While we should always test from the Bible first, I think it also helps to hear real life stories from the present day to help identify what we are experiencing. I’ve read several books on this, but I found James Goll’s book, The Seer, to be particularly helpful because he described how the developing of the gift of discerning of spirits started, not just what he experiences now.
As Paul says, we are to grow in the gifts, and that means that we have train up in them. For most of us, they aren’t going to descend in full force all at once.
One thing that I have noticed after being around people that operate in spiritual gifts, a gift does not manifest exactly the same way in every person that has that gift.
I think that is because we are all unique and God wants a personal relationship with us. So even in the gifts of the spirit, there may be major groupings, but he doesn’t hand out carbon copies to everyone. He customizes the combination of gifts and their expression to be uniquely suited to each person.
Some people, like the person I mentioned earlier, can literally see into the spiritual realm. Not all the time, at least not the people I know, but when God wants to show them something.
While I have had a few experiences before, there are two specific incidents where I believe the development of the gift of discerning really began in earnest.
One was around Easter of 2011. There was a situation where I could recognize God’s hand working in a person’s life and orchestrating people and happenings all to bring this person closer to Him. It was so absolutely clear and it was awesome to see.
I was praying a lot and interceding for this person. It’s hard to explain, but I could feel the intensity of the spiritual battle going on around this person. While all this was going on, I felt a shift in the atmosphere. Like a chain was broken lose and something aligned.
I don’t know what it was, but something happened.
The second incident was in my Bible study. I can’t remember if this happened before the situation above or after. I was sitting in class, listening to the teacher and I felt something. Felt isn’t the right word I supposed, because it wasn’t a physical feeling but instead a “sense.” It was like something fell.
Imagine a tree falling, but take away the sound and the force of the air current it creates and just imagine the vibration of that. That is what it felt like.
The word that came to me was “conviction.”
I don’t even remember what the lesson was on, but I remember the sense of that movement very clearly. I know that the Holy Spirit was working in the life of someone in the class and convicting them.
I may have experienced things before this, but I didn’t recognize what it was.
A little while after that I started to smell fragrances. Not all the time, just every once in awhile. At first they were all good smells. In the beginning, I was just caught up in the experience and not paying much attention to anything else.
But then I started analyzing it, trying to determine what the different smells were, noting what was going on at the time, and recognizing similarities.
Then I started smelling bad scents and sensing along with it presences that weren’t good. For me, I think the smells were a training tool the Holy Spirit was using to help me develop the discerning of spirits.
Also, my middle name means “a living fragrance,” and I do think that God is cool that way.
Recently, I have started to see, literally, things. Just a couple of times so far and they have been minor.
For me, it has always started out with good stuff, something of God, before I see or sense something that’s not. I am very grateful for that.