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“The Church is Flying Blind”
By Pastor Bruce Sikes
“I hate him because he never prophesies anything good about me.” so said a leader of God’s people. These words always bring a smile to my face for reasons more than my enjoyment of ironic humor. This verse illustrates the response believers often receive when they exercise their gift of discernment with leaders who refuse to listen. Leaders whose desire is to be loved more by people than by God. As Jesus says, they appear as righteous on the outside, but on the inside they are “full of hypocrisy and lawlessness“.
The opening statement above is from 1st Kings Chapter 22 and part of a conversation by the two leaders of God’s people during the period known as the Divided Kingdom. The kingdom became divided when the people wanted reforms to be made and the king rejected them. The result was a split. Years later, King Jehoshaphat of Judah asked the King of Israel to join him in defending God’s people against attack. He asked the King of Israel to please seek God’s guidance before committing to a plan.
“Jehoshaphat asked, "Is there not a prophet of the LORD here whom we can inquire of ?" The king of Israel answered Jehoshaphat, "There is still one man through whom we can inquire of the LORD, but I hate him because he never prophesies anything good about me, but always bad. He is Micaiah son of Imlah." "The king should not say that," Jehoshaphat replied. “ (1 Kings 22:7-8)
In the end, the King of Israel did not want to listen to the discerning word of the Lord as brought by the prophet, instead he cast him out of his kingdom. The King then went ahead with his own plans, and as a result he was severely wounded. Afterwards, the King was propped up by his people to maintain the appearance of leadership, yet, he slowly bled to death.
However, the other leader of the divided kingdom, King Jehoshaphat, “did what was right in the eyes of the LORD” and so continued to rule. In this story, we have a picture of one kingdom united in faith, yet divided in leadership and obedience to God’s word. One had God’s favor, one did not. One sought to obey through Godly discernment and the prophetic word, and the other through worldly methods and by their own authority.
Today, the church is a divided kingdom. Many shepherds have become kings. Their churches have become fiefdoms and their members are the king’s subjects. Propped up by their royal courts, the king’s rule is absolute. Using programmed pageantry and religious dole for the masses, the mesmerized members become unquestioning subjects. Ruling by their own authority, these kings reject any word which does not help to advance their own earthly kingdom.
How can this happen? The prophet Jeremiah sums it up this way,
“…the priests rule by their own authority, and my people love it this way….” (Jeremiah 5:31)
Why is so much of the Church blind today? How is it some believers see through falsehood and others do not? “Having eyes, but not seeing” as Jesus says.
The reason is a lack of Discernment. Too many Believers are either failing to exercise their own God given spiritual discernment, or, they refuse to listen to those whom God has blessed with the gift of discernment. Before we ask why, let’s take a closer look at the gift of discernment.
Who has this ability? Well, every believer! We have all been given the Holy Spirit by God the Father. The Lord does not come empty handed!
“All these (gifts) are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines.” (1 Corinthians 12:11) and…
“…God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it…“ (1 Corinthians 12:24)
In this way, we all have discernment! So, even when we are weak and lack discernment, God provides us with others in the church whom He has abundantly blessed with a discerning spirit.
Discernment is most notably listed as one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit in 1st Corinthians 12. However, so crucial is this ability, that it is referred to in many verses throughout the entire Bible. It is translated in various ways as the “distinguishing between spirits“, “discerning of spirits“, and in Wycliffe’s New Testament as the “very knowing of spirits“. Plainly put, it is a God given ability to sense if some thing, message, or person has the Spirit of God in it or not. It is more than a conclusion drawn from our perceptions based merely on what we see and hear. It can be called a “knowing” as Wycliffe translates it. We have all heard some people say they “just know” something is “not right”, or “this feels right!”. However, it is more than a generic “feeling”. Feelings can be deceptive. Discernment from God sometimes goes against our desires. It can often go against all our perceptions and the perceptions of others around us. We must not forget the verse,
“And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness.” ( 2 Corinthians 11:13-15)
This is why the apostle Paul reprimanded the church in Corinth for not using the gift of discernment by telling them;
“You are looking only on the surface of things…“ (2 Corinthians 10:7)
He was telling them to look deeper, listen more intensely, not for faults, but for truth, for the very Spirit of God.
Let me share with you an all too common story. A Remnant believer told me of the growing sense she had that things were “not right” at her church. For one, she longed to hear a word from the Lord in the minister’s sermons, but struggled to find any spiritual substance behind his words. She prayed and searched the scriptures as she struggled with her feelings. One day, at the start of the worship service, an old friend from another church, whom she had not seen for many years, arrived and sat down next to her. The friend was visiting other churches and decided to attend this church for the first time. After the service, she asked her friend, “What did you think of the pastor’s sermon?”. Her friend paused, then said, “Well, there was no anointing on your pastor’s message.” She was stunned, but not surprised. She had heard more spiritual truth behind her friend’s one sentence statement than in the pastors’ thirty minute sermon. What’s more, her friend had not only exercised God’s gift of discernment, but had the courage to speak the revealed truth to someone else. She risked offense and the potential loss of a friendship, and instead gave encouragement, empowerment and a confirmation of another’s gift of discernment. It also gave freedom to the lady who had been struggling, freedom to “shake the dust off” as Jesus says, and go to where God’s word is preached in truth and Spirit.
