I believe in all the gifts of the Spirit, yet I fear there is a scarcity of that underestimated gift called "discerning of spirits" (1 Cor.12:10). Though many of us truly want the supernatural, there seems to be little evidence of seeking after the gift of discernment.
We are in a time when people "will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear" (2 Tim. 4:3, NIV). The world may be going to hell, but I can name plenty of preachers who not only help send them there but also make them feel good on the way.
So much teaching seeks a "feel-good" reception. No stigma, no offense of the cross, no appeal to self-denial, little that is God-centered, but instead what will—even if unintended—keep people asleep, undiscerning and impervious to the real and present danger. What would preaching be like if there were no need for people's approval or financial support?
Healing, miracles and prophecy fascinate us. Yet if we really believe in the spiritual gifts, whatever happened to discernment? We should eagerly desire it to make a distinction between the real and the counterfeit, and to discover the Spirit's mind. It seems those without discernment do more than sway from the truth; they seek and accept teaching that is truly harmful.
Hosea 4:6 says God's "people are destroyed from lack of knowledge." 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 and prophesy extraordinary things that turn out to be wrong, and yet hardly anybody says a word. No wonder the world does not respect us!
With the New Year, many people will make resolutions. Why not resolve to grow in discernment? One way to do this is to read through the Bible in a year and pray more. Sadly, statistics show that most ministry leaders have no strategy for sharpening their discernment. A recent survey revealed the average church leader spends only four minutes a day reading their Bibles!
Jesus said to the Pharisees, "You know how to discern the face of the sky, but you cannot discern 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 (see Matt. 25:5). 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; and (3) we hate the sound of an alarm.
Jesus also forecast a midnight cry (see Matt. 25:6), which means the "middle of the night." This is: (1) the darkest time; (2) when we are in deepest sleep; and (3) when we are least expectant. Could not this wakeup call come in stages, 9/11 being the first stage? If the recent economic meltdown is not a further wakeup call, I don't know what is. The final wakeup call will cause the church to discern its true condition, but for some it will be too late (see vv. 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!
R.T. KENDALL was the pastor of Westminster Chapel in London for 25 years. He is the author of numerous books, including God Gives Second Chances. Visit his Web site at rtkendallministries.com .