The Still Small Voice

The Power of Discernment


Chapter Six, Part One

To discern means ‘To perceive or recognize clearly.’
It is a crucial gift for the Body of Christ to grow in.
Many claim to be filled with the Holy Spirit,
but how many of us are really moving in
the power of Spirit-led discernment?

The Power of Discernment

The Lord Jesus does not look at the things man looks at.
Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. (1 Samuel 16:1, 7-12)

Be honest in your judgment and do not decide at a glance (superficially and by appearances); but judge fairly and righteously. (John 7:24 Amp)

In The Genesee Diary, Henri Nouwen[1] describes a type of bird that fools people into thinking they are injured in order to draw their attention away from the eggs they have laid in open sandy places. ‘Beautiful!’ Nouwen exclaims, ‘neurosis as a weapon! How often I have asked pity for a very unreal problem in order to draw people’s attention away from what I didn’t want them to see!’

Can we honestly say that we have never done anything like this? Discerning people can see through our duplicity as easily as when children playing hide-and-seek cover their eyes and suppose they cannot be seen – even when they have left their butts sticking out behind an item of furniture!

There is such a need to pray for the spirit of discernment in this day of fake news and unsubstantiated claims – very much including those made by believers as well as those ‘out there’ in the world. Like Jesus, we are called to a level of discernment that goes far beyond what we see or hear with our natural eyes and ears.

In search of the person God was looking to anoint to be Israel’s king, Samuel sensed no answering call from Heaven when he met Jesse’s eminently suitable sons. Greatly to his credit he had the wisdom and the determination to make the further enquiries that finally led him to the youngest of them all. David may have been outwardly less attractive and imposing than the others, but he was the one whom the Lord had set His sights on.

To discern means ‘To perceive or recognize clearly.’ It is a crucial gift for the Body of Christ to grow in. Many claim to be filled with the Holy Spirit, but how many of us are really moving in the power of Spirit-led discernment?

The need for discernment is so pressing that we are going to devote an extended chapter to considering ways in which we can train ourselves to develop this important gift.

Handling Discernment

We are not called into action every time Goliath shouts, but when God summons us.

If Goliath shouts and I come running every time, he’ll laugh – and I risk getting my skull cracked. (S.J.Pigott)

When the truly discerning people meet someone, they pick up quickly not just on their strengths, weaknesses, hurts and oddities but also on their potential. It is at this point that they need wisdom to know what to do with what they have discerned. Should they just pass on an encouraging words and just commit that person on their onward journey to the Lord? Or should they pause to take time to nurture them, and to impart fresh spiritual blessings? Or direct them to people and material that will help develop their latent gifts?

We can see how swiftly what begins as a personal moment of illumination may pass into a weightier obligation. Perhaps it is the subliminal awareness that listening to the Lord may entail further commitment that explains why relatively few ever develop this precious ministry to any great extent. To say nothing of the suffering we endure as we pick up on inauthentic words and sense unbroken attitudes intruding where grace and kindness should be flowing.

As we become more familiar with the Lord’s heart, and better acquainted with the dynamics of human relationships, it is only too easy to notice the pride in this worship leader, or the ‘religious’ voice which that preacher puts on. Not to mention the self-centeredness or the uncleanness that positively emanates from someone else. (Although some of us wrap ourselves up in knots at this point, fearing we are in danger of being judgmental rather than genuinely discerning).

We are certainly not called to use the gift of discernment as a weapon to expose, control or belittle anyone. Seeing something clearly is not, in itself, a license from the Lord to confront unless He so commands. There is a time for holding what we have perceived before the Lord until He shows us what to do. There is nothing unusual in the example of one Norwegian minister I know, who, having discerned a serious controlling spirit at work in a church leader in Russia, waited until his third trip to his church before challenging him. Good for him!

There is another reason why the gift of discernment does not exactly top the popularity polls. Well aware that their deepest-laid plans risk being exposed, the powers of darkness seek to subject the spiritually discerning to wave after wave of particularly acute and discouraging attacks. The last thing they want is for truth to be told and people to repent.

These attacks sometimes take the form of full-frontal attacks, but since these often lead to people recognising what is going on and putting the guard up, have you noticed how the assaults usually come instead in more subtle ways, often being directed against those areas in which we are most gifted. In other words, if the powers of darkness can neutralize our strengths and sensitivities – or even turn them against us – we will be drawn into battles we were never meant to fight, very much along the ‘Goliath’ lines mentioned in the starting quotation for this section. The inevitable result of being involved in battles we were never meant to fight is that we end up becoming weary and discouraged.

If the Lord is not calling us into action, we are wiser to pray and hold our peace – like the psychologist in the British sit-com Fawlty Towers, who, seeing Basil, the hotel manager, behaving in a particularly bizarre way walks straight past him, declaring firmly, ‘I’m off duty!’

What is right for one occasion is precisely what would be wrong on another. We must be equally as ready to spring into action when the Lord does summon us – allowing no fear of man to hold us back.

For Reflection and Prayer

Grant us the discernment we need, Lord, for each situation that we face,
and then the right spirit as well as the right opportunities to warn or encourage people
along the lines that You have shown us.

Keep us from coming under the influence of any strong or controlling spirits that are involved in the situation, and enable us to bring true and living words that cut straight through to the heart of the matter.

In Jesus’ name, Amen.


1 Henri Nouwen The Genesee Diary (Darton Longman & Todd Ltd) p.108