Tag Archives: discernment

Discerning the Principles of God

Christian ethicsKnowing which principles in God’s Word to apply to given situations can be tricky. If we do not get our application from the Holy Spirit, we can end up speaking or acting in the flesh.

We see conflict over how to walk out the Word all the time. While some things are very clear-cut in Scripture, others are not. Hence, people frequently misuse the Bible to support their opinion or what they want to do. Believers really seem to struggle with this. It comes out loud and clear in real-life conversations. People are willing to fight to the death over their opinion, using Scripture to back it up – often erroneously.

An example recently in the news was the issue of separating children from their parents at the border. Somehow, that became a fight between those who wanted to apply the Romans 13 “obey the law” principle and those who were more concerned about the “compassion and caring for the helpless” principle.

How do we figure out which principle to apply and when? Like with so many other things, it is about discernment — in this case, discovering God’s heart case by case. That may sound like situation ethics, but it is not.

Situation ethics, as defined at Wikipedia, “takes into account the particular context of an act when evaluating it ethically, rather than judging it according to absolute moral standards.” Sympathy toward so-called mercy killing is one example of where situation ethics will take us. God’s moral standards, however, do remain eternally absolute, so we can’t bend those for our convenience or personal desires, no matter how convincing our logic may be.

Many decisions and viewpoints do not involve violating an absolute moral standard. For those, there can be multiple principles in Scripture to be considered. We need to find out, for each set of circumstances, which principle is the correct one to apply.

The apostle Paul’s comment in 2 Corinthians 3:4-6 gives us a clue as to how this works: “And this is the trust we have through Christ toward God: we are not sufficient in ourselves to think anything as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God, Who also has made us able ministers of the new testament — not of the letter [of the law], but of the Spirit: for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”

We are not competent through our intellect alone to discern how to apply the written Word of God. When we try to do that, we will often miss the mark. Instead, we must ask the Holy Spirit to illumine His Word and lead us to correct solutions. This is certainly part of what “rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15) is about.

Jesus frequently shocked the religious leaders of His day by doing and saying things which they viewed as flagrant violation of God’s commands. He took them to task about their rigid understanding of the law and showed them what God’s intent was in it. In the process, He challenged them to look into their heart attitudes. The religious leaders, not understanding that they were contending with God Himself (Who certainly would have known what His own Word said), thought Jesus was a dangerous heretic.

So, how do we correctly discern and apply God’s principles? It requires asking Him for His input, which can take time to receive. We need to be careful not to express opinions too quickly, but to seek His counsel first. We can consider what other believers are saying, and ask God to give us His input on whether their take is correct. I often ask, “Lord, what about this? Will You give me something from Your Word which speaks to it?” Then I wait for a thought from the Scriptures to come to mind.

I also measure whatever principle I am weighing against 1 Corinthians 13 — the love test. If we are applying the Bible correctly, it will not violate other parts of itself, such as this chapter.

The Lord is most willing to help us discern His principles correctly. He has promised, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask it of God, Who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5). Our part is to wait upon Him patiently, expecting that He will truly help us. The more we are willing to do this, the more we will become skilled at correctly discerning and applying His Word.

 

The Names of God, by Lee Ann Rubsam

 

 

A Newsletter of Sorts …

I have not written for a while, and there is a reason. My elderly mother has needed a lot of help over the last year, and especially since 2018 began.

In March, Mom had a scary health episode, which made it necessary to place her in a nursing home. Since then, I’ve been focusing most of my time and energy on getting her settled in her new home, pulling her finances together, and disposing of her house and other possessions.

Through all of this, we have seen the hand of God upon her and upon the timing of all that has taken place. Mom’s health has improved, and she is adjusting extremely well to this new chapter in her life — all of which I see as a miracle for her and us.

I hope to get back to writing in the next few weeks, but just wanted to connect with our Out of the Fire readers a little in the meantime, to let you know I am still here and to share a few thoughts and updates.

First, the updates:

For those who have elementary-aged children, our Character Building for Families manuals are on sale in the U. S. now through May 15. (Saving money is always good!) They are a simple and enjoyable way for families to grow together in Jesus. Some families use them as their homeschool Bible curriculum, some as family devotions. I hope you will take a look.

