If you’ve ever read any written accounts of true revivals in past ages, you know about the powerful ways in which God moved upon the people, both inside and outside the church. But you may not be aware that when these powerful manifestations of God took place, many other things—things that were not of God—came in also. Strong fleshly shows and demonic take-offs tried to discredit the move. Without the discernment present to separate the precious from the vile, there was a kind of chaos.
When the power of God descends upon a group of people, there is always a form of disorder because God disrupts our religious programs, traditions and customs. But if there is no discernment among the people, particularly the leaders of the movement, the disorder may have a different origin. It is crucial that we rely on the Holy Spirit within us to bear witness to the truth.
Let’s face it. Discerning evil would be easy if the devil appeared, looking just like the devil we imagined when we were kids, and said: “Hi, I’m the devil! I’ve come to torment you and destroy your church.” Unfortunately, he doesn’t make our job that easy. The Bible says he can appear as an angel of light.
Surprisingly, a religious spirit does not always have a legalistic, sour-faced look. I’ve seen religious spirits operating in people who appear very friendly, “free,” spontaneous—even spiritual. A religious spirit can spend hours telling you about dreams and visions and “prophetic words from the Lord.”
But God has made provision for us to discern between good and evil—by sending His Spirit, who guides us and leads us into all truth (John 16:13), to dwell within us. It is His responsibility to “deliver us from evil” (Matt. 6:13).
What is the problem then? Why do churches and individuals find out too late that what they thought was God was really a fake?
I believe it is because we, as humans, are basically lazy. We would rather accept something at face value than make the effort to tune into the Holy Spirit and receive His discernment. It is not only the work of listening we shy away from—but the responsibility of taking action if we discern that something is awry.
Listening to the Holy Spirit
I walked past a small group of people who were gathered in my kitchen. They were standing around a first-time guest, who had come, as many other visitors did, to “check us out” and see for himself the manifestations of the presence of God that were occurring in our meetings.
As I went by, I overheard the newcomer telling how he had lost his wages on the way home from work (in those days many manual workers were paid weekly, in cash). Two thoughts crossed my mind: First, They are going to give him some money to make up for the loss, and second, He’s lying!
I walked away and began to silently rebuke myself: You are so suspicious! But inwardly my heart still felt uneasy.
The following week the same visitor came again to the house meeting. One of the elders from another church in our town also attended. After the service, the elder called me aside into another room. He was hesitant but finally said, “I need to tell you something about a man who was here tonight.”
He described our visitor. “The man has made a habit of going to various churches and telling the people he has lost his wages so that they take up offerings for him,” the elder told me. “But in actual fact, he spends his money in the betting shop!”
I thanked the elder and then went straight out into my yard and sat down. I felt that God and I needed to have a talk. “God, I’m sorry. I believe you tried to tell me about this, and I ignored your Spirit and pushed His voice aside.”
Immediately the Holy Spirit gave me a striking vision. I saw a picture of a gigantic fir tree. It was lush and beautiful, with branches spreading out like a huge crinoline petticoat. The overall effect was impressive.
Then I saw that little ornaments had been stuck on the ends of the branches. The tree no longer looked impressive; the branches were so huge and the ornaments so small that it took on a pathetic appearance.
The Lord spoke to me, “Kathie, that’s what you do to my Spirit with all your little niceties and politenesses—they are not truth, and they are not of my Spirit. My truth does not need to be decorated with your niceties.”
The Holy Spirit is a Spirit of truth and reality. He does not enter into pretense. He does not put on an act or witness to a lie. If you are born again that same Holy Spirit is in you. The Bible says that the Holy Spirit leads us into all truth.
How? He witnesses to the truth. We have to learn to listen to the witness of the Spirit within us. It is the only way to walk in the truth of God and consequently live in the Spirit.
Jesus died on the cross not only so that we would have eternal security, but also so that we would be able to live in the realm He lived in—the realm of the Spirit. One of the keys to walking in this spiritual place is learning to listen to and obey the voice and witness of the Spirit within us.
Jesus did not make judgments and assessments according to what He saw with His eyes or heard with His ears. He was led by the Holy Spirit and listened to the voice of His Father (John 5:30; 7:24; 12:49). As He was, so are we in this world.