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One day I was doing my regular daily commute to work. As I was walking into the BART (subway) station, I noticed these two people who were going through the entrance gates. They were far enough ahead of me that their behavior did not effect me, but for some reason I noticed the two of them. One person was an older Asian lady, who had a piece of luggage with her, the kind that you tote behind you with wheels on it. The other person was a younger Asian man, probably in his mid thirties. They went through two admission gates that were next to each other. The woman had trouble with her suitcase, so she had to stop and struggle with it. This held up the people in line behind her, but that was understandable. The man had already gone through his entry gate and was directly in front of it. He stopped where he was to wait for the woman, blocking the ability of anyone behind him in line to get through. He did not help her, he just stood there blocking the line behind him and waiting for her.
I am a practical person, so I simply went through a different entry gate that neither of them were blocking. I had a brief thought about how the man should have moved out of the way to wait for her instead of blocking the people behind him. Then I did not think about them again. I took the escalator to the platform and waited for the next subway to arrive. It came about 5 minutes after I got to the platform. The subway was not crowded so I took a vacant seat by the door. Shortly afterwards, the Asian woman and her son got on the same subway car that I was on. She still had her luggage in tow behind her. She decided to sit in a seat that was kitty corner to where I was, and in the process of getting there, she rolled her suitcase over my foot. I don't mean over my toe, I mean over my whole foot! She was not paying attention, so when it got stuck on my foot, she just keep tugging on it, dragging it on top of my foot and leaving it there. The suitcase was heavy and it hurt.
I cried out in pain and said something like, "Ouch! Be careful that is my foot."
She immediately turned to face me the expression showed that it was an accident, and that she felt bad. She began to apologize. I was about to tell I accepted her apology when the younger man she was with jumped in and began to bawl me out. She was his mother, how dare I talk to her like that. It had been clearly an accident, so I had no right to tell her to say anything to her. He went on and on and was clearly out of line. He stood there in front of me blocking two people behind him who were still trying to board the subway and the doors were starting to close on them.
After a few minutes, something rose in me and I told him to "Shut up and go sit down!" I used the same commanding tone that I use when I address a demon. He immediately shut his mouth, sat down in the seat across from me and began to sulk. He slouched in a manner that looked like a dog that had just been punished and sat there with downcast eyes. We were going through the trans-bay tube, a six minute ride. I spent most of that six minutes feeling startled at how I had dealt with this man. Yes he was being a jerk, but what possessed me to speak to him like that? I wondered if I was in trouble with God for my behavior, so I quietly asked Him.
"Teresa," the Lord said, "you were not addressing a person, you were addressing a demon that had been manifesting through that person." I was so startled that I had to double-check my hearing. Then I asked God, "Lord, if that was a demon, why didn't you tell me?"
"I tried to," He replied, "but you weren't listening." God reminded me of how He had called my attention to them at the subway entrance. I had noticed that there was "something off" about this fellow, but I did not pay attention. I did not stop and ask God if there was anything that He was trying to show me. I had "missed it" when God alerted me. I apologized to the Lord for not listening. Then God told me that I should watch the man, and he would show me what the nature of the demon was.
When we came to the next station, he stood up, gave his mother a kiss on the lips and a hug and said, "I love you mommy." That was when I realized that he had a spirit of dependency. It was just like the Lord had told me.
"Lord," I asked, "why didn't I recognize this earlier?" Then the Lord explained that He had pointed this out to me via the gift of discerning of spirits. I noticed the man clear across the station and realized that something was "not right." That was the gift of discernment kicking in. If I had stopped and asked God about this man, God would have told me quite a bit more. Unfortunately, I chose to ignore what God showed me. And that was why I did not realize that it was a demon manifesting through his behavior.
Discerning of spirits is an awareness that there is a spiritual situation we need to dialogue with God about. It is meant to alert us to go talk to God and find out what He wants to show or tell us.
The example I just shared, the discernment was about enemy activity. But the gift of discerning of spirits can alert you to God's activity as well. When God alerts you to spiritual activity (His or the enemy's), this means you need to stop and check in with God. Ask Him what He is showing you and what He wants you to do about it. He may be warning you to help you avoid a situation or He may be asking you to pray/intercede or even to take some sort of pro-active action.
Let me share an example of a discerning of God's spiritual activity. I was in a church service and the worship was wonderful. I was lost in the worship and suddenly I began to sense an intensity of God's presence. Then my hands started to get hot and tingle. I frequently experience a similar sensation when I am praying for physical healing. But I was not ministering to anyone, I was just worshipping. So I stopped and asked the Lord what was going on? What was He up to? Why were my hands hot and tingling. Then God told me that He was releasing a spirit of healing over this meeting. (I am not sure if that is a manifestation of the Holy Spirit's presence or if He sent an angel into the room that carried a healing anointing. It does not really matter which it is, since the Lord wanted to release His healing in the room and all healing there was done at His direction.)
So I asked Him what I should do? Should I go up to the microphone and announce what He told me? Or should I silently pray and intercede or what? Then God pointed out a sick lady to me and told me to go lay hands on her and pray for her. I did so quietly, right in the midst of the worship service, and she was healed. Needless to say, she was happy about that!
Discerning of spirits can go either direction. We can be alerted to God's activity or we can be alerted to enemy activity. In either case, the correct reaction is to go to God and ask Him what He wants you to do since He is alerting you to the presence of spiritual activity.
