Question: I will sometimes wake up prompted to pray for someone. Last month I was 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,
- Some were from the Spirit of God,
- Others came from ourselves (our hearts, our sin, or our troubled thoughts), and
- 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 we look at Scripture to discern promptings of any kind, we should look at Scripture in its context. Remember, Satan is a master at twisting the Scriptures to mean something God never intended (see Luke 4).
Regarding prompts to pray, I think we can and should pray for the prompt, unless it clearly goes against Scripture. Often when the Holy Spirit prompts us to pray, it is to guard someone against sin, keep them safe physically or when under a spiritual attack. None of these go against Scripture, and praying for these things can do great good (or even prove life saving) for the one you’re praying for.
It’s also worth considering that the enemy of our souls doesn’t like God’s people praying and is unlikely to prompt us to pray. Even if we do pray for something that isn’t of God, God will know what to do with our request—He will probably disregard it since it is not according to His will (1 John 5:14).
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,