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P2. Developing a Discerning Palette

My husband and I used to watch a TV show called The Amazing Race, where teams compete to ‘race’ around the world while completing challenges that test their mental and physical strength. We had no illusions that we could actually compete ourselves, but for my 30th birthday he secretly organised his own version of the “Amazing Rach". The final pit-stop was at the home of our friends who had chosen India as their representative country. According to the rules they had devised a challenge that carried the same theme - curry!

In order to refinish the race, I was blindfolded and required to guess a collection of spices by sniffing them one-by-one. Some of them were obvious by their pungent smell. Others were more subtle and I had to think harder to remember the name of the spice. I may have had a few hints but eventually, I got them all. The prize was to enjoy a birthday curry feast with all our friends from the other ‘destinations’. 

My ability to ‘discern’ each of the spices was only possible because I had become familiar with them thanks to my husbands curry cooking (he would actually grind his own spices). Over time, and repeated taste-testing, I could identify what spices produced the various flavours and combinations. I can even tell you which curry he made, and which one his buddy came up with.

Developing our sensitivity and sharpness in discerning the voice of God works the same way. As we surrender our senses to Him we become more familiar with the different approaches He commonly uses to speak with us. The more we pay attention to them and put them to the test, the more God can enhance our discerning spirit.  This week I want to suggest three steps in which we can begin to ‘discern for ourselves’ when God is speaking to us. First, we need to be alert to the ways He might be wanting to speak to us. Then we need to get over our fear of getting it wrong, and test it if we are to ever discover it’s right! 

Set eyes on the feast

“They feast on the abundance of your house; you give them drink from your river of delights.” Psalm 36:7-9

God has given us a feast of creative ways in which He speaks to us. While He can use any sight, sound or scent, there are some common ways He shares revelation; including visions, dreams, songs, words of knowledge, audible noises, 'gut' feelings, or physical sensations. Developing the gift of discernment starts with accepting God’s invitation to sit at his table and consider the menu that is on offer.  Are you aware of the Holy Spirit present in your daily activities? Do you notice when He is speaking to you? Do you consider your dreams might be God inspired not last nights cheesy pizza? Do you notice that song that has been humming in your heart for several days? What do you tell yourself when you read that same scripture on every social media platform that day? When that image flashed up while you prayed, did you consider it useful? Until a few years ago, I did not realise that God might want to speak to me in dreams. When it became clear that this was one way He wanted to show me things, I was surprised to discover how helpful they were to give me prophetic insight into complex situations. (Check out my Daring to Dream series to learn more about this).    To activate the gift of discernment we need to be tuning in to the Holy Spirit. If you have already asked God to show you more, then be alert for when He does. Be attentive to your thoughts and feelings, as God will use your imagination and senses to speak with you.  One way to do that is to become self-aware of thoughts or feelings that did not originate with you. 

  • That thought that popped into your head

  • That image that came to mind

  • That stirring in your heart

  • That feeling that didn’t match your mood

  • That verse or phrase you can suddenly quote

Personally, I know if it was genius, it definitely wasn’t me! And I know if it is encouraging, godly or life-giving, it’s not going to be the devil.  As you learn more about each of these forms of revelation, both through studying scripture and use, you will find each of these ‘spices’ can come together in interesting combinations to produce a richer, deeper revelation.  When deciding whether hint.holler was a good idea or a God idea, I had numerous conversations with the Lord at each step. I have a journal full of various words, dreams and pictures I had as I tried to discern his will. The combined effect of them all has not only given me encouragement and confirmation but clarity and direction. Having said that, God had to go to great lengths to convince me, because although I am a reformed-perfectionist, I am still naturally hesitant. And that is why, if we are to grow in discernment, we need to swallow our fear. 

Swallow your fear

One of the inhibitors of growing in spiritual discernment is fear. Often it is fear of getting it wrong, fear of being foolish, or fear of the unknown. We can miss many opportunities to share a prophetic word with someone because of our own insecurity or pride. 

You can expect to get things wrong. That’s part of the training. You can’t learn to distinguish God’s voice if you haven’t experienced the difference between the Spirit and the flesh. It takes time, and it takes practice, but do you know what, I believe God rewards a sincere heart. In the early years of learning to hear and share a prophetic word from God, I was so afraid of getting it wrong, it came as a surprise I was getting it right!  That is truly the grace of God, and probably reflects his sense of humour!

Interestingly, a few years ago I encountered quite a different kind of fear. God was stretching me in new ways. I had experienced some powerful moments of God’s anointing as well as some scary encounters with the demonic realm. Occasionally, God would reveal things to me about people in public places and I would suddenly panic over what I was supposed to do next.  What was limiting me from growing in spiritual discernment was that I was afraid of what I might see, and what it would require of me. I was daunted that I would discern too much. God responded to my objections through this statement in a book I was reading at the time:

“You are growing now, even as you surrender your senses - it is not “ifs” or “maybes”. Even though you are somewhat overwhelmed by the Holy Spirit, to the point that you cannot express yourself, or even if you are afraid of what might happen when your discernment increases, trust Him to guide you and protect you. Even if you have had a close encounter with the enemy that you would rather not repeat, please do not shut the door to the Holy Spirit. Do not dictate to the Lord, “That’s it for me, thanks. I don’t want to get too good at discerning if it means another run-in with Satan.” Be bold and confident in the Lord. He will not leave you on your own.” — James Goll, The Discerner *

Do you have a concern about your ability to hear from God? Is there something that holds you back from asking God for more revelation?

