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Have you ever had a conversation with another believer that made your spirit quiver? Maybe hearing about a relationship, lifestyle, or even a new philosophy or perspective gave you a sick feeling in your stomach. Did you think your internal response was an indication that you were critical, judgmental, or intolerant of that believer? Or could it be that you’ve been blessed with the gift of discernment? If you’ve ever thought, “What is a spirit of discernment?” you wouldn’t be the first to ask.

What is the gift of discernment?

In First Corinthians 12:10, Paul describes “distinguishing between spirits,” or “discerning of spirits”  in the NKJV, as a spiritual gift God gives to believers to recognize lying spirits and identify deceptive and erroneous doctrines. Paul warned when this gift of discernment is not being used in the church, the truth gets distorted. However, this gift of discernment is not something that is only exercised in a business church setting. In 1 John 4:1, believers were urged to “not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”

Today’s believers follow that instruction to test worldly philosophies, foreign doctrines, and even new perspectives and ideas from politicians, celebrities, community leaders, and even pastors and religious leaders. We have to test everything that comes through our television, radios, laptops, and phone screens.

Having the spirit of discernment means you can judge well. The English word “aesthetic” comes from the Greek word for discernment, meaning moral perception, insight, and the practical application of knowledge. Timothy 4:1 says, “The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons.” Thus, we are encouraged to “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ” (Colossians 2:8).

Where is the gift of discernment mentioned in the Bible?

In 1 Kings 3, when the Lord came to Solomon in a dream and asked him to name whatever he wanted, Solomon pleased God by asking for the spirit of discernment. In Kings 3:9, Solomon says, “So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and distinguish between right and wrong.”

Not only did God give Solomon a discerning and wise heart, but He also gave him something he didn’t ask for, wealth and honor, “so that in your lifetime, you will have no equal among kings,” detailed in 1 Kings 3:13. In the New Testament, Paul prayed that believers would have and use the spirit of discernment: In Philippians 1:9-10, he says, “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ.”

Paul realized if believers could discern what is best from what is just acceptable, they would be pure and blameless and stand apart from the rest of the world. The Apostle John also encouraged first-century Christians to use discernment because they could face deception if they weren’t founded in the truth. In 1 John 4:1, he says, “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”

How do I know if I have the gift of discernment?

The Bible suggests that if we are wise and walk in the ways of the Lord, our lives are testimony of a spirit of discernment. All spiritual gifts are abilities authorized and supported by the Holy Spirit and used to improve the church. If you have the advantage of insight, it isn’t demonstrated by your wisdom and savvy at work or your strong opinions that stand out among unbelievers. If it is a gift, it is given to you to uplift and encourage the body of Christ.

Are you someone who studies the Bible so you can have a discerning heart? Are you someone who pours over His teachings, so you know how to discern God’s truth to teach and apply it? Hebrews 5:14 says if we are mature in the word, we likely possess a spirit of discernment: “But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.”

How do I pray for discernment?

Since Solomon pleased God by asking for a wise and discerning heart, we should follow his example. We can pray for a spirit of discernment as the Psalmist did in Psalm 119:25, saying, “I am your servant; give me discernment that I may understand your statutes.”

When we ask God for discernment, we must ask for it in faith, as we would with anything else. We should also have the right motives when we ask for it. James 4:3 reminds us, “When you ask, you do not receive that you may spend what you get on your pleasures because you ask with wrong motives.”

If you ask God for anything, not believing God will give it to you, James 1:7 tells us that we “should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Also, if you ask so that you can use a spiritual superpower and look more spiritual than others, that isn’t pleasing to the Lord.

Instead, ask humbly, in faith, and with the motive of living a more holy life. God will hear you. You should also pray for a renewed mind and stronger yearning for God’s Word instead of worldly philosophies. Worldly philosophies will have you thinking about material things that don’t matter. However, by tapping into the gift of discernment, we can see what God wants for us. What He wants for us is always better than what we want for ourselves. The more you grow in your love for and knowledge of God’s Word, the more discerning you will be.

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