Discernment Takes Practice

Beloved, do not trust every spirit but test the spirits to see whether they belong to God…” – 1 Jn. 4:1

How do you know whether a spirit belongs to God? John goes on to say that the test is whether a spirit “acknowledges Jesus come in the flesh.” The key is distinguishing which spirits are of the world and which are of God.

With respect to John, in my journey to follow Christ, it hasn’t been that simple. In the ten years since I first learned the word “discernment,” more often than not the “big” decisions of my life have not overtly been between “the world” and Christ so much as between different ways of serving Christ. How does John’s message apply when choosing between seemingly equally good paths?

When I “test the spirits” leading me down different paths, I recognize (usually in hindsight) that although two paths might be good, they are not equally good for me. The question of which path leads me closer to Christ has deeply personal, idiosyncratic answers. Amongst the noise and busyness of my life, clarity eludes me. It is only when I make time and space to reunite with Jesus in prayer that the messiness of life can subside enough for me to identify which spirits lead me closer to him.

It’s easy for me to make excuses to avoid prayer: too busy, too tired, too distracted. The thing is, even with two very young children, it’s also easy to find 15 minutes of quiet in a day. My iPhone tells me that I average about 4 hours of screen time each day. I watch Netflix daily. If I have time for these things, then I have time to give to prayer. What is hard is listening to the spirit that tells me to cultivate the habit of prayer over my habit of Pinterest. If I pause to consider how I spend my time, I recognize that I want to belong to God and not the world, as John phrases it. This is the deep desire in my heart. To pray is to honor this desire. To pray is to say “yes” to the spirit in my life that comes from Christ.

How can I make space to cultivate the habit of prayer?


When have I experienced a spirit that belonged to God, and one that didn’t? How did I recognize the difference?


Are there any deep desires in my heart that I have overlooked? How might the spirit of God be speaking to me in these desires?

This post was originally written for the Christus Minstries Christmas Blog and published on January 7, 2019.

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