Encouragement from God's WordI have updated our book, Encouragement from God’s Word. It now has an additional chapter and a beautiful new cover. It is a topical collection of reassuring Bible verses (KJV) which I collected while going through a particularly tough time in my life. I will be forever grateful for what the Lord showed me about His faithfulness during that season, and I hope this book will bless you as well. The links are to Amazon, but it is also available at many other online bookstores.

dream interpretationWe have a new audio resource for you — Hearing God Through Your Dreams. This was a live workshop we did recently, and it’s now available as an mp3 or CD set. There is an optional study guide, too.

This teaching gives you the keys for understanding what God is speaking to you while you sleep. If you were not able to attend in person, this is the next best thing!

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A few short thoughts:

At the beginning of 2018, the Lord spoke to me that the ability to discern is much on His mind for His children. It will become increasingly imperative for all of us to effectively exercise the discerning of spirits in the days ahead.

We often think of this gift as the ability to know when an evil spirit is behind afflictions or perplexing situations. That is true, but I believe it also encompasses recognizing the difference between flowing with the Holy Spirit and operating in one’s natural understanding — both in ourselves and other people.

I wrote on this a few months ago, in my series, Discerning Between Soul & Spirit, but it is still much on my heart, so perhaps we will explore it more in days to come. Keys to Increasing in Discernment is another series which may help you.

I have been meditating on 1 Corinthians 2 for several months now, and the Lord is (once again) speaking to me about discernment through it. He talks about “the hidden wisdom” of God, and that, while we cannot discover or discern this wisdom on our own, by His Spirit He has “freely given us all things” to understand. We have “the mind of Christ,” and we can access the deep things of God as we step over from our intellect into the realm of the Spirit. It is almost as if there are parallel worlds available to us: the world of the Spirit and our lesser, natural world. We can choose which one we live in.

Finally, recently the Lord assured me, “The righteous shall fare well in the days ahead.” I sensed that this meant that whether things are going well on the earth or not, He is personally seeing to the welfare of those who are His own. We can take courage in knowing that He is attentive to our every need, even if all we see with our natural eyes continues to shake. He has us tenderly covered with His protective hand.

That’s a good note to end on.

Discerning Between Soul and Spirit (Part 2)

Each of us must make daily choices of whether we will think according to the soul or spirit. We have to decide whether to agree with the soulish viewpoints of others, or whether to refuse them in favor of the Spirit. As I said last time, besides secular movers and shakers, some Christian leaders who carry a great deal of influence are speaking from the soul, rather than the Spirit.

We must learn to recognize whether what we are listening to is originating with soul or spirit. Once we know how to identify which it is, we are well on our way to understanding how to respond to it.

The answer is simpler than we might suspect: it is wrapped up in the Word of God.

For the word of God is living, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit … and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in His sight: but all things are naked and opened to the eyes of Him with Whom we have to do.  — Hebrews 4:12, 13

Part of the reason believers are so easily led about by soulish influencers is because the majority of us are not well-grounded in the Bible. When we continually eat from God’s Word, we are nourished by the Holy Spirit’s wisdom, counsel, and truth. He becomes the strongest Influencer in our lives. Therefore, when we come into contact with even the most convincing voices, a red flag pops up inside warning that something isn’t right. Colossians 3:15 refers to it as the peace of God ruling (like a judge or umpire) in our hearts. We know in our spirit-man whether something we are being told is right-on or off-kilter.

Do you want to keenly discern between what is of the soul and what is of the Spirit? Here are three practical steps to get you there:

1. Fill yourself with the living, powerful, sharp Word of God. It will help you discern whether to reject or accept the voices of other people. Even more importantly, it will help you quickly discern what is soulish within your own thinking.

2. Pray for greater wisdom and discernment. God wants us to have these qualities even more than we desire them for ourselves. That’s why He encourages us in James 1:5, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, Who gives to all men liberally and without reproach, and it shall be given to him.” When the red flag pops up inside of my spirit, if I am not immediately certain why it is there, I ask God to bring to mind a Bible verse to help me know why. He is faithful to do that.

You can also form a habit of frequently asking God to reveal to you His perspective through the inner voice. As we wait upon the Lord, listening for Him, He gives us understanding far beyond ourselves — whether it is about current issues, teaching we have heard, or personal relationship challenges.

3. Once you have discerned that someone is consistently speaking from the soul, shut your ears to that. Those of us with inquiring minds have a tendency to listen to what people say, even when we know they are off. It’s a curiosity thing. We hope we can “eat the chicken and leave the bones.” Unfortunately, even when we know the truth, if we keep on absorbing teaching or opinions which are not right, those ideas inevitably start to stick to us, even though we don’t want them to. It’s best to shut them out.

Does this mean we should expose to everyone else that So-and-So is coming from a soulish perspective? I don’t think so. Feeling the need to expose can quickly develop into alignment with the devil,  who is the accuser (Revelation 12:10). Just shut your own ears to it, and let the Holy Spirit deal with the other person in His way and time. Focus on talking about Jesus and His qualities, rather than what’s wrong somewhere.

To recap, if we want to discern correctly and be led by the Holy Spirit, rather than by natural-minded thinking, we can hone that ability by

  • Feeding on the Bible, letting its truths influence what we think
  • Seeking God continually for greater wisdom and discernment, so that we are not fooled
  • No longer subjecting ourselves to the words of an influencer once we determine that he or she is speaking from a soulish perspective.

Next time, I would like to examine how Hebrews 4:12, 13 can help us in the areas of prayer and prophecy.

Previous: Discerning Between Soul and Spirit (Part 1)
Next: Discerning (Part 3) — The Prophecy Connection

intercessor workshop training

Yes, You CAN Be an Intercessor! (CD Set or mp3)
by Lee Ann Rubsam

Discerning Between Soul and Spirit (Part 1)

soul spirit balancing actThe phenomenon of social media has brought to the forefront a problem we have in Christianity: our inability to discern whether shared ideas are coming from the soul or spirit. In this series, we will look at what we can do to keep from buying into and spreading soulish opinions. We will also look at how discerning between soul and spirit assists us in prayer and prophecy. Our goal should be to operate more consistently from the spirit than the soul.

“Soul,” as I will be using the term here, refers to natural-minded thinking: what comes of intellect and logic alone. “Spirit” refers to the part of us which is able to connect and commune with God, to understand His ways. God has given each of us a soul, made up of our mind, will, and emotions. The soul in itself is not bad — but because sin has marred it, if the soul is left to itself, it can come to very wrong conclusions. It needs to be ruled over and assisted by our spirit.

Being soul-dominated is not limited to indulging in a sinful lifestyle. Having a soulish mentality can also lead us to self-righteously champion Bible truths on a purely intellectual level, thinking that we have the counsel of God, but missing the mark by a mile. My pastor referred to this as applying truth based on the tree of knowledge of good and evil, rather than on the tree of life (Genesis 2:17; 3:1-7; 3:22-24). It is possible to be right, and yet not be righteous.

An example of soulish thinking I frequently see is Christians justifying and even encouraging unkind speech and actions. The argument goes something like this:

Jesus was not “nice” in how He spoke to the Pharisees. He even called them names. So, as a Christian of righteous principle, I am free to “tell it like it is” (translation: be mean) in how I talk to and about people. I am just doing what Jesus did — calling out hypocrites and Pharisees.

The “Pharisees” referred to are usually believers who do not see things from their viewpoint — and of course, theirs is the right one! There’s a problem with this mindset, however. It is just as pharisaical as those it attacks. And if we agree with it, we’ll find ourselves thinking, “Yeah! Give it to ’em good!” But here’s where the difficulty lies: we are not all-knowing, as God is. Jesus could clearly see what was in the Pharisees’ hearts, while we do not have that advantage. All the facts aren’t known to us, so we can easily misunderstand people’s motives.

The Pharisees were legalists. They operated completely in the soul realm, according to their intellectual knowledge of the Scriptures. Mercy? They had none. Compromise? They felt comfortable with their own. They just didn’t approve of other people’s versions. Jesus, on the other hand, always listened to and moved with the Holy Spirit. His purpose in rebuke was not to condemn the Pharisees, but to radically stir up them and those they held in bondage to see their desperate need for a Savior.

Colossians 4:6 counsels us, Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer every man.” Salt with no grace irritates and burns. But Jesus was “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). He knew how to answer every man, in every situation. He did it with redemption uppermost in His mind.

Whether realizing it or not, the soul-motivated person accuses for selfish reasons — to maintain his own comfort, to get his way, to build up himself by putting down others, or to gather a following. He assumes he knows the motives of the person he condemns. However, the Spirit-led person, like Jesus, is motivated by a goal of redemption.

On the surface, opinions or arguments coming from the perspective of the soul can be pretty convincing — especially when crafted by someone who is skillful with words. Well-presented logic appeals to our natural mind. Unfortunately, some Christian leaders with large Internet platforms are speaking from the soul, not the Spirit, and because they have such weighty influence, it is easy to accept what they say unquestioningly — and then parrot it to our own circles of influence.

Why does any of this even matter? First of all, because if we speak in agreement with soulish things, it is a terrible witness. Nonbelievers around us recognize that we are not speaking like the Jesus we say we represent. And for those of us who function as intercessors, if we do not correctly discern soul and spirit, we can easily become entangled in praying from erroneous perspectives brought on by unquestioningly accepting whatever we are told by people of influence.

So, how do we discern soulish thinking and avoid it? We’ll talk about that next time.

Next: Discerning Between Soul and Spirit (Part 2)

 

Growing in the Prophetic (CD or mp3 set),
by Lee Ann Rubsam

 

Strange Alliances

While in prayer recently, I received a warning for the Church:

Beware of strange alliances.

Typically, this is how strange alliances play out:

You become disgruntled about something happening in your local church — perhaps a policy the leadership puts in place. Suddenly, people whom you never quite liked or trusted before start looking pretty good. It’s not because you have developed a new, Christ-like love for them or they have dramatically changed. No, it’s because they are unhappy about the same things you are. You start to form friendships with them, based upon your common ground of disagreement with church leadership. The qualms you had about them are suddenly wiped away, but for the wrong reason: you have become allied in division.

I am not talking about disagreement over core doctrines. It’s usually about procedures, preferences, or approaches. To the person not caught up in the controversy, the concern over the issue seems trivial or illogical; yet it seems entirely logical and vastly important to those falling into the trap. It is the stuff of which church splits are made.

If someone mentions a gripe they have about how things are done, and it is the same thing troubling you, do not be deceived into believing it is “confirmation.” Whether the complaint is valid or not, it is the devil’s snare — the spirit of division attempting to draw you into an unholy alliance in order to tear apart what God desires to hold together.

What should we do if we are tempted with such a situation?

1.) If people start approaching you to confide their unhappiness about whoever and whatever is already your own area of discontent, run! The devil deliberately brings people across our paths to ensnare us into taking part in dividing the Body of Christ. Don’t fall for it.

The apostle Paul wrote, “Now I implore you, brethren, take notice of those who cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which you have learned, and avoid them” (Romans 16:17). While Paul was speaking particularly of doctrinal divisions, it’s a good principle to apply on lesser issues as well. Proverbs 6:12-19 speaks of behavior which God hates. Twice, those verses mention sowing discord as one such abomination.

2.) If you have a gripe, don’t talk about it with others. Do not be the enemy’s instrument of division. Proverbs 26:20 observes, “Where there is no wood, the fire goes out: so, where there is no talebearer, the strife ceases.”

3.) Instead, take the matter to God and pray it through until the circumstances you are concerned about change (if they even need to), or until you change. If you harbor little love for the ones you disagree with, the most important change which needs to happen is in you.

It goes beyond the church.

Forming unholy alliances is not limited to the local church, of course. Intrigues and power plays go on in all circles of life, large and small, from the workplace or family right up to national and international alliances. As believers, we must avoid them wherever they arise.

Joining with nonbelievers in social justice causes is one area to be wary of. While some seem noble on the surface, they can end up being perverted due to the flawed motives or beliefs of those involved.

