Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world.
We want to believe those charismatic figures who sweep into our lives or across the land. They charm us with promises we want to believe and threats we are primed to fear. They entertain us with great stories and exude a confidence that evokes cheers. I remember a pastor regaling us with tales as we sat around a tavern table. We had brought our young people to camp and while they slept in their cabins with their counselors we went out for a beer. This pastor was the center of the conversation, his voice louder, stronger, more fervent than the rest.
I had a student intern that year. When we went out again later that week, she chose not to go. She wasn’t comfortable with this colleague the rest of us found so entertaining. A few years later he was removed for sexual misconduct with high school girls in his parish. When the reports first came out, many didn’t want to believe it. Even the parents of some of the girls. We were taken in by the size of his personality, but my intern had recognized that something was wrong.
The author of first John urges us to test the spirits, to discern whether the words of another speak truly about God. Are they rooted in the Spirit of God or the spirit of the times? Do they speak from the Spirit or the values of society? Are they led by the Spirit or their own passions and desires?
The prayer for God’s name to be holy asks God to help us discern such things. Do the voices we hear honor the name of God? Do they proclaim God’s love and grace and faithfulness? And do they call us to live that love and grace and faithfulness?