|Illustration for NC Wyeth Poem, |
While all Christians have at least the ability to discern, some have been given a Spiritual Gift of Discernment. It means some have been given an extra dose. Picture an army. All the encamped men listen for the enemy. However, some have been stationed at the edge of the camp and are on patrol. If the enemy makes a move, it is the men on patrol who hear it first. They sound the alarm. Soon the enemy is close enough f the main army to hear it themselves. However it is the guard on patrol who hear the enemy first and earliest.
Civil War Dictionary of terms explains the Picket Duty: "An advance outpost or guard for a large force was called a picket. Ordered to form a scattered line far in advance of the main army's encampment, but within supporting distance, a picket guard was made up of a lieutenant, 2 sergeants, 4 corporals, and 40 privates from each regiment. Picket duty constituted the most hazardous work of infantrymen in the field. Being the first to feel any major enemy movement, they were also the first liable to be killed, wounded, or captured. And he most likely targets of snipers. Picket duty, by regulation, was rotated regularly in a regiment."
It is like that with believers who have been given discernment as a gift. We are usually the watchmen, on guard, patrolling the section of ground we have encamped by. The Lord our General has stationed us in a place, given us the ability to hear the different moves of the enemy, and we raise the cry when we hear him slithering, crouching at the door, or otherwise making a move. We also detect spies (Galatians 2:4, Jude 1:4).
I don't often talk about my own experience, because my own experience doesn't matter. Also, the process of discernment is a mystery even to me, who experiences it every day. However I'd like to press your patience this one time and share something personal, with a tie-in to the Mark 4:9 verse,
"And he said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear."
|Ears of a Watchman with discernment|
Along same summer and then fall of 2013, and my "Huhn" phase morphed into a low alarm phase. I'd leave the sermon feeling unsettled. What was happening as I listened to the sermons during this time is the crux of this essay. I'd never heard anyone speak to this process or never have seen it written about, until one comment recently by Pastor Justin Peters caught my attention. During this phase of listening to my former pastor preach, I'd have the strong sense that behind what I was hearing was...nothing. There was nothing behind the words.
Hearing regular words:
Dead words are empty, they whisper weakly and then fall to the ground. They litter the floor of the sanctuary and flutter only when kicked while walking out the doors when the sermon is done. Jesus was explaining this to Nicodemus in John 3:8, when He likened the Spirit to wind, and said,
"The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
In the 1 Corinthians 12:10 verse about distinguishing of spirits, the word is pneúma . Depending on context, it means wind. Without the word "Holy" in front of it, the word means just spirits, not The Holy Spirit. (source)
As each week progressed through the summer, fall and then winter of 2013, I'd leave church increasingly unsettled. My mind would react to the sermon by saying, "It feels empty." "It feels canned". "There's nothing there."
As Gertrude Stein famously said about Oakland CA, "There's no there there."
When I couldn't shake the feeling and the unsettlement grew to prickling proportions, I decided to investigate, and by March of 2013 I'd made the discovery that each and every sermon was plagiarized. That was why the words I'd heard had no power. They were not carried by the pneuma, the Holy Spirit. They were a lie.
"The tragedy of this last hour is that we have too many dead men in the pulpits giving out too many dead sermons to too many dead people. There is a strange thing that I have seen even in the fundamentalist circles: it is preaching without unction. What is unction? I hardly know what it is, but I know what it is not, or at least I know when it is not upon my own soul. Preaching without unction kills instead of giving life. The unctionless preacher is a savor of death unto death. The Word does not live unless the unction is upon the preacher. Preacher, with all thy getting, get unction." ~Leonard Ravenhill
When the movie Heaven is Real was released, discernment minister Justin Peters was reviewing it on his radio program. (Link below). He was referring to a video interview of the father and son, Todd and Colton Burpo. Peters was describing how Colton looked and sounded when Colton was telling the interviewer of his alleged trip to heaven.
Peters was attempting to describe the lack of verve in Colton's voice and the lack of animation on his face. Peters was saying that IF Colton had actually gone to heaven, there would be a liveliness on his face and a power behind his words. Peters was struggling to articulate the feeling of having ears that hear the pneuma power. He said, frustrated, "Where is the unction? There is nothing behind the words!"
I understand! Gratefully, I finally heard someone else say what I was also struggling to put into words.
Easton's Bible Dictionary explains unction: "Unction- (1 John 2:20 1 John 2:27; RSV, "anointing"). Kings, prophets, and priests were anointed, in token of receiving divine grace. All believers are, in a secondary sense, what Christ was in a primary sense, "the Lord's anointed."
All believers have an unction, or an anointing, to hear the Spirit and be moved by His power. Those of us who have received the gift of discerning of spirits perhaps have a radar that is tuned to a longer frequency, or who have a greater range and hear earlier than others.
I personally believe this is partly what Jesus meant when He said of understanding the parable in Mark 4:9, "And he said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear."
Jesus said it again in Mark 4:23, Matthew 11:15, Revelation 2:7, Revelation 2:11, Revelation 3:22. It is said in Deuteronomy 29:4 and Ezekiel 12:2. In the Deuteronomy verse, Moses said to Israel,
"Yet the Lord has not given you a heart to perceive and eyes to see and ears to hear, to this very day."
Having ears to hear is obviously important.
Pulpit Commentary on Mark 4:9 says: "He has "ears to hear" who diligently attends to the words of Christ, that he may ponder and obey them. Many heard him out of curiosity, that they might bear something new, or learned, or brilliant; not that they might lay to heart the things which they heard, and endeavor to practice them in their lives. And so it is with those who go to hear sermons on account of the fame of the preacher, and not that they may learn to amend their lives; and thus the words of Jehovah to Ezekiel (Ezekiel 33:32) are fulfilled, "And, lo, thou art unto them as a very lovely song of one that hath a pleasant voice, and can play well on an instrument: for they hear thy words, but they do them not."
|Acoustic listening devices developed for the Dutch army as part of|
air defense systems research between WWI & WWII. Source
We all have ears to hear, if we are a believer. However those ears need to be kept clear (Acts 28:27, Matthew 13:15). If you do not have discernment as a gift, you still have a responsibility to practice the skill. Matthew 13:15 explains the first steps in keeping our ears open and receptive:
"for this people's heart has grown callous, their ears are dull of hearing, they have closed their eyes; or else perhaps they might perceive with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their heart, and should turn again; and I would heal them."
When the heart grows callous, the eyes and the ears also dim. Keep the heart soft by continual study of the word, prayer, and repentance of personal sins.
Also, are the fruits of the spirit—love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance—apparent in the words you’re hearing? If those are present they are from God. If they are not, the words are not from God.
Third, if there is no Spirit power behind their words, there will be a difference between what people say and what they do. If you hear one thing said but observe that the above fruits are not in the person's actions, then their words are not anointed. In other words, anyone can parrot love, peace, joy, gentleness in their speech but do they demonstrate it, too? One who speaks with unction will speak and act in alignment with God's word. One who speaks without anointing will always show themselves Spirit-less by their actions at some point. (Proverbs 5:22; Isaiah 59:12).
While it is dangerous to base our spiritual life on feelings, the fact is, we do experience things by the Spirit. If you feel something is "off" in a sermon or a teaching, if you feel that it is pale, or lacking something, it could be that it lacks the pneuma or the unction and the Spirit is alerting you to that fact. It takes much prayer and discernment to detect the difference between a personal feeling and the Spirit's warning bell.
Even then, the alert isn't the end, it is the beginning. My role was not just to rely on a feeling, but to prayerfully investigate. When the cold hard facts come in is when we move ahead. The guard on patrol doesn't come running to the encamped army saying, "I think something may be out there!" Something is always out there. The guard comes to the army and says "I saw a flashlight and heard the cocking of a gun." Facts.
While the devices posted above where man experimented with various means of amplification and acoustic listening, our spiritual listening devices are the Word and prayer. That's all we need. Hone your listening skills and ask for increased discernment, whether or not you have the specific gift.
And don't listen for only the words. Listen to what is behind the words.
Whoever has ears, let them hear. (Revelation 13:9)
Challies reviews Expository Listening
1st Mark of a Healthy Church MEMBER: Expositional LISTENING
What is the Spiritual Gift of Discerning Spirits?
Justin Peters reviews Heaven is for Real movie (skip to 22:26-24:20 to the 'lifeless/no unction' incident)