When considering whether to invest our energies in working side by side in these causes with those who do not know Jesus, it is wise to keep in mind the apostle Paul’s warning in 2 Corinthians 6:14, 15: “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship does righteousness have with unrighteousness? And what communion does light have with darkness? And what agreement does Christ have with Belial [the spirit of rebelliousness and lawlessness]? Or what part has he who believes with an infidel?”

While this does not mean that we can never work together with secular-minded people for a common good, it does mean we should proceed with caution, our spiritual ears sensitive to warnings from the Holy Spirit.

In summary, any alliances which would produce discord and strife, or would compromise our agreement with God and His principles, should be avoided. Such alliances raise red flags by how unlikely they would normally be, if we were to examine them objectively. Whether in our church relationships or in other arenas of life, we must stay spiritually attuned to the Holy Spirit, so that we can discern the tug of these attractions quickly and flee from them.

 

 

Yes, You CAN Be an Intercessor! (CD or mp3 set),
by Lee Ann Rubsam

 

 

 

Growing in the Prophetic (CD or mp3 set),
by Lee Ann Rubsam

 

 

The Merciful Discerner

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. — Matthew 5:7

For those of us who are keen in discernment, there is a weakness we particularly struggle with: criticalness. Show me a person who is gifted in discernment, and I’ll show you a person prone to being critical.

Why is this the case? Criticalness is the soulish side of discernment. When God made mankind in His own image (Genesis 1:26), He made us perfect, like unto His nature. Each human being since Adam and Eve has been uniquely crafted by the Lord, with particular personality and ability strengths which reflect a small piece of Who He is. And what a wonderful variety we are, all intended to complement and balance each other.

But, due to man’s fall into sin back in the Garden of Eden, the image of God in each of us was marred. The good news for believers is, through Jesus our Redeemer, God is progressively bringing us back into His own image. Still, in the process, sometimes we exhibit the old marred nature, and thus it is with criticalness and discernment.

The difference between discernment and criticalness does not rest in what we see: it’s in what we do with it. We must learn to divide between being aware of the faults of others (which is not wrong in itself) and where our minds go with that information. A critical person tends to be frequently suspicious of the motives of others, thinking that he or she is receiving discernment from the Lord. Criticalness makes unholy assumptions and judgments, often based on one’s own faults or inner hurts.

One of the areas where criticalness often rears its head is in the realm of doctrinal beliefs. Those who are well-grounded in the Bible are the most prone to this. We may feel very solid in our understanding of certain theological points, and when we come into contact with people who have a different viewpoint, or a blind spot, we then think poorly of them, perhaps writing them off entirely.

Most of the time, what is such an important issue to us is not a core doctrine of the faith. It’s just a small piece of how we’re working out our Christian walk — but we make it into a very big deal. For instance, my husband and I have encountered a few people who had such narrow views of how healing ministry should be done that they would no longer fellowship with people who did not believe exactly as they did or who were not as strong in their faith.

The apostle Paul talked about criticalness over minor theological matters in Romans 14:1-4. He was speaking into a controversy about whether to eat meat or not, because there was a possibility it had been sacrificed to false gods before showing up in the public meat market. But the principle can be applied broadly by us today:

Accept him who is weak in the faith, but not to arguing over opinions. For one believes that he may eat all things. Another, who is weak, eats only vegetables. Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat. And he who does not eat should not judge him who eats, for God has received him. Who are you to judge another man’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Yes, he shall be held up: for God is able to make him stand.

Can we trust God to work maturity in our brothers and sisters, and let Him decide when and how to work on their foibles — even their beliefs which don’t line up with ours to a tee? “Yes, he shall be held up: for God is able to make him stand.”

As we mature in the things of the Spirit, we should find that our discernment is increasingly coupled with compassion, mercy, and patience. That is the heart of God evidencing in us. We must guard ourselves against pride, for Paul warned, “Knowledge puffs up, but charitable love builds up. And if any man thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know” (1 Corinthians 8:2). He also said, “For I say, through the grace given to me, to every man who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think…” (Romans 12:3).

We’ve all got a long journey ahead of us before we reach perfection. Let’s give each other a break.

I’ve written another article on criticalness versus discernment, which contains a list of questions to help us determine whether we are operating in discernment from the Spirit or merely criticalness of the soul. I hope you will find that post helpful.

Living from a Prophetic Perspective (Part 8)

propheticperspectiveI’d like to close this series by mentioning a few extremes which can cause us to become unbalanced or skewed in our prophetic perspective. I sometimes run into enthusiastic people who think everything is prophetic. No, it’s not. Not everything which happens is symbolic; not everything has a spiritual implication. Some things just are what they are, without being a message from God.

More than once, I have been dismayed to see “prophecies” based on sporting events – the Super Bowl or World Series, for instance. Significance is attributed to the teams’ names, the colors they wear, and the numbers on the backs of the star players. Based on the outcome of the game, predictions are made for the coming year. This is weird — very weird — and yet Super Bowl divination seems to be a temptation among prophetic people.

A few years ago, a major bridge collapsed in Minneapolis. For several weeks, prophetic posts flew in all directions about what that event meant in the spirit realm. Can catastrophic events carry spiritual significance? Absolutely! But not all of them do, and sometimes the conclusions people draw from them, especially when prophesying into the future, are coming from their own imaginations.

Some people have come up with prophetic messages based on natural markings on animals which resemble various symbols. Let me just say that a pinto horse bearing a spot which resembles a map of Russia does not mean God is warning of a coming invasion. Horses and cows regularly have markings on their faces resembling lightning bolts. These are not warnings of judgments coming from heaven. That goes for star-shaped markings (not a prophetic sign that an asteroid is going to hit the earth), or patches which resemble numbers. Calling such phenomena prophetic signs is silly.

Don’t try to force the prophetic. In these last days, signs will appear in the heavens, and one day Jesus Himself will be seen coming in the clouds, but don’t try to find spiritual meaning in every cloud or etched on every doorknob.

Don’t follow signs. Follow Jesus. If you follow Him, signs and wonders will accompany you, as you proclaim Him. If you follow signs, you will just get goofy — because your focus will be in the wrong place. You will always need something new to dazzle you more than the last wonder you experienced.

Let’s recap what we’ve talked about in this series. If we want to increase in our ability to view life from God’s vantage point we can do that by:

1.)  Slowing down in prayer and Bible reading, so that we can listen to what God has to say. (“What do You want me to learn from Your Word today, Lord?” “What’s on Your heart today?”)

2.)  Asking for God’s counsel in sticky situations and then waiting for Him to reveal His solutions, rather than forging ahead in our own understanding. (“What would You say or do, if You were in my shoes, Jesus?”)

3.) Asking what is really going on beneath the surface in perplexing events, and what He is up to in the midst of them. (“Lord, why is this REALLY happening, and how do You want to work good out of it?”)

4.)  Listening to our inner peace barometer — receiving guidance through peace or the lack of it. (“Let the peace of God rule in your hearts” — Colossians 3:15.)

5.)  Paying attention to possible divine connections — unlikely people God brings into our lives to speak into us or assist us in some way.

6.)  Noticing repeated pieces of information showing up — through things people say, songs we hear, words or phrases which we zero in on.

7.)  Tuning in to connections God makes in our spirit between bits and pieces of seemingly unrelated information. God will suddenly “connect the dots” between them in our understanding, so that we know what He is up to.

8.)  Paying attention to weaknesses in ourselves, which God brings to light — sometimes in our thoughts, sometimes through other people — so that He can cleanse us of attitudes and wrong perspectives we were not aware we harbored.

9.)  Listening to other people’s perspectives so that the Lord can expand our horizons and show us angles we had not previously considered.

10.)  Listening to others through a 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 filter. Ask God to help you see past surface words to what is behind them. (We then use what He shows us to help bring healing to people’s hearts.)

11.)  Waiting for the Lord to reveal things to us, rather than trying to come up with prophetic revelation by our own effort. (Less is more: go for quality, rather than quantity.)

Here is a link to a wonderful article by Francis Frangipane, which very much ties in with what I have written about in this series — What Does Jesus Say?

Previous — Part 7