“Seeing is never believing: we interpret what we see in the light of what we believe. Faith is confidence in God before you see God emerging, therefore the nature of faith is that it must be tried.” —Oswald Chambers (1874-1917) (Featured in: Oswald Chambers Quotes; quote source here.)
I read the above quote in a devotion this morning titled, “Sight Unseen,” in Our Daily Bread, which led me on a Google search for other articles on the topic of being able to “see the unseen” (which is at the heart of believing faith). One of the links lead not only to the picture I have used at the top of this blog post, but also to an article that opens with a story that illustrates the nature of “seeing the unseen” through the eyes of a seven-year-old girl. The article was published on April 16, 2018, titled, “Seeing the Unseen,” by Lynn M. Miller, minister of families and children for The Church at Liberty Square, and a contributor on Evangel Magazine. She writes:
Several years ago, a friend and I were chatting in a church lobby after morning worship. Her 7-year-old daughter, who had been quietly standing beside her, immediately took her hand as a man walked over to speak with us. The conversation with the man was short and pleasant as we discussed how anointed the service had been that day. He didn’t pay any attention to the girl nor glance in her direction.
As soon as the man walked away, the usually shy girl loudly said, “That is a bad man!”
Her mother and I were stunned, and she quickly chastised her daughter for saying such a thing. Two weeks later, that man was arrested on multiple counts of child molestation!
That was the first time I experienced the spiritual gift of discernment displayed so clearly. Since then, I have seen the “discerning of spirits” (1 Cor. 12:10) manifested through other children as well as through seasoned leaders, and I have learned two truths:
- Those who are entrusted with the gift of discernment must be bold enough to speak up in order for it to edify the body of Christ.
- It is imperative that those who hear the words of discernment heed the words and take the appropriate action.
The young girl in the church lobby was bold enough to speak up about what she knew to be true. But her mother and I were not willing to “hear” the words of discernment coming from her and take appropriate action. Instead, we corrected the very one who was speaking with the voice of the Father.
Both boldness on the discerner’s part and obedience on the hearers’ part is required for this gift to function in a manner that will help keep holiness as the standard in the church.
What would have occurred if, prior to the “bad man’s” arrest, I had recruited him for children’s ministry? Back in the early ’90s, most churches didn’t require background checks (like we do today) before placing people in ministry. However, even if we had checked this man’s background, it would have come back clear since he had not yet been arrested. But then came his first-time arrest on multiple charges of child abuse! I shudder to think of the outcome of that local church if we had placed that man in children’s ministry.
Seeing how critical the gift of discernment is within the body of Christ created a new course of action for me. I began recruiting individuals for ministry positions in a different way. Although I did not have the gift of discernment working in my life like the young girl did, I wasn’t ignorant: I began praying for the gift. Until discernment was manifested in my life, each new ministry recruit was introduced to my favorite 7-year-old girl! We also immediately began doing background checks at the sheriff’s office.
Revealing the Hidden
The spiritual gift of discernment is different from the everyday action of discerning a matter. Normal discernment perceives the obscure elements of a situation and finds ways to resolve it. The gift of discernment reveals not only those elements that are obscure, but also those hidden from our natural viewpoint. The gift of discernment allows us to view a matter with supernatural ability and speak with authority concerning it. The God from whom “nothing in all creation is hidden” (Heb. 4:13 NIV) reveals unseen reality through this gift.
The gift of discernment can help the bride of Christ remain pure and ready for His coming. Discernment has been given for this very reason. It helps the church distinguish the demonic from the holy. Let’s consider two examples from the Scriptures.
- In Matthew 16:21-23, Jesus discerned that Peter had worldly intentions in his heart rather than godly gain. When Peter reprimanded the Son of God for mentioning His forthcoming suffering and death, Jesus’ discernment prompted a stern rebuke. He called Peter “Satan” and instructed him to get out of the way so God’s will could be done.
- In Acts 16:16-18, as a young girl was proclaiming loudly that Paul and Silas were sent from “the most high God,” Paul turned and spoke directly to the demon who possessed her, commanding it to come out of her. Why did Paul stop a young girl from speaking when she was telling the truth about his mission in her town? Because Paul discerned that the spirit in her was not of God. Her true words in this situation might cause others to believe the false words of fortune-telling.
