USING YOUR SPIRITUAL SENSES
The gift of discerning of spirits is one of the more perplexing spiritual gifts, so let’s clarify some language about seeing in the spirit.
No believer has the “gift of seeing in the spirit” because there is no such thing. The gift that is actually functioning when someone says that he or she is seeing in the spirit is the gift of discerning of spirits.
Discerning of spirits is a true gift of the Holy Spirit found in 1 Corinthians 12. Seeing in the spirit is just one way that discerning of spirits functions. Seers are those that typically function in a high level of discerning of spirits, usually through spiritual sight.
Discerning of Spirits
The gift of discerning of spirits is a communication gift through which the Holy Spirit makes us aware of our spiritual atmosphere and environment around us. The main way that this functions is through our five spiritual senses that God placed within each of us. To understand how we function in discerning of spirits, we must understand our spiritual senses. Most people only realize that they have five physical senses. The truth is that we have three sets of five senses.
Science has demonstrated that the physical body has five senses that enable us to interact with the environment: taste, touch, smell, sight, and sound. In addition to your five physical senses, every person has five senses in their soul and five senses in their spirit.
May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. - 1 Thessalonians 5:23
Scripture has many verses that show that we are a three-part being consisting of a spirit, soul, and body.
Experience and culture dictate our own individual reactions to taste, touch, smell, sound, and sight through our soul. For example, smell brings back memories. If I were to give flowers to one individual, it may bring back good memories like flowers from a wedding, but if I gave the same flowers to another person, it may bring back bad memories from a funeral. This is not a physical reaction to the flowers or their smell; it is a reaction from the individual soul.
If two people are walking together and they cross the path of a dog, one individual may like dogs and begin to pet the dog; however, the second person may be afraid and begin to feel uncomfortable. This is also a response from the individual soul senses. The way we see the world, and the way we hear others, is affected by the condition of our soul. Also, the willingness to touch certain things like a snake may be easy for some or terrifying for others, depending on the condition of the soul. Even the taste of some foods will bring varied responses from different people.
The human soul has senses just like the physical body. Each category of senses has a realm that it interacts with. The physical senses interact with the physical realm, the soul senses interact with the interpersonal realm. And the spirit has senses that interact with the spiritual realm.
The author, Dr. Harold Eberle, offers great insight regarding our spiritual senses:
“Just as we have five senses that provide us with information about the physical world, we also have senses in touch with the spiritual world. The spiritual senses are just as important as the physical senses. Unfortunately, most of us have not developed our spiritual senses.
Many Christians do not even believe they have any spiritual senses. I like to ask them, “Has the devil ever tempted you?” Of course, they answer yes. Then I like to say, “Well, how did you hear the devil? You could not hear him if you did not have spiritual ears.” It is sad, but many people have more faith that the devil talks to us than that God talks to us. In reality, the Bible makes it clear that we all have spiritual eyes and ears.
When Elisha prayed for his servant, he did not pray for God to give him eyes, but he prayed that God would open up his eyes (see 2 Kings 6:17). In Ephesians 1:18, Paul did not pray for the saints to receive eyes, but for God to open the eyes of their hearts. We already have spiritual eyes and ears. What we need is to have them opened. We need to become sensitive.”
It is a fact that we have senses in our spirit through which we interact with the spirit realm. When the gift of discerning of spirits is functioning, it is through these spiritual senses that we receive communication.
In human communication, the two main senses we use most often for relating information are sound and sight. Communication in the natural is received through listening, as well as through body language and facial expressions. God also communicates through the other three senses (taste, touch, and smell), but most of the time He will speak through seeing and hearing. Because the spiritual senses of taste, smell, and touch are the least understood, the following examples show how, on occasion, God may speak to us through these senses.
Communication in the natural is received through listening, as well as through body language and facial expressions.
And He said to me, “Son of man, eat what is before you, eat this scroll; then go and speak to the house of Israel.” So I opened my mouth, and He gave me the scroll to eat. Then He said to me, “Son of man, eat this scroll I am giving you and fill your stomach with it.” So I ate it, and it tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth.” - Ezekiel 3:1-3
If we suddenly taste something sweet, sour, or salty, but the taste is not a result of anything we have physically had to eat or drink, we should ask the Lord if He is trying to speak to us. On occasion, in the Old Testament, God spoke to His prophets through experiences with spiritual taste.
But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us, spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of Him. - 2 Corinthians 2:14
In the spring of 2005, I was helping Randy Clark and Leif Hetland at one of their book tables in Nashville, Tennessee, when a large angel appeared at the end of the table by Leif ’s books, and a stir began among the people. To my knowledge, no one else was able to see what I was seeing, yet they could smell the change. I saw the angel pulling out small vials of heavenly fragrances, each one being very distinct. He pulled them from his belt and wafted them in the air. There was the scent of perfect cinnamon; then after about two minutes, a fresh scent would be put out. The scents were drastically different from one another: from the scent of cinnamon to wild flowers to baby oil and then to various spices. This continued through about 12 different smells, and by the end of 30 minutes there were about 30 people crowded together on the tips of their toes smelling the air and sharing in the experience.
