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A Few Holy Spirit Questions
Does everyone need a specific “experience” in receiving the Holy Spirit?
This is a very important question and one that is commonly asked. To answer this question, as with all theological questions, the best place to go is scripture. To begin, let’s look at the word “experience”. The whole of the Bible is a record of humanity’s experiences with God. From creation and the first breath to the ransomed Body of Christ before the throne, we have the story of God’s desire to know us and to be known. This record is a series of experiences we have had with God in which He revealed Himself, His purposes and His plan.
By “experience” we simply mean an encounter with God. This encounter may occur in a variety of ways, but most often we mean that 1) a human has encountered a person or entity whom they know to be God, 2) it is real (as opposed to imagined), 3) it happened in real time and space and it changed their character and the course of their lives. In other words, one cannot have a real encounter with God and remain unchanged. In fact, I would argue that a real encounter or experience with God is necessary for Conversion.
The question is then, does everyone need a specific encounter to be baptized with the Holy Spirit? The answer is certainly a resounding “yes”, but given the above definition, when in real time does this occur? Does this happen at Conversion or is it a second work of Grace that occurs at a later time? Given the accounts of people being Baptized with the Holy Spirit in Acts, we must conclude that both are possible. Cornelius and the men with him appear to be converted and filled with the Holy Spirit at the same time. Yet when Phillip preached in Samaria, people were converted and baptized, but not filled with the Holy Spirit until Peter and John came from Jerusalem. Paul himself obviously became a believer after encountering the risen Jesus and being struck blind, but was not baptized with the Holy Spirit until Ananias laid hands on him and healed his blindness. The apostles received the Holy Spirit when Jesus breathed on them in Matt. 20, but they were not baptized in the Holy Spirit until Pentecost, and after Pentecost, they were very, very different.
For some a second experience was necessary, for others, the Baptism with the Holy Spirit was concurrent with Conversion. It is important to note that these are only four examples and so other combinations of experiences may also be possible. In my own story I was converted at 9, experienced Baptism with the Holy Spirit at 17, but did not experience the Gift of Languages until the age of 20 when I asked for it.
So, does everyone need a specific experience in receiving the Holy Spirit?
The answer is a qualified “Yes”. There must be a moment in time where this occurs, however, there is great variety in how it occurs. We must not demand that it always happens a certain way or that your experience must look like mine or vice versa.
If we haven’t had such an experience but are saved and seeking them, why haven’t we had a dynamic encounter?
Just as the means in how it occurs and the sequence of events may be individually very different in Baptism with the Holy Spirit, so can the means and intensity. When I was Baptized in the Holy Spirit, it was dramatic for sure, but I had no idea what had happened. The phrase “Baptism with the Holy Spirit” wasn’t in my vocabulary and I had no paradigm and no theology for my experience. It wasn’t until several years later that I realized what had occurred. But what if it had not been so dramatic? What if it had been soft and subtle? Would it have been any less being Baptized in the Holy Spirit? I have encountered several people who had the same experience, but it was different in that it was relatively quiet and undramatic. Yet their lives were no less changed. God deals with us as He knows we have need. Some are converted in dramatic fashion with a dynamic story of how God rescued them. For others, it was a very simple story of being drawn to Him. No huge mess, no great drama. The Baptism in the Holy Spirit can be the same way.
However if a person feels that they have not had that experience, the simple answer is to just ask.
9So I tell you: Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you. 10For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.
11What father among you, if his son asks for a fish,d will give him a snake instead? 12Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13So if you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!”
1 Cor. 12:27-31
27Now you are the body of Christ, and each of you is a member of it. 28And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, and those with gifts of healing, helping, administration, and various tongues. 29Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31But eagerly desire the greater gifts.
The answer? Just ask, then wait. Seek His face. Put yourself in places where God is moving. Go to places where there is a greater concentration of His presence. He is a good Father who will not withhold His Spirit from His children who ask. Believe it. Receive it.
What is the purpose of these dynamic encounters?
