More than a few years ago was a popular TV show called “The Mentalist”. The main character, Patrick Jane, was a professional con-artist who made a living as a clairvoyant and confidence trickster. His uncanny ability to ‘read minds’ came from his attention to minute details and study of human nature. His skills were so good that he was recruited as a consultant with local law enforcement. He helped catch a lot of bad guys. Wouldn’t it be amazing to have that same quick wit and super-sleuth power? It would save us a lot of relationship hassles if we could sum up the character of a person with the glance of an eye. We could avoid getting swept up in the confusion of fake news or be disturbed by problems that we can’t seem to unravel. We want to make good decisions. We want to grow wise. I'm guessing if you're signed up for this series, then you want to know God's voice and follow Him wherever He leads us! The only problem is, there are a lot of voices and opinions vying for our attention. In the chaos of our world and competing ideas, it can be hard to determine what God is saying to us. How can we work out what is his will and not just our great idea? (maybe they are the same!) What about that confidence-trickster, the devil? How do we know if he is behind it and what can we do if he is?
Discernment allows us to see differently Discernment is an ability to ‘realise’ the true nature or intent of something. It goes ‘behind-the-scenes’ to reveal a reality that we cannot see or feel with our natural senses. When Isaiah prophesied about Jesus he made this observation:
“He will delight in the fear of the Lord. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears." - Isaiah 11:2-4
Jesus’ discernment and wisdom amazed everyone who encountered him. He was acutely aware of what the Holy Spirit was up to and the Father's will. He was able to discern the thoughts behind the words of people and read situations with clarity. Incredibly, he could tune in to the key issues, weigh the actual risks, and call out the subversive demonic spirits hiding behind pious deeds. We see examples of this as his enemies tried to ensnare him with their cunning word-games. "Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit… what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things?” (Mark 2:8). Discernment gave him an amusing ability to circumvent their loaded questions and turn it back on themselves while exposing the real issue at hand.
Discernment enables us to not just identify what the source or real motivation is behind something (i.e. is this good or bad, God or the devil), but to understand the implications of any particular course of action. We can 'know' the right way the Lord is directing us in and step out in faith (Hosea 14:9). As a result, discernment de-clutters decision-making pathways because we can determine what God is asking of us in any situation. Faith trusts that He will continue to reveal more as we continue on the path He leads us on.
Discernment is a gift of the Holy Spirit
Acting as a consultant to the detectives, Patrick Jane was excellent at detecting clues and making educated guesses. However, discernment is more than an intellectual exercise. Some even called Patrick a psychic, but spiritual discernment is not the ability to read minds. It is not the ability to tell the future. It is not actually our ability at all! It involves the supernatural insight of the Holy Spirit. Isaiah made it clear Jesus’ incredible discernment originated with the Holy Spirit; "The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him — the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding…” (Isaiah 11:1-2). This is the same Holy Spirit that Jesus imparted to his disciples and promises to give anyone who is born again (John 3:5-8). In fact, it is impossible to understand spiritual realities without the Holy Spirit.
“What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God,
so that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.”
Discernment is a gift from the Holy Spirit so that we can understand what God has freely given us. The times when I have struggled to understand Scripture, grace, faith or spiritual practices, have not been because God wants me to do mental gymnastics to figure them out, but because I have tried to work it out through my own human reasoning. The Holy Spirit goes beyond the limits of my knowledge to express the deeper meanings of the truth God has already given us in his Word.
And because He is the Spirit of Truth, the Holy Spirit exposes lies and reveals to us God’s perspective in any situation. This gift of discernment is a unique blessing because;
It protects us from self-destructive beliefs
It warns us of dangerous situations
It alerts us to deceptive teaching
It keeps us from evil and aware of the enemy’s schemes
It helps us make wise decisions in line with God's will
It makes it possible to know righteousness and walk in it
More importantly, we are able to hear God's voice more clearly and receive His word into our lives. We grow closer to God as we learn from his counsel and guidance and discover how loving and caring He really is. For this reason, spiritual discernment is not about having a radar that lights up every time we detect demonic activity, but about fixing our 'spiritual eyes' on what God is doing and saying to us. Our life becomes much more full of faith and joy as we walk with him.
Developing greater spiritual discernment
“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people.” - Ephesians 1:18
Over this 6-part series, we will explore how to develop greater spiritual discernment, including how to spot true and false teaching, how to test the spirits at work, and how this gift is important for prophecy. Maybe you are already aware of the nuances of how the Holy Spirit speaks to you. Maybe you have grown to rely on the gift of discernment, or perhaps you are only just getting familiar with God's hints and hollers as He leads you. As much as I love to talk (or write) about this topic, your level of spiritual discernment will only develop as you allow yourself to be matured by the Holy Spirit. Paul Baloche captures this idea in a song he wrote based on Ephesians 1:18 that simply cried out,
'Open the eyes of my heart, Lord'. Why? 'I want to see you. To see you high and lifted up, shining in the light of your glory.' If this is our motivation in asking for the gift of discernment and growing in it, I reckon God's not going to refuse that offer! So let's ask for more!
* All scriptures have been quoted from NIV translation.
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