Deepening our Discernment Part 4

There are two more areas I want to cover in relation to discernment.

      Testing our discernment.

      Understanding that discernment develops and is the fruit of spiritual maturity (Heb. 5:13-14)  

As I look at testing our discernment I am focusing on my definition, ‘Seeing the reality that lies behind appearances.’ The other qualifier is that I want to focus on discerning what the spirit is saying and look at how to bless others with what we discern.

Years ago in a message I heard Francis Frangipane say, “The only thing we need to find problems in the church is one good eye and a carnal mind.” That expression has stuck with me as I used to be good at that and I think much of what we put forth as discernment is really suspicion and judgment. We do need to discern and deal with what is wrong but we first need to walk in love and speak life.

So, how do we test our discernment? Over the years in teaching I have done on conflict resolution a number of times I have taught about the distinction between intuition and insight and where there was an openness have shared that intuition is in fact a spiritual function (insight is a function of the mind). Very briefly I believe our soul encompasses three parts – our mind, will and emotions. I also believe our spirit has three functions – conscience, communion and intuition. I want to focus on the last one from a scriptural perspective.

11 For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. 1 Corinthians 2:11-12 (NKJV)  

In the verses above in Greek the word ‘know’ refers to being aware of something rather than an acquired knowledge and in the rest of the passage we can see that this ‘knowing’ something via our spirits is an intuitive knowing.

The same Greek word is used in the passages below that refer to Jesus intuitively perceiving or knowing something.

But Jesus knew their thoughts, and said to them: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand.” Matthew 12:25 (NKJV)

When Jesus knew in Himself that His disciples complained about this, He said to them,
“Does this offend you?” John 6:61 (NKJV)

Now, unlike Jesus, who was always accurate, when we perceive or become internally aware of something we need to test it. In essence we become aware of or discern something in our spirit but need to test it with our mind. The process is that we discern something via intuition, a ‘gut’ feeling in our spirit that initiates a process. We then engage our mind to test it and the ‘aha’ experience, insight completes the process. In essence to test our discernment there needs to be a marriage between our spirit and our mind.

So how does this work in practice? In ministering to people, usually in a group setting, I have frequently shared with people things about their lives that I had no natural intellectual way of knowing. For example I remember sharing with someone that the Lord wanted to dance with them. I only knew the person’s name and nothing about them. The person was deeply emotionally impacted by what I said and it was confirmation of the accuracy.

I have done this numerous times and remember many of them. Once many years ago when leaving a job I shared with the manager some things I sensed in prayer that morning. He was not a believer but was interested and asked me about them later in the day to write them down. They both took place within a few months.  

A very important factor is that when I share this way, and I encourage others to do the same, I always share it as my sense of something I believe I am hearing from the Lord as I offer it to them. I often preface what I am sharing with, ‘This may sound odd.’ This is wise as on a few occasions I have not been accurate. We need to test what we discern and present it as something for others to weigh (1 Cor. 14:29). I only remember one occasion of being insistent on something and the person became angry with me. A week later they came back and affirmed that I had been correct.       

So, discerning requires paying attention to what we are hearing in our spirits and then testing that discernment with our minds. There is much more that could be said but I think this lays a basic foundation for knowing how to test what we believe we are discerning. I give the last word to Malachi from a portion of 2:16

“Therefore take heed to your spirit.”

Deepening our Discernment Part 3

In my last post I looked at basing our discernment upon the heart rather than outward appearances. Now I want to look at how walking closely to Jesus helps us to accurately discern.

Many of us pray Ephesians 1:17 asking for ‘the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him.’ What does this have to do with discernment? A great deal. Wisdom and revelation about Him, in context, is actually about the Father. To know the Father is to know Jesus and the Spirit. Further, wisdom and revelation about Jesus is more than information about Him, it is an encounter with Him. It is a pulling back of the veil over our hearts so that we can encounter more of His heart. It can be painful if our heart is not aligned with His heart. 

So what happens if we have this prayer answered? If we receive a revelation of His heart we know how He feels about us, which brings release and freedom, and as our ear gets near to His heart we can also know how His heart beats for others!

Seem too simple? Perhaps it is analogous to the idea that ‘Christianity has not being tried and found wanting, it has been found difficult and left untried.’ That is obviously a generalization but we live in a culture that denies the power and place of suffering and sacrifice. I’m not suggesting pursuing suffering, I am suggesting that if we deeply follow Jesus we will walk in some difficult places with Him, yet He will be with us through them and as we pursue His heart we will find His grace is sufficient. We will understand our own need for the cross and His grace and be more willing to extend it to others. We will become passionate and compassionate carriers of His heart and our discernment will greatly deepen. After all, not only does faith work through love (Gal. 5:6) so too does discernment.

