Tag Archives: discernment

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.

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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

Of What Spirit Are We?

LeeAnnRubsam.com

…When the time was come that [Jesus] should be received up, he steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem, and sent messengers before him. The messengers went, and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make ready for him.  But the Samaritans did not receive him, because his face was as though he would go to Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elijah did?”  But Jesus turned, and rebuked them, and said, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of.  For the Son of man has not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.”   — Luke 9:51-56

For some time, I’ve been troubled at the number of websites and blogs devoted solely to criticizing various brothers and sisters in the Christian apostolic/prophetic community.  Google the name of any well-known prophet, apostle, or revivalist, and you’ll find that the top ten sites are primarily run by people who feel their God-given mission in life is to expose the “heresy” of others.  Some are so obsessed with harassing and discrediting a particular person that it almost smacks of stalking.  Talk about having a “ministry” specialty! 

As I’ve said before, apostolic/prophetic Christianity is my particular circle.  I see the problems too, and there are times I get pretty perturbed.  Yes, some are teaching things that are not biblically supportable.  Yes, some are hiding sin.  A lot of housecleaning is needed, and I believe God is in the process of doing that.  He wants a pure and spotless Bride. 

But there is something more disturbing to me than doctrinal aberrations and high-profile sin.  It is the hardness of heart that causes Christians to think they can mock and curse other believers and not have a twinge of conscience in doing so.  It doesn’t matter if we agree with someone’s doctrine and mode of ministry or not.  The Lord Jesus has not given us permission to tear members of the Body of Christ apart.  Pointing the finger and screaming, “Heretic!” or licking our chops over the latest one to fall aligns us with an entirely different spirit than the Holy Spirit.  Revelation 12:10 describes Satan as “the accuser of our brethren … which accused them before our God day and night.” 

I’m not saying we should whitewash sin and doctrinal error.  They are a shame and a blot on the Body of Christ.  I am asking what spirit we are of — the spirit of hatred, anger, and criticalness? Or the spirit of mercy, humility, and godly sorrow when a brother sins?  Jesus was grieved with the Pharisees of His day for their lack of mercy and their prideful delusion that they were several notches above other people.  The Pharisaical spirit is alive and well in the Church today.  It is a spirit totally aligned with hell, not the righteous purity of the Holy Spirit. 

There is a better way to address the problems in Christianity today.  For those of us who teach, we can continue to patiently lay down biblical foundations and warn against pitfalls, so that those who truly want to do right can learn to move in life-giving, Spirit-filled patterns.  We don’t need to point fingers and name names in the process of bringing God’s people into maturity.  Let’s teach the principles, so that people can learn to discern between the good and the bad, while keeping our fingers to ourselves. 

And all of us can learn to mind our own business — spending our time in sober prayer and fasting, rather than wasting precious hours at Internet forums, blogs, and chat rooms, talking, talking, always talking, about the latest ministry flap or failure. 

Let’s encourage and build up one another, lifting each other out of the muck if any of us should fall.  The devil doesn’t need our help in beating up on the Body– but he’s more than happy to let us join hands with him if we want to.

LeeAnnRubsam.com

 

All-Surpassing Peace in a Shaking World, by Lee Ann Rubsam

Criticalness or Discernment? (Part 2)

If the flip side of criticalness is discernment, how can we tell the difference between the two?  There is nothing wrong with seeing a real flaw in someone else.  This is just reality at work.  We observe the ways people act, and sometimes wrong motives are very obvious.  It is what we do with what we see that makes the difference.

Ask yourself these questions:

1.  Do I love the person any less because of what I see in him?

2.  Do I take a secret pleasure in seeing this fault in him?

3.  Do I feel superiority or scorn towards him?

4.  Do I have a desire to point out his fault to others?  (Love covers sin.)

5.  Am I eager to see God “punish” him?

6.  Do I write him off as unworthy of any useful place in ministry?

These and other negative feelings about people are strong indications of a judging heart.  The discernment may in itself be correct, but, if we harbor negative attitudes toward people in our hearts, we have crossed over the fine line into criticalness.

God does not give us permission to judge our brothers and sisters.  Finding their flaws is His job, and He doesn’t deal with them in the same way we would.  We tend to want to slap people for the things we see in them that aren’t quite right.  God wants, rather, to whittle on them to change their flaws into strengths.

Sometimes we judge others because we live by a certain set of standards, and we assume everyone else knows and should live by the same code.  God does have standards spelled out in the Bible, but how we interpret the ins and outs of applying them depends somewhat on our personality, the way we think, and the family culture in which we grew up.  In addition, when we see other people doing things that we feel are wrong, we need to remember that God doesn’t convict us all of the same things at the same time in our lives.  We must extend grace toward those who have different standards than we do.  God will work out their realization of what needs changing inside of them in His own good time.

The Christian life is not living according to a set of rules.  Real Christianity is fueled by a yearning to have God’s innocent, pure heart.  If we can grasp the difference between these two mindsets, we will be more likely to view others with mercy, rather than judgment.

When we find ourselves responding with sorrow over others’ failings, a loving desire to pray for change in them, or a desire to help them overcome in any way that we can, we are exhibiting a right attitude.  We who struggle with criticalness can take heart in knowing that God is actively moving us into giftedness in discernment, as long as we yield ourselves in humility to His reforming hand.

 Previous: Criticalness or Discernment? (Part 1) 

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River Life Adult Character Study

 

This article is based on an excerpt from Lee Ann’s book, River Life: Entering into the Character of Jesus, an adult Bible/character study, suitable for use by the individual or as part of a group study.  For more info and sample pages, please visit our web site.

 

 

Criticalness or Discernment?

A friend of mine recently expressed her sorrow over being a critical person.  I did not see her in that way.  What I saw was a woman of keen discernment.  She may have had moments when she operated in criticalness, but by and large, she was picking up on things in the spirit that she needed to know for her own safety and for the safety of those she ministers to.

Many Christians struggle with being critical, or with thinking they are.  It is important not to judge others, but if we are so afraid of judging that we are not allowing ourselves to hear clear warnings prompted by the Holy Spirit, we are missing out on important guidance from the Lord.

True discernment is deeper than merely observing others’ faults.  It is understanding of what is really going on, of motives behind actions, of heart attitudes.

There are two types of discernment – the natural and the spiritual.  Even those who are not Christians can have a natural discernment gift.  We say they are astute, and that no one can pull the wool over their eyes.  They tend to be analytical, understand how people tick, and are able to work well with others as a result.

God can impart to us a higher level of discernment as well.  People who operate in spiritual discernment will sometimes feel an uncomfortableness or an inner warning that something is not right about a person or situation.  God may be giving them discernment for the sake of protecting the local body of Christ from hidden evil.  God does not give us discernment about wrong in another person merely so that we can have inside information.  It is to help the person, or to protect ourselves or the local church.

There is a flip side to every weakness, and so it is with criticalness and discernment.  A character flaw is nothing more than a God-given character strength that has been marred by our fallen, sinful nature.  When sin entered the world, it corrupted the good things that God had placed within mankind.  God wants to restore us by remaking our flaws into the strengths they were originally intended to be.  For instance, stubbornness made positive becomes persistence or tenacity.  Bossiness, when trained and modified with tact and a motive of servanthood, becomes excellent leadership.  Criticalness is the peculiar flaw of those whom God has gifted in discernment.  Although discerning people may always struggle to some degree with judging others, God’s redemptive plan is to make something useful and powerful for His kingdom out of what was once a weakness.

Tomorrow, we’ll talk about how to tell the difference between criticalness and discernment.

Next: Criticalness or Discernment? (Part 2) 

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River Life Adult Character Study

 

This article is based on an excerpt from Lee Ann’s book, River Life: Entering into the Character of Jesus, an adult Bible/character study, suitable for use by the individual or as part of a group study.  For more info and sample pages, please visit our web site.

 

Hearing God — Discerning the Inner Voice (Part 4)

In Part 1, I mentioned that John 10 assures us we can know the shepherd’s voice.  We can have faith that He will speak to us and that He will help us to know His voice.  I also said, in Part 2, that reading the Bible consistently helps us to hear God accurately.  How does this work?

When we absorb the Word as given to us in the Bible, we get a feel for how God thinks and how He speaks.  We grow in wisdom through reading it.  Scripture is also the standard against which we measure all revelation.  If something we hear in our inner man does not line up with what the Bible says, it is not God – no matter how much we might think it sounds like Him.

Hearing God accurately and discerning (sorting out) what is from God and what is not is a maturing process.  It doesn’t happen overnight.  We all make some mistakes along the way.  Our own emotions, ambitions, impure motives, and incorrect interpretations of what is going on around us can sometimes deceive us.  Sometimes the enemy of our souls cleverly attempts to inject thoughts that sound somewhat like God’s voice.  How can we tell the difference?  Many times the differences are subtle, but they are there.

Here are some questions we can ask ourselves to help in the discerning process:

1.)  How does what I heard make me feel?  If an inner word strikes fear or condemnation into us, it is not from God.  When God speaks correction, He never reviles us.  He does not wound us by telling us how inferior we are.  His voice may be firm in telling us we need to change, but it is always loving and encouraging.  Fear is not of God.  Even when He speaks about a difficulty ahead of us, He gives a peace with it.  He lets us know He will be there for us through all circumstances.

2.)  Does it line up with God’s Word?  Sometimes our natural man wants to do things that we know are not according to what the Bible says.  We seem to have a knack for rationalizing that because of our unique circumstances, God is making an exception in our situation.  It doesn’t work that way.  God will not make exceptions to what He has already said in the Bible.

3.)  Am I trying hard to make myself believe I am hearing God?  If we have to spend a lot of time convincing ourselves that it really must have been God speaking to us, it probably isn’t Him.  We shouldn’t have to work it up inside of ourselves.  If we’re honest with ourselves, there is a lack of peace inside that we are trying to overcome, because our flesh wants its own way.

4.)  Is what I am hearing feeding selfish motives?  We have to be careful with this one, because God does want to bless us by giving us the desires of our heart.  He is the one that plants many of those desires in us.  So, to want good things in our lives is not always selfishness.  It could be God’s purposeful destiny for us.  But why do we want something?  Is it ultimately for His glory, or for our glory?  Sometimes it takes a little time to sort out whether our motives are pure or not.  If it needs time to be discerned, give it time.  God will continue to speak, if the word came from Him in the first place.

5.)  Does the inner voice sound demanding or insistent?  At times God will speak urgently, for our own safety or if we need to pray for someone who is in trouble and needs immediate intercession.  But if it is concerning a decision that must be made, and the voice is pushing us, it is generally not God.  He gives us ample time to be sure we are hearing Him rightly.  The enemy of our souls likes to push us into making impulsive choices that we will later regret.

6.)  Am I afraid to ask the counsel of other godly people about what I am hearing?  This ought to be a red flag every time!  If we are truly hearing God, we should not be afraid to check it out with wise advisers.  The devil will try to convince us that we are misunderstood, that we have a revelation so special no one else around us would understand, etc.   Poppycock!

When God is speaking to us, His word will bring with it faith and peace, a desire for His glory, a mighty awe of Him and His plans, and humility in ourselves.  It will be encouraging, and will lead us into a higher level of dependence upon Him.  It will have His purposes at its core.

Next time we will talk about some more ways that God speaks to us.

Previous: Hearing God — The Inner Voice (Part 3)
Next: Hearing God — Beyond the Inner Voice (Part 5)

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Hotline to Heaven

Hotline to Heaven: Hearing the Voice of God