8 dangers of ministering in the gift of discerning spirits and how to overcome them

Marko Joensuu         No comments
The Pentecostal movement began with an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, but it didn’t take long before its leaders had to begin to fight against demonic influences.

In his sermons William Seymour, the African American preacher who initiated the Azusa Street revival in 1906, referred to counterfeits and deceiving spirits. It is evident that he came across both in Azusa Street. 
Seymour was aware that many people came to Azusa Street imitating the work of the Holy Spirit. His solution was studying the Bible more carefully. He said, 
We must rightly divide the Scriptures and compare scripture with scripture so that there be no confusion and no deceptive teaching or wrong teaching may creep in. 
Unfortunately, serious Bible study is something that is missing from the Charismatic movement, and many Christians rely on their leaders to do the Bible study on their behalf and often elevate the word of their leaders above the authority of the Scripture. 

One of the greatest threats against Azusa Street came from the spiritualists who were attracted to the mission. Seymour singled them out and labelled them as counterfeits. Because of their presence in Pentecostalism, the movement was quickly identified with “free loveism”, which was a ‘liberation movement’ for women. Free loveism gave women the freedom to choose their sexual partners. 
Not all spiritualists were free lovers, but nearly all free lovers were spiritualists. So, there was a presence of known spiritualists at the Azusa Street Mission. 

Studying the history of the Azusa Street Revival, we can see that a move of God doesn’t automatically protect us from demonic influences. That is why it is vital for anyone exercising the gifts to study the whole Bible carefully. 

What is the gift of discerning spirits? 

The gift of discerning spirits is the ability to discern spiritual influences or presences in our life and environment. It is mentioned by name only once in the Bible, in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10, but we can see the Old Testament prophets, the apostles and Jesus operating in what could clearly be identified as the gift of discerning spirits.  

For example, in Acts 5:1-11 Peter confronts Ananias and Sapphira who lied about giving everything they had got from selling a house. As a result, they both end up dead. In verse 3, Peter says, 
Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit? 
Undoubtedly, Peter was operating in the gift of discerning spirits, although he might not have called it as such. Hebrews 4:12 says, 

For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. 

Studying the Word of God brings us discernment, and first it begins to bring discernment regarding our own motivations—what is of soul and what is of the Holy Spirit. 

This isn’t the gift of discerning spirits as such, but fundamental discernment every Christian must have in their lives. For you to know what is of God in your life, you must also know what is of your own soul. And it is the Word of God, in partnership with the Holy Spirit, which begins to bring that separation, so that you will be able to discern your motivations more clearly. 

But although knowing the Word is necessary for the gift of discerning spirits to function, the actual gift is a side product of spending lengthy times in the presence of God. 

The gift of discerning spirits is a gift birthed in God’s presence. It is a prophetic gift, and only useful when accompanied with the gift of prophecy and an ability to hear from God. Without the ability to hear from God, you can’t really put the gift of discerning spirits into any productive use, and it can even lead you astray, as you will easily misinterpret the reasons behind a spiritual disturbance. 

When we become sensitive to God’s presence, we also become more sensitive to the presence of demonic influences around us. 

You can be aware of the demonic, but that is not necessarily the gift of discerning spirits. For example, some artistic people are spiritually sensitive. The mediums can often sense the presence of demons. But it is only through the power and the presence of the Holy Spirit that we can begin to discern what these powers really are. Becoming aware of demonic beings without the Holy Spirit giving you that awareness is dangerous, because you don’t have the spiritual power to resist and discern their deception without the Holy Spirit. 

Over the years, I have become familiar with many dangers linked to using this gift. The devil’s three main weapons are fear, sin and deception. In John 8:44, Jesus says that the devil is a murderer and a liar. As a murderer, he releases violence against us, and this brings fear. As a liar, he releases deception against us. And since the temptation in the Garden of Eden, he has always tempted us to sin. 

All these three weapons get their energy from a demonic presence that accompanies them. The presence of God bears fruit, and so does the presence of the enemy, but of a rotten kind, if we allow it to operate in our lives. Galatians 5:22-23 says that the fruit of God’s presence in our lives is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. 
The fruit of demonic presence in our lives, if we allow it to affect us, are the works of fear, sin and deception.  

I believe that each demonic being possesses all these three weapons of demonic presence—fear, sin and deception—but we experience that demonic presence through whatever their predominant activity is at the time. 
  1. 1. Depression 

One of the challenges with the gift if discerning spirits is that it brings a lot of negative emotions into our life. Discerning demonic spirits doesn’t feel pleasant. 

The first danger is falling into depression merely as an overall impact of being sensitive to a demonic presence. In fact, many Christians become depressed because of it even before they are aware that they might have the gift of discerning spirits. 

When Elijah fled the Queen Jezebel, he became depressed, partially at least because he had just slaughtered hundreds of false prophets, which would not have been psychologically a particularly pleasant experience. But this encounter had also exposed him to the fullness of the enemy's dark presence 

If you minister with the gift of discerning spirits, you will become very aware of the spiritual environments of the people you are ministering to. If you carry that awareness home and don’t spend time with the Lord afterwards, this exposure can easily lead to depression. 

The antidote to this kind of depression caused by increased spiritual sensitivity is spending extensive times in the presence of God and studying His Word. This is especially important after any ministry time when you have engaged with the gift of discerning spirits. Many Christians prepare for ministry but don’t take any time to recover after. But that is like cleaning up a sewage system and not having a shower after! 

