We had a wonderful experience of the Spirit’s outpouring in this morning’s service at Following Jesus. Many were touched by God in various ways, some filled or baptized with the Spirit for the first time – especially our young people – while some reported to me that they didn’t feel anything consciously happening, despite having hands laid on them.
I’ve been teaching a series on Being the Beloved – A Year of Spiritual Formation, and had planned to do the next teaching today on the discipline of the Word. But during last week three ‘indicators’ came to me from different people: I should put aside my planned teaching and focus the meeting on Pentecost – receiving a fresh baptism in the Holy Spirit. I decided it was the Lord, so I tweeted it and also sent email to our church encouraging everyone to come prayed up and prepared to celebrate Pentecost. The responses I got were interesting and instructive.
The majority feedback was: “Great! If you feel it’s the Lord, go for it!” But some said, “At last! A Holy Spirit meeting!” “Alexander is giving control to the Holy Spirit!” These and similar sentiments reveal a ‘charismatic-pentecostal’ mindset of freedom in the Spirit being a meeting where there’s no preaching, just waiting on God, having prophetic words, laying hands on people, seeking manifestations of the Spirit’s power. It’s as if the Spirit is only present in ‘ministry time’ – might be present in the worship – not really present in the teaching, which is tolerated as ‘normal church’, as opposed to ‘exciting church’ which ‘frees the Spirit’ to do whatever. And any responsible leadership to pastor and guide what’s happening in such ‘Spirit-meetings’ is actually ‘controlling the Spirit.’
The above is an incorrect view of the Spirit’s presence and work, and the role of leadership to facilitate what God is doing with faith and discernment. But it’s also a reaction to pastors who indeed are controlling, afraid to open the service to a move of the Spirit and let people exercise the Spirit’s gifts as prompted.
On the other side of the spectrum some said, “Oooo a Holy Spirit meeting? Celebrating Pentecost? I’m not coming!” This came from two different positions:
1) Some were ‘burned’ in their previous charismatic church, where such ‘Spirit-meetings’ are the norm. Spirit-manifestations are sought after, even hyped up in public display, not unlike the Corinthian church, which Paul corrected. Hence the hurt and fear of manipulation and hype and spurious spiritual experiences.
2) Some from conservative evangelical churches carry ‘baggage’ regarding the freedom of the Spirit and emotional-body expression in worship, let alone the struggle with biblical teaching/interpretation of the ‘baptism of the Spirit’, and more so, ‘speaking in tongues’. Thus they are weary of ‘Spirit-meetings’.
I give this background to say that after our time of worship this morning (flowing, joyous, intimate worship… well done to our youth worship team!), I got up and explained the above to our congregation. I assured them that we want to be wide open to God, to let God be God, to ‘free him’ to do what he wants to do, to drink deeply from the Spirit. But at the same time I will facilitate and pastor the move of the Spirit. I will not engineer anything, nor hype anything into being. We’ll wait on God and let the Spirit move among us as gently or dramatically as he will. And we’ll lay on hands to impart the Spirit.
Then Waynne Pienaar, who has been preparing our plus minus 25 teenage youth over the past few weeks, came up. He spoke for 15 minutes on how to receive the Holy Spirit. We cleared the chairs to make space up front. Then we invited all the young people and adults who wanted to be filled with the Spirit, to come up. Then we said, “Come Holy Spirit!”
Slowly but surely, gently and easily, the Spirit began to touch people here and there, and up and down the rows they were standing in; then among those who did not come up but were seated and praying. Some were crying softly, others swayed under a weight of glory, some were mumbling or singing – some in English and some in tongues. Our leaders and ministry people were moving around laying on hands. I moved around extensively laying on hands, having words for people, seeing God do beautiful things. Seeing teenagers with tears streaming down their cheeks, being loved by Jesus, is deeply moving.
One cameo picture, among many, is of a Chilean couple at the back of the church, standing with their hands raised, eyes closed, waiting on God. I felt prompted to go and lay hands on them. God gave me ‘words’ of David facing Goliath and slaying him; of Joseph’s coat of many colours placed on Manuel’s shoulders, of God giving him dreams and visions, of God raising him from lowliness to a place of rule and reign with him, in order to feed the hungry multitudes in a time of drought and starvation. He wept and wept. His wife too. It was beautiful.
In closing, it would be remiss of me not to mention the fact that some did not feel any conscious sense of God’s presence or touch or infilling. And to help them to NOT question themselves (“what’s wrong with me?”), or God (“why doesn’t he do something?”), or the meeting (“what was all that about?”), is NOT easy! There are many reasons why some do not feel or believe they were touched by God – from spiritual, to psycho-emotional, to historical, to social, to theological reasons. We are called to patiently help people to connect with their feelings and their body, to learn how to subjectively experience God’s presence. I’ve found that for many people it is a learned experience. As safety and trust grow they learn to relax and open up, and begin to feel and sense God. On the other hand, we don’t HAVE TO subjectively feel God’s presence to be filled with his Spirit or to be used by him! Often he works beyond our senses! And, of course, as Jesus taught us (Luke 11:5-13), we must come back again and again for the ministry of the Spirit; we must ask and keep on asking, seek and keep seeking… and we will find!
Thank you, Father and Son, for pouring your Spirit of love upon us today (Romans 5:5). May we overflow with your Spirit in power, to witness to you, Jesus, that many may be saved (Acts 1:8). Thank you Lord!