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How to Discern Promptings from the Holy Spirit

July 19, 2013

Question: I wanted to ask you a question, I will sometimes get woken up and i will get prompted to pray for someone. I was last month prompted to pray something very confusing for someone I know. What exactly does this mean, and how can I best discern promptings from the Holy Spirit?

Answer: Promptings or leadings are a common experience for the Christian believer:

  • Simeon was “moved by the Spirit” to go into the temple where Joseph and Mary were dedicating Jesus to God (Luke 2:27).
  • Jesus was “led by the Spirit” into the desert to be tempted by the devil (Luke 4:1).
  • Paul was “compelled by the Spirit” to go to Jerusalem (Acts 20:22).

But, it is equally important to remember that there are other kinds of promptings that we can experience besides the leadings of the Holy Spirit. Some can be good promptings, while others can be bad:

  • Your heart can “prompt” you to give (Exodus 25:3).
  • But your sin can also “prompt” you to speak (Job 15:5).
  • And your troubled thoughts can “prompt” you to answer (Job 20:2).
  • The devil even “prompted” Judas to go out and betray Jesus (John 13:2).

Becoming a Christian does not ensure that all your promptings are now from God. As a matter of fact, the apostle John says:

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God… (1 John 4:1)

Looking back over the examples I gave of promptings from the Bible,

  1. Some were from the Spirit of God,
  2. Others came from ourselves (our hearts, our sin, or our troubled thoughts), and
  3. Some even came from the devil himself.

So, it’s important to distinguish which “promptings” are really from us (or from evil spirits), and which ones are truly from God.

When it comes to being prompted to pray something specific for another person, I would be very cautious about this, unless it agrees with Scripture.

This is really the test: Does it agree with Scripture? If the answer is yes, then it is from God. If not, then it could be either from you or an evil spirit.

Remember, Satan is a master at twisting the Scriptures to mean something God never intended… (see Luke 4).

It’s always better to look at the context of a passage and see what God intended, rather than praying a phrase from the Bible out of context. As you continue to grow in holiness, you will also find yourself growing in your ability to discern God’s will:

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:2

Warmly in Christ,
Pastor Tim

The Author
Tim Augustyn

Tim serves as the resident pastor, writer, and editor of Unlocking the Bible. He was born and raised in northern Wisconsin, came to faith in his 20's while working in the business world, and received a Master's in Divinity from Trinity International University. He is author of the children’s book Man on the Run, and co-author of The One Year Unlocking the Bible Devotional with Colin Smith. Tim and his wife, Janna, and their four kids live in Arlington Heights, Ill.

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