Then you need to do what He tells you to do. You may find yourself interceding. You may find yourself taking authority or you may find yourself ministering to someone. Or God may be giving you some sort of practical direction. For example, one time He showed me that the person standing in front of me in line was under the control of a spirit of rage. God told me to move to another line because the demon was about to manifest. The other line was much longer. I felt mildly annoyed, but I obeyed. About two minutes later, the man God had pointed out got into a huge argument with the person standing behind him, which is where I would have been if I had not obeyed God and moved.
The whole key to the gift of discernment is that it is meant to drive you to God to ask Him for increased clarity and direction. When you detect some sort of spiritual activity, you must not decide on a course of action on your own. Instead, you need to talk to God and find out what course of action He wants you to take. Don't immediately jump into intercession and start binding spirits, check in with God for directions. He is showing you this for a reason, so find out what His reason is and then act accordingly.
Discerning of spirits can be general (an enemy spirit is present) or it can be very specific details about what that spirit is doing. Nehemiah was a person who operated in discerning of spirits, and it alerted him to an enemy deception that had been laid out to disqualify him. In Nehemiah 6, enemies of the Jews sent a false accusation against Nehemiah to the king, claiming that Nehemiah was leading a rebellion against him. These were very dangerous times for Nehemiah. In the midst of all that Shemaiah (who was a secret informer or spy) told Nehemiah that there was a secret plot to kill Nehemiah and he must flee to the temple to save his life. Then the gift of discernment kicked in and Nehemiah suddenly realized that this man who claimed to come from God was not of God. In Nehemiah 6:12-13, he explained, "Then I perceived that God had not sent him at all, but that he pronounced this prophecy against me because Tobiah and Sanballat had hired him. For this reason he was hired, that I should be afraid and act that way and sin, so that they might have cause for an evil report, that they might reproach me." Nehemiah "perceived" this through the discerning of spirits.
Scripture shows us that Jesus operated in the discerning of spirits. He always knew when an illness was natural and when it was caused by demons. For instance, in Luke 11:14, Jesus healed a mute man by casting a demon out of him, and "when the demon had gone out, the mute spoke; and the multitudes marveled."
Jesus was also able to tell the intent of a person's heart and what was motivating that person. For instance, He was able to discern Nathanael's heart even though they had never met. In John 1:47, He said of Nathanael, "Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no deceit!" And Jesus also knew the evil intentions of the Pharisees. In John 8:44 He tells them, "You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do..." Jesus was able to discern what sort of spirit was motivating and driving different individuals. Discerning of spirits alerts us to know the source of people's motivations and actions, it shows us what "spirit" they are operating under.
Some people "discern" by seeing in the spirit. They can see angels and they can seem demons. I usually don't see either, my discernment kicks in differently. For me, I "just know" and am suddenly aware of spiritual activity going on around me. Others discern primarily through some type of physical sensation on their body. Others discern by smelling a sweet fragrance for angelic presence and an unpleasant odor for demonic presences. I know one person who gets a bad taste in their mouth when there is demonic activity going on. So the Lord can use a lot of different ways to "alert" you to spiritual activity.
It is very important to recognize that the gift if discerning of spirits is just an alerter. When it kicks in, you must go to God to get His directions for the given situation. We must not come to rely solely on these "sensations" or to become "spooky spiritual" about them. Discerning of spirits should drive us to ask God why He is showing us this spiritual activity and what He desires us to do about it.
We must never presume to "handle" the situation on our own, apart from God. And we must not rely solely on the physical sensations and sensing of spiritual activity to the point where we do not go to God for His directions. Doing so can lead to disastrous results. For instance, I knew a man named Bob who operated in discerning of spirits. He would typically feel a pain in his foot when demonic presences were around. Poor Bob got a bit cocky and stopped checking in with God. He felt he was experienced enough that he "knew" what to do with demons and did not see any need to consult God. (This is a mind-set we must guard against, as we can do nothing in and of ourselves; our power always comes from God and must be used to do His business His way.)
Bob suddenly started discerning demons everywhere. Every time he would go visit a friend's house or a church or whatever, he would discern the presence of demons. He would tell the people about them and offer to do a spiritual house-cleaning for them to get rid of the demons. His discernment became a bit questionable.. He would sense demons when no one else with the gift of discernment could sense them. And he was always sensing them, everywhere he went he found demons there. A few months passed. People had begun to loose respect for him.
Then Bob had his annual physical exam and discovered that he had developed arthritis in his foot. All this time he thought he had been sensing demons, it was just his arthritis acting up. It felt similar to the physical sensation he got for the real discerning of spirits. So Bob assumed he was operating in the gift of discernment when he was not. Bob's downfall began the instant that he stopped being dependent on God. Bob stopped checking in with God when the discerning of spirits kicked in, and he was led astray.
I know I am repeating myself, but let me say it one more time. The gift of discerning of spirits is not to have you run off and deal with the spirits on your own. Don't immediately begin binding the spirits or driving them out. Discerning of Spirits is intended to cause you to push into God and find out what He wants to do. Then you are to follow God's direction and do precisely what He tells you to do in that given situation. When another similar situation comes along, do not go based on what you heard last time. That is presumption. Instead check in with God and see how He wants to handle it this time.