Discerning the Movements of the Spirit
Short confession: In case you hadn’t noticed it by now, I’m the type of guy people label as a Charismatic. I’m not the persuasive guy that can sell someone any type of car, but I am the Christian who believes the Holy Spirit still works in the life of believers.
Now, I’m not just the “raise-your-hands-during-worship” charismatic, I’m the charismatic they warn you about in Cessationist circles. I actually believe God does things like speak audibly and heal people. I believe at times we are to pray for the dead and see them raised (and I know people who have done it and seen people come back to life). Bottom line: I’ve seen the Holy Spirit do some amazing things that defy rational explanation.
It was in this type of environment that my mom was healed of cancer through a prophetic word. We immediately dedicated our lives to Jesus and joined the fellowship where this took place. That fellowship was highly geared towards experiencing the Spirit and during that decade there was a movement of the Holy Spirit that was very controversial, even among charismatics. This environment forced me to learn a very valuable lesson: We know whether the Holy Spirit is moving not based on what we see with our eyes, but by the fruit it produces.
Here’s the thing: Most people judge by what they see. If they like what they see, they accept it. If they don’t like what they see or don’t understand it, they criticize it. This is a huge problem, because the Holy Spirit has a way of constantly pushing us past our comfort zones. Your comfort or understanding of something is not a good barometer of whether Jesus is involved. Frequently, judging by our comfort or understanding will cause us to reject situations that God is inviting us into.
The reality is Jesus didn’t judge things this way. He actually taught us to judge a person and the ministry that flows from them by the effect that it had. He says in Matthew 7:15-20:“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.”
The fruit we are looking for is this: Does whatever is happening have the long term positive effect of causing people to follow Jesus? If it does and its not in rebellion to some clear scripture, you are probably dealing with something legitimately from the Spirit. If it doesn’t, then you’re dealing at best with something of the flesh and at worst something demonic. You can then respond accordingly.
This whole process that Jesus describes requires one thing: time. Fruits and weeds don’t grow over night. The effect of a ministry often times is only seen sometimes months down the road. What this has meant for me in our local context is that I’ve had to take a kind of “wait and see” approach with things that aren’t overtly wrong. And to be honest I’ve both put up with some things longer than I should. But I’ve also not shut down people and ministries that needed space to grow into what God called them to be.
The result, at least for me, has been a general growth in our church in regards to moving with the Holy Spirit as well as a growth in discernment among those in our midst. They are learning to judge whether something is of the Spirit and not just wait for a leader to do it.
How do you know if something is from the Holy Spirit? What has helped you and those around you to grow in discernment? Let me know in the comments below.