As Jesus was on His way, the crowds almost crushed Him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for 12 years, but no one could heal her. She came up behind Him and touched the edge of His cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped. “Who touched Me?” Jesus asked. When they all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the people are crowding and pressing against You.” But Jesus said, “Someone touched Me; I know that power has gone out from Me.” - Luke 8:43-46
This is a great example of the difference between physical touch and spiritual touch. According to this story, Jesus was almost physically crushed, but when someone reached out and drew healing power out from His spirit, He declared that someone had touched Him, speaking spiritually, of course.
My friend Benjamin Valence and I had a spiritual experience together a few years ago. Ben wrote out the experience in his own words as he remembers it (notice how the senses of touch and smell were both operating).
Focus on the Lord
Once I started to share what I was able to see, people were very hungry to have similar experiences and would ask me how they could begin to see. Since God had sovereignly given me this gift that I had not sought out, I didn’t know what to tell them, until I found a key in Matthew 5:8.
I understood impartation through the laying on of hands; therefore I would pray for impartation to anyone interested, but I was only seeing a fraction of people receive the gifting. Over the last several years, the Lord has taught me some principles that have opened the door for more people to be able to activate their faith for the gift of discerning of spirits. The first one that I want to share is the principle of Matthew 5:8, which was the first insight the Lord gave me: “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God” (Matt. 5:8).
How pure does a person have to be to see God? I believe that the answer is in asking the right question, “What is meant by purity?” The vast majority of believers hold the word pure as a moral standard that is unattainable. Jesus was speaking of purity as a key to seeing God and I believe He told us this because it is attainable.
To illustrate the meaning of pure, take gold as an example. When gold has been truly purified, it has had all the other elements removed from it. This process causes all the dross and impurities to come to the surface so it can be skimmed away. In the end, it produces gold that is one single element. Our hearts are sometimes cluttered with the dross of life, and we must remove all the distractions so we can focus our whole heart on God.
For us to have a “pure” heart, our heart must be focused. If we are to “see God,” then the one element our heart contains must be a focus on the Lord.
When we focus our hearts on the Lord, we are aimed to come into the experience of seeing God. The verse is clearer if we read it this way, “Happy are those who focus their heart on God, for they will actually see God.”
Faith and the Empty Chair
The following story is a favorite of mine. It is a great illustration of what it means to focus your heart on Jesus using the eyes of your imagination.
A man’s daughter had asked the local minister to come and pray with her father. When the minister arrived, he found the man lying in bed with his head propped up on two pillows. An empty chair sat beside his bed. The minister assumed that the old man had been informed of his impending visit. “I guess you were expecting me,” he said. “No, who are you?” said the father. “I’m the new minister at your church,” he replied. “When I saw the empty chair, I figured you knew I was going to show up.”
“Oh yeah, the chair,” said the bedridden man. “Would you mind closing the door?” Puzzled, the minister shut the door. “I have never told anyone this, not even my daughter,” said the man. “But all of my life I have never known how to pray. At church I used to hear the preacher talk about prayer, but it went right over my head.”
It’s not spooky because He promised, “I’ll be with you always.”
“I abandoned any attempt at prayer,” the old man continued, “until one day about four years ago my best friend said to me, ‘Joe, prayer is just a simple matter of having a conversation with Jesus. Here is what I suggest. Sit down in a chair; place an empty chair in front of you, and, in faith, see Jesus in the chair. It’s not spooky because He promised, “I’ll be with you always.” Then just speak to Him and listen in the same way you’re doing with me right now.’”
“So, I tried it and I’ve liked it so much that I do it a couple of hours every day. I’m careful though. If my daughter saw me talking to an empty chair, she’d either have a nervous breakdown or send me off to the funny farm.”
The minister was deeply moved by the story and encouraged the old man to continue on the journey. Then he prayed with him and returned to the church building. Two nights later the daughter called to tell the minister that her daddy had died that afternoon. “Did he die in peace?” he asked.
“Yes, when I left the house about two o’clock, he called me over to his bedside, told me he loved me, and kissed me on the cheek. When I got back from the store an hour later, I found him dead. But there was something strange about his death. Apparently, just before Daddy died, he leaned over and rested his head on the chair beside the bed. What do you make of that?” The minister wiped a tear from his eye and said, “I wish we all could go that way.”
For the exercise, we are going to talk to Jesus like the old man in the story did. Take a moment to stop and close your eyes, then with your imagination, picture Jesus.
Now engage in a conversation with Him. If you cannot think of anything to say, you can always start by thanking Him for the things He has done in your life. For example, salvation, physical healing, emotional freedom, baptism in the Holy Spirit, financial blessing, reconciliation with others, divine favor, deliverance, and the fruit and gifts of the Spirit. Do not forget to listen to the Lord speaking back to you.