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.
Photo Credit: Questioned Proposal by Eleaf.
Good post, Travis, and some good questions. I think one thing that is important to keep in mind, and try to discern, is the difference between *manifestations* of the Spirit and *reactions* to the Spirit. Manifestations are pure expressions of what the Holy Spirit is doing, and when they come through man, they are not corrupted or added to by the person. Reactions, on the other hand, are man’s *soulish* response to what the Spirit is doing and may involve learned behavior, imitations of spiritual manifestations, or just a varied assortment of psychological responses to what they are feeling or perceiving the Spirit is doing. Since people tend to look more at outward things than what is unseen, those who are around legitimate manifestations of the Spirit can sometimes seek to imitate, exagerate or manufacture their own look-alikes. Sometimes the Spirit is also touching people deeply and healing deep wounds and their psychological and emotional reactions can be extreme or strange. That is not, in those cases a manifestation of the Spirit, but a human reaction to the Spirit’s manifestation.
Those who have influence through leadership and ministry in settings where the Spirit is sought and given liberty can also seek to focus on the external “manifestations” and can use what I call “soul force” to stir them up. This is where the work of the cross is so needed. The cross needs to put to death the soulish imitations that the true, deep work of the Spirit can work, first and foremost, in the inner man… in the spirit of man. It will then flow outwardly transforming the soul, and ultimately be expressed outwardly. When we reverse the order, we are in trouble.
A teacher of mine once said, “Beware of entering into worship horizontally.” He also warned about “the corporate spirit” in worship, which is pretty much saying the same thing. The Holy Spirit will always bring restraint to the flesh, and apply the work of the cross to the soul, that the spirit of man may lead in worship and ministry. Those who are seeking pure workings and manifestations of the Spirit must always place the emphasis on the hidden work in the inner man, and not seek after “signs” and outward manifestations as the litmus test of the Spirit.
We must also keep in mind that the Holy Spirit is not out to focus the Church upon Himself, but to reveal Christ and the Father. A Holy Spirit-centered church or movement is something of a contradiction, therefore.
Just some thoughts to add to the discussion!
Thanks for this comment. It probably ranks pretty high up there as far in the “most thoughtful comment ever” category on my blog.
I definitely believe that whenever the Spirit is moving, he is absolutely concerned first and foremost with Jesus being magnified. In fact I think a lot of times movements of the Spirit end because the places they happen become consumer-oriented instead of driven to magnify Jesus beyond their boundaries (like Paul). That’s a blog for another time.
The interesting thing about where manifestations of the Spirit happen is that they always involve some sort of mixture (because humans are involved).This leads to complicated situations where hearts and actions are always having to be weighed and it definitely requires wisdom and revelation on the part of those who are shepherding the movement.
Anyways, thanks again for your comment. Love having like minded friends that comment on here!