Instead of fearing whether we are going to get it right or wrong, we need to appreciate that the Father wants to speak to his children more than we do. He is a patient teacher, slow to anger, full of love. Wherever He leads us He will protect us. Whatever He gives us is a good gift.  

Try a taste-test

“Taste and see that the Lord is good” - Psalm 34:8

There comes a point when you have to stop sniffing around or nibbling the edges and actually take a bite of what’s on offer. Instead of gagging on the uncertainty of whether a revelation is of God or not, we need to swallow our fear and “taste and see that the Lord is good”. That means we can trust the Holy Spirit to coach us and confirm His own words.  Trust me, if you bite into something that is of the enemy, you’re going to taste the difference. That’s what our taste buds do. They are sensitive to bitterness and make you spit it out.   When you receive anything, whether it is an angelic messenger or an acoustic melody, do a quick taste-test: 

  • Is it sweet or sour?

  • Is it bitter or pleasant?

  • Does it create peace or anxiety?

  • Does it convey anger or joy?

  • Does it confuse or clarify?

A taste-test simply allows you to stay alert to anything God brings to your attention while promptly filtering out those things that do not manifest the character traits of God (more on that next week). Anything the Holy Spirit involved in will result in authentic love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22). Tasting often involves a bit of chewing to get the full flavour of something. Depending on where you feel you are at in your level of discernment when you receive a revelation, you may need to mull over it for a while. That’s OK. The important thing is that you are willing to pay attention to something God is saying to you. At some point though, you need to put it to the test.  Sharing that revelation in some way is helpful to the process of learning to discern. You might record it privately, along with your thoughts of how you interpret the word to ‘discern for yourself what is right ’.  But even better is when you invite trusted friends to process what you see and hear with them. “Let us learn together what is good. ” Other mature Christians can validate your thoughts or feelings from the wisdom God has given them over the years as they have walked with Him.  Other times, God may give you something that is to be shared publicly and you can’t know whether it is significant or not unless you step out in faith and give the word.  Even when we think ‘maybe it's just me’, we can taste and see — God is good.” One time I was a guest speaker at a women’s event. The theme was Brave and I knew I had to practice what I preached. So I asked God for some words of knowledge. I had never done this before and it scared me. One word He gave me was the name Vicky. That’s it. Not terribly helpful if you ask me. Maybe it's just ‘me’, but I’ll taste and see… When I asked if there was anyone named Vicky present, but there was no response. After an awkward pause, I announced I guess I had to ‘put that in the got-it-wrong-basket’ and got a polite chuckle. I had other words but this made me question if I was hearing God right. He nudged me to swallow my fear and keep going.  Maybe it's just ‘me’, but I’ll taste and see… Every other word that followed proved to have a significant impact on who they were for. In fact the anointing seemed to increase with each one. Not only that, but after the meeting when people came for prayer, not one but five women connected to ‘Vicky’ in some way came forward! I prayed for all of them, but there was one woman particular who I knew God had intended to call out. The only reason she didn’t respond earlier was because she was so shocked to hear her name she couldn't speak. It took her several minutes to be able to tell me this before God ministered powerfully to her on a very personal issue. …God is good.  I learned so much from that meeting and from every other time I’ve swallowed my fear and taste-tested something I thought was a word from God. I have discovered God always follows up on faith and will give more than we asked for.  Most importantly, anything the Holy Spirit does will always glorify the Father. A quick taste-test is to ask ‘who is glorified’ through this? If it appeals to our pride or has a whiff of a religious spirit, just leave it alone. 

Otherwise, why not give it a go?

A quick recap!

Set eyes on the feast: Be expectant that God is going to speak to you in creative ways in everyday moments and be alert to discern when He does. Swallow your fear. Any insecurity or hesitation you have about hearing God’s voice set aside with faith that the Holy Spirit will guide you into truth, not deception. Trust him.  Taste-test: When you discern a hint or holler from God, don’t let it float around as a nice idea. Take hold of it and do something with it. Tease out what is relevant or significant and test it. Whether you get it right or wrong you’re going to learn something new every time and your spiritual discernment will grow. 

Compliments to the chef

This same friend who organised my spice sniffing test has a reputation for his love of curry. When we have dined out with him and his wife, it is not unusual for him to invite himself into the kitchen to talk to the chef. He will ask them detailed questions about the ingredients and methods in preparing the food. My friend will often emerge with a triumphant grin and waving a new recipe from the chef. We have an incredible God who allows us to boldly walk into his kitchen and ask to know more. He will share with you his secret ‘herbs and spices’. He will show you how they mix together and train you in how to use them well.  As you run your amazing race with the Holy Spirit, be alert to all that He is saying and doing. Taste and see the Lord is good.  And don’t forget to give your compliments to the chef!


** All scripture is quoted from NIV translation.

* The Discerner: Hearing, Confirming, and Acting on Prophetic Revelation, James Goll, Whitaker House, 2017



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