In this section we will simply list some of the reasons why discernment is desperately needed in these times. Later many of these matters will be further developed.
To know the times.
1 Chronicles 12:32 tells us that, "the men of Issachar understood the times and knew what Israel should do." In these days we all need to be "men of Issachar," to be able to understand the times we are living in.
It seems that most people, and unfortunately many believers, pass through life with little awareness of the times they are living in. In the fifteenth century many believers lived and walked close to Martin Luther and had no idea that this was a time of reformation. Even Martin Luther harassed the Anabaptists without discerning that they were recovering truth beyond his limited vision.
Through the centuries many have also jumped onto frivolous "end-time" movements under zealous misguided leaders only to learn later that they had been duped. This tendency will increase and only those with clear discernment will be able to navigate through the rapids without detours, or even shipwrecks.
In Matthew 16:2-3 and Luke 12:56, Jesus said that the Pharisees could interpret the weather, but they were unable to interpret, or discern the signs of the times. As we move into the later days we are told that many will even perform signs and wonders, but not all will be of God. It is desperately crucial that we have discernment both to know the times, and also to determine the validity of ongoing activities.
The Lord gave me this prayer, "Lord, help me to be open, but not gullible, and help me to be discerning but not critical." In my experience He is answering this prayer. I recommend it to all who "don't want to miss out" but also "don't want to be taken for a ride."
Many who joined the celebration when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday had no idea who was before them. A week later they shouted, "crucify Him" with absolutely no discernment as to the times they were living in.
Ecclesiastes 3 tells us that there is a time for everything. This does not mean that it just happens, but often we must discern the proper time, so that we will know when to keep and when to throw away v. 6, when to speak and when to keep silent v. 7.
Ecclesiastes 8: 5b -6 "the wise heart will know the proper time and procedure. For there is a proper time and procedure for every matter . . ." This certainly refers to discernment in action. Beyond knowing the times we live in we must also learn to know the proper time and procedure for anything.
To understand ourselves and our personal reactions.
I believe that the first and most critical need for clear discernment is that we come to know and understand ourselves. We cannot discern another beyond what we are able to discern ourselves. If we are self-deceived, how can we clearly see through the deception around us? For this we must come to know our spirit and be actively joined to the Holy Spirit. “For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man's spirit within him? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God" (1 Cor. 2:11).
We must come to know the difference between the soul and the spirit. This is further confirmed in Heb. 4:12 “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” Later we will see how critical it is to allow the Word to divide our soul from our spirit if we wish to have discernment.
As we proceed we will see again and again that in these times we must let the Lord expose every thought and motive in our being if we wish to have discernment. Our weaknesses and faults are a problem only if we cover them up or refuse to acknowledge them. As long as we cannot see or acknowledge them we will not see them in others. If we do we will simply react in judgment and condemnation. Have you noticed how often people are very upset by the very weaknesses in others that they have themselves.
Each time we acknowledge and confess our sin and weaknesses He generously forgives and His transforming grace changes us. He also imparts grace and forbearance which we can then readily extend and dispense to others.
The Holy Spirit does shine into our spirit but it must shine through our soul. If our soul is clouded with self, ambition, pride, greed, prejudice or jealousy, the resulting discernment will be tainted. To discern the real condition of others
When we meet or minister to others do we simply see the outward facade and react with natural sympathy, or do we discern their real inward condition? Suppose you are disciplining your child by withholding dinner. At this point a well-meaning friend arrives, takes pity and feeds the child. While the friend is being naturally kind, he is actually interfering with the father's discipline. When someone comes to me for help, can I discern whether the Lord is disciplining him or whether he is being attacked by the evil one?
When someone is crying can I recognize whether they are reveling in self pity or needing comfort for a real wound? When someone else offers to help me can I detect whether he is seeking my favor or sincerely wants to help me out of love?
When choosing co-workers in ministry or business it is critical to exercise discernment. Much frustration and many broken relationships could be avoided if we would leam to discern before we commit on the basis of apparent compatibility.
Can we distinguish between someone who is being critical or someone who is expressing a prophetic insight which the Spirit has revealed to them? Many prophetic voices have been stomped on because others could not recognize a prophetic voice. Many times only keen discernment can distinguish between rebellion and prophetic voice.
To know the strategies of the enemy.
We do not wish to give undue attention to the enemy however, in order to be discerning we must be aware of his schemes, so that he might not outwit us (2 Cor. 2:11). We must be aware that one of his main activities is, "to blind the minds of unbelievers so that they cannot see the light of the gospel" (2 Cor. 4:4).
