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Discerning Spirits: How To Unlock And Activate This Spiritual Gift of God.

This article is an in depth look at the spiritual gift of discerning spirits.

How To Discern Spirits

Discerning spirits is one of the seven gifts of The Holy Spirit listed in 1st Corinthians 12. This article will teach you how to unlock and activate this amazing gift of the Holy Spirit!

All throughout the Bible, we read about normal people doing the miraculous. We read about them interacting with angels and confronting demonic spirits. They were frequently hearing voices, seeing prophetic visions in the dream and waking states, etc.

We read about them performing mighty miracles to accomplish the will of God on the Earth. Each time this was done, it was to give glory back to the Father.

God Speaking
God Speaking

The Ancient prophets and seers, the New Testament disciples, and even Jesus operated in the gifts of the Spirit. Spiritual gifts such as the ability to discern spirits were very much at work in their lives.


People are fighting their own personal battles. A person who is sensitive to the Holy Spirit can use the gift of discernment to extend grace.

You can be guided on specific things to say to people that will have impact in their life.

The power of life and death are in the tongue. As followers of Christ, we have the power to bind and loose on Earth as it is in heaven.

One of the easiest yet most effective things that we can do is to work with God through conversation. By doing this, we offer hope and encouragement to those who are lost.

Discern the times, discern the spirits, and let it come naturally.


Did Jesus Operate In The Gift of Discerning Spirits?

Yes! In the story of the woman at the well, Jesus meets a woman fetching water from a well. You can read this account in John chapter 4 in the Bible. During conversation with her, Jesus uses the water as an analogy about being spiritually dry and the water that he provides causes us to never thirst again.

Jesus Healing Woman

In their discourse Jesus tells her out of the blue to “Go, call your husband and come back” and she replies that she has no husband. Jesus, using spiritual discernment says cynically “You are right when you say that you have ‘No husband’ for in fact you have had five husbands and the man that you are with now is not your husband.”

Jesus had no foreknowledge of her situation according to the flesh.

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He was just passing through the city, but God had bestowed upon him a divine appointment. The woman then says “Sir, I can see that you are a prophet”, acknowledging his gift.

Jesus then begins to share the truth of the gospel with her and tells her that he is the messiah. As the woman leaves and returns to town, she begins to tell people “Come and see a man who has told me everything that I have ever done; could this be the messiah?”

Revival Happened Because Of Discerning Spirits

After this, the town’s people began to make their way towards Jesus. Verse 39 says that many of the Samaritans from that town believed on him because of that woman’s testimony and they urged him to stay with them, and he did for two days.

During the two days that Jesus was with them, the people told the woman “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.

One supernatural word of knowledge caused many people to come to faith in God because of Jesus’s willingness and obedience to be used by the Father.

This is why Jesus later goes on to say “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will never believe.” This is but one example of how God uses spiritual giftings and abilities to win people over and draw them unto himself. How does God do this? Through us.

Ephesians 2:10 says, For we are Gods workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

This is the song and dance with God, the divine romance; that God would use us to bring forth His glory upon the Earth. Jesus and the disciples were privy to these spiritual giftings and abilities, and Jesus also left a promise that we would do greater things than him!


Can Anyone Discern Spirits?

Everyone has the ability to tap into these spiritual if they so desire for themselves.

They are what we call the sixth sense. Have you ever thought about someone and then they suddenly called you on the phone? Have you ever thought about an old song that you haven’t heard in years and then the radio Dj randomly played it as you thought of it?

These are minor examples of how we are tuned into our spiritual gifts from God.

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The amazing thing is that you can actually hone in on them and get better at using them just like a muscle gets stronger the more you use it.

The more aware we are of the presence of these in our life, the more we can open ourselves up for these “God Encounters”.


Discerning Spirits During Prayer

I have learned to better hear God’s voice while in prayer by using the laying on of hands during group gatherings. It’s about being able to be quiet and tap into the person’s energy. By doing this we can sense, feel and know what they are going through, and we can minister directly to their specific need.

Instead of praying a hundred words that just seem to end in monotony, we can learn to pray and speak 10 words of power.

God cares about all of us. He cares about every aspect and every area of our lives, and He even knows what we need before we pray.

Praying For Man
Praying For Man

Each one of us can learn to be so close to the heart of the Father that we not only know His heart and desire for our own lives, but also the lives and purposes of those around us. Jesus and his disciples used spiritual gifts and the anointing to bring forth healing and deliverance to many during their ministry.

It has been said that to deny these spiritual gifts and talents is to deny people an aspect of Jesus. If Jesus and His disciples needed these tools during their ministry, then how much more do we?