And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, Philippians 1:9 (NKJV)

 The Greek word translated as discernment refers to insight, perception, discernment and judgment – in the sense of being able to rightly judge something. So, if we want deeper discernment let us pray for the spirit of wisdom and revelation with a renewed understanding.

Deepening our Discernment Part 2

In my last post I referenced four areas that I want to take a deeper look at.

      Not basing our discernment upon outward appearances.

      Walking closely to Jesus to see accurately.

      Testing our discernment.

      Understanding that discernment develops and is the fruit of spiritual maturity (Heb. 5:13-14)  

I will start with outward appearances. What does it mean to base our discernment on outward appearances? It is easy to see behaviour, it is hard to discern hearts. This is the first area to grow in. We must commit to stop judging by outward appearances (2 Cor. 5:16). My qualifier is I am certainly not saying we should not address clearly sinful behaviour. I am saying we need to in general look beyond behaviour to try and see hearts.

Many years ago I read of an experience a man had on the subway. He saw a man get on with two young children. The children seemed ‘out of control’ and were bothering other passengers. He judged the man a poor parent and decided to bring this to his attention. When he got the man’s attentions he said, “Sir, I don’t know if you have noticed but your children are bothering the other passengers?” The man seemed to come around to greater awareness and responded, “I’m sorry, we just came from the hospital where their mother died.” What do you think happened to his assessment of this man as a neglectful parent? Did judgment turn to compassion?

If we are to discern rightly we can’t judge books by their cover. We need to suspend judgment and seek to understand hearts. We do well to consider whether there are things we need to lay down that colour our discernment. Do we have a history with someone that we need to lay down? Do we disagree with their doctrine? Is their doctrine our measure of their hearts?

George Whitfield, John Wesley and Charles Finney were three of the most effective evangelists in church history. Whitfield was a Calvinist (some are preordained to salvation, some to damnation), Wesley was an Arminian (all may be saved) and Finney very strongly rejected the doctrine of original sin (being born with a sinful nature). Three different theological positions. Was their effectiveness based on this area of their theology? How could they be effective with differing theologies? Each of the three had a deep love for and commitment to Jesus. They didn’t condone what was clearly sinful and all three believed deeply in the need to be born again. So while they differed in one area, in this key area they were in agreement.

So, beyond appearances their commonality was a commitment to Jesus and holiness in spite of their different theological underpinnings. If our heart is to pursue Him then Jesus can bring forth fruit through our lives not always because of our theology, but at times in spite of our theology. When it comes to discernment our call is to embrace the truth at a heart rather than head level. We need to pursue not a unity of belief in every single point of doctrine, rather we need to pursue unity around intimacy with Jesus (this will sort out a lot of our doctrine over time). Paul said,

13  till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; Ephesians 4:13 (NKJV)

When we lay down our judgments and pursue His heart He will correct us, after all, the Holy Spirit is a fairly good teacher!

24 These also who erred in spirit will come to understanding, And those who complained will learn doctrine. Isaiah 29:24 (NKJV

Deepening our Discernment Part 1

I recently began reading a book by Francis Frangipane called “Spiritual Discernment and The Mind of Christ.” I highly recommend it. I have read most of his books over the last 25 years and in my opinion this is his best one. Francis is someone for whom I hold a deep appreciation and respect. While I will reference some things from his book in this series I am not going to teach from it.  

I began writing about discernment over two decades ago and defined discernment as “Seeing the reality which lies behind appearances.” Part of what I have been emphatic about over the years is that while there is the gift of discerning of spirits in 1 Corinthians 12, general discernment is not a gift, it is a skill we develop. Francis makes this same distinction in his book but refers to general discernment as a gift while functionally describing is as I would, as a skill to be developed. I found his definition similar to mine as well, “Spiritual discernment is the grace to see into the unseen.” (page 32).

I think we are basically saying the same thing. Francis just has more practical experience. I think an important point is that if we are to discern accurately there are some requirements to meet;

      We cannot base our discernment upon outward appearances.

      We must walk closely to Jesus to see accurately.

      We need to test our discernment.

      Discernment develops and is the fruit of spiritual maturity (Heb. 5:13-14)  

13  For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. 14  But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. Hebrews 5:13-14 (NKJV)

I will address all four of these points but my main point is that while our discernment can deepen through practice we need to actually practice for that to happen. As Hebrews says, our discernment develops “by reason of use.” I am confident we have many opportunities every day to discern, we just need to see and intentionally apply them.  

I know in my own life I have changed over the years from judgment to discernment. I used to be very good at what Francis Frangipane said, “The only thing we need to find problems in the church is one good eye and a carnal mind.” It is still an easy default position to go to.

When we actively seek to understand discernment we find a lot of judgment masquerading as discernment. Let’s take off the mask and seek His heart to guide our discernment that His body may be built up.