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There are times when we inadvertently harden our heart to something that God is doing. Maybe it offends our understanding and reason, or just doesn't "make sense" to us. Skepticism can make us unreceptive about certain things God wants to do; it can make us slow to receive something that is truly of God.
On the other hand, there are times that the enemy does imitation "signs" in the church to deceive people, and God may give us a supernatural discernment about it. For example, He may put a strong check in our spirit that something generally accepted as "of God." For no apparent reason, something inside of us seems to shout that it is not really "of Him." Or it may be more subtle--we may feel leery and on guard to something that everyone around us is opening themselves up to without hesitation.
The problem is that these two things (skepticism and discernment) "feel" a lot a like. At times, it is difficult to tell which is which. In fact, it can take a while to prayerfully sort out whether you are being skeptical or your gift of discernment is kicking in. I want to explore this a bit by detailing a recent struggle of my own in this area. [I originally had another topic planned for this week, but something happened last week that gave me insight into this, and I want to share it with you.]
Last week an letter came out publicly exposing a popular and "upcoming" ministry for fraudulent behavior. That was a ministry that I had been feeling uncomfortable about for several months, but I could not explain precisely why I felt uncomfortable about it.
(Some on the prophetic-school are familiar with this ministry, and will know who I am talking about. If that is the case, please remember that I am not writing this to condemn the minister, but to discuss my struggle in sorting out whether I was experiencing skepticism or discernment. If you are not already familiar with this ministry, I am not going to identify it by name, because I am not interested in badmouthing it, I just want to teach about discernment.)
I struggled a great deal in sorting out whether I was unduly skeptical or if I was getting a check in my spirit from the Lord. I am going to share my experience with you because it might help you later on.
The majority of my exposure to this ministry was from reports on a revival email list. Somewhere around a year ago, someone from the list began reporting that God was doing something unusual through himself and his wife. Apparently God was causing a lot of gemstones to miraculously appear. After a while, the man making these reports arranged his own private "ministry" trip that toured several states. That trip took him to the San Francisco Bay area (where I live), and I was interested in attending one of his meetings.
At that point, I was curious and very open to both the gemstones and this particular ministry. If anything, I was prejudiced in favor of his ministry, because a prophet friend of mine (who I respect greatly) had encountered supernatural gemstones about six months before that. My friend had asked God about the gemstones, and God told him that He is releasing them as a prophetic sign. The sign shows His intent to pour out the "riches of Heaven" on His church, to equip them to accomplish His purposes.
The ministry in question held three meetings in meeting rooms of local restaurants. I was very interested, and I wanted to attend at least one meeting. However, God rearranged my schedule and I was not able to go to any of them.
The man posted a lot of reports on the revival email list. It sounded like he was seeing more and more of this gemstone manifestation--it was increasing. In fact, this ministry even set up a web page with pictures of the gemstones appearing as they spoke at assorted meetings.
Somewhere in there, I started feeling "cautious" or "guarded" about this particular ministry. The man and his wife seemed to rise up very quickly to a place of prominence and of being invited to speak at a lot of churches and conferences. Everyone else seemed to love them and say wonderful things about them. I did not understand why I was having cautious feelings about them. So, I started asking God to examine my heart and reveal if I had some bad/wrong attitudes that were effecting my feelings about this ministry. I did some serious soul-searching with the Lord, but God did not reveal any inner issues to me that might effect my guarded feelings about this ministry.
A little later, I saw a bunch of emails on the revival list about people who had received gemstones from the ministry in the mail, thanking them for sending the stones. I realized that they must have offered to send a miracle gemstone to anyone on the list who asked for them. That set me to thinking. Maybe my caution was not related to the ministry, but maybe a part of my unconscious was skeptical about this particular type of sign/wonder. At that point, I had not seen a miraculous gemstone, I had only heard about them. Maybe if I saw one and held it in my hands, then I'd sense God's presence on it, and it might clear up my concern.
I weighted it for a while and then I finally sent an email asking them to please send a stone to me, if their offer was still in effect. They did mail some to me.
I remember holding the envelope in my hand before I opened it, and praying. I knew I had some concerns about this ministry and I could not figure out why. I confessed my concerns to the Lord and asked Him to forgive any bad attitude I might have. I also asked Him to really speak to me and show me if this was "of Him." Others on the email list had said that God either touched them or spoke to them about the gemstones when they received their stones. I expected the same thing to happen to me, and I hoped that all my concerns and guarded feelings would vanish when I opened the envelop. Unfortunately, that did not happen.
The envelope contained a small resealable plastic bag that had three small stones in it: a rectangular purple one, an oval topaz one, and a tiny diamond chip. Now here is the odd thing. I had once helped someone make props for one of their projects, and my job was to glue artificial gems onto gold-painted cardboard crowns. The artificial stones had come in little plastic resealable bags just like the one in this envelop. In addition, the purple and topaz stones looked so much like the fake ones I'd worked with that it gave me a mental flashback to that project. For a brief instant, I saw a picture of myself taking the three gems from the plastic bag and gluing them to a cardboard crown.
