So John Bevere has a new book called, Good or God? I got to see him talk about it live, and it was awesome. There was Holy Spirit all over it. You could feel it. If you want a sneak peek—check it out.
His message paralleled a chapter in my book so well, I wanted to post part of that chapter. The chapter is all about discernment. It touches on the difference between good, God (and evil) and how to discern between them in your own life. Enjoy!
Excerpt from Desktop Revelations, Vol 1 Spiritual Warfare – Pages 69-81
What if you could tell when somebody was lying to you? What if you could tell when someone was telling the truth? What if you could see everyone’s personal agenda? What if you could hear their thoughts and recognize their intentions? What if you could clearly perceive the spirit world around you? How dangerous would that make you to the enemy? Well, my friends, that is exactly the power contained in both discernment and discerning of spirits.
Discernment is simply seeing life through clear, undistorted lenses with no agendas. It’s the way God sees life. It’s the way life really is.
Discerning of spirits is the ability to feel, hear, and identify (even see) other spiritual beings currently in the room or in control over a particular area.
From the outside it’s not always easy to tell these two tactics apart. Often they work simultaneously. Generally, discernment has to do with recognizing the truths, lies, and underlying motives an individual is hiding in his or her heart and releasing through his or her actions, words, and deeds. While discerning of spirits has to do with identifying sudden internal or external pressures, changes, and/or feelings related to the spiritual activity presently in the room.
We see Jesus operating in both types of discernment all the time. This is why He seems to always be answering a question different from the one openly asked of Him [Mark 10; John 4] (He is addressing the motive/heart issue). This is why He could recognize faith [Mark 10:52]. This is why He could perceive thoughts and judgments of the heart [Mark 2:8; Matthew 9:4]. This is why He so clearly identifies and handles demons [Mark 5; Matthew 17], and why He could tangibly feel spiritual power flow out of him [Mark 5:30].
If we are called to do what Jesus did (and we are) [John 14:12; John 1:16]; if we are called to clearly see and analyze the world, the heart motives, and the spirits around us [1 Corinthians 2:15], then we should dig a bit deeper into comprehending both of these tactics. They should be regularly used to read, understand, and interact with the world around us.
Let’s start with discernment.
Discernment is learning to clearly (and correctly) identify the underlying heart motive of a thought, word, or action. Discernment is primarily developed by listening to the Word, getting free of old bondages, receiving new revelations, and through heart change. Practically this is done through regularly memorizing and meditating on Scripture. Memorization and meditation is our part in the process. As we ingest Scripture, think about what it means, and recite it over and over, God uses that Scripture to heal our heart of the past lies we’ve believed. As this healing process takes place, we will begin to view life through a clearer and clearer lens. Once we begin to filter every action, motive, and word entering our soul through this ever-clearer filter, this is when we will start to see all of life’s “gray” elements slowly simplify and crystallize into black and white.
This is when life gets easy! When we can clearly see motives for what they are, decisions become easy to make. The enemy becomes easy to spot. God becomes easy to follow. Masks no longer work. Walls are no longer unidentifiable. Roots become exposed. Problems become easy to address.
So what do we need to know to get a jump-start on discernment working in our lives?
First, we need a simple, solid foundation. We truly have to see life as black and white, not multiple shades of gray. Obviously, this is only possible if life truly is black and white. Fortunately for us, if we look deep enough, it is. Let’s check out Genesis 2 for the answer. Looking at verse 9, we see two trees. One was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and the other, the tree of life. These two trees (choices) Adam faced are the same two trees (choices) we still face today. No matter how big or small, these two choices are the only two choices, the only two paths available. They lie hidden at the root of every decision we make. Do we get smarter and make ourselves look better (knowledge)? Or do we really connect and help someone else (life)? Do we become a distant critic (knowledge)? Or do we become an intimate friend (life)? The choice is ours. The fruits of both trees are consumable, but the ultimate results are polar opposites. One takes and one gives. One connects and one disconnects. One is safe and one is awkward. One produces life, the other death. This is it! This is life’s core “black” and “white.”
