My oldest son, who is 20 and is a born again believer, has had a discerning gift for several years. He has also seen dark shadows and spirits on and off for several years as well and had many encounters last summer seeing and sensing evil. Have you heard of this age group of people having these types of experiences and do you have any idea as to why? We feel it has to do with his discerning gift and several of his friends are seeing evil spirits on a daily basis.
BTK from Brentwood, TN
What is discerning of spirits? (Part 1)
Discerning of spirits is one of the Holy Spirit gifts talked about in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10. "For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues."
What does this gift do? Those who discern spirits are able to see/perceive into the spirit realm and know the roots of issues and true motives of people, whether from a good or evil spirit. To the person possessed of this gift, there is an ability to skip to the bottom line faster and to not be sidetracked by the appearances of things.
Sometimes the person actually physically sees the evil spirit at work in the person or situation. For instance, I know a pastor who was counseling with a particular person. All the time they were talking, the pastor saw a demon sitting on the person's head, twisting what was being said and preventing the person from receiving the truth.
Here is another example from scripture. Peter was exercising discerning of spirits when he encountered Simon the Sorcerer in Acts 8. Simon had believed in the gospel but when he saw the Holy Spirit given through the laying on of hands he wanted to buy that power from the apostles. Peter saw his heart and said; "For I see that you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity." (Verse 23) In the natural we might have guessed that greed for power was the underlying motivation but Peter saw that the true root was bitterness and iniquity.
Scripture nowhere limits the gifts of the Holy Spirit based on age. In fact, Acts 2:17 says; "And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, that I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh." A twenty year old is "all flesh" as well as a 57 year old as well as a six year old. And for the times we are now living in the church needs every single gift operating in every single believer - regardless of age.
Next: How does this gift fit?
How the whole body fits together (Part 2)
In discussing any gifts of the Holy Spirit there is a vitally important principle to consider first. (By the way there is more than one gift list. See 1 Corinthians 12:28, Romans 12:6-8 and Ephesians 4:11 for additional gifts.) Why are these gifts given? 1 Corinthians 12:7 starts the gift list off by first telling us why. "But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all." Gifts are not given to be personal blessings to us or to make us feel special or holier than the next guy. They are for the common good of the church.
Thinking of it that way should keep us from pride. Every gift has a use and one is not better than the next. But, suppose one gift was better? What did we do to deserve it? Nothing. The Holy Spirit "works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills." (1 Corinthians 12:11) Whatever gifts are placed in our lives are simply his choice for us.
The other important thing is that the gifts work interdependently. None of us have ALL the gifts. Jesus is the only one who possessed every gift in its fullness. The gift of discerning of spirits is a good example of this. It may seem pretty nifty to be able to see what is going on in the spiritual realm but what do you do with the information? It may take someone with the gift of wisdom to know. Or someone with the gift of prophecy may be able to speak forth God's plan or purpose to the situation. Many gifts will blend together to bring God's kingdom on the earth.
To apply these principles to the reader's question, my advice is to connect with other believers who have a different gift mix. Several years ago I was in such a group and it amazed me how each gift popped up as it was needed for the work we were doing of prayer mapping for the city of Toledo.
It is easier for us to be around others who are similar to us but in the case of spiritual gifts, diversity is best. The use of all the gifts within a mature group of believers also serves to sharpen and refine our own gift. It also provides accountability and a checks and balance system so nobody gets flakey.
A reader asks for clarification on what it means to "get flakey" with spiritual gifts.
A person who is young in their gift or not seasoned by training may operate in an immature way or in a way that seems eccentric or screwy - in other words, flakey. One of the ways this plays out with the gift of discerning spirits is that the person sees a demon under every rock. They may ascribe evil to every situation or event when that is not actually correct. By being in a group with other people who have different gifts, a balance can be achieved.
One gifted differently (perhaps someone with the gift of wisdom) may bring correction to the overzealous one. They may say; "Hey now, let's settle down. I see a very natural explanation for what you say is a demonic spirit." They may question and probe and act as a counter balance. They may challenge what that person sees or perceives; not in disbelief but in order to remain accurate in discerning the situation.
A good gift mix is a protection for everyone; we need to submit to each other and appreciate those who are different than ourselves.
Next: Why is this young man discerning these things?
Why is this happening? (Part 3)
God has a purpose in revealing things to us, whether how to pray in a certain situation or the discerning of evil forces at work. The fact that this discerning gift in your son has been operational for several years helps to confirm it is a foundational gift in his life and not just one momentarily alighting on him.
I'm not sure how your son has handled his inside information in the past but I think the wise thing always to do is ask the "why" question of God. "Lord, why have you revealed this to me? What do you want me to do with the information? Please give me the next step." I would not suggest taking action unless God reveals it. However, it is always a good idea to simply speak out the Word.
For instance, if you son senses a dark shadow somewhere he can always say something like; "Jesus is the light of the world. No darkness dwells in him. All darkness has to flee in his presence. I speak the light of Jesus Christ in this place" Next, it is good to keep a log of all such impressions and occurrences. Over time he may see a pattern.
Additionally, this information should be shared with other mature Christian believers and the log should be submitted to one with spiritual authority who understands this gift. Proverbs 11:14 gives us a very good piece of advice; "Where there is no guidance the people fall, but in abundance of counselors there is victory." There may be others (and there probably are) who have a different piece of this same puzzle and it can be fitted together if each one contributes the part they have.
I will give a few possibilities for what may be going on. The territorial spirits over your region may be being revealed now so that once they are exposed, they can be taken down. The Lord is preparing your son for an eventual ministry of deliverance or prophecy. The spirit realm is stirred up and agitated right now; they are starting to get squeezed. The supernatural is spilling over into the natural in your area because there is a big battle on the horizon.
I can't say for sure why this is happening to your son but prayer and perhaps fasting may help to reveal more.
Next: Things to watch out for
Warnings and moving forward (Part 4)
I have answered this question based on the fact that you said your son is a born again believer. If he were not, or if he had lapsed somewhere along the line, there could be other explanations for what is going on. Drugs, alcohol, New Age practices such as use of Ouija boards, games such as Dungeons and Dragons, etc. could all create an open door into the dark side of the spiritual realm.
If a person opened such a door and is now dealing with the demonic, it would be necessary to repent and reject those things which introduced the spirits. The question must always be asked; did I give legal ground in some way for the things I am encountering? In this case we will assume the answer is no.
Moving forward, your son should be certain he has a strong spiritual covering. If he still lives in your home, that could be you as his parent. Speak and pray blessings and protection over him every day. Is there a good church where he is submitted to the spiritual authority of a godly mature pastor? A lone ranger with a gift of discerning of spirits could become a nightmare if there is no accountability.
Tell your son to keep very short accounts with God. In other words, he should examine his conscience often and guard against sin with all his heart. Tell him too that we are living in very exciting times. We will see remarkable things and God is calling us to be part of it all with the gifts he has given us. Tell your son this: "Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?" (Esther 4:14)
Note: For additional help I highly recommend Jim Goll's book, The Seer - The Prophetic Power of Visions, Dreams, and Open Heavens. Though it is not precisely on the subject of discerning of spirits, there are discussions within the book that may lend further helpful information to assist you and your son.
Note: For more information on discerning of spirits and all the other supernatural gifts read Holy Spirit Gifts - Building Blocks of the Church.