Last week we talked about discerning other people’s discernment. If you have such an expectation for error in the church that you quickly latch on to slanderous reports and assume the worst of everybody, you are the one who is deceived! On the other hand, we must not dismiss genuine concerns in the church.
I promised to some of my thoughts for other people who, like me, have felt their stomach turn and felt like something was wrong, but didn’t know what to do. So here’s some of my experience with growing in discernment. Next week I’ll share my thoughts on how to apply it.
Encountering Holy Spirit Manifestations And Other Cultures
I began encountering some extreme reactions to the Holy Spirit’s work when I was 12 years old. These included things like people falling down, screaming, and laughing hysterically. I felt really uncomfortable in some of those meetings. At times I wasn’t sure if what was happening was God or not.
I soon experienced God’s touch in extreme ways as well. I felt God’s love all over me so strongly that my body started vibrating. Sometimes we feel uncomfortable, not because something is wrong, but because the Holy Spirit offends our pride. That had been the case with me. The bad feeling I experienced was actually due to the demonic oppression I’d been living with, which was being challenged by the work of the Holy Spirit.
In those early days, I also was exposed to several different church cultures, including inner city churches where the style was different and everybody loved rap. I was so blinded by religious pride that I wondered if there could be such a thing as Christian rap. I felt really uncomfortable in some of those meetings, but the discomfort I felt wasn’t true discernment. It was rooted in fear and prejudice. I had associated rap music with bad things.
I later met some Christian rappers who were so full of the Holy Spirit and God’s love that I realized how wrong I had been. Their music was powerful, full of life and loaded with scriptural truth. I got over my prejudice so much that I soon got into Spanish Christian rap and reggaeton!
Start With Thanksgiving For The Church!
Because of these early mistakes, I became really careful about making a presumptuous judgment just because of an “uncomfortable feeling” in a church. I learned to focus on what the Holy Spirit is doing everywhere I go and not to assume the worst. I learned to thank God for the church and have eyes to see what the Holy Spirit is doing in people around me. I also learned to appreciate and celebrate the diversity of the church.
Discernment has to be rooted in this attitude. The prevalence of slanderous accusations which we discussed last week comes from an unhealthy obsession with evil. It comes from giving more worth-ship to Satan and his work than to God and what the Holy Spirit is doing in the church. On the contrary, consider the Apostle Paul’s attitude:
1 Thessalonians 1:2 (NIV) We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers.
Philippians 1:3 (NIV) I thank my God every time I remember you.
Paul was so full of faith and focused on the work of the Holy Spirit in the church that he celebrated what God was doing among the Corinthians—even though they had major problems with immaturity and immorality! If you read the book of First Corinthians, you’ll see that even though Paul strongly rebuked them he continued to put more focus on what the Holy Spirit was doing among them than on what was wrong! The beginning of First Corinthians is loaded with encouragement and thanksgiving for the Holy Spirit’s work among the Corinthians.
The “gift of discernment” does include discerning when something is wrong. Even so, it’s probably more about discerning what the Holy Spirit is doing than it is about discerning what is wrong. If you have little idea of what the Holy Spirit is doing but you see evil everywhere, your discernment has been distorted.
The “gift of discernment” is about discerning angels and not just evil spirits. It can also be about discerning good or evil in a person’s character. If you aren’t in a place of thanksgiving for the church, your “lens” of discernment is colored, distorting your perception. We want to be in a place where a river of God’s love and of thanksgiving for the church is pouring through our hearts. We should be so aware of what God is doing in the church that we are bursting with excitement. When our hearts are in that place and we suddenly feel disturbed about something, then it’s more likely that we’re actually picking up on a problem to be dealt with and aren’t just operating in the counterfeit “gift” of suspicion.
Let’s walk in faith that the Holy Spirit is able to present a spotless and blameless bride to Jesus! As we noted last week, solid discernment is rooted in holding fast to what is good, not just trying to find what’s wrong.
“I Didn’t Know This Guy Was The Pastor”
I learned to walk in thanksgiving for the church and became really careful to not assume the worst when I had a “bad feeling” somewhere. I realized that “bad feeling” could sometimes be me, and not actually an indication that anything was wrong. But then I started to realize how many times that “feeling” was turning out to be right. I had needed to get rid of the negative lens I was looking through before I could really start to discern better. Once I got rid of that negative lens, I realized that I was often picking up on something with my spiritual senses when I got that “bad feeling.”
For example, there was one place I’d visited with my family where the people were really friendly. The church service lasted three or four hours. For some reason, I couldn’t stand it in there.
I later found out that the pastor had been exposed as a serial adulterer. He’d fathered children with various women all over the city, cheating on his wife. I’ve had other similar experiences since. Something felt terribly wrong, and the something like this was uncovered.
On another occasion, I was with a church planter in Latin America. For the first few days I stayed with a family I’d never met before.
I loved this family. They were kind to me. But when I found out that the father was “the pastor” who the church planter had appointed over the church, I was surprised! It wasn’t that I had anything against him at all, but I just had assumed that he was unsaved. And there was another guy in that church whom I’d assumed was the pastor there. His love for the Lord and for people was evident. Even so, I chose to assume the best about this man whom I found out was the pastor even though I hadn’t even thought he knew Jesus.
About three months later, that pastor started an argument over a petty matter in the church that resulted in about half the people leaving. He also got angry because he wasn’t getting enough money from the church. He left, spreading lies and slander about that group and stirring up a lot of trouble.
Who was left to lead? The church planter appointed the man whom I’d originally assumed was the pastor! He hadn’t thought this guy was qualified enough for some reason to take that leadership role. But he hadn’t realized that this guy had a love for Christ and for the church that the other guy didn’t.
Note that in this story, discernment didn’t only involve discerning that the current leader had selfish motivations. It also involved discerning who was walking in a heart of love for the church and was going to build them up.
How Do We Deal With This Stuff?
So what do you do if you know you’re walking in love and thanksgiving for the church, yet your stomach turns and you feel like something is terribly wrong? What if you’re not sure what it might be that’s wrong? Do you talk about it? Do you just pray? I’ll share more of my thoughts and experiences next week in What To Do If You Discern Something’s Wrong.