Notice that we must look past the tree and its fruit to actually see the black and white. A tree and its fruit, in and of themselves, are not bad things. Quite the opposite, they are good things. If we look only skin deep, we can easily be confused and tricked by the tree’s outward “good” (“white”) appearance. What we must learn—to truly see life as black and white—is to look more deeply. We must look past the “containers” of life and into each container’s core. What does that fruit carry? What does that container hold?
Our enemy understands this principle very well. He uses it constantly. From television to Internet, movies to music, glamorous superstars to well-versed politicians, our enemy uses all these very good, compelling (white) things to deliver his twisted agendas and (black) lies. Agendas wrapped so professionally, so innocently, so appealingly, so convincingly that we eat … and eat … and eat. We rarely stop to realize that what we are consuming is death.
Adam’s trap, like our trap, is that we can’t always see the core. We try to judge things by the external appearance or the package it comes wrapped up in. A tree with delicious, pretty, edible fruit is not a bad thing at all. In fact, it is quite a good thing. However, if we only perceive at this limited external level, our lives will be forever filled with lots of “gray.” We will potentially be subjected to large amounts of loss and/or confusion. Why? Because we are not looking deeply enough to clearly see the inner black and white. We are not looking deeply enough to clearly see the life or death contained within the pretty package. Therefore, we end up consuming what appears to be good and beneficial (even harmless) but constantly reap unexpected results.
Well then, what is the deeper black and white of life?
Simply put, it is motive. Is our motive love or hate, life or death, relationship or separation, selfishness or selflessness? Are we doing what is best for us or best for others? Are we chasing prideful knowledge or hands-on experience? As we mentioned before, the Bible depicts our two types of heart motivators as the knowledge of good and evil (death) or experiential life.
What’s the difference?
Life gives us experience, revelation, relationship, vitality, growth, and health. It requires that we give our control away and replace it with trust in the person we want life with. We are no longer calling the shots. It requires submission. It is motivated by love, by selflessness.
Conversely, the knowledge of good and evil gives us the ability to distinguish and decide for ourselves what is good or evil. It leaves us (and our limited, finite understanding) in control. It leaves us in the driver’s seat, calling the shots. It makes us look good. It appeals to pride. It is easily motivated by indifference (hate), and by selfishness. It makes us “god” of our life.
Here is the problem with knowledge. A person who spends his whole life gathering knowledge never spends that same time giving life. It’s like a person who spends all his time building and collecting the perfect tractor/garden set while never actually growing a garden. Not only does he lose all that food (life) for himself, but all the life he would have grown and given to others is shut down as well.
Can you see the distinction? Knowledge in itself is not a bad thing, but it is a dead thing. It leaves us distant and unconnected. Does that make sense? We can have all the knowledge in the world yet never connect to or change anything in that world. We can have all the knowledge in the world yet never know how to use all those random facts to actually fix our current circumstances, to actually balance our budget, to actually heal our family, to actually beat terrorism.
Knowledge is a hoax. It is smoke and mirrors. It appears as if we have something when we really have nothing. It appears as if it is our answer without ever giving us a tangible, usable solution. Yes, knowledge is needed, but it is dead. Like a tool, knowledge can be used to get something done more easily, but it can’t do the job without something or someone putting it wisely to use. For example, our rake can’t rake our yard for us. Likewise, our knowledge can’t solve our problems for us.
It’s like a guitar. We can study the instrument. We can learn what it looks like, about the strings on it, how we should hold it, the types of wood it takes to build it, what temperature to store it at, how to polish it, how to tune it, all the chord shapes, all the scale shapes, all the arpeggios, etc. This is all knowledge. It is all necessary. It is a great tool. But it is death. Why? Because we can spend an entire lifetime learning, perfecting, and expanding our guitar knowledge, and meanwhile, our guitar is still just sitting (like an expensive, dusty paperweight), unused in the corner of our music room. Even with all our vast guitar knowledge we have not created any life or inspiration, any soul-moving, soul-healing music on it. We still can’t play the thing. All the knowledge in the world has gotten us nowhere. We still haven’t strummed a chord. We still don’t know our guitar. All that knowledge is a waste. It is stagnant; it is death.
