October 28, 2014

Misuse of discernment

Not long ago we attended a prayer group where the leader and most of the people in the group were not praying about requests. Instead, they were saying things they thought God was revealing to them about one another, particularly about their character, their spiritual state, or how they must respond to certain issues in their lives. While they were kind about it, we went home troubled because this seemed more like imagination than illumination.

Today’s devotional reading warns about the spiritual danger related to that experience. It says Christians must be cautious about “charismatic fortune-telling” for it can become psychic activity instead of a genuine spiritual experience.

The Spirit of God can give special insights into the character and nature of others. Jesus had the ability to know the hearts of men and what they were doing. For instance, when Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward Him, He said, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael was shocked. He said to Jesus, “How do you know me?” and Jesus answered, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” (John 1:47-48) Jesus not only knew what this man’s heart was like, but also what he had been doing prior to their meeting each other.

In the early church, Peter seemed to know what was happening with a man named Ananias and his wife Sapphira. They sold property but kept back for themselves some of the proceeds, and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles’ feet. Then they told everyone they gave all the money.

Peter knew. He said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.” (Acts 5:1–4)

Obviously, God can reveal things to us in what seems a supernatural way. Another example is when the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.” As a result, Paul stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among the people of that place. (Acts 18:9–11) He just knew he should safely stay in that dangerous place.

I’ve noticed that some Christians are more discerning than others. Perhaps it is a combination of events, facial expression, tone, and a nudge from the Holy Spirit. I’ve had situations where it seemed this was happening. I just knew someone was acting out of jealousy, or a believer was angry inside, or a person had an ulterior motive. But I’ve also realized these understandings are for prayer only. If my understanding is skewed, I could do damage by talking to anyone else about it. God has shown me that if I see such things, I can warn others about the dangerous principles, but must take the details (and the names) to Him in prayer, and that’s all.

However, God has also shown me that there is a fine line between legitimate revelation from God and what is called psychic phenomena, such as demonstrated in television shows where the protagonist uses mind-reading or special powers to catch criminals. While Christians can have extreme spiritual sensitivity and this heightened awareness is not necessarily sinful, there is danger in using it in the wrong way, or even dwelling on it to the point it becomes an obsession.

God does not need to tell others if I am harboring envy, or if I need some advice about a problem I have not shared with anyone else. If anyone else did that, we would call it gossip. Shudder.

Instead, the Spirit of God deals with sin and hidden things discreetly, bringing them out in the open only if necessary. God is extremely sensitive to human hearts and human needs. He respects us and although He will rebuke, He is also kind, even polite about it.

He also expects the same from me. When I discern an issue in the life of another Christian, I am first to pray about it. He may ask me to speak to that person alone, but never to expose names and details to others, either in conversation, or here on this blog, or especially not at a prayer meeting.

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