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P4. Discernment That Gets The Hint

For many years I begged God to speak to me. I fasted, I prayed, I read Scripture, but He still didn’t talk to me. I was envious of those who talked about hearing from God or watching people prophesy as proficiently as if they were simply reading a book out loud. 

I read all those amazing accounts in Scripture where God appeared and spoke to people in vivid ways and I was hungry to have that same experience (admittedly also a little freaked out of what he might say when He did).

Although I was learning lots and the recipient of some life-giving prayer and prophecies, my disappointment and disillusionment grew, until one day I was taken by surprise. 

I was complaining to God about why I didn’t seem to have those benefits Paul spoke of in Galatians (you know, the good stuff like love, joy, peace, kindness, self-control) that the Holy Spirit is meant to bring into your life, when a non-audible voice in my mind simply replied, “Because you won’t let me love you.

I couldn’t deny the fact that God had just spoken to me — and it wasn’t how I had expected. It wasn’t a message delivered by an angel, there was no stubby finger drawing on the wall, there were no neon lights flashing. It certainly wasn't an audible voice thundering. And yet, I ‘heard’ him loud and clear.

This moment has always stuck with me, not just because of the epiphany I had from God’s response (you can read about some of the life-lesson I learned here), but how He conveyed it to me. What I came to realise is, while God may 'holler' at us in extraordinary ways, our ability to discern that it is him and what He is communicating to us actually comes through the Holy Spirit at work within us. 

God performed many outward signs and wonders through the disciples but it was the prompting of the Holy Spirit inwardly that caused them to take action. 

Here are some examples:

  • It had been revealed to [Simon] by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts.” (Luke 2:26-32). Simon got the hint just in time to see Mary & Joseph carrying baby Jesus across the pavings to dedicate him to the Lord.

  • Peter had just received a vision about God’s plans for the Gentiles when some fellows arrived to take him to a guy called Cornelius who incidentally, God had also spoken to via an angel in a vision. But it was the Holy Spirit who 'told him' to have no hesitation about going with them that prompted him to go (Acts 11:12).

  • Philip was on a mission when the Holy Spirit 'told him', "Go to that chariot and stay near it"(Acts 8:29). This sudden diversion resulted in the conversion of an Ethiopian man who took the gospel back to his own country. Philip was later whisked away and turned up somewhere else to continue his original mission. 

I suspect many of us have an expectation (or hope!) that God will speak to us through grand gestures, or that the only way to be sure it is him at all, is if his words come in the form of some clear visible sign. i.e. we want the experience of hearing, “Lights, camera, action!”

We want the holler! 

Yet the disciples had an ability to discern the will of God by walking with the Holy Spirit and listening to Him in everyday moments. They learned to hear the hints and nudges of the Spirit and as a result, they were able to keep in step with what the Holy Spirit was doing.

How can we also learn to be sensitive to this inward prompting of the Holy Spirit?

How might it change our lives when we do?


Growing spiritually mature as disciples of Jesus means we do not have to rely on external signs and wonders to know God, but we are intimately aware of the Spirit of God internally

When we are born again, our spirit and the Spirit of God are united or ‘knitted’ together. “Whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit.” (1 Corinthians 6:17).  

Jesus talks about being filled with the Holy Spirit. “Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” By this, He meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. “ John 7:38-39

So, if the Holy Spirit is flowing from within us, we can learn to discern what He saying, not by looking externally but by ‘knowing’ Him personally. 

God points out numerous times throughout scripture that His thoughts are not like our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8), but also that He wants to share His thoughts with us (Isaiah 43:12). Our relationship with the Holy Spirit is what makes this possible. 


When trying to discern which Jewish customs still applied to Gentile believers, the early church leaders made this interesting statement in Acts 15:28:

“It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us.” 

I have always found this a fascinating conclusion and a helpful guide for learning to discern what the Holy Spirit is saying. Let me point out three keys tips this simple phrase gives us for being able to grow in spiritual discernment.   

1. So it seems

“It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us.”

Ultimately the final decision for these guys did not come about because of a sign or wonder, but because it ‘seemed’ good to everyone.  This word ‘seem’ means ‘to appear to one's own senses, mind, observation, judgment’. *

You may have heard a Christian say, ‘the Lord spoke to me’, or ‘the Lord has told me’, or ‘the Lord has shown me’. For lack of better vocabulary, these are all ways to try and describe what God seems to be conveying in non-audible ways. More secular terms might include describing having a ‘gut feeling’ or ‘intuition’.

What they are all describing is an inner conviction in their spirit, an assurance in their heart, an understanding with their mind, or all of the above at once. It is what they believe to be true based on what they are discerning through various senses. 

For example, growing spiritual mature means we literally have the ‘mind of Christ’ (1 Corinthians 2:16) and this is why some people may refer to it as a ‘knowing’ or they 'know-that-I-know that-I-know!'  