Conversely, life is experience. It is obedience. It is practice. It is relationship. It is reality. Let’s say we instead spend a lifetime playing the guitar, practicing it, strumming its chords, playing its strings. We spend all that time we would have spent learning about it actually being with it. We spend all that same time getting to know it better and better—its touch and feel, its nuances, strengths, and weaknesses. Now we can create. Joy, laughter, peace, healing, power, boldness, and love can all flow through us and out of that guitar. It can flow into the world around us, changing it, healing it, influencing it, shifting it. We may never know much about the guitar or about the music theory behind it, but we can still connect to others and change our world with it.
This is the difference between knowledge and life.
Let’s give one last example that may help clarify this statement. Pick your favorite celebrity. One who has always been at the top of my list is Will Smith. Let’s say we spend our whole life learning about Will. We learn what he likes, where he works, and where he lives. We study all his movies and learn all his songs. We exhaustively research him on Google and memorize his Wikipedia page. We blow all our friends away with our massive knowledge about him. We make a living writing books about him. We even grow to be the resident “Will Smith genius” of North America.
We can have all the knowledge in the world about Will Smith. We can fool all our friends and everyone we ever come across with that knowledge, but the truth is it’s a hoax. Sure it may appear to everyone that we intimately know Willard Christopher Smith, but the reality is we’ve never even met the guy. It is just smoke and mirrors. We don’t know Mr. Smith. If we passed him on the street he wouldn’t even nod. If we showed up to his house he would ask, “Who are you?” Knowledge isn’t bad, but it’s a lie. It’s a false reality. It’s a trick. Why? Because it is dead. Thus, it leads to death.
On the other hand, we may have never learned one single fact about Will but instead call him every day to ask what we can do to help him. Finally he agrees to let us buy him coffee every morning before work. We actually do it and the relationship begins. Now, after a lifetime of bringing him coffee, when we show up at his house he will greet us with a smile and call us by name. And through the process, almost by accident, we learn more about Willard Christopher Smith Jr. than a lifetime of head knowledge could have given us.
This is the difference between the two trees we eat from every day. This is the difference between the two motives contained in every decision we make. This is the difference between knowledge (death) and life. This is life’s black or white.
Now we could also call it: law or grace, theology or obedience, distant judgment or intimate engagement, following rules to relate or having open, honest relationships, hate or love, death or growth, hell or heaven, bondage or freedom, any other god or Jesus. Life’s black and white is simply the motive that lies within the fruit and the eventual final destination to which the fruit leads us closer toward. It can only be one of two places.
Personally, I like to think of it as selfishness or selflessness. In my mind this sums up and clarifies everything we have previously discussed in two easy-to-remember words and one easy-to-remember question: Is it really about what is best for others, or is it really about what is best for me? Once we understand this simple foundational truth we can begin to question everything. “Is the motive behind that word, action, or deed selfless (creating life, freedom, and encouragement)? Or is it selfish (releasing death, bondage, and discouragement)?” We no longer care if something appears “good” or “evil.” Instead, we look beyond the external and address the root motives. This is when life becomes a simple black-and-white picture. This is when life becomes easy to sort.
We must learn to think of actions, words, and thoughts as containers. They are neither good nor bad in and of themselves; they simply contain the life or death motive placed in them. It is up to us to determine which, so we do not receive, entertain, or permanently ingest containers full of death. Rather we accept, believe and ingest only those containers full of life. This is the basic principle of discernment.
With this in mind, the questions we need to be asking the Holy Spirit are, “What is the heart motivation of that ‘good’ thing? Is it selflessly motivated? Is it motivated out of love?” If the answers to those questions return as yes, then that “good” thing is in fact full of life and will prosper and grow. Receive it.
Conversely, if we ask those same questions but the answer is no, and instead we perceive that the good thing is actually selfishly motivated (or motivated out of pride or hate), then that good thing is full of death. It will destroy and kill. Handle it loosely, handle it wisely, use it freely as a tool, but don’t ingest.
When we begin to see life in this way, as one of only two possible motives, then we are living in a black-and-white world. It becomes simple to comprehend.
Let’s run this principle through a couple of practical examples.
Q: Is the news wrong to watch?
