Prayer For Spiritual Discernment
9. Spiritual Discernment
Second Missionary Journey A.D. 50-52
Paul was a man with a plan. After revisiting the churches established in his first missionary journey he would head into the province of Asia (Asia Minor), then into Bithynia.
But Paul discerned that the Holy Spirit had clearly closed these two doors and was, instead, sending him westward across the Aegean to Greece.
Paul was willing to lay aside his will, as Jesus had done for the Father (Luke 22:42), and be guided by the Spirit.
The Holy Spirit continued to lead Paul and Silas on quite a journey to encourage the early church and to spread the good news of Jesus Christ.
However, even in the midst of God performing amazing miracles through them, they encountered brutal resistance to the gospel message. Yet God worked through their suffering, drawing people to Himself and changing lives forever.
Paul and Silas, empowered by the Holy Spirit, carried out their mission in amazing ways as churches were “strengthened in the faith, and increased in number daily” (Acts 16:5).Through the Holy Spirit we can know peace and joy even in the toughest of circumstances. If you will allow Him, God will continually present you with open doors for ministry in your sphere of influence regardless of your circumstances. Will you choose to journey with Him, Paul and Silas did?
“Discernment is a discipline, and other disciplines such as prayer and reading the Bible, it is one that all Christians should seek to practice and should seek to practice deliberately.” (Tim Challies, The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment, p. 15)
Read Acts 16:1-40 in one sitting to get the whole picture. As you do, read it thoughtfully—as a love letter. Pray that God would open your heart to the truths He has for you from this text.
Follow Paul’s second missionary journey with this map.
Read Acts 16:1-5
1. Describe Timothy. What was the reasoning behind his circumcision? How does this not contradict the message in Acts 15? Was this a wise move? Explain. See also 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 and Galatians 2:3 (for a different situation).
Deeper Discoveries: Timothy was probably in his late teens. Other teens such as David, Daniel, and Joseph served the Lord mightily in the Old Testament.
What qualities of teens do you think make them particularly useful to God’s work? How can this knowledge help you in dealing with the Christian youth of today? See the advice given by Paul to Timothy as a young pastor 13 years later in 1 Timothy 4:12-16.
2. What message did the three proclaim in the churches of Derbe, Lystra, and Iconium?
Think About It: Two to three years earlier, Paul had been badly mistreated in this area, even stoned in Lystra. Yet, he returns. What gave him the courage to return? Would you have had the courage to return?
Read Acts 16:6-10
3. Discovering the Facts: What role did the Holy Spirit play in directing Paul’s ministry to Troas?
Scriptural insight: These hindrances may have been circumstances, a word of prophecy, a vision, or some other phenomenon. God planned for people in both Ephesus and Bithynia to hear the gospel later (18:19-19:41; 1 Peter The Bible Knowledge Commentary, p. 398)
4. Share Your Life: Have there been times when God has intervened in your life to prevent you from going somewhere you wanted to go or doing something you thought you should do? What were the issues? What was your response? What were the results?
5. Share Your Life: God literally called Paul to a specific ministry in a specific place through a vision.
You may have heard missionaries tell their story about God’s calling for them to go somewhere specifically in the world.
God is still calling Christians to missionary service in His name, but sometimes it’s difficult to hear His voice amid the clamor of other “voices” in our culture.
§ What are these other “voices?”
§ Are you willing to be adventurous for the Lord—to go anywhere and do anything the Lord wants you to do? If God would call you to missionary service, even locally, would you be willing to go / serve? Share with your group.
Think About It: We often learn about life and discern our life path / actions in the wrong way.
It isn’t the long-term accumulation of knowledge; it’s how obedient to God we are with the information we can immediately discern.
God would rather I have understanding of 2 verses that I obey immediately than 20 verses that I don’t. Obedience is the key to discernment. It’s not “capture and remember;” it’s “hear and obey.” (Chip Ingram)
Deeper Discoveries: Examine these other references to God’s calling on a man’s life. When, where, why were they called, and how did each respond?
§ Isaiah 6:1-8 —
§ Acts 9:3-6; 15-16; 26:12-19 —
§ Jeremiah 1:4-5 —
Read Acts 16:11-15
Deeper Discoveries: Using a Bible Dictionary, study notes, or an internet search, discover the city of Philippi as Paul knew it. What was life there?
6. Discovering the Facts: What was Paul looking for in verse 13? Why? What did he find instead? What is known about Lydia?
Historical insight: “Inscribed on the arches outside the city of Philippi was a prohibition against bringing an unrecognized religion into the city; therefore, this prayer meeting was held outside the city, beside the river.” (Life Application Study Bible, p. 1992)
Deeper Discoveries: In Acts 16:14, the Lord opened Lydia’s heart to respond to Paul’s message. She was already a worshipper of God. What does this verse reveal about the Lord’s work on a heart that is already leaning toward Him? Support your answer with scripture.