Instead of going down, my feeling "guarded" jumped to a higher level.
The gemstones came with a letter that said, "It was a pleasure speaking to you in response to your request for a gemstone..." I hadn't spoken to anyone, I had sent an email and received an email reply. I realized that it was a form letter, and this ministry was sending out a lot of stones. It said a few things about the ministry praying for my kids and family and such.
Then it continued, "We hope you are as blessed with the gemstone as we have been. The only thing we are requesting is that you place a note on the email list to let people know they are available. If God speaks to you anything about the gemstone, please don't hesitate to share that on the email list as well. We want everyone to be blessed and this is a gift for God's entire body."
As I read the letter, this thought crossed my mind: "This is a scam to promote their ministry. They are trying to gain popularity and notoriety by asking people to send emails applauding their ministry so that they will get more ministry invitations, which will in turn bring in more ministry funds."
I stopped myself and shook my head. "Teresa," I said to myself, "that is a terrible thing to think about someone. Everyone else is saying nice things about them--how can you possibly think that way?"
I was alarmed at my own thinking, and I began repenting to the Lord for those thoughts. Then another thought crossed my mind: "They are asking people to publicly say that God spoke to them about the stones, because that will get people 'invested' in their deception. If a future controversy ever arises, they will have instant supporters, because these people have been asked to publicly declare that they think the stones are supernatural from God."
I was still alarmed at my thinking, but the more I prayed about it, the more I was reminded that I'd asked God to speak to me about whether or not these particular gemstones were from Him. Perhaps the thoughts running through my mind were His answer? I had hoped that God would speak in the directly clear way that He frequently speaks to me. But at times, He chooses to be a bit more subtle, and this might be one of them. Maybe this was discernment operating or maybe it was just an unjustified suspicious attitude on my part.
However, a part of me feared that it might not be spiritual discernment operating, because so many people had come out strongly in support of this ministry; they seemed to believe that they were "God's gift to the church." I struggled with trying to sort out which of the two it was: discernment or skepticism. I prayed about it on and off for months. I asked the Lord to show me clearly.
I was concerned that maybe I'd somehow closed myself to receiving things of God, and that idea alarmed me. I did not hear anything definitive, and after a while I did not think about it much. Then one day around Christmas, I was rearranging my office and ran across the envelop with the letter and gemstones. I asked the Lord about it again, and He gave me a strong impression that the things that needed to be revealed would indeed be revealed within the next month or so. I assumed that He was going to reveal things about my heart to me, and then help me deal with them.
Instead, the minister in question was seen "planting" stones in the auditorium shortly before one of his meetings. They told the leader who scheduled the meetings, and he confronted the minister. The minister admitted to the misdeed. The situation was brought to the senior pastor of the church where the meetings were held. He cancelled all subsequent meetings and sent a public letter exposing the fraudulent behavior to many. That letter was also transcribed into an email sent to the revival list.
Many people on the revival email list were emotionally invested in this minister and his ministry, and were dismayed to hear this. The responses varied. Some of them started inventing creative scenarios to justify or excuse the offense. Some were angry and felt betrayed. But my response was to feel relief. I realized that the "cautious" and "guarded" feelings I had for months were the gift of discernment kicking in, and not me having bad thoughts.
I felt so bad about feeling cautious about this ministry. I had only discussed my feelings with one person, who I look to on occasion for mentoring in the prophetic. No one was aware of my concerns and struggles. I never said anything publicly because I was trying to sort it out. When I look back, it is easy to see that the gift of discernment operating to warn me about this particular ministry.
[I want to stress that my discernment was about the ministry, not about the manifestation of supernatural gemstones. The Lord let me see a true miracle gemstone Brazil last September when I was part of the ministry team there.]
After things were "exposed," I began debriefing with God. Since that "leery" feeling had been the gift of discernment operating, I wondered why it was so hard for me to recognize it as such? God explained it to me. He said that it was so hard because I had allowed my thinking to be strongly influenced by public opinion. A lot of people seemed to love this ministry and said a lot of nice about them publicly. I did not trust the discernment I was getting because I put too much weight on other people's opinions. But the discernment kept kicking in and I kept distrusting it and that is why I struggled with it for so long.
Will I be quicker to trust the gift of discernment next time it kicks in? I hope so! But at the same time, I need to keep my heart open and receptive before the Lord, when He chooses to do things in unusual ways. I don't want to let skepticism settle in and trick me into thinking that it is "discernment."
The truth of the matter is that skepticism and discernment can feel so much alike (at times) that it is impossible to distinguish them from each other. In those times, the only way to resolve it is to press into God until He answers us and tells us which it is.