Summary: Discernment is a gift. It gives God’s children the ability to distinguish between what God calls us to and what the world entices us toward.
1 John 4:1-6 "Testing the Spirits"
We have come a long way in communication since March 10, 1876 when Alexander Graham Bell spoke into a prototype of the telephone and said, "Mr. Watson, come here. I want to see you." It is now common to have the television on while browsing through Facebook, texting on our cell phone and carrying on a rather stilted conversation with the person next to us. We are bombarded by messages.
What happens to us in the physical world is often mirrored in our spiritual lives. The writer of this letter of John tells his readers that they have God's Spirit within them (1 John 3:24). Yet, it is not just the Spirit's voice we hear speaking to us. We receive communications from a host of different sources. Martin Luther commented that the Christian battles against three forces of evil: Satan, the world and ourselves. These three give us conflicting messages. As we seek to be faithful, obedient disciples of Jesus Christ, we can attest to the validity that we receive several instructions and it is sometimes difficult identifying which one we should obey.
It is because of our desire to be faithful, obedient disciples of Christ in a message saturated situation that the writer of this letter instructs his readers to "Test the Spirits" (vs. 1). The questions before us are "How do we do this?" "How do we test the spirits in the rough and tumble arena of our daily lives?" The writer instructs us that, "Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God" (vs. 2). "What does this mean in our world today?"
One of our sources for testing the spirits is the Bible. We understand the Bible to be inspired--not inerrant or infallible--and the authority for life and faith. So, the first thing that we can do is to turn to the stories and pages of Scripture.
Of course turning to scripture is easier said than done. Many grab a passage of scripture and use it to prove their point. They don't seek to understand the context in which it was written, or the message that the Spirit and the writer intended for the readers. A case in point is the struggle that we have had over the rights of gays. A favorite anti-gay (supposedly pro-Bible) tactic is to quote a verse from Leviticus that condemns men being with other men. A closer look, though, discovers that this verse was written to address the use of the cult prostitutes of heathen gods. The message was to stay true to the Lord and not worship other gods.
We have several resources that help us work with the Bible. There are pastors and teachers that we can ask. There are biblical commentaries that we can use. Perhaps the best is a small group Bible study where we search the scriptures with others and seek to interpret the Bible's teachings in our modern day environment.
All scripture points to the Living Word, the person of Jesus Christ. Though it is now considered a trite cliche the question, "What Would Jesus Do?" is still a valid question. Jesus was an expression of God's love who was a man of peace and against injustice. If you can't imagine Jesus doing it, it is a pretty good bet that it is a false spirit leading you.
THE FELLOWSHIP OF BELIEVERS
Family, friends, and our brothers and sisters in Christ are important resources for us to use as we seek to discern God's will for us.
The truth of this statement can be clearly seen by viewing the opening episodes of "American Idol," "America's God Talent" and "You Think You Can Dance." There are hundreds of people who see themselves as singing stars who have voices like Frank Sinatra, or Whitney Houston, or the musical talents of Michael Jackson. Within seconds it is clear that they don't. Perhaps if they would have asked someone what he or she thought, that person could have told them that they can't carry a tune and their voice is similar to a cat's in a fight. It might have saved them some embarrassment and the listening public a headache.
When a person feels that he or she is being called into the ordained ministry, their call must be confirmed by the church. He or she meets with a group of people from the synod who help them discern if his or her call is from the Spirit. Even after a four year seminary education, a person isn't ordained into the Christian ministry until that person has received a call to become a pastor from a specific congregation.
Do you want to discern God's will? Ask the people who you trust and who know you. Ask them what they think of your idea and what you believe the Spirit is leading you to do. Listen to their words carefully and take them into consideration when you are seeking to discern God's will.