A wee bit more on a previous blog from a while back regarding discernment of spirits:
It seems to be the case that one of the uses of that gift is knowing the source from which someone is speaking; are they saying something that comes from God, that comes from themsleves or that comes from the evil one? It is a useful gift to have in any setting, including church meetings, Kirk Session meetings etc.
Let me share an example. Last night we were at a magnificent evening in Holy Trinity Church, Wester Hailes, to mark the moving to a new “job” the Youth minister, Rev. Ollie Clegg. It was a wonderful evening. The fruit of his ministry was so rightly honoured. It will be hard to imagine Holy Trinity without Ollie, who has ministered there for 17 years; it will be equally hard to imagine H.T. without his wonderful wife Laura, who has been part of the congregation since her birth and has contributed so much to its life in many different ways.
Part of the joy of the evening for me was meeting up with the H.T. people again including former members of the ministry team. At one point I was talking to Rev. Mike Dawson the former Associate minister: a humble and true man of God. He was asking me how our house move had gone. I told him that it was really remarkable in that we had had virtually no snagging – in stark contrast to many people’s experience of moving into a new build house, including our own past expereince. Mike said quite simply “That is exactly what Penny and I were praying for.” At that point this gift of discernment of spirits kicked in. I cannot turn it on and I cannot turn it off; it just happens! What do I mean? Well there was a blaze of physically felt anointing of the Spirit of God upon me which I have recognised is God saying to me, “Listen to what you are being told right at this moment; what is being said here is from me, and I am bearing witness to it.” I shared what I had experienced with Mike. I wanted him to know that that freedom from snagging was indeed the result of God in His compassion moving Penny and Mike (and, I know, others as well) to pray for that very issue. It was not just a good and obvious human idea; it was a real God thing: they had heard from Him, obeyed, prayed and God had worked. He intended that to be our experience, espeically given the state of our health: He had given people the joy of being part of that intention through their praying. (Actually I felt the discernment of spirits again as I wrote that sentence!)
Sometimes the gift works in the same but opposite way. At times before someone speaks to me, or within the first few words, I feel the gift beginning to work. A person may be telling me something that has happened to them or something that they are thinking; as they do so the Spirit bears witness that what is being said is not just not God; neither is it just human; it is demonic in its source and is either the cause of someone’s suffering or a lie intended to bring suffering to me and/or others.
I find that most of what people say is simply from people; it is coming from the people themselves. It is the result of them using God given thought processes, reasoning, emotional intelligence, logic, awarness, intuition etc. which may indeed be being aided by the Spirit of God. As such it is to be honoured as being human beings speaking from how God has made us. It is no to be despised or treated with disinterest or ignored. It may be all of these capacities are not what they could be, because of the fall, but their not being what they could be does not mean we don’t listen to what is the result of these God given and at times Spirit aided human processes. Most bible teaching and preaching falls into this cateogry; that is why sincere and godly people can disagree on an interpretation of a given Scripture; they are using what God has given them along with a trust in the Holy Spirit to understand and proclaim; but it is not a process in which our human falleness and limitations are inert.
In Christian books the same sort of mixture happens. I find most Christian books come in that mixed way, which is not to insult them, but to set them where they belong; only Scripture has the status of God breathed. In many, though not all books, I usually come across a line or two at most where the gift of discernment kicks in to say whether the words I am reading at that moment are “human” “from God” or even “from the evil one.” Actually I consider a book to be worth the money if there is even one such moment! Even in the longest of books , for me it is rare for there to be more than 2 or 3 such moments, though the whole book may be worthwhile. At times I have picked up books which are highly recommended as being prophetic for our day, and have to close them and set them aside because as I have read the first page, or even before I have opened the book at all, the Spirit of God has witnessed to me that this book is less than human; its central theme comes from the evil one, even if the person writing it is called Rev. or Revd. Professor… and no, I will not give you a list; do your own seeking and learning to listen, you lazy so and so!
Some books hailed as being by theologians for our time that today’s church “needs to listen to” deny the divinity of Christ or the saving efficacy of Christ’s death, or his Physical resurrection, or His coming again to judge the living and the dead, or deny the one holy, universal and Apostolic Church. Leave such books aside; it may be a fascinating intellectual exercise to read them, but try and put that intellectual pride aside. The spirit of Anti-Christ is very real: why step deliberately into Anti-Christ territory? If you get a warning nudge from the Holy Spirit about a book you are thinking of reading or buying, just leave it aside. In understanding the things of God and the truth of God we are to grow into being adult men and women. In evil we are to be as tiny babies knowing little; curiosity has killed more than the cat. By the way, the same goes with T.V. programmes. If you get a nudge of warning about a programme you thought of watching, don’t watch it, even if you don’t know fully why you should not watch it and even if God never tells you; that is part of humility; be willing to be thought simplistic or naive. If being thought of as otherwise involves grieving the Spirit, it is not worth it, believe me. Giving a reason for the hope that is in us is nothing to do with proving the reasonableness of our faith in an intellectual way, which seems to be a bit of a rising fad at the moment; it is everything to do with bearing witness to a living Christ by word, life and indeed sign and wonder even if as at the start with the fist believers what we are saying is ridiculed by many and we are regarded with disdain or even sneered at as the scum of the earth.
However, back on track…I pray that you will know when something being said has its source directly in the Living God ,who is the God who speaks. This is what distinguishes Him from idols; according to the Scriptures they have mouths but cannot speak. I pray too that you will begin to discern when something that is being spoken is more than human or less than human in the other direction; the devil speaks as well; he is the father of lies: you have every right to ignore the lies of the evil one no matter who is speaking them; give what is being said on such occasions no space in your head or heart; you have every right to ignore such things completely.