Encouraging discernment as an active gift in the body of Christ is risky because our cultural norms do not allow us to identify an individual’s struggles as wrong. Yet, when one discerns a person’s motive is detrimental to the church, it is imperative that the person with discernment speak boldly. Then the church must listen and respond in a way that brings holiness into the situation. Doing so will set the church apart from the world and allow those who are speaking the truth (through the gifts of teaching, preaching, and prophecy) to be heard without the confusion of conflicting messages.
Seeing the Heart
Whether it’s being an usher or a greeter, singing on a praise team, or ministering in the nursery, every church needs members who will serve. When searching for the right church members to be released into ministry, the gift of discernment is a huge blessing.
Understanding the difference between discernment and the gift of discerning of spirits is key in ministry placement. For example: When you are speaking to a new church member who wants to become more involved in ministry and they begin describing issues of division they experienced at their previous church, you can use natural discernment to help you understand that this person is going to carry the repercussions (lack of trust, resentment, and misperceptions) of their previous issues into any new ministry placement. Thus, the new member should be placed with care and watched closely for signs of developing division.
However, if while speaking with a new member about their previous church involvement and they are only positive, never mentioning any struggles with their previous congregation, yet you are given a clear inclination that they are going to cause division at your church, that is likely the supernatural gift of discernment at work. Proverbs 6:16-19 reveals how God feels about dissension in the church, while Revelation 2:2 shows the good result of those who have discernment and put it into action.
Activating the Gift
In Matthew 7, Jesus speaks clearly about the gift of discernment. Jesus teaches us to ask the heavenly Father for help in understanding the difference between (a) being judgmental of those who are practicing God’s Word but sometimes struggle to do right and (b) taking action against those who are false prophets.
I can think of no better time for discerning of spirits to be fully functioning within our churches than now. Pray God will activate this gift in your church. Ask the Father to give boldness to those who possess it, no matter their age or status, and receptive hearts to those who hear it and need to act accordingly. (Quote source here.)
I read another article that is about a ten-minute read, and it’s too long to quote in my blog post, but I want to steer you to it in case you might be interested in reading it. This article was published on September 11, 2020, and it is titled, “What is Spiritual Warfare and How Do I Do It?” by Steven Molloy, Onsite Groups Director at Crossroads Church, who describes himself as a “Jesus freak. Frequent Office quoter. Cheap beer enthusiast. Dad x five. Married to the best lady on earth.” He opens his article with the following:
Ever felt like no matter what you say or do—something is out to get you?
Yeah, me too. Well, I don’t know if this is comforting or not, but you’re not crazy. Something actually is out to get you.
Whether or not you believe in God, stick with me because this might explain a lot. There’s a concept in the Bible called spiritual warfare. No, it isn’t the horror section on Netflix. Spiritual warfare is something you bump into every day.
- It’s the feeling of rejection you felt from your wife/girlfriend.
- It’s grabbing the beer that was one too many.
- It’s the pull to visit the porn site you promised yourself you’d never use again.
- It’s the fear of something bad happening that wakes you up night after night.
The good news is that you aren’t helpless against it. With God, you can do something about it.
So, what is spiritual warfare? I know it sounds crazy, but the Bible tells us there is a cosmic war happening, and we are the battlefield.
God wants us to follow Him, but there is an enemy (the devil) who is doing everything he can to make us choose anything else but God. It goes so far as to say the enemy seeks to steal, kill, and destroy us (John 10:10). He’s got more than a few reps in and has a solid playbook.
Now let’s be clear, I’m not saying every bad thing happening in your life is a supernatural attack, but there is an enemy working against us (1 Peter 5:8). So, here’s a simple “Spiritual Warfare 101” to lean into God and the tools he gives us to know how to handle it when the enemy strikes…. (Quote source and the rest of his article are available at this link.)
Now would be a good time to mention that in case there are some folks reading this blog post who think that religious beliefs and this “spiritual warfare” stuff are the stuff of pathology, the American Psychological Association, in an article titled, “A Reason to Believe,” by Beth Azar, a contributor, opens her article with the following:
Religion may fill the human need for finding meaning, sparing us from existential angst while also supporting social organization, researchers say.
Harking back to Sigmund Freud, some psychologists have characterized religious beliefs as pathological, seeing religion as a malignant social force that encourages irrational thoughts and ritualistic behaviors.
Of course, psychologists’ doubts—and those of countless others throughout history—haven’t curtailed religion’s powerful hold on humans. Religion has survived and thrived for more than 100,000 years. It exists in every culture, with more than 85 percent of the world’s population embracing some sort of religious belief.
Researchers who study the psychology and neuroscience of religion are helping to explain why such beliefs are so enduring. They’re finding that religion may, in fact, be a byproduct of the way our brains work, growing from cognitive tendencies to seek order from chaos, to anthropomorphize our environment and to believe the world around us was created for our use.
Religion has survived, they surmise, because it helped us form increasingly larger social groups, held together by common beliefs.
“If we’re on the right track with this byproduct idea—and the findings are really getting strong—it’s hard to then build the case that religion is a pathology,” says psychologist Justin Barrett, PhD, director of the cognition, religion and theology project in the Centre for Anthropology and Mind at Oxford University…. (Quote source and the rest of her article are available here.)
Back to the topic at hand. For those of us who adhere to a Christian worldview, spiritual warfare is a very real thing. So let’s take a look at what the Bible has to say about spiritual warfare. GotQuestions.org provides the following information:
There are two primary errors when it comes to spiritual warfare—over-emphasis and under-emphasis. Some blame every sin, every conflict, and every problem on demons that need to be cast out. Others completely ignore the spiritual realm and the fact that the Bible tells us our battle is against spiritual powers. The key to successful spiritual warfare is finding the biblical balance. Jesus sometimes cast demons out of people; other times He healed people with no mention of the demonic. The apostle Paul instructs Christians to wage war against the sin in themselves (Romans 6) and warns us to oppose the schemes of the devil (Ephesians 6:10–18).
Ephesians 6:10–12 says, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” This text teaches some crucial truths: we can only stand strong in the Lord’s power, it is God’s armor that protects us, and our battle is ultimately against spiritual forces of evil in the world.
Ephesians 6:13–18 is a description of the spiritual armor God gives us. We are to stand firm with the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, the sword of the Spirit, and by praying in the Spirit. What do these pieces of spiritual armor represent in spiritual warfare? We are to know the truth, believe the truth, and speak the truth. We are to rest in the fact that we are declared righteous because of Christ’s sacrifice for us. We are to proclaim the gospel no matter how much resistance we face. We are not to waver in our faith, trusting God’s promises no matter how strongly we are attacked. Our ultimate defense is the assurance we have of our salvation, an assurance that no spiritual force can take away. Our offensive weapon is the Word of God, not our own opinions and feelings. And we are to pray in the power and will of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus is our ultimate example of resisting temptation in spiritual warfare. Observe how Jesus handled direct attacks from Satan when He was tempted in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1–11). Each temptation was combatted with the words “it is written.” The Word of the living God is the most powerful weapon against the temptations of the devil. “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11).
A word of caution concerning spiritual warfare is in order. The name of Jesus is not a magic incantation that causes demons to flee from before us. The seven sons of Sceva are an example of what can happen when people presume an authority they have not been given (Acts 19:13–16). Even Michael the archangel did not rebuke Satan in his own power but said, “The Lord rebuke you!” (Jude 1:9). When we start talking to the devil, we run the risk of being led astray as Eve was (Genesis 3:1–7). Our focus should be on God, not demons; we speak to Him, not them.
In summary, what are the keys to success in spiritual warfare? We rely on God’s power, not our own. We put on the whole armor of God. We draw on the power of Scripture—the Word of God is the Spirit’s sword. We pray in perseverance and holiness, making our appeal to God. We stand firm (Ephesians 6:13–14); we submit to God; we resist the devil’s work (James 4:7), knowing that the Lord of hosts is our protector. “Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken” (Psalm 62:2). (Quote source here.)
I’ll end this post with the words found in Hebrews 11: 1-3, 6: Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for. By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible…. And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists…
And that he rewards those . . .
Who earnestly . . .
Seek him . . . .
YouTube Video: “What Faith Can Do” by Kutless: