I believe in all the gifts of the Spirit, and yet I fear there is a scarcity of that underestimated gift called discerning of spirits (1 Cor.12:10). Many of us truly want the supernatural; but there seems to be little evidence of a seeking after the gift of discernment.
The task of every generation is to discern in which direction the Holy Spirit is moving, then move in that direction. Whatever else is true, it is a time when people ‘will not put up with sound doctrine . . . they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear’ (2 Tim.4:3). The world is going to hell and we not only help send them there but make them feel good on the way.
So much teaching nowadays seeks a ‘feel good’ reception. No stigma, no offense of the cross, no appeal to self-denial, little that is God-centered but what will – even if unintended – keep people asleep, undiscerning, blind and impervious to the real and present danger. I don’t mean to be unfair, but what would preaching be like if there were no need for people’s approval or financial support?
Healing, miracles and prophecy naturally fascinate us – unless it is a word of knowledge that exposes our sin. And if we really believe in the spiritual gifts, whatever happened to discernment? We should eagerly desire it in order to make a distinction between the real and the counterfeit – not to mention discovering he Spirit’s mind. What worries me is that the people without discernment seek after and accept teaching that is truly harmful.
‘My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge’ (Hos.4:6). There is a diminishing of biblical, theological and spiritual knowledge in the pew, pulpit and various platforms – and nobody seems to notice when the ‘emperor has no clothes’! Undiscerning leaders can endorse an immature preacher before the world and prophesy extraordinary things – which turn out to be completely wrong, and hardly anybody says a word! And we wonder why the world does not respect us!
The New Year is a good time for resolutions. One of the best resolutions would be to read the Bible through in a year and pray more. My mentor Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones introduced me to a Bible reading plan devised by Robert Murray M’Cheyne 32 years ago. Until then I had no plan, I am ashamed to say. I have also been surprised how many church leaders do not read their Bibles. A recent survey showed the average church leader spends not an hour a day (which should be the minimum) but only four minutes a day in quiet time.
Jesus said to the Pharisees, ‘You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times’ (Matt.16:3). Are we any different? A balanced diet of sound biblical, theological and spiritual knowledge would result in discernment.
We lack discernment partly because we are asleep. Jesus prophesied that in the last generation the church would be asleep (Matt.25:5). As you know, three things characterize sleep: (1) we don’t know we were asleep until we wake up; (2) we do things in our dreams we would not do when awake; (3) we hate the sound of an alarm.
Jesus also forecast a midnight cry (Matt.25:6) meaning ‘middle of the night’, which is: (1) the darkest time; (2) when we are the deepest in sleep; and (3) when we are least expectant. Could not this wake-up call come in stages, 9/11 being the first stage? Yes. If the recent economic melt-down is not a further wake-up call I don’t know what is. But the ultimate and final wake-up call will categorically cause the church to discern their true condition, except that for some it will be too late (Matt.25:8-13).
We are in the middle of the night. Right now. It is dark. The church is in a deep, deep sleep. We do things we would not do when awake. Lord, grant us discernment before it is too late!