How do you know the difference between your intuition and God speaking to you?

When you think of an exploding volcano, what do you think of?

Is there a plume of smoke and ash rising into the sky or is there flowing lava in your mind? These are what I think of as the most iconic images of a volcano. And every volcano can do either one. These two images will guide us metaphorically in answering this question.

Here’s a real volcano doing both. Popocatepetl in Mexico Ash in August 2019 Lava in December 2018

It’s the same volcano: Popocatepetl, but two different types of eruptions. Both evidence of crazy amounts of heat and pressure building up from deep within the earth,

Our question for today, “How do you know the difference between your intuition and God speaking to you is more like Popocatepetl than you might think. Your intuition and your Holy Spirit awareness both come from deep within you and both come out of the same volcano. I guess in this case that’s your mouth. How will you tell the story about what came from deep within you?

Lava Style

There are those moments when you say, “I don’t know, it sounds crazy, but I just know this is what I should do” or “Hey friend, for whatever reason while I was praying our conversation about your new car kept coming up and I don’t think you should buy it.” Or “I have a plan to do something new and I don’t know where it came from so it must be from God.” Sometimes it’s explosive like that — super bright explosion — lava style. 

Hindsight is 20/20, so when the near future confirms the suspicions we dared to erupt, we learn about a spiritual gift and how it feels to express it. Your decision that felt urged by God works out great. The car your friend almost bought does turn out to be a lemon. Your new idea works out better than you could have imagined. It’s like quintessential eruption. Lava, undeniable, volcano!

Ash Style

But then there is the more subtle side. Maybe it’s not as supernatural feeling. You’ve been there before and you know how to counsel someone you’re talking to. Or maybe you’ve been reading Exodus and you start to see some ways that your life needs more liberation or how you can participate in liberation movements in the here and now. You’re in college and you start to really enjoy a particular subject and can see yourself pursuing it with passion for a long time. Or you just have a bad feeling about somebody and then they let you down, kind of like you thought they would. That’s discernment in a smokier sense. Still coming out of the same volcano, maybe pretty impressive sometime, but not so utterly volcano-y as spewing lava.

Can Ash style still be from God? And what’s the difference?

The distinction is a hard one to make. Where does my intuition end and God’s voice begin? Where is God and where am I?


The answer is more yes/and than either/or. It helps to begin with recognition that God made the volcano. God made you and God is heating something up in you that will influence the world. You have something to say. You have a responsibility, even, to share what you have been given. But how and when to say and do what is building up on the inside is the process we are working on. It’s discernment.

Discernment as Spiritual Gift

Having the Spiritual gift of discernment is being able to discern among spirits. It is the gift of grace God gives members of the body of Christ by which they can distinguish whether something purported to be of God is actually of God or is of human or satanic origin. (Listed in 1 Corinthians 12:10). Discernment is a sense like intuition, tempered by intelligent understanding; it is a combination of receiving supernatural revelation and exercising the wisdom of spiritual experience.

Biblical lava: 

  • an experience of subjective revelation or a vision (Acts 13:8-11 Elymas the Sorceror on Cyprus – Paul sees right through him without knowing him at all; 1. Cor. 2:13–16 Paul’s distinction between things taught by human wisdom and things given through Holy Spirit wisdom)
  • a judgment that can look beyond the outward appearance and assess the spirit (I Cor. 13:1-3 There is a deeper reality. What is the thing behind the thing? Here in 1 Corinthians 13, it is love).

Biblical Ash: 

  • an experience of objective “resonance” with what one knows to be true (Acts 8:18-24 Simon Magus tries to buy the Holy Spirit’s power from Peter, 1 John 4:1-3 John says anyone who denies Jesus came in the flesh must not be from God)
  • a judgment based on accepted tests:
    • fruit (Matt. 7:15-20 Good trees bear good fruit)
    • scriptural guidelines (1 Cor. 14:3, 26-33; Gal. 1:8 Examples of Paul setting clear boundaries)
    • consistency with scripture (2 Tim. 3:16 How does it line up with the full testament of God as outlined in scripture)
    • tradition (2 Thess. 2:1-5 the authority of gifted leaders)
    • what is practiced elsewhere (1 Cor. 14:33 For God is not a God of disorder but of peace—as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people. the community of believers)
    • previous experience (Phil. 3:16 Nevertheless, to that which we have attained, we are to walk by the same.)

Potential pitfalls for both types of discernment

Strong feelings forcefully expressed are not necessarily discernment. You can be pretty good at erupting, in ecstasy or wrath, and claim that you are bringing something from God, but it could just be your unexamined emotions. Don’t look for a label like “spiritual gift” to exempt you from caution. On the other side, keen insight into human nature may be mistaken for spiritual discernment. A critical spirit that always points, out mistakes and wrong motives is not discerning. A broken clock is right twice a day, you know? You could just be blowing smoke.

Sometimes people associate discernment with being smart. Yet Jesus pointedly chose uneducated disciples. It would appear, that Jesus intended to make it plain that there are no prerequisites for a full life of faith. Our natural intelligence can be a plus, but our ignorance has its benefits too.

If you’re asking the question I think you’re on the way

Developing sight  and sense for the Spirit is beyond our normal capabilities. How do you feel about being taught by the Spirit? How adept are you at sorting out your days with the Lord’s guidance? Being open to an answer that is given directly from God and not from some guy writing a blog is the beginning of your journey. Asking “How do you know the difference between your intuition and God speaking to you?” means you are on your way. You have recognized the heat inside you. You are volcanic and you know it.

Paul says, as part of his closing offerings in his teaching about spiritual gifts for the Corinthians church, “Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue should pray for the power to interpret. For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unproductive. What should I do then? I will pray with the spirit, but I will pray with the mind also; I will sing praise with the spirit, but I will sing praise with the mind also” (1 Cor. 14:13-15). There should be no real contest; we are spiritual beings in bodies. Both mind and spirit are elemental to us. How are you working out the relationship between revelatory and rational? Lava and ash? We are all more likely to be stuck in rational, since we all eat that “apple” at one time or another and the society  produces millions of apples to eat every day (Gen. 3:1-7). The knowledge of good and evil is a curse, so it seems. The knowledge of God present to us in the fires of our souls, now that’s worth talking (and writing) about.

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