Read Acts 16:16-40
7. Summarize the events in vv. 16-24.
Historical insight: Her “spirit”, a “python”, was a demonic spirit associated with a mythical snake worshipped at Delphi that supposedly could tell the future. Such persons spoke involuntarily, so the term “ventriloquist” was used to describe them. (NIV Study Bible, p. 1678)
8. The declarations of the slave girl were true, so why do you think Paul became so troubled by what she was doing?
9. Contrast the real reason Paul and Silas were seized (v. 19) with the expressed reason (vv. 20-21). You will see this again in Lesson 12.
10. Contrast the experiences of Paul and Silas in vv. 22-24 with their response in vv. 25-28. Why do you think they were singing and praying that? Read Ephesians 5:18b-20 and Psalm 42:8. Who enabled them to do so? Who was benefited by their doing so?
Think About It: This is one of three beatings and several imprisonments Paul referred to in 2 Corinthians 11:23-25. Yet, in 2 Corinthians 4:17, he calls them “light and momentary troubles.” Could you?11. Share Your Life: How does their response to difficult circumstances impact you? Who enables you to respond the same way? Have you experienced this yet? What happened? If not, are you willing to trust the Holy Spirit to do this in your life the next time you face difficult circumstances? Share with your group.
12. What was the jailer’s response to all that he had witnessed (v. 27-30)? How was his home impacted by this event? What do vv. 33-34 reveal to you about the immediate work of the Holy Spirit in his life?
13. Share Your Life: In v. 29 the jailer asks, “What must I do to be saved?” What is the “good news” message of 16:31? Do you have a plan to share the gospel with others? How would you respond if someone asked you the same or a similar question? Include Scripture references.
Deeper Discoveries: In Acts 16, members of both Lydia’s and the jailer’s households were saved and baptized along with them (vv. 15, 32, 34 after hearing the gospel).
See also Acts 10:24, 33, 44; 18:8, Romans 16:10-11, and 1 Corinthians 1:16. Research Greek or Near Eastern culture during this time period, especially the meaning of “household.
” Does history give us any clue regarding the reason the households so quickly followed their masters in believing the gospel for themselves?
14. When word came of their release from prison, Paul & Silas asserted that their rights had been violated and refused to leave. Why do you think they chose that moment to declare their Roman citizenship? Why were the magistrates alarmed? What did they do in response?
Think About It: In only two places in Acts was Paul harmed or threatened by Gentiles—in Philippi and in Ephesus (19:23-41). In both instances people were losing money in vested interests and in each case Paul was vindicated by a Roman official. (The Bible Knowledge Commentary, p. 401)
15. Lydia is portrayed in Acts 16:15, 40 as a hospitable woman. How did Lydia’s opening her home to Paul and his companions benefit them as well as other Philippians?
16. Share Your Life: How do you show hospitality? Could God reach others through the gift of hospitality in your life? Share with your group.
17. In this passage, Paul and Silas were keenly aware of the Spirit’s leading in their lives. Review the occasions when they exercised discernment about where to go, what to do, and what to say.18. Share Your Life: As Chip Ingram said in the “Think About It” box on page 77, “Obedience is the key to discernment.” Read the poem at right. Reflect on your own willingness to practice discernment as you follow the Spirit’s leading in your life.
Deeper Discoveries: Read Paul’s letter to the Philippians. What kind of relationship did Paul have with them? How did they encourage him as much as he did them?
Fired Up And Ready For Adventure:
Review the scripture passage covered in this lesson for evidences of the guidance and empowering of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers. What will you ask God to do in your life?
8 Signs You May Have The Spiritual Gift of Discernment
The gift of discernment of spirits is the one spiritual gift that has continually presented the most difficulties and challenges to me personally.
In the early days of our ministry, my husband Malcolm (aka ‘the Hunk’) and I would often travel and stay in many places in Asia and throughout New Zealand. It seemed that no matter where we were, my intrepid husband could sail through any situation, but it was a different story for me.
- Staying in a place in Asia where strange spirits were worshipped? I would encounter them in my dreams.
- Ministering in a region or church where there were trials or strongholds? I felt them acutely.
We were often led to wage spiritual warfare or intercede through my sensitivity to the spiritual realm.
It took me many years to realize that my encounters with the spiritual realm were one of the signs that I had a gift of discerning of spirits.
Now, because of my journey, I to share what I have learned with others.
Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good… to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits…All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines. (1 Cor 12:7-11)
Discernment of spirits is a gift of the Holy Spirit given to some Christian believers. It is a Spirit-given ability to distinguish whether Divine, human or demonic origins are the source of what is presented—whether it be in an atmosphere, encounter, event, or prophetic message.