I believe the primary purpose is to change us, to change the way we see reality and the way we think. We grow up in the natural world by experiencing it. Touching, smelling, hearing, seeing, tasting. We learn gravity by falling down. As children we are intimately attached to our senses in exploring what is real. This is good and necessary, but reality is more than the natural world. Much of what we have learned in the natural, doesn’t work in the spiritual. These God-encounters teach us the spiritual realm experientially, just as we learned the natural world.
It takes us past the theoretical into the actual. I may learn about George Washington through history books. I may in a way say that I “know” George Washington through what I have read. This is theoretical knowledge. However, I have never experienced or encountered George Washington in the flesh and there is no real sense in which I might really say that I “know” him. By genuinely encountering the Spirit of the Lord, I have actual, first-hand knowledge of Him. The encounter will also leave me changed. I will never be the same. The encounter is an exchange. He gives us Himself and we give Him more of us. He also deposits things into us through the encounter like gifts of the Spirit, healing, forgiveness, power, changes in our character and often a new reality or paradigm for understanding Him and His ways. This was perhaps best expressed in the line from Amazing Grace, “I once was lost but now I’m found, twas blind but now I see”. In many ways it is like coming to life for the first time.
Since we all get the Holy Spirit at Salvation, can our experience be an awakening in us to tap into His power, recognize His presence and experience Him in other, maybe more subtle ways?
In the Book of Acts we see some believers receive the Baptism in the Holy Spirit at their conversion while others receive it later. Either way, the purpose is power. Jesus breathed on the Disciples in John 20 and said “Receive the Holy Spirit”. Later He told them to wait in Jerusalem for the promise of the Father, that they would be filled with power and be His witnesses. The purpose of the power is to be witnesses. We need His power flowing in us and through us to live in this world, to battle the enemy, to heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast our demons (Matt. 10) We need His power to resist sin, to grow deep in Him, for His character to form in us, to minister to each other, to be His witnesses in Judea, Samaria and the uttermost parts of the earth. We need His power tools to build His Kingdom. We need His Power to make disciples, we dare not even try to do this this in our own strength.
Why didn’t He give us all we need at salvation?
I don’t know. God’s ways are far past my intellectual powers to comprehend. However, I do know what He says in His word…and I believe it. Interestingly in Eph. 5:18 when Paul says don’t be filled with wine, but instead be filled with the Holy Spirit, the Greek tense carries the sense that this filling with the Spirit should be continuous and on-going! The Baptism in the Holy Spirit is the first of many fillings!
In 1 Peter 4:10 it says, “As good stewards of the manifold grace of God, each of you should use whatever gift he has received to serve one another.” The word manifold literally means “many colors”. The idea is that God works through us in an amazing variety of ways. Instead of trying to figure it all out, just enjoy Him! I have been astounded at the different ways He manifests, sometimes quietly, sometimes with giddy joy, sometimes with fearsome power! It’s more about Him than how! But be open to new ways He wants to reveal Himself, new colors He wants you to see!
What do you mean by feeling His presence? What kind of feeling?
In the Movie Chariots of Fire the Missionary Eric Liddell is quoted as saying of God, “When I run, I feel His pleasure”. In Acts 2 the early church kept feeling a “sense of awe”. When God shows up, His presence is often felt. In my own experience I feel His presence in my inner space or being and physically. It is not always the same either in sensation or degree. There is very frequently a sensation on the skin we often refer to as “Holy Ghost Goosebumps”.
Most often I feel an inner knowing that He is very near. This is usually accompanied by feelings of peace, joy and love. The feelings may stay the same or they may grow in intensity and this can have physical results. For instance, if He allows me to feel a deep sense of His love, I may begin to cry, sometimes lightly, at other times with great sobs. I have felt this so strongly I sank to my knees and wept. I have also experienced this when in deep repentance. Usually He is healing me or just loving on me, either way He is changing me. If the predominant feeling is joy, I may begin to feel giddy and laugh or even dance!
The phrase “feeling His presence” is synonymous with “awareness of His presence”. Awareness has levels ranging from mildly aware to intensely aware. The range of emotion that accompanies awareness can be from feeling something mildly unusual and pleasant to a drawing to conviction/repentance to joy to fear to being compelled to some action and more. Awareness of His presence is felt both individually and in groups. There are times when I feel an awareