This is a potent gift that cuts through ‘things-as-they-seem-to-be’ and reveals what is going on in the spiritual world. It is not the same as ‘discernment’ which refers to general wisdom and experience that most people develop to varying degrees, but rather to the special ability to know what spirit is operating in a person or situation. It may come as an impression, thought, audible voice, picture, vision or dream.
- When Jesus says to Peter ‘Get behind me Satan’ (Mt 16:23). Of course, it was Peter speaking, not Satan, but Jesus discerned that the spirit behind what he was saying was a satanic one.
- When Peter discerned that Ananias and Sapphira had a ‘withholding spirit’ from Satan (Acts 5).
- When Peter discerned the motives of Simon the Sorcerer saying, ‘You have no share in this ministry because your heart is not right before God’ (Acts 8:18-24).
- When Paul discerned that an actually very ‘Christian’ sounding slave girl was in fact operating in a demonic spirit (Acts 16:16).
In what situations is this gift needed?
Parenting: Is that childishness or naughtiness? Is that disorganization or rebellion?
Business: Is this guy trustworthy?
Church: Useful for weighing prophecy. Useful for leading meetings – is God here or are we just going through the motions? Is he operating in godly zeal or carnal emotion? Is this sickness because you are run-down and tired, or is it because of sin in your life or demonic attack? Is she/he just strong-willed or actually Jezebelic?
Likely traits of a person with this gift
As it is a revelation gift, he will need to know Jesus well and be someone who practices the presence of God. He will probably be perceptive, insightful, sensitive, prayerful, and prophetic.
How can I use this gift?
Once you have discerned the spirit behind a person or situation, it is usually best to avoid charging in with your guns blazing your verdict, although sometimes a more direct approach is necessary. It is usually best to weigh your views with respected others and proceed from there with prayer and possible confrontation depending on the situation.
You may find that you have a particular antenna for certain spirits or situations. This often manifests as an uneasy feeling about someone: “I feel that we should proceed more slowly with bringing Bill into leadership.”
If you sense this is a gift that you have in embryonic form, then eagerly desire it by regularly asking God for more of it, learn from people who have this gift, and be alert to opportunities to use it.
Avoid getting spooky-spiritual and discerning something behind everything! Also, make sure that you have others around you that can help confirm what you are discerning.
Because you will be often brining unpopular news you will need to resist the temptation to keep quiet. Your best course of action is to go and tell the leaders what you are feeling. You don’t want a situation where something happened and you say to yourself, ‘Ah yes, I always felt uneasy about Bill but I didn’t think it was my place to say anything”! It was your place…you had the gift of discerning of spirits!