What Is The Reason For Discerning Spirits?

Jesus went out performing many miracles and making decisions based upon following the flow or unction of the Holy Spirit, which spoke to him in many different ways.

God uses the miraculous as an open door to share His love with mankind.

There are many examples in the scripture where Jesus used his spiritual giftings as an open door as well.

The miracles and supernatural encounters act as a bridge and at times reveal the inner secrets of the heart that only God knows.


Discerning Spirits Scripture

Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues: But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will. | 1 Corinthians 12:4-11

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How To Discern Spirits

Discerning spirits can be done in many ways. Biblically, it acts as an inner knowing or a deep feeling. When interacting with spirits on a day-to-day basis, these spirits become familiar to us. We learn the way they operate as well as their agenda.


Discerning Spirits Through Hearing

God is always speaking. The question is, are we listening?

God is speaking
God is speaking

In 1 Samuel Chapter 3, Samuel hears a voice calling out to him in the middle of the night.

Samuel hears the voice and gets up on three occasions. Each time the thought that it was the High Priest Eli that was calling his name.

On the third occasion, Eli tells Samuel, “It is not me calling you, maybe it is the Lord. The next time you hear your name called, say, ‘Speak Lord, for your servant is listening”.

When he did this the next time, God began to speak with Samuel. Sometimes we can hear His voice deep within our being, sometimes as audibly as speaking with a friend.

Learning the different ways that God is speaking is a beautiful journey.

2 Chronicles 16:9 says, “The eyes of the LORD search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.

When God Speaks, We Speak

God is always speaking and always looking for those who are willing to draw near and hear what He has to say.

One of the most powerful and wisest experiences that I have come to practice (whether in corporate prayer for someone else or in my personal quiet time) is to just sit in silence and ask the Father,

“Lord, What would you say? We know what men would say and what they have said, I know what I would say, but Lord, what would you say?”

The first thing that we should do in every situation is consult the heart of the Father and ask for His guidance in the matter.

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I guarantee you that every time He will speak. It may not be through a sign or wonder.

We may not audibly hear his voice but if we pay attention, he is speaking.

Jesus said in John 10 “My sheep hear my voice.” This means that those whom he has called are able to both literally and figuratively “hear” his voice in various ways.

God speaks to our hearts through his still small voice. He speaks through His written word and many other ways mentioned in this article.

Learning to distinguish the voice of the Father comes through levels of discernment.

The Bible is the plumb line, God will never speak anything contrary to His word.

Don’t Put Words In God’s Mouth

In the charismatic movement many people come daily with revelations saying that God told them this or God told them that when in fact God hasn’t spoken to them in years.

I’ve heard scenarios where people have said God told them to leave their wife, God told them it was ok to do drugs, God told them it was okay to look at adult sites and many other crazy things that not only go outside of His word, but against it.

We need to be weary of new revelations and always test it against Gods word.

In fact it is quite easy to get off track and follow a stranger’s voice. In many cases the stranger’s voice may even be our own.

We have two primary voices being heard, the will of God and our own.

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Discerning God’s Desires

These two desires are constantly wrestling with one another. Just as Jacob wrestled with God and was left changed, we too wrestle with Him in the ring of our mind. Sometimes people want to believe things so badly that they put words in Gods mouth and then begin to tell people, “Here is what God told me”.

The scripture says in Psalm 37:4-5:

Delight thyself also in the Lord: and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart. Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass. If we delight ourselves in The Lord, He will give us the desires of our hearts.

The key is that when we delight ourselves in God, our desires begin to change. Through the sanctification process and the renewing of the mind we will eventually no longer desire the same things that we used to. For example, when we used to desire to sin, acquire material possessions or to be famous, our joy was in those things, not fully in the Lord.

Through spending time delighting ourselves in the Lord, we may now desire righteousness and to live Holy and be content.


Discerning Spirits Through Seeing In The Spirit

“And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.” | Joel 2:28

seeing in the spirit
seeing in the spirit

There are many different ways of seeing in the spirit.

Some people are able to see angels or demons around when others cannot. Some people immediately see prophetic images from heaven when they close their eyes.

I have personally been in meetings and during prayer have been able to see snakes on people or chains wrapped around their feet symbolizing demonic strongholds and forces working against the person. I immediately began to intercede for the person and by faith reach down and undo the chains.

When faith meets action it brings about change.

Often the person would feel a heaviness lift off of them and feel an immediate wave of God’s presence when something like this occurred.

Sometimes God requires us to step out in faith in order to see the miraculous.

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We must step out from our comfort zone, which is an act of denying ourselves. The scripture states that obedience is better than sacrifice.

Once God opens the eye of our understanding, we begin to walk in a greater level of faith and believe God for more.

This is a realm where the supernatural becomes natural and it becomes a part of our daily life.

Elisha Helps A Young Man See In The Spirit

In 2 Kings 6, Elisha went on a journey with a young man when they ran into trouble. They woke up in the morning surrounded by a great army and fear immediately struck the heart of the young man. Elisha then turns to him and says “Don’t be afraid. Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”  And Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, LORD, so that he may see.” Then the LORD opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.

Elisha’s prayer opened up the young man’s eyes to be able to see the spiritual reality of what was really going on. If God is for us then there are none that can stand against us.

Elisha and chariots of fire
Elisha and chariots of fire

We are in a spiritual battle, and we have armies of angelic hosts surrounding us.

Sometimes we are able to see them in the spirit, and it builds our faith. Ask God to allow you to see in the spirit. Ask the Father to open your eyes, but be careful, what you see may shock you.

Faith is being able to see a thing manifested before it is physically here. When we prophesy over our lives or the lives of others, we must have a picture in our minds of the outcome that we wish to see.

Then, we step out by faith, proclaim it and by doing so, birth it into reality.

Faith equipped with vision and expectancy is what brings about miracles.


Discerning Spirits Through Knowing (Word of Knowledge)

And, behold, certain of the scribes said within themselves, This man blasphemeth. And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, Wherefore think ye evil in your hearts? | Matthew 9:3-4

Praying over teenager
Praying over teenager

Discerning spirits through a divine knowing in the Bible is called a “Word of Knowledge” or “Word of Wisdom”.

The Holy Spirit will speak to you about things that you need to know or inform you how to make a decision.

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These are usually things that you would have no way of knowing unless given direct knowledge from God. You may know a person’s name, where they work or some significant detail about them that you had no other way of knowing.

This is also referred to as a quickening or divine revelation in the scriptures. Many Christian circles are starting to use the term “download” as well.

This gifting also correlates with the discernment of spirits.

Discern When To Speak

We are able to know things about people without even meeting them before. When a person is oppressed with a spirit or may have a particular familiar spirit around them, those who have the gift of discernment are able to discern which spirit is upon that person as well.

The Word of Wisdom is divine revelation on how to use or share knowledge.

Just because it’s a divine revelation does not mean that we are to go out and share it with everyone.

Jesus warns us in Matthew 7:6 not to cast our pearls before swine because they will trample them under their feet.

In a world where many still feel the need to be affirmed, often we are very eager to run and share our new revelation with friends or leadership. One of the biggest crushing blows that a believer can experience is sharing their revelation with someone and they think that you are way off or not hearing from God.

There is a saying that those who live for the approval of others will die by their rejection. A way to avoid this is by the use of wisdom.

If God spoke it, it will remain.

He will confirm it by His presence and with signs and wonders, and the impact will bear much fruit. It will be something that lasts, versus just some idea that came and went.

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This principal is shown to us in the story of Joseph and the coat of many colors. Joseph was given a vision of what he was to do in the future, and it was something great. So great that even his older brother would be subservient under him.

When he shared this dream with them, they were immediately offended and plotted within their hearts to put him away and harm him. They were jealous and insecure within their own callings and identities.

Like us, Joseph may have shared his vision with the world prematurely, but God has a beautiful way of working every situation out for our good.


Discerning Spirits Through Feeling

In Mark Chapter 5, we read the story of the woman with the issue of blood and how by her faith she was made whole.

An interesting thing about this story is when the woman touched Jesus that He “felt” the virtue or power leave him. The feeling was so strong that He turned around in a crowded street with people all around to ask, “Who touched me?”

woman with the issue of blood
woman with the issue of blood

This is one example about feeling the presence of God, power or anointing physically.

There are several references in the New Testament about how Jesus was moved with compassion for those who were lost or sick. Jesus bore a natural empathy for those people and believers also continued to carry this burden for a lost and dying world.

Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities | Hebrews 4:14-15

Just as Hebrews says that Jesus is moved by our infirmities, we carry the very same nature to the world by unction of the Holy Spirit.

crying in prayer
crying in prayer

We carry a compassion that we can at many times feel within the depths of our beings.

There are times of travail when the Holy Spirit will pray for us with groanings and utterances not understood by human intellect.

Many times when this occurs, you are able to feel what area you are receiving healing in. This also happens in times of deep intercession with others. There is a feeling associated with the prayers. 

Many people speak about being empathic and being able to pick up on other people’s energy and feel it in their bodies. People who identify as empathic speak about not wanting to go out in public or visit Walmart because of all of the different energies that they will pick up on.

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How I stepped Into Discerning Spirits

I remember years ago showing up for pre-service prayer before youth service. We would sometimes show up an hour early in a separate room to prepare our hearts, ask God to move in power, and pray for the people coming to encounter His love.

On one particular evening, we walked into the dimly lit room with worship music playing and as soon as I stepped through the threshold of the doorway, I felt this overwhelmingly strong burden of heaviness come upon me.

I remember being in a pretty good mood, and then instantly I felt overwhelmed and hopeless. As we walked into the room, we were surprised to find another one of the church members over in the corner crying.

We asked her if anything was wrong, and she told us that she had just found out that her husband had been having an affair. Her heart was broken, and the Lord allowed us to feel her burden supernaturally so that we would be moved with compassion, and so we would minister healing to her.

Discerning Through Pains In The Body

Many times when we get these sensations, it is something that hits us spiritually and other times we can literally feel it in our bodies as a spirit of infirmity.

When I first started having bodily pains in this way, I admit that the first thought I had was fear. It wasn’t until I began to step out and exercise faith or ask God about the feeling that I started to see breakthroughs happen in people’s lives.


I Went Deaf During Worship!

Once we were in a home meeting with a small group. During worship, I caught an excruciating pain in my neck. The first thing that came to my mind was fear, thinking that I pulled something.

I immediately began to rebuke the devil under my breath and command him to let my neck go, but nothing happened. “Devil, I am the healed of the Lord and no harm shall come nigh my dwelling, loose my neck in Jesus’ name.” Still nothing.

I then paused for a second and thought about it and said to myself, “What if the Lord is allowing me to feel someone else’s pain and this pain isn’t even my own?” Again fear came, because now I’ve got to speak up in front of everyone and what if I was wrong?

Thoughts continued to creep in, like, “People may think you don’t hear God.” Well, I’ll never find out if I never try. After all, I had vowed to not grieve the Holy Spirit again. I didn’t want someone to miss out on their healing because I was too shy.

Faith Is Always Required

So I stood up and asked the room if anyone was having neck pain, and when I did a friend said, “Yes, I actually went to the doctor today because of my neck.”

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By faith, I said, “Well, I believe that the Lord wants to heal you. Can we pray for you?” He said yes.

We stood up and laid hands on him and the Spirit of God showed up, moved upon him, and he said that the pain left!

This began to happen to me more in other gatherings as well as at the doctor’s office.

For some reason, fear usually likes to rear its ugly head and try to get you to doubt God, but once you move past fear and into faith, you will see the miraculous happen.


Discerning Spirits During A Church Service

I was in a church service once during worship, and I was having a beautiful time in the presence of God, when suddenly I went deaf in my right ear. Fear showed up, and I began to ponder why this was happening. Maybe my blood pressure is off… or… maybe the Lord wants to open a deaf ear!

I then got excited and stepped to the side to ask the pastor, who was a friend of mine, if I could speak after the song was over, told him the situation, and he said yes.

Next, I went up to the stage and called it out. “Is there anyone here who is deaf in their right ear?” I looked around the room and an elderly gentleman stood up.

Then, asked him to come to the front, laid my hands upon him and commanded his ear to be open, and the man was healed!

Furthermore, I can give many more examples where this continued happening again and again.

What I have learned and cannot stress enough is that almost every time it did, fear showed up first.

God uses our imagination, not our intellect.

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Make sure that your mind is renewed, and you know who you are in Christ so that you will remain a pure vessel for the Lord to use. His heart will move to you and through you, and perfect love casts out all fear!


Discerning Spirits Through Smell

Some people are able to smell energies or intent as a way of spiritual discernment. Smelling is synonymous with inner knowing, i.e. “I smell something fishy going on here”.

Often a foul or demonic spirit carries with it a rude stench similar to that of garbage, vomit or rotting flesh. Many people have experienced this smell while performing exorcisms during the deliverance of demonic spirits.

discerning spirits though smell
discerning spirits though smell

On the other hand while in ecstatic experiences with God, there are accounts of smelling beautiful aromas of honey, incense, frankincense, flowers and sweet-smelling fragrances.

Song of Solomon 1:3 says, Pleasing is the fragrance of your perfumes; your name is like perfume poured out.

The Bible refers back to our prayers, deeds and alms rising up to heaven as a fragrance before the Lord. The priest also burned incense during times of prayer, believing that the smoke would carry their prayers to heaven as an offering before God.


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