That’s why the most dangerous place of any travelling minister tends to be the hotel room after a long day at a Christian conference. You think the job is done but you haven't finished yet. You must let Jesus wash your feet after you have trampled demons.
  1. 2. Fear and anxiety 

In the Bible, we can see how fear caused King Saul to lose his anointing, Peter to deny Christ and the rest of the disciples apart from John to flee when Jesus was arrested. But we should not judge them too harshly.  

When Jesus was arrested in Gethsemane, He said to those who came to arrest Him: 
When I was with you daily in the temple, you did not try to seize Me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness. (Luke 22:53) 
Up to this point, the ministry and presence of Jesus had protected Peter from the full power of darkness, but now he was attacked by demonic fear, which he was unable to overcome naturally. It was only after he had been filled with the Holy Spirit that he became able to overcome demonic fear.
  1. 3. False prophecy 

The development of the gift of discerning spirits can lead to false prophecy, especially if you are used to operating with the prophetic gift only. This might sound paradoxical, but it is especially those who are open to using the gift of prophecy that are the most vulnerable, as they are particularly open to the spiritual dimension. Unless they are aware that they are now operating in the gift of discerning spirits, they can begin to accept what they perceive through the gift of discerning spirits as prophecy. 

It can sometimes take time to sift and penetrate the darkness and deception of the enemy with this gift, and in the process you can receive many false signals from the enemy—who is a master liar—until you finally see things clearly. Understanding the false signals as prophecy will lead to false prophecy.
  1. 4. Misattributing the reason behind a spiritual influence 

This must have been rampant even in the Early Church, as Paul had to remind the Christians that they were not wrestling against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers.

For example, many Christians misattribute to culture and politics what should be attributed to the principalities and powers. 

I can often sense a spiritual disturbance around a person, but it might take a time of prayer before I begin to discern the actual cause. The enemy is a master of distraction, and he can easily lead us down the false alleyway when we discern his presence – unless we are continually filled with the Holy Spirit who is the Spirit of Truth. 

This might be one of the main reasons why some ministers seek to cast out demons from people who are born again—they have a dormant gift of discerning spirits, but they are misattributing the reason for what they perceive. This way, rather than setting people free from an invisible demonic influence that is operating in their environment, they end up putting people in deeper bondage than they were before they were prayed for! 

A born-again Christian cannot be demon possessed, but even Jesus was attacked and tempted by the devil.  

We must always submit our spiritual experiences to the Word of God, as they can be misleading. 
  1. 5. Falling to sin 

The presence of the enemy can wear you out and weaken you, which can make you vulnerable to temptation. If the Holy Spirit gives us the power the resist sin, discerning demonic spirits can weaken us and expose us to the power of sin, which these beings can also release to our life as part of their "defense through attack" strategy. We must remember that demons are highly intelligent and sentient beings.  

Zechariah 4:6 says, “Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit”, and we must seek to be continually filled with the Holy Spirit and not rely on our own understanding. 
  1. 6. Misunderstanding your dreams 

If you have the gift of discerning spirits, you will become subconsciously aware of the presence of the enemy even when you are asleep. This awareness will affect your subconscious and begin to produce many dreams.  

Some take these kinds of dreams as an attack; others accept their deception as prophetic guidance. Many problems in the prophetic movement are linked to the fact that prophetic people receive the product of the influence of the gift of discerning spirits on their subconscious as prophecy. 

But mostly, they are neither an attack nor prophetic revelation, but simply a way of alerting you that you are being affected by an invisible, negative influence. So, a dream like that is merely a symptom and not the actual attack.  
  1. 7. False reasoning 

  2. Isaiah 1:18 says, 
Come now, and let us reason together,” says the Lord, “Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They shall be as wool." 
A demonic influence is like a distortion field when it comes to our reasoning, and the gift of discerning spirits can make us vulnerable in our reasoning in news ways. 
Our emotions are intertwined with our reasoning, and the negative emotions that we can feel when we are operating in the gift of discerning spirits can begin to affect our reasoning. For example, when we feel hopeless, our view on the future will be negative and distorted. 
We should not reason when we are operating in the gift of discerning spirits, as that reasoning will easily become warped and twisted but seek to be filled with the Holy Spirit, so that we will be able to reason with God.   
  1. 8. It can give the enemy an entry point into your life 

In one sense, this covers all the points above: the spiritual interface that the gift of discerning spirits opens has two-way traffic, and the enemy can manipulate you through this gift. 
Ephesians 2:6 says that God has “raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus”, and most Christians have only a positive reading of that. 
But Ephesians 6:12 says,  
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. 
We are firmly seated in heavenly places with Christ, but in our life on earth, these heavenly places are also places of contestation: they are not only places of peace but also places of war. And it is in this instance where Paul asks us to put on the whole armour of God, so that we will be able to stand in the full onslaught of the enemy. 

And it is the gift of discerning spirits that helps us to see what is going on in the heavenly spaces, but it also makes us a special target of the enemy. According to Paul, we are operating in the same spiritual space—the heavenly places—than principalities and powers, and this will always lead to a fight.

There are five major defenses against these dangers: 1) Sharpen your discernment by studying the Word daily 2) Spend extensive times in prayer and in God’s presence 3) Seek to follow the inner flow of the Holy Spirit from your inner being to outside rather than being a slave to your emotions or following ideas that seem to you from outside, especially if there is a sense of spiritual disturbance. 4) Be quick to obey the guidance of the Word and the Holy Spirit in your life. 5) Be quick to forgive and to love.

You can connect with Marko on Twitter @markojoensuu and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/mpjoensuu/ or by visiting markojoensuu.com. 
Published by Marko Joensuu

Marko Joensuu has worked for over sixteen years in the publishing and media ministries of Kensington Temple. He is an author, publisher and screenwriter.
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