ecclesiastes 3:1-8: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.” (NIV) It is by discernment that we learn when it is time to do what: be silent, speak, what to let live, what to kill, plant, uproot, heal, tear down, build, weep, laugh, mourn, dance, scatter, gather, embrace, refrain, search, give up, keep, throw away, tear, mend, love, hate, war, and peace. All of the things mentioned therein are a part of life; in fact, if we truly discern Ecclesiastes 3, it is giving us different phases of discernment throughout life that every single one of us will face. The Bible doesn’t give us a road map of conduct in every single one of these situations, which means how we approach them is left up to our own discernment process as we walk with the Holy Spirit throughout life. Discernment proves that our walk with God is life-long; it is a process; and it doesn’t begin and end because we end one phase of life or start another one.

Discernment lets us know what others need in our witness to them and our support of the brethren. – In today’s church we aren’t taught how to meet people’s needs or even read them. What we are encouraged to do is “get out there and tell other people about Jesus!” This is an awesome command, and something I don’t question…but are we doing it the right way? If we listen to discernment and just follow the fact that most people think Christians are obnoxious and annoying, we are missing something in our witness of our Lord to others. Jesus didn’t “witness” the same way to everyone. Some people He talked to, some people He healed, some people He was very short with, with other people He was very compassionate and sensitive. Jesus’ witness with the twelve disciples who became apostles was radically different than His witness to a blind man, to the woman caught in adultery, or to the Pharisees. Why? because Jesus discerned a need for different interactions as a witness with these different people. Not everyone wants to hear the story of what God did for you in your life. Nobody wants to hear all the things you think are wrong with them because they aren’t like you. Nobody likes a nag! Some people DO need to hear your story…just not right away. Some people just need a hug, some compassion, and an empathetic ear. Some people may have questions they need real answers to – not the answers you read in a tract in 1990. Discernment operates here as we walk in touch with the Spirit to recognize bringing people to know the Lord isn’t a cosmic poker tournament, but about souls in need and reaching out to those people to see that God is real and He still meets needs, even today. The same is true in our support of other believers. We all operate in love, but the way I may need people to show me they love and care about me may be radically different than the way someone else needs to see love among other believers. As we walk in the Spirit, we can see ways we can encourage others, love others, bring others to the Lord, and stand stronger as the Body of Christ.

Discernment helps us identify and walk in our calling, and know how we can be most productive in our calling. – I am so tired of a church that doesn’t allow for God’s gifts to manifest in any way except in the dry tradition of our concepts of Sunday and church. The Bible talks of a variety of gifts that don’t just operate on Sunday morning in a comfortable church setting that doesn’t threaten the pastor’s absolute control over a congregation. Discernment lets us know what we are supposed to do for Him – if it is in church leadership, if we have to walk for Him in an unconventional way, if our call takes us into the world as a witness rather than remaining in the church, if somehow we are called to work in both church and in the world, or if the gifts God gives us shakes up, stirs up, and steps on toes. Without discernment, we can fall into a calling that is not us and, in the process, away from where we are most effective in God’s work. With discernment, we know what we are good at, what we need to develop better, and how God is working all things together for our good, as the called according to His promise (Romans 8:28).

(c) 2011 Lee Ann B. Marino. All rights reserved.

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