A: Well, does the news bring me down, make me fearful and discouraged? If yes, then it’s a container of death for me, and I’m not gonna waste my time. Do I watch the news and enjoy praying in the Holy Spirit for all the hurt in the world, leaving me feeling invigorated and refreshed? If yes, then the news is life for me, so watch freely. Did watching the news used to make me come alive and now it drags me down? If yes, then it’s time to pull back and do something else.
Q: Is dancing wrong?
A: Well, is the dancing all about me? Do I do it to show off and boost my own ego (even though it’s in church)? If yes, then it’s a container of slow, selfish death. I’m not gonna waste my time. Is the dancing a good way to spend time with my partner, to have fun, build each other up, grow as a couple, and have fun with Jesus (even though it’s in a bar)? If yes, then dancing is life to me. Dance freely. Did the last song make me come alive, but this new song is just a great beat with self-hating lyrics that are fueling my lust? If yes, then maybe it’s time for me to step outside and take a break for a song or two.
Q: Should I give this generous gift?
A: Am I doing it to be seen or to promote myself? If yes, then this gift is actually a path to death. It is a Trojan Horse. It will have strings attached. Don’t do it. Am I giving it gladly and willingly? If yes, then go ahead. This gift contains life. It will lead to growth. Will this gift help others first with a potential of helping me too? Either way, give gladly and generously and don’t worry whether a reward comes back around. Leave that part up to God.
We could do these all day. See how each answer is person specific? What may really hook and affect me may not hook and affect you. See how what appears good may not actually contain life? See how each answer could even vary depending on the day or even the time of day it is asked? From case to case? Situation to situation?
This is why we need to be constantly in tune and listening to the Holy Spirit in everything we do [Proverbs 3:6]. This is a relational life. This is a discerning life. This is the life Papa wants from us. It’s interactive. It’s spontaneous, ever-growing, ever-changing. It relies on Him (not dead, unyielding, set-in-stone, “here’s how it always is” knowledge). It’s fun.
Before we move on, let’s take this just one step further. We also need to ask the Holy Spirit, “What is the heart motivation of that ‘bad’ thing?” Is it selflessly motivated? Is it motivated out of love? If the answer is yes, if the core of that bad thing is life, then it is from God and we should gladly receive it!
Sadly, this one trips the church up the most. We are missing out on so much needed revelation and life because of “bad” outward appearances. Not everyone who outwardly appears drunk is drunk on alcohol [Ephesians 5:18], not everyone in black eyeliner and tattoos worships satan, and not everyone with a lisp and flamboyant T-shirt lives a secret, alternative lifestyle. Some are hardcore disciples.
Furthermore, not everyone who is currently drunk on alcohol, who is currently worshiping satan, or who is currently living a secret, alternative lifestyle channels death 100 percent of the time. Many are simply pre-Christians searching for what actually works. They are searching with honest hearts for the genuine truth. If we recognize this, then with a keen eye and developed perception we understand that there is still life, truth, and wisdom that we can glean—even from them. Remember, everyone has been given at least one irrefutable gift or talent from God [Matthew 25]. Every “bum” on the street has at least one nugget of gold to give.
Back before I had a real, tangible relationship with Jesus, I got some of my wisest counsel and life-altering course corrections from Jesus through the advice of unsaved (pre-saved) friends, in drunken, late-night conversations at parties. That statement might really mess with some of today’s popular church theology, but it’s true nonetheless.
Life is life, no matter what it is packaged in and no matter who it comes through. We can’t let “bad” containers keep us from enjoying the life they carry, just like we can’t let “good” containers trick us into blindly ingesting death. Remember, Jesus can come to us riding on a donkey [Matthew 21] or riding on the clouds [Revelation 1:7]. Likewise, our enemy can come to us plainly as a great dragon [Revelation 12] or masquerading as an angel of light [2 Corinthians 11:14-15]. Still, Jesus is Jesus and the devil is the devil. This is why accurate discernment is so important to us individually and to us as a body of believers.
Without digging too deep, here is a good, simple visualization of this concept. While there are only two internal core motives (only two trees to pick from), when we combine those motives with the two external appearances we end up with four options to any container (word, action, thought) that we are presented with.