Knowing this can save us from the counter-productive exercise of warring against our unbelieving friends. I finally learned that the problem is not my apparent stubborn, unbelieving friends, but the powers of darkness that veil their hearts and fill their minds with doubt and suspicion. Knowing this, I begin to employ the authority that God has given me in my spirit in prayer to bind the evil forces at work in my friends. In many situations they soon begin to soften and their attitudes change. Some even think that it was I who have changed! Many are now my trusting friends and some are my brothers!
Peter, who had first-hand experience in being deceived by the enemy advised us that, "the devil prowls around looking for someone to devour," so we must know, "how to resist him" (1 Peter 5: 8-9). To resist him we must be able to discern his activity and his lies and what is really truth.
A person was suffering from severe nightmares. We needed discernment to ascertain where the enemy was finding legal ground to harass him. We discerned that somehow he was giving the enemy ground, either by grieving the Lord and causing His face to turn aside or wandering into the legal territory of the enemy.
We could detect no evidence of satanic materials or strongholds in his home. He assured us that he was not living in willful sin. We did, however, find that he was very critical and spoke negatively about the church and church leaders. The Lord then showed us that this brother was depreciating the church, i.e. "the Lord's wife," and was rebelling against His delegated authority. These actions grieved the Lord, removed the brother from a proper spiritual covering and gave the enemy access to harass him. Only as these matters were addressed were the enemy's grounds for attack able to be removed and victory over this torment assured. To exercise the spiritual gift of discerning of spirits
The aged and experienced Apostle John advises us that there are many spirits, some are of God and some are not and we must differentiate between them (1 John 4:1). For this purpose we need the gift of "discerning of spirits" which Paul tells us about in 1 Cor. 12:10. This is no doubt a unique ability to distinguish between the Spirit of God, the spirit of man, and- the spirit of Satan and his agents. While this is the particular gift of some, I believe we all need to be prepared to exercise it in our spiritual journey, especially as the last days' battle heats up (2 Thes. 2:2).
There is coming a dramatically increasing need for dealing with demonic activities. Some will need deliverance, others may simply need teaching and revelation to know their position in Christ. We desperately need discernment to detect the need and the proper approach for each situation..
When we pray for healing we must discern whether a sickness is the result of demonic spirits, self destructive behavior, past experiences, or health mismanagement. Many times, before effective healing can be realized, the root causes must be addressed.
We have been finding of late that persons who cannot overcome certain addictions, sicknesses and oppressions are often being harassed by evil spirits. I have begun to write a booklet on healing and spiritual deliverance and hope to release it soon. In the meantime, the Lord instructed me that while deliverance is much needed, discernment is a priority and an absolute necessity for effective deliverance. To pray effectively
The Apostle Paul, who was given much discernment, declared that he was not running aimlessly nor beating the air (1 Cor. 9:26). He knew where the target was and the most effective way to hit it. It seems that many times our prayers are a barrage of good suggestions propelled at the Lord.
However Jesus said that effective prayer involved praying according to His will (Matt. 6:10; 18:18-20). Here again we see a need for discernment, otherwise we may exhaust ourselves and even end up praying [according to] our natural desires which may well frustrate God's purposes.
There are times when through discernment we see the factors in a problem but it may not be the acceptable time to share what we see. This is where intercession comes in. No doubt this insight was given to us so that we may be able to intercede more effectively until the time for disclosure comes. There are times when the situation is so heavy and the answer so foreboding that even our words are inadequate. Fortunately, these are times when we can pray by the Spirit in words that even we ourselves cannot understand (Rom. 8:26).
Sometimes the Lord drops an awareness about His desire into our spirits. This is somewhat like a conception. It may then need to be carried and nurtured by prayer for an extended period of time. If we speak of it before its time it may well be aborted. Eventually, it will come due and will be birthed to become the genuine fulfillment of what He had revealed to us earlier. Here we see an initial discernment of revelation and then a further discernment relative to knowing the time of fullness for a matter. To work or lead effectively
Anyone who has been called into leadership constantly needs discernment. When King Solomon was overwhelmed with the responsibility of leadership he pleased God by asking for discernment (1 Kings 3:9). What an assurance it is to know that in the most impossible situations He can give us His answers through the exercise of discernment. We do not need to rely on ourselves. The judges in Old Testament time were great examples of leaders who needed to exercise discernment. To some extent every leader is called to be a judge.