1 Corinthians 12:8-10 lists nine manifestations of the Holy Spirit: the word of wisdom, the word of knowledge, faith, the gifts of healing, the working of miracles, prophecy, discerning of spirits, tongues, and the interpretation of tongues. You have probably heard people misquote “discerning of spirits” as “the gift of discernment.”
Discernment, as we are defining it in this series, is not one of the nine manifestations listed in 1 Corinthians 12. It is not limited to the discerning of spirits, which involves having knowledge of what spirit people are of and whether they are afflicted by natural causes only, or whether an evil spirit is causing sickness or abnormal behaviors and/or thinking. Discernment, in the sense we will be using it, is broader brush in nature. Part of its function is to assist us in moving in any gift or manifestation of the Spirit, including the discerning of spirits.
Psalm 119:66 says, “Teach me good judgment and knowledge ….” Good judgment is another way of describing discernment.
Increasing in discernment leads us into greater exercising of the authority which Christ has given us, so that He will be glorified and people will be blessed. Maturity of discernment helps us to act or speak in the right moment, rather than prematurely or belatedly. It aids us in releasing prophecy accurately, with correct interpretations and applications. When we are able to correctly interpret and apply information, we also better understand how to pray.
Isaiah 50:4 says, “The Lord GOD has given me the tongue of the learned, so that I will know how to speak a word in season to him who is weary ….” That is discernment, and conversely, discernment also helps us to know when holding our tongue will bring the greatest benefit. Isaiah 50:4, 5 goes on, “Morning by morning, He awakens my ear to hear as the learned. The Lord GOD has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious ….”
If you want to sharpen your discernment, two keys are asking the Lord to give you discernment and then making a habit of listening for Him to speak to you. We must learn to stop assuming that we understand circumstances 100% accurately with our five senses alone. What seems obvious is not always the truth — because we only see a limited part of the picture, from one angle. God, however, sees every angle, all at the same time. He is privy to what is hidden in secret, including the motives behind people’s actions. Many times we hastily judge people or events based on incomplete information, and then draw incorrect conclusions.
So, a first step to discerning correctly is to ask God to give us His vantage point. We can make a habit of doing that. I ask God frequently to give me His perspective. I do that in a general kind of way, but also in specific circumstances. “Why is this current event unfolding the way it is?” “How should I pray into it?” “Where does it fit into Your end-time plan?”
If it is about dealings with people, I might ask the Lord, “Why is he responding that way?” “What fear is motivating those words?” “Why am I uncomfortable with what is being said, even though it seems fine on the surface?” “How would You have me respond — or shouldn’t I respond?”
Asking God questions, rather than assuming we know the answers, is part of listening to Him. Doing so hones our discernment skills. We then practice keeping our spiritual ear attuned to hearing His response. It may not come at once if the need is not immediate. I find that the questions I ask often receive answers hours or days later. When the Lord finally speaks, it may be in the inner voice, a Bible verse which comes to mind, or through a dream.
So that’s where we start in gaining greater discernment — asking the Lord for it, and listening for Him. We’ll talk about this further next time.