To discern means “to perceive or recognize the difference.”
According to Webester’s dictionary, discernment means keen perception or judgment; insight; acumen.
When we talk of someone as a discerning person, we usually mean someone who can see a situation clearly, someone not easily fooled, someone who sees the truth or falseness behind the words.
When we talk about spiritual discernment, we are talking about the same qualities, deepen and quickened by the Spirit and applied to spiritual things.
All Christians have some discernment
All Christians have some spiritual discernment; we have an ability to distinguish between good and evil.
But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth1 John 2:20 (NIV)
But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.Hebrews 5:14
The role of spiritual gifts in Discernment
A person who has the spiritual gifts of knowledge and/or wisdom will often be referred to as “having discernment.”
A word of knowledge can be a fact revealed by the Holy Spirit, to help us in our ministry (For example when Jesus “knew” that the Samaritan woman “had had five husbands.”)
A word of knowledge can also be an insight or a God-given understanding of problems, circumstances, or situations.
Words of knowledge can come in many different forms including a scripture reference, an impression, a word or phase, an image, or a physical or emotional feeling.
A word of wisdom helps us to apply knowledge we have been given in an appropriate way.
Scripture also speaks of another specific spiritual gift – “the discerning of spirits” – which refers to an ability to distinguish between the human spirit, the Holy Spirit and demonic spirits.
This may simply mean that an individual has the ability to sense the presence of each of these and distinguish between them.
Or this may mean their gift could extend to having the ability to name a particular spirit and articulate its characteristics. This is a very useful gift in deliverance ministry.
What is the place of discernment in intercession?
1. Follow God’s agenda
When we come together to intercede as a group, we seek to understand God’s will and direction for a situation, event, or person we are praying for.
We all have our own ideas and agendas about how we could pray for any given subject, but in intercession we desire for the Lord to lead us and show us how to pray.
Through a process of observation of circumstances, application of scripture and listening prayer with others, the Lord so often graciously guides our praying.
This isn’t just a one-time exercise at the beginning of a prayer time, but a continuing process throughout the whole time of prayer.
2. Evaluate a ‘word of prophecy’ or ‘word of knowledge’
Paul speaks of various gifts which are meant for the building up of the body.
But when someone gives a word of prophecy or word of knowledge, how do we evaluate its validity?
Here are the 4 questions we use to discern:
- Is it consistent with the Word of God as well as well as with His character as revealed in Scripture?
- Does it give glory to God or to someone else?
- Does the Holy Spirit give confirmation of the word to others in the group?
- Are there objective, verifiable facts that confirm the word, or what fruit does it bear?
Question 3: How do you experience a confirmation in discernment
Often the way we experience guidance through gifts like a word of wisdom or word of knowledge is quite subtle.
The words can sound very “spiritual,” and sometimes even sound like scripture, but what impression are you left with?
Different people sense a confirmation in different ways.
This is not asking people if they have the same opinion or like the word given.
Discernment is a sense of “rightness” in your gut, as opposed to a sense of uneasiness.
In some groups, when a word is given that feels “right on” people say “amen,” in affirmation, not of the person, but of the rightness of the word given.
There is also the element of timing.
For example: if a group is focused on praying for a group meeting and someone suddenly shares a word about a national political situation, it would take strong confirmation by others in the group that this is actually a word from God calling them to change their prayer focus as opposed to a distraction from a human or demonic spirit.
But feelings alone are not the key. There are also the other three questions in our rational discernment process mentioned above.
Together, the four questions and that sense of intuition when you examine the guidance or direction, help you practice discernment.
Making space for God to lead through gifts of discernment
Part of the mature exercise of discernment is making space for it to happen.
Intercessors must be:
- willing to listen,
- allow words to be received, and
- allow evaluation of direction or words given.
Even the way these things are presented to the group helps to make this space.
Phases such as “I believe the Lord is saying” or “I have an impression” are more helpful than “God is saying” or ‘The Lord told me that you need to…”
Keep the interpretation of what you have received separate from the word, picture, etc., that you have been given.
Don’t try to guess what it means. Instead ask God for clarity
Often the Lord will give the “information” to one person and the interpretation to another person.
The team needs to then discern whether these things are from the Holy Spirit and what to do with them.
Once people begin to move forward in intercessory prayer, there are often questions that arise, such as
- “There are so many needs, how do I know which I should pray about?”
- “How do I know I am praying God’s will in a situation”
- “How does the Holy Spirit guide us in prayer?”
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