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By Pastor Bruce Sikes
The focus of the previous article " Discerning the Remnant: Part 1" dealt with what the Apostle Paul called "Super Apostles". In this continuing discussion, we will delve deeper into Spiritual discernment and its application in our everyday lives. I will also share with you a couple of striking examples of discernment at work. Practicing spiritual discernment as you go about your daily work and family life will not only help provide you with knowledge and security for your own Christian walk, but also help the ministries and missions of fellow believers.
To review, spiritual discernment is not the same as perception. Perceiving the true needs and underlying motives of people is a skill that we can develop through observation and the knowledge base we have accumulated. It is a human skill which relies solely on what we can physically see and hear before drawing a conclusion. While our perceptions can sometimes be right, they can often be wrong. This is particularly true when we have an enemy who is deliberately trying to deceive and confuse us.
Discernment, on the other hand, does not originate from the human mind. It is a gift from God and operates through the working of the Holy Spirit - not of our own minds. It is seeing and hearing beyond our humanly formed perceptions to the spirit behind whom and what we are observing. Like any gift we receive, the giver wants us to use it, and the Lord is not an idle giver. The gifts we receive from the Lord are very practical and are for our benefit.
Discernment comes when we maintain an attitude of looking and listening for God, that is, the truth God is revealing to us about people and situations. It is then we begin to see people as the Lord sees them.
Let me give you a quick example of something that happened years ago at a church where I was on staff. Late one evening, the senior pastor and I, along with another minister, were closing the church office for the day. As we locked the front door, two young men dressed in old worn out clothes approached us and stated they had no money and were hungry and looking for a place to spend the night. Immediately the spirit of discernment within me was kicking in and mental alarm bells were sounding. Nevertheless, I acquiesced to the senior pastor and my fellow staff minister who struggled for a couple of minutes to tell them what homeless shelters they could go to for assistance. When I could stand it no longer, I apologetically interrupted the senior pastor and said to the young men, "You two are seminary students who have been sent out on a weekend assignment to pose as homeless people so that you may experience what it is like to be homeless." I then told them to go to a particular street corner with a 24hour restaurant where they might be relatively safe and yet see and meet many homeless street people, thereby fulfilling their school assignment. When I finished speaking, there was stunned silence from everyone as they wondered how I could have possibly known all that. I told them they “appeared” homeless, but frankly, their spirits gave them away. They smelled wrong, in this case, not only in a spiritually discerning way, but literally. (They smelled too clean and perfumed!) The young seminary students smiled, said thank you and left very happy. However, I'm not sure my fellow pastors ever understood!
The Lord cannot be mocked, although people in the world, which sadly includes too many believers, allow themselves to be deceived. Exercising discernment sometimes means standing against a popular person or idea which does not have the Spirit of God behind it.
Let me share with you another example of discernment in action. In the situation with the seminary students, there was no ill intent or evil from anyone. Yet, that is not always the case.
When I was a young seminary student myself, I worked as a part-time chauffer to help pay my way through school. One day the owner of the company rode with me and we picked up a friend of his who was a pastor. He was a well-respected pastor of a major "denomination" whose clergy all wear the same specific and readily identifiable dress. The owner, attempting to make a joke, introduced me to the pastor by saying that we were in the same business. This "pastor" turned his head and looked at me. We both made eye contact and nodded. No words were spoken. We were looking straight at each other's spirits and no, we were not in the same business. Even though this was many, many years ago, and only lasted for a few seconds, I still clearly remember “it” looking back at me, a dark spirit of evil. I will never forget it. We had no further contact, but once we arrived at the destination, I did witness the happy greeting he received from his many church members who were waiting for him. Obviously, not everyone was practicing discernment.
Just as God gave me discernment to see through his respectable outside clothing, the spirit of darkness within him readily recognized the Spirit of Christ dwelling in me. It was God's Holy Spirit that both provided me with the spiritual discernment and protection from evil.
In the first story of the two seminary students, we saw two dirty-looking, street-talking, young men, who were actually nice fellows in disguise. In this second story of the pastor, we saw an attractive-looking, polite-speaking, respectable man who had a very dark, evil spirit within, a ferocious wolf in sheep's clothing.
Exercising the gift of Discernment is key to providing believers with protection from the deception of evil. This is crucial for the Church, particularly in these last days. As I briefly mentioned in the previous article, Jesus Himself warns us of great deception. The disciples asked Jesus, “When will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” The Lord answered, “Watch out that no one deceives you.” It is significant to note that in His detailed description of the last days, the Lord began His account of the End-times with a warning for us to be on guard against great deception. It is a warning He repeats. (Matthew 24)
Even so, in an effort to avoid "causing trouble," or in many cases simply to cover up their spiritual laziness, people will use Godly sounding phrases as excuses to do or say nothing. Phrases such as, “Oh well, God is in Control, it will work out in the end.”, “It’s not our job to judge!” or "Not to worry, we will know them by their fruits." Yet, as in this last phrase, we cannot always know the Godliness of individuals by merely seeing or hearing about the fruits of their work, as evident by the verse below.
"Not everyone who says...,'Lord, Lord', will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, ... Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I [Jesus] will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ (Matt 7:21-23)
We often think of the Battle of Armageddon as a great military conflict at the end of the age, and indeed it will be; however, there is an even greater battle occurring right now. In this battle, there is no neutral ground. It is a battle of Spiritual Warfare, and to fight it we must use spiritual weapons. Without exercising the gift of discernment, we are fighting blind, swinging our sword wildly in an effort to hit an unseen enemy. Discernment opens our eyes and enables us to see in the dark. It is then we are able to see where the true needs are and can address them. Practicing discernment requires us to be led by the Spirit.
Led by the Spirit:
"And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me." (Acts 20:22-23)
Whether translated as led, compelled, guided or even bound by the Holy Spirit, Paul writes, "Led by the Spirit, I am going...not knowing what will happen to me..."
This quote by the Apostle Paul is one of the most powerful pronouncements of faith in the Bible. Why? Because from a worldly perspective, it's both personally and publicly risky. We cannot always explain to everyone in a worldly, scientific, logical sense, the where, what, and why of the Lord's leading us to act or take a stand in a particular situation. What we do have are the Scriptures and the leading of the Holy Spirit. What's more, we certainly know God will not lead us into sin or doing anything contrary to Scripture. We can also be assured the Lord will not give us false information. There is no need to fear.
Still with all this, I have heard too many Christians including some pastors use the phrase, "I do not feel led to do it!". They use it as a convenient excuse to do nothing. They lack Godly courage.
That is why it is important for believers to ask themselves, "Are we being led by God, or, are we being led astray?" Can Christians be led astray? Can pastors and whole churches be led stray?
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