You’ve probably heard the word “discern” at some point in your life. Like many words in Scripture, it has a regular, run-of-the-mill meaning and then it has a deeper, more specific meaning. The root meaning doesn’t really change but because God is always considering both the physical and the spiritual realms, the word is richer and more demanding.
This post began when one of our students, a fourteen year old girl, asked how to become ‘more advanced in distinguishing between spirits.’ Yep, that was from the mouth of a fourteen year old. We had taught her about discernment and distinguishing between spirits but we had failed to answer a vital question — How.
As I sat there looking at her curious face, I began to consider if I really knew the answer. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit is a great Teacher and Scripture began to come back to me. However, I did begin to ponder if there was more to it.
How does a person actually develop and grow in discernment?
If discernment is directly tied to maturity in a Christian, then what steps should be taken to get there?
Before I begin answering my own questions, I should explain that discernment is something that each Christians should have but there are people that it will come more easily for because it is one of their gifts. See 1 Corinthians 12 for a fuller list of gifts. The gifted person is just “better” at discernment if they’ve worked to develop their gift.
Think of it like cooking. Some people can cook (like me) but there are people who are gifted cooks. While everyone should have cooking skills, the gifted cook makes masterpieces.
But whether you feel that you have the gift of discernment or if you simply desire to mature, the necessary steps are the same.
1. Know the Father & His Words —
This is the step that a lot of people want to skip but it’s the most important. If you desire to grow in discernment, then you have to know God, His heart, His Word, His laws. That means that you have to read your Bible – all of it – and accept all of it as truth. If you have questions, ask. If you need more clarification, seek assistance from a trusted, Godly person.
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17
2. Connect with Maturity —
If you think you have the gift of discernment, talk to you Pastor and find a mentor. If you simply desire to grow in discernment, talk to your Pastor and find a mentor. Mentorship is demonstrated time and time again in Scripture. Elijah mentored Elisha. Moses mentored Joshua. Jesus mentored the disciples. Paul mentored Timothy. A mentor should be of Godly character and demonstrate a strong level of discernment.
With your mentor and Pastor, discuss your desire for growth. Ask your potential mentor to walk with you. If they decline, find someone else. It is important for what is discerned to be tested if it’s to be shared and a mentor is there for you to talk with and to correct you if you have discerned wrong.
Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh was is said. 1 Corinthians 14:29
3. Submit to Authority —
Submission can be difficult, especially when those in authority don’t seem to have the same level of discernment as you. Whether it’s a husband, board member, pastor, or President, submission is a Biblical concept. When we begin to overstep God’s commands, pride begins to take root and pride is a killer of discernment. They will have to give an account to God — not you.
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. Hebrews 13:17
4. Check Yourself —
Discernment is not intuition or based upon interpreting subtle signs. Discernment is from God and God alone. With every experience, test yourself. Where did the thought or feeling come from?
It’s important to have an active prayer life so that you know how the Holy Spirit speaks in your own life. Don’t just assume that something is supernatural simply because someone didn’t say it aloud. Early on, ask God in every situation to clarify if that was discernment or you. Later, you won’t need to ask as often because you’ll simply know the difference between you and God.
The heart is deceitful about all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it. Jeremiah 17:9
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:2
5. Develop & Persevere
Something that helped me — I found people also seeking to develop in discernment and we had a prayer night. We didn’t ask questions but we prayed for each other and followed the leading the Holy Spirit. We had to practice discernment to know what we should pray. As I’ve grown, there are times when I am praying for a stranger and they think it strange that I know exactly what to pray for. It’s a testimony to God.
However, there will be times when things are foggy or unclear. Don’t quit. Spend more time with God. Talk to your mentor. Check yourself and you submission to those in authority. Even then, things may seems slow. That’s okay – it may just be a time designed by God to grow you. Continue to seek discernment and listen for the leading of the Holy Spirit.
For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. Hebrews 10:36
Discernment does not come overnight. It will take work. However, the reward of deeper intimacy with God is so worth it. These steps may look a little different in your daily application but that’s okay. All of them are grounded in Scripture and a good place to start!