The gifts of the Holy Spirit seem to be a strange mix of divine sovereignty and earnestness of desire to seek them. If you think this would be a gift that would help you to build up your fellow believers, perhaps you are meant to seek it….earnestly….
Perhaps too, if you are a preacher or teacher, and find yourself regularly seeking to bless God’s people through such a ministry, you could do with seeking this gift. I find that as God blesses my study, my understanding, my prayers with His help to preach or write, there can be moments where I know God is saying very specifically, “This is of me.” At such moments in days when I was preaching more regularly, I would leave a pause. I may even say something like, “I think God really wants someone to hear that very personally and specifically right now. He brought you here today to hear that sentence.” Ian, the new senior pastor at Holy Trinity , Wester Hailes, is really good at pausing for such moments when he is preaching or praying. My much-loved former congregation is in wonderful anointed hands!
Sometimes people see speech quickening in pace and getting louder , and sweat requiring to be mopped from the brow as a sign that something is of the Spirit. I am sure that at times that may be the case – though in Scotland and in Scottish churches, even the most anointed of preachers would at the most feel less chilled to the bone rather than overcome with perspiration unless the chuch is packed out, the pulpit is high, heat rises and ventilation is poor! I am equally sure of this however: in myself, the witness and the anointing of the Spirit in the form of discernment often makes me go quieter, and slow down even more so than my normally slow speaking rate: I could almost go to sleep, (ohters may well have done!) I feel so sure and relaxed in God’s presence and help. I would have to work up a sweat to increase my word per minute average at such moments. It would be an uphill struggle. Somehow that fits more with my nature or personality. I know it is “imagination,” but for me rather than speeding up and getting more forceful and insistent in case folk don’t get what I am trying to say, I feel as though my spiritual pulse and heartbeat have slowed down to a very steady beat. I am just sharing this with you in case you feel that the anointing of the Spirit must look like someone you have perhaps seen in preachers or ministries that you consider anointed and draw the conclusion that is what it is meant to look like for you; my experience is not a law for you nor is anyone’s; we are all different: as someone said to Brennan Manning, “Be yourself, because if you is who you ain’t, you ain’t who you is.”
By the way, just to be sure that you do not get the wrong end of the stick: 98% plus of what I preach or write is the Spirit helping a faulty me. Some folk want me to write a book, (alhtough come to think of it that may be a euphamism and a gentle way of saying, “Your blogs can be very long!”) but I would have to feel easy about that statistic which I think would be fact for me should I pick up the pen one day. I night never be at ease with it. There is much God aided humanness around in Christian bookshops. Does it really need added to by me? At the moment, I am thinking “no.” Anyway, what I once thought of writing a book about would hold little interest for me now. What interests me now, might not be of interest to anyone else. Whenever you listen to one of my sermons on-line, or read these blogs, you would be wise to sift it; humbly I ask you to make sure you try and get all the good nourishment out of that 98% that God intends you to be blessed by. There may though be a remaining 1 or 2% which requires more careful discernment as to its immediate and prime source and therefore also more careful discernment and enquiry as to an appropriate response depending on what spirit (Spirit or spirit) you believe God has shown you is at work. I would give the same statistics and the same advice no matter what preacher or writer was under consideration.
As I used to say in preaching, “and finally, finally…;” sometimes the gift of discernment of spirits will operate as you yourself are thinking a thought about yourself, or even speaking a thought out loud to yourself about yourself or your situation. Today was not a good day health wise or energy wise for me. At about 12 o’clock , mid-day, I thought of getting up despite feeling extremely weak. I said to myself, “It is alright to rest.” I felt the gift of discernment operating and didn’t get up until 3.30…. I am much the better for it…. without that rest this particular blog would not have come to be.
…and, finally, finally, finally…. Discernment of spirits, (what “spirit” is operating here, Lord? The Holy Spirit, the human spirit or an evil spirit? A mixture?) is a useful gift in Charismatic circles. I hate to sound like a “know it all” or an “expert”. I don’t regard myself as either; those who know me know that; those who don’t know me don’t know me. However I have been a believer for over 45 years and charismatic in belief and experience for most though not all of that time (though never as much as some folk think I am nor as much as I want to be). Embarassing for a Charismatic to say so, I will say it: the statistics mentioned above seem to be about the same when it comes to “prophecy” or testimony to claimed experiences of the Spiritin Charismatic circles.The majority are well meaning, basically Spirit aided human experiences or utterances and not without genuineness and integrity containing some truth or blessing. It often does not go far beyond that. Don’t be deceived: the more obviously a person shakes or swoons, shouts out in their own language or a language given by the Spirit, cries, wails, roars or whatever is no indicator that the Spirit of God is more truly at work than if these things are happening in a milder fashion or not happening at all. We need true jdgement about situations rather than going by what our eyes see or our ears hear even in the atmosphere of a Christian meeting or conference. Christ had and has this and can give the same to us by the Holy Spirit. Discernment of spirits is much needed in every Christian circle, perhpas most of all in those circles that claim to beleive that such a gift is one the Holy Spirit still gives to the church.
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Thankyou again. As usual, I am glad to read your words of wisdom and humility.
And I have to vouch for what I once wrote in a card to your wife when I was attending a Flames of Fire conference in Wales at which you were speaking – something along the lines of that your words bring refreshment to a thirsty soul (because the Lord is so often speaking through them).
Thanks Helen for your encouraging words. K