However, we often don’t recognise that God is speaking to us, because it can often sound like our own voice in our heads. It sounds the same as your own internal voice because God is speaking to you, through your own natural senses. 

Learning to discern the difference requires testing, which is what brings us to the second key. 

2. Seriously good

“It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us.”

God makes it clear that His voice is different to ours. The reason why I instantly knew it was God speaking to me in my earlier story, is because He challenged my heart in a way that I would not. 

See if you can spot the difference here: “My word that goes out from my mouth… it will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace.” (Isaiah 55:11-12)

Having established that we test all things according to biblical teaching (Part 3) we can put what we are sensing to the test. A taste-test will reveal God’s goodness (Part 2). If it is of God, it will taste and feel like Him. It will have his characteristics shining through, such as … JOY and PEACE. 

These are impossible for you to manufacture for yourselves. This is 100% the expression of the Lord in your life. The devil comes to steal and destroy our peace, so if you find your soul is satisfied with the goodness of God, it ain’t going to be him. The Lord will bring conviction but not condemnation so understanding the character of God will enable us to discern when it is his Spirit speaking to ours. 

Sometimes we get a bit tangled up in our own mindsets and emotions to tell the difference, so this is why key number three is important.


3. Unto Us

“It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us.

Recently I was discussing what God ‘seemed’ to be saying to me with a mentor-figure in my life. They asked me the question, “What is in your heart, Rach. Because God lives there. What has He put in your heart to do?” 

In other words, a life surrendered to God, full of the Holy Spirit should begin to share the same desires as His. They look and feel almost indistinguishable as we die to self and live for Christ. 

A counter-argument to this, of course, is that ‘the heart is deceitful above all else’ (Jeremiah 17:9), so how do we avoid this pitfall? The clue is actually in the second part of this same verse when it asks “Who can understand it?”. 

The answer, of course, is God Himself, but also those He is also speaking to - God speaks to US. In our individualised culture, we often miss this important component of spiritual discernment. Yet, Paul points out: “Thanks be to God! He gives US the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:57).

Often the Holy Spirit has spoken to more than one person about the same thing. Discernment is honed through checking with those who can affirm your insights through what the Spirit is also speaking to them about at the time. They can also point out any potential deception and provide wisdom regarding what to do with what God seems to be showing you.

Having this kind of confirmation can give you the confidence to act in faith!

4. A bonus 4th key: When it doesn’t seem so good

“It (didn't) seem good to the Holy Spirit and to us.”

On some occasions, we need to be able to make decisions in the moment. Spiritual discernment means being able to rely on the Holy Spirit to make you aware of forces that are unseen that might take you by surprise. One advantage of growing spiritual discerning is that you also learn to sense in your spirit when something is not good.

When the Holy Spirit is warning you, you might feel a ‘check in your spirit’ or a ‘restraint’ for some unknown reason. These hints alert us to danger or ulterior motives.   

For example, when there is the enemy at work we may feel uncomfortable or cautious. Whenever I discern a religious or intimidating spirit I will feel physically sick. This used to unsettle me, but over the years God has taught me how to respond pro-actively. In this way He protects us like in this experience I had years ago. 

One night I had arrived home and was about to walk down the driveway to enter the house through the back door. As I began walking I suddenly felt a strange uneasiness. A thought came to mind, ‘Don’t go that way. Go in the front door tonight.’ I don’t like to think of myself easily spooked, but I felt an added sense of warning. With no real idea of why I opted for the front door. 

I had just locked the door behind me when my flatmate signalled at me and cautioned me to be quiet. All the lights were off and she was on the phone talking to the police about the intruder who was standing outside staring at our back door! The police came with dogs and tracked the person down the street. How different would it have been if I had continued to the back door and found them there?

There were no flashing police lights that night warning me of danger. It was the inner sense of the Holy Spirit urging me to divert that avoided a dangerous confrontation. 

We may not always understand the implications at the time, but we can trust His restraining hand will keep us from trouble. 

All because He loves us. 


“What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived” — the things God has prepared for those who love him these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit. - 1 Corinthians 2:9-10

Walking with the Holy Spirit comes from a relationship of intimacy, trust and love. Spiritual maturity comes from developing a sensitivity to the internal ‘voice of the Spirit’ revealing God’s heart and mind to your own.

We need to be aware of how well our own spirit is doing at being receptive to the Holy Spirit. The more we ‘tune in’ to discern Him, the more we will be able to walk in truth.  From those two different conversations with God, I realise God may be speaking to me more often than I thought. I didn’t always recognise it at the time, but looking back over my life, I can see where He has clearly been leading and guiding me.  You might be surprised to discover this is true for you too! Do you get the hint? 


All scripture is quoted from NIV translation.

**  Shawn Bolz quote from God Secrets: A Life Filled with Words of Knowledge, 2017, ICreate Productions



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