External Appearance Internal Motive
Good Life ( Choose This )
Bad Life ( Choose This )
Good Death ( Don’t Choose This 😦 )
Bad Death ( Don’t Choose This 😦 )
Like God says in Deuteronomy, choose life! We aren’t often confused by the good-life, bad-death choices. Those are easy. It’s the other two, the bad-life and the good-death choices that we need clarity to discern. Often this is what people are referring to when they call life’s choices gray. Clearing up this “gray” is why we desperately need such a close, personal relationship with our all-knowing and loving heavenly Father. He is never fooled by packaging and is always willing to answer our questions and guide our paths.
Okay, so we understand the whole “container” principle, but we’re still having trouble recognizing what is actually a life-or-death motive. Our next step to clarity is memorizing Scripture.
I would suggest starting with Matthew 12:34, James 2:18, and 2 Corinthians 10:5, and then moving to Proverbs and first, second, or third John (or however the Spirit directs you personally). Although there are many discernment secrets strewn throughout Scripture, I’ve found these particular books have lots of little anecdotes (and antidotes) specifically designed to help us pick up on life or death motives.
Let’s start with the basics. Matthew 12:34, James 2:17–18, and 2 Corinthians 10:5 are great starter Scriptures because they provide the scriptural base for our previously discussed container principle. These biblical excerpts provide the solid fundamental insights we need to start building our arsenal of discernment.
Matthew 12:34 says, “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” Meditate on this, and we realize that every word we say comes from the overflow of our heart. In other words, our words constantly reveal what is in our heart. This is huge. This means we can simply listen to someone talk (even ourselves), unwrap the motive within those words, and know exactly what is going on inside his or her (or our) heart: the drive, intentions, agendas, insecurities, or securities hidden there.
James 2 continues. It talks about how faith without works is dead and that living faith is displayed by our works. This verse reveals that we can discern a person’s level of faith, what he or she truly believes and trusts in, by simply observing the person’s actions. This means we can unwrap any action (or lack of action) to find motive and clearly see what belief system is flowing out of that person’s heart.
II Corinthians 10:5 (KJV) completes the trifecta. It expresses our need to “cast down [vain] imaginations” and to bring every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. Wow, even our own thoughts are containers of life or death! We must be willing to analyze even what is being placed in our own head. What thoughts do we catch ourselves “entertaining” again and again? This helps us determine the intentions (even the hidden intentions) in our own hearts.
The combination of all three verses reveals that we can unwrap motive in every thought, word, or deed. Sounds cool, but practically how do we use this? We start by simply applying these Scriptures to our life and to the circumstances surrounding our lives. We filter actions, thoughts, and words through these Scriptures and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal the truth or lies hidden within.
Often I look for “red flags” in my life—inconsistencies. Red flags are words, reactions, interactions, or scenarios that just feel “strange” or “off” or “weird.” In other words, they don’t sit quite right. I will pass those through the discernment filters I already know and/or give them to the Holy Spirit for further explanation. Frequently I find the Holy Spirit has “checked” them in my spirit for a specific reason, and the understanding I receive from them guides the steps, prayers, and insights I take into the future.
For example, let’s say we have a friend who is always joking around in a patronizing (putting others down) kind of way. According to what we learned in Matthew, we know the person’s mouth is simply revealing his or her heart. The person feels worthless, worth less then others. He or she is fearful that they don’t measure up. So naturally, out of that abundance of fear and worthlessness, the mouth speaks, pointing out the shortcomings the person sees in others before others can point out flaws in him or her. As we gain a wider Scripture base, we will clearly see how insecure (negative) words, even as jokes, come from the enemy. They curse us; they bind us and trip us up. They are death. Source identified!
However, that’s only the start. Now we can use this newfound insight to take control of the scene. Instead of blindly following our friend down the enemy’s road of negative joking (to eventual death), we simply stop and steer the conversation back to a positive direction, back to life. Then we combat the enemy by combating the insecurity in our friend. We begin to look for ways to speak encouragement, value, and hope into them.
That’s really all there is to discernment. Not all thoughts, words, or actions are as easy to “unwrap” as our example. And that is where gradually memorizing Scripture and learning to communicate with the Holy Spirit come into play. But as we continue to follow God, our discernment will continue to grow clearer all the time.
See you next time!