“He’s lying,” I thought. “I know he is.” Though I’ve never been bitten by a radioactive spider, I could still feel my “Spidey-Sense” tingling.
The individual I was speaking to habitually embellished stories. Normally the stories were harmless, but this time his statements verged on slander, and I felt compelled to confront him.
Some call it a sixth sense or a gut feeling. However you refer to it, intuition is a great gift, and it has helped me in ministry. Intuition is an internal feeling that develops as we mature, enabling us to come to conclusions about a situation before we’ve weeded through all the facts. It differs from discernment in that it operates on a subconscious level without utilizing our active reasoning faculties.
Intuition is knowing the reason someone is #askingforafriend has nothing to do with an actual friend and everything to do with a real situation in his life he’s too embarrassed to admit. Pastoral care often requires intuition, trying to unearth the question behind the question.
Tool of Intuition
But intuition, like all tools, can be used for good or evil.
While the Holy Spirit lives inside Christians, our Enemy prowls outside of us, seeking to destroy in subtle ways (1 Pet. 5:8; 2 Cor. 11:14). These dueling realities make intuition like a book of matches. We can use the tool to warm a house up or burn it down. We must use caution when we sense that “holy hunch.” Is it from the Holy Spirit, our gut, or, worst of all, the Enemy who seeks to deceive us (Rev. 12:9)?
Intuition is like a book of matches. We can use the tool to warm a house up or burn it down.
The Holy Spirit will certainly lead us into truth (John 16:13), but this is no guarantee we won’t be led astray by our own emotions or by the schemes of the Devil.
Differentiating between the role of the Spirit and our gut can be a treacherous task. Remember, our non-Christian neighbors can exercise this gift on occasion as well. The imago Dei and God’s common grace create a natural world where all people may exhibit some intuition—even if the Holy Spirit doesn’t reside in them.
Gift of Intuition
I once interviewed for a pastoral position and my gut told me something was off with the elder team. Three years later, my suspicions were confirmed when news broke about disqualifying sins rampant among the church’s leadership. Were the promptings from the Spirit inside me or simply a developed intuition? These hairs aren’t so easily split. A wise Christian develops the gift of intuition (1 Kings 3:12) even while the Spirit grows her in grace.
We see an incredible example of this in Mark 2. The scribes silently question whether Jesus possessed the authority to forgive sins (vv. 6–7). But Jesus is one step ahead of them:
Immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, “Why do you question these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, take up your bed and walk’? (vv. 8–9)
Jesus perceived the critique no one was brave enough to voice. He addressed the “evil in [their] hearts” (Matt. 9:4) and robbed them of any valid excuse to continue questioning him.
As followers of Christ, we may experience similar situations. Our intuitive perception of others can be utilized for good. Take for example when someone leads musical worship in a church and the songs match the sermon perfectly. Yes, the Holy Spirit helped in this situation, but much of this “miraculous” match-up can be attributed to a fine-tuned intuition.
On the other hand, if we’re not careful, there’s also an opportunity to abuse the gift.
Curse of Intuition
I once heard someone say our greatest weaknesses are often our greatest gifts on steroids. There’s a lot of truth in that statement. Discernment is a gift of God. Intuition is a gift from God. But any gift can be abused by using it in the flesh instead of in the Spirit.
As we progress in our walk with Jesus, we become more attuned to his heart for others. We also grow in our ability to perceive when others might have impure motives. But we must be careful—especially those of us with a title or salary from a church—to seek clarity on whether our sanctified intuition is of the flesh or the Spirit.
We are, after all, fallible and imperfect. Unlike Jesus, we sometimes assume bad things about others that we shouldn’t. So we should use caution when attributing our intuitive promptings to the Holy Spirit. We must remember that “love . . . believes all things” (1 Cor. 13:7), and when we think we’re perceiving deceit or sin in someone else, we should ask open-ended questions (as God does in Gen. 3:9), rather than relying on intuition alone.
Unless you have clear evidence to the contrary, refusing to take someone at her word—even with your “holy hunch”—is a slippery slope to spiritual abuse.
Application of Intuition
The gifts God gives his children are often for the benefit of others rather than themselves. Intuition is no different. When your gut is prompting you to encourage, affirm, and comfort those in front of you, follow those promptings and bless others.
When your gut is prompting you to encourage, affirm, and comfort those in front of you, follow those promptings and bless others.
But what should we do when we suspect someone is trying to deceive or entrap us?
We should always pray (1 Thess. 5:17). We should also ask clarifying questions. Curiosity is our friend and it helps us to maintain relationships. If someone is trying to contend against the truth, he ultimately can’t succeed (Matt. 16:18), so those of us who are messengers of light need not fear darkness (John 1:5). Eventually the truth will come out.
That promise is sobering for us as well, considering our proclivity to self-deception. We can take heart in knowing Jesus knows what’s in our hearts (for better and for worse) and yet loves us still. By all means, utilize your “holy sixth sense,” but do so with fear and trembling.