Following are some signs that you may have the spiritual gift of discernment, from my personal study, observation and experience. You may not identify with all of them, but if you do have the gift, you will recognise some of these in your life:
1. Desire for the Gift
As with other spiritual gifts, desire is often the first sign of a gift of discernment of spirits (1 Cor 14:1).
- You may have a longing to see people set free from demonic bondage.
- You may want to be more effective in prayer and spiritual warfare
- You may have a desire for holiness
- You may simply be curious about the spiritual realm.
2. Love for God’s Presence
One of the benefits and signs of having a gift of discernment of spirits is a heightened awareness of God’s Presence and anointing. A true discerner will have a passion for the un-grieved Presence of the Holy Spirit.
This is because—and I will continually reiterate this—the highest use of the gift of discernment is not to see what the enemy is doing, but to discern what the Spirit of God is doing.
3. Sensitivity to the Spiritual Atmosphere
You may be more sensitive to spiritual atmospheres than most other people. In the early stages of developing the gift, you may be affected adversely by the presence of any demonic activity in the environment around you.
The reality is that we live in a natural world and a spiritual world concurrently. In the Bible, when Jacob came across a group of angels, he named that place Mahanaim, meaning ‘double camp.’ (Gen 32:1-2)
Jacob realised, we also live in a double camp where there is constant spiritual activity, and discerners have spiritual senses that are attuned to this.
4. Feeling Different from Other People
Most people, even in church life, experience life through their natural senses. However, someone with an emerging gift of discernment of spirits can see and sense things that others do not see.
This ability can result in us feeling different, lonely or misunderstood at times, especially when starting out. It is vital that someone with a developing gift of discernment finds a safe place to journey with others who are similarly gifted and accountable in the life of their church.
5. Unusual Signs
It is not uncommon for someone who is gifted in discernment to experience unusual events or manifestations.
People who are incubating a discernment gift begin to see or feel things that others are not aware of. This may include unusual visions, dreams and sensations that alert them to what is happening in the spiritual realm.
6. Childhood or Pre-Salvation Signs
It is not uncommon to experience things relating to your gift even before becoming a Christian. Our creator-God prepares us for our calling and gifts from conception. Even when a talent or gift is misused, God can redeem it and anoint it for His use to serve Him and love and minister to others.
As a child I ‘saw’ things in the night and as a teenager was sensitive to the spiritual realm, sometimes encountering demonic spirits in my room or dreams. Later, as a fully committed Christian, God redeemed this spiritual sensitivity as a gift of discernment. I know Christians who have a gift of discernment who were drawn to New Age counterfeit gifts prior to becoming a Christian.
7. Ability to Know What Lies Behind a Person’s Words or Actions
Someone with a gift of discernment has the ability to see behind what a person is saying and presenting. You may know whether they are telling the truth or not. You may also recognise if someone is manifesting a demonic spirit and be able to identify what that spirit is.
If a prophetic or revelatory message is brought, a discerner can often tell whether it is anointed of the Spirit or from the speaker’s own heart.
This is not always the case, and as with other revelatory gifts such as prophecy, you will sometimes get it wrong or have incomplete discernment (1 Thess 5:19-21, 1 Cor 13:9-10)
8. Confirmation of the Discernment Gift by Others and Leaders
You may have the gift confirmed through a prophecy given to you. My gift of discernment was identified through prophecy twice (perhaps this was because I was reluctant to accept it!)
However, the bottom line of the presence of any gift is that it is recognised and acknowledged by leaders in the church and that it is useful for its purpose—which is to help build up the church and bring people closer to Jesus.
When you submit what you are seeing or sensing, your leaders confirm your accuracy and your gift begins to be recognised for its effectiveness.
Whenever a gift is used to criticise or tear down a church, person or leader, you know it is being misused, or is simply a person’s hurt, frustration or agenda masquerading as discernment.
Because these kinds of abuses are common and have brought disrepute to the gift of discernment, I will take some time over the next couple of posts to share how the gift of discernment can bring value to church life.
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The gift of discernment of spirits is a powerful weapon in times of spiritual warfare, and can be of great assistance when ministering freedom to individuals. And yet many who recognize they have signs of the gift of discernment, have difficulty knowing what to do with what they are feeling or sensing.
‘Unlocking The Gift Of Discernment’ incorporates wisdom from Enliven Blog as well as additional valuable material on how to be protected as a discerner in times of spiritual warfare.
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3 Levels of Discernment (and Signs of Each)
8 Ways To Grow Your Gift Of Discernment
© Helen Calder Enliven Blog – Prophetic Teaching
Enliven Ministries—in the David McCracken Ministries family.