Every situation will be different as we exercise our gifts of the Holy Spirit, yet we can learn from our many shared experiences as God guides each individual according to His plan.
Why is it important for us to exercise Discernment? Discernment is like an early warning system, like radar, a gas leak detector, or maybe even an anti-virus program on your computer! All these are inadequate to truly describe Discernment, but the idea is similar. It’s function is to help guide us in the right direction. It is crucial and indispensable for the church.
As I write this, there is a thick layer of fog outside. So, let’s imagine the church as a ship. We have a knowledgeable captain and lots of other people onboard with radios, maps and everything else. We know where we want to go and what direction we should be heading in, but we are immersed in fog. Without the ability to see through the fog, we could easily get lost. We might crash into something and injure the people with us or make a wrong turn and find ourselves in a very bad place. You see, heading in a particular direction may look good and sound like a the logical choice, but there may be an unseen danger ahead. At times like this radar system would be good to have onboard.
Where the “ship” gets into trouble is when the church and or it’s leaders pay little attention to discernment, ignoring it, or even throwing those with discernment overboard.
As a reminder and a warning, 1 Corinthians chapter 12 says:
“Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.“ and “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it…” (vs. 26-27)
When the truth has been revealed to us, we are obliged to do something about it. We begin with prayer. As was said before, each situation is different and God will guide us. When it involves some plan, program or idea, then sharing what God is revealing to you with those putting forth the plan is very proper. If it is good, then share the encouraging word. If on the other hand, God has revealed an ungodly spirit in the church’s path, we must warn our fellow believers. Failing to exercise our discernment is to take the gift of God and toss it on the trash heap. God gives us gifts to use them. He would not give them to us if they were not needed.
The Bibles says,
“Anyone, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins.” (James 4:17)
The purpose of this article is not for someone to begin “fault finding in the church and pastor”. We all have faults, besides, I doubt many could stand the close scrutiny! The purpose is to look beyond the faults and/or even the Godly appearances which lay on the surface, to the spirit behind the person or plan. Are they of God or not? If God’s Spirit is not behind them, then it does not matter how good he, she, or it looks or sounds - It is not of God.
What keeps us from exercising discernment?
Sin can keep us from utilizing discernment. When we have unconfessed sin in our lives, it like we have mud on our binoculars. We cannot see any further than our own filthiness. Jesus urges the lukewarm church in Laodicea;
“ I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. (Revelation 3:18)
Repent of any and all sins you can think of, God already knows them so confess them all. Next ask God to give you salve for you eyes, so you can see clearly. He will do this if you ask, then be prepared to see with discerning eyes and be ready to act as God guides you.
Fear can also keep us from exercising discernment. Fear that having our eyes opened would lead to change, change in relationships, plans, lifestyles and even churches. Too many people are happy with the “don’t ask, don’t tell” lifestyle in church. They don’t have to challenge anyone and aren’t challenged themselves. It leads to a fear of speaking the truth.
I don’t often quote popes, but here’s a good one;
"Not to oppose error is to approve it;
and not to defend truth is to suppress it.
and, indeed, to neglect to confound evil men,
when we can do it, is no less a sin than
to encourage them." Pope St. Felix III
Along with the gift of discernment, the Lord also abundantly provides us with other spiritual attributes. He gives us His courage and protection. Even so, He forces nothing on us. We must choose to accept what He offers and choose to exercise it. It means choosing obedience to God over our own will and desires, over our own comfort and security, and even at times, as difficult as it may be, over our own friends and family. Yes, Jesus Himself experienced this and spoke of it often. Why do we think we can avoid it?
Without Christians willing to exercise discernment, the church is flying blind. The enemy can sneak into our churches, and indeed he is already in many of them. As has been said before, there are no perfect churches and ministers, but this can have a very different meaning, if there is something other than God’s Spirit behind them. That’s why Jesus repeatedly warns us;
"Watch out that no one deceives you" (Mark 13:5) and…
“…many false prophets will appear and deceive many people." ( Matthew 24:11)
No matter what it may look like on the surface, if that is revealed to you, then you are commanded to act. Again, pray for guidance as each situation is different. Know, however, that you cannot negotiate with an evil spirit. As the Lord leads, you must warn against it, oppose it by casting out, or, at times, we must flee from the evil. In each and every case, the battle belongs to the Lord. Do nothing on your own. Ask for wisdom.
We must support those churches and pastors whom we have openly and honestly examined with God’s gift of discernment and found to have His Spirit behind them. How wonderful it is when you allow God’s Spirit of discernment to freely work in you, to look deeply with spiritual eyes and reveal a church where God’s Spirit resides. What joy we feel!
If you are already feeling a part of what is being called God’s Remnant, then you know that by discernment. That is good! To what extent we choose to exercise our gift is up to us. Yet, no matter what the gift, we are called to be, all we can be for Christ. No half-measures, no compromised life. Exercising the spiritual gift of discernment will not only help protect us and keep us from sin, but reveal the hurting and empty souls of many people right around us. It enables us to look behind the masks people often wear and share with them what they truly need, the love of Christ which leads to salvation.
Pray and ask the Lord to open wide your eyes of discernment. Pray also for wisdom and courage. He will guide and protect you. His church needs discernment now, more than ever.
“Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.”
(1 Corinthians 12:7)
For Christ and His Remnant,
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