We’ve all seen them in services, rows of people frowning, sitting with their arms crossed, listening for something attributable to a demonic influence. They can’t wait to rise up and walk out conspicuously during the service in order to draw attention to their spirituality.
I’ve been “discerned” like this, and it hurts. But it hurts the so-called “discerner” more, be- cause he is operating, not out of love, but out of fear. He is cut off from whatever God has for him, and has fallen into a worse form of deception, missing what God has for him inside you and me.
We’ve all seen the other kind, too, folks with eyes glazed over, mesmerized by the apparent “anointing” on the ministry “du jour,” gobbling up every word, no matter how strange, with- out the slightest regard to what the scripture says. They aren’t as interested in learning to love and serve as they are in the next new thing. The word “stability” wouldn’t be mentioned in the same sentence with their names.
Somewhere between gullibility and skepticism is a precious gift of the Holy Spirit, the gift of discerning spirits. Discernment can keep a revival from drifting into strange doctrines, a church from embracing and being destroyed by a false prophet, or it can help you rescue a godly brother from falling. But the extremes I mentioned above make us fear it.
Discernment comes to a Christian both as an “emergency” gift of the Holy Spirit and by developing the gift through use by “chewing” on the cud of life experiences, in wisdom separating the good from the bad, by asking God for help. It takes time to watch someone’s way of life and observe its outcome, to see how a teaching affects a church or to test the veracity of a prophetic word. And it is not merely about discovering and expunging demons from the meeting. Pastor A. j.Rowden, our mentor for over 22 years, told us, “Discernment isn’t as much about seeing demons as it is about seeing Christ.”
Discernment also comes from knowing the scriptures, but the best way is by knowing God, and His word, but also His nature and most of all, His love. Until you understand God’s love, you will misapply the scriptures and kill your “victims” with blunt force trauma, judging them harshly without thinking that you could be tempted in the same way.
It’s OK to discern, to examine teachings carefully, to compare them with scripture. It’s also OK to notice a pattern of arrogance and find a kind way of pointing it out to a friend. It’s a compliment to Jesus to notice when a brother’s life and character don’t measure up to His, and it’s also your right to gently and firmly nudge him back to the truth.
The body of Christ is not a dysfunctional home that allows an elephant to sit in its living room but doesn’t allow anyone to mention it. In Matthew 7 Jesus tells us not to judge, but He also tells us to ‘beware of false prophets. “judge” and “discern” are the same word in Greek. The only difference is the motive of the “discerner.” Jesus wants you to have the wisdom of a serpent and the harmlessness of a dove. He doesn’t want you to be gullible. If you will allow Him to purify your heart and fill it with His love, you will learn to wield the scalpel of spiritual discernment with the accuracy of a surgeon and become an instrument of healing and peace.
Originally Published January/February 2009 Editor Melinda Fish
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