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A Most Essential Gift: Discerning of Spirits

by Kara Sensenig on August 11, 2020

A Most Essential Gift: Discerning of Spirits

The Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons. (1 Timothy 4:1, NASB)

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God. (1 John 4:1, NASB)

The gift of discerning of spirits is one of the most needed gifts in the Body of Christ today. Jesus's mandate that we become "wise as serpents and harmless as doves" (Matthew 10:16) implies that we must develop supernatural discernment, the ability to detect motivation and the spirits that motivate. The gift of discerning of spirits will become increasingly important as we approach the end of this age because deception will be the hallmark of these perilous times.

How It Operates

The Apostle Paul wrote, “the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all: for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit . . . to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits.” 1 Corinthians 12:7-10, NKJV

The spiritual gift of discerning of spirits has the ability to aid the church, set people free, protect the integrity of what God is doing, and help us overcome in spiritual warfare. Discerning of spirits operates a bit like a Geiger counter that measures radiation; it is a spiritual detection system that measures spiritual realities not apparent to the natural senses. It is the God-given ability or enablement to recognize the source of spirits—whether they come from the Holy Spirit, angelic spirits, demonic spirits, or individual human spirits--which are behind different manifestations or activities. It is not natural discernment. Many people are by nature very perceptive or discerning, but that is not the same as the spiritual gift of discerning of spirits.

I have found that the gift of discerning of spirits is often interwoven with other manifestation gifts. For example, a believer operating in discerning of spirits may be simultaneously aware of the presence of a demon, know what to do about the situation, and begin to command it to come out of the person. Receiving the information about the demon and knowing what to do with it is similar to – and interwoven with – a word of knowledge and a word of wisdom, while casting out the demon can be in the category of working a miracle (Mark 9:38 and 39) or healing (Acts 4:16).

Not all revelation comes from God, and certainly not everything that appears spiritual is from the Holy Spirit. When we have an insight about what is taking place in the spiritual realm, our first response should always be prayer. This is as simple as dialoging with the Holy Spirit to ask him if whatever is happening is from him or another source. Sometimes the gift of discernment is a “knowing” that can feel similar to a gut instinct – but it does not originate with us. It can often be a warning from God. If we sense pride, perversion, occultism, or any other form of evil, our spirits will grow uncomfortable. We may not know exactly what is wrong with a person or his or her message, but we will sense danger and recognize the warning to be on guard.

In my experience the Holy Spirit will often give a warning dream in preparation for what is coming. Recently I had a dream in which I was resting comfortably in a large chair when a giant rat appeared and leaped toward me causing me to flinch and wake up. Within a week I found myself in a difficult relational situation that came at me like that rat – symbolically, rats come to betray, steal, and destroy. In this case (because of the dream) I was alerted and better prepared to deal with the enemy’s scheme.

The gift of discerning of spirits is not the gift of suspicion or judgment. Insights and perceptions should never be used to gossip or defame another person. This gift, like the other gifts of the Spirit, are always for edification and building up the Body of Christ. As you can imagine, the gift of discerning of spirits has great potential; therefore, it is crucial to use wisdom while exercising it. To keep from learning everything the hard way (and potentially doing damage), obtain wisdom by consulting others who have greater experience. It is vital, and a matter of protection for others and ourselves, that we operate in the gift of discernment with accountability and under God-given leadership.

There is a misconception that discernment has to do primarily with seeing what’s happening in the demonic realm. But the highest and best use of the gift of discernment is to see what God is doing. So when you perceive the enemy is at work, you can go back to God and ask him, “Father, what are YOU up to?” As His children, we get to partner in his purposes!

How to Grow in the Gift of Discernment

  1. True discernment is birthed out of intimacy with the Father. As we get to know our Father intimately, we gain first-hand experience of his love and can more readily recognize when he’s at work and understand what he’s doing. Sensitivity to the Holy Spirit will produce clarity to discern among the voices vying for our attention. Spending time in worship, in the Word, in his presence, and learning to listen for his direction will cause all of your gifts to soar.

  2. Praying in the Spirit – using your personal prayer language – is a practical way to increase your ability to hear God’s voice and intensify your connection with the Holy Spirit who lives inside of you.

  3. We can also grow in discernment by surrendering our five natural senses to the Holy Spirit and practicing discerning good from evil(see Hebrews 5:14). This gift, like all of the gifts of the Spirit, can be cultivated as you spend time dialoguing with the Holy Spirit about what is happening in your everyday life. He will guide you as you keep an ongoing conversation with Him.

  4. Use it! Don’t hold back. Even if you are just starting out, God can use you powerfully. If you discern warfare or sense a warning, remember that God’s heart is always to redeem and restore. If you’re praying by yourself or in a small group, as He reveals things – good or bad – ask him what He’s up to and then begin to pray in alignment with what you sense he’s showing you.

  5. Another effective way to grow in this gift is by asking for it! You can start by regularly praying Ephesians 1:18-19 over yourself and ask the Holy Spirit to release this reality in your life.

I pray that the eyes of [my] heart may be enlightened, so that [I] will know what is the hope of his calling, what are the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of his power toward us who believe. (Ephesians 1:18-19, NASB).


Father, I pray that you would open my spiritual eyes and ears to see and hear! I want to know you more. Help me to be like Jesus, to see as You see in every situation. Please give me an understanding heart and a greater sensitivity to Your ways. Help me to distinguish between the truth and lies. Help me to discern between Your voice and the enemy’s voice. I pray that Your gentle warnings would be louder than the enemy’s empty threats. Increase my desire for Your Word so I will crave Your instruction, guidance, and wisdom.

In Jesus' name, I ask for an increase of the gift of discerning of spirit. Enable me to know the movement of the Holy Spirit, to detect angels, to displace demons, and to discern the inner motivations of the hearts of men and women.

Holy Spirit, empower me to discern, and to speak words of life that bring healing, freedom and transformation. Help me to become so tuned to what is on Your heart, that when people encounter me, they encounter Jesus. In Jesus’ name, amen.


Tags: holy spirit, demons, gift, guidance, detect, wise, discernment, warning, spirits, god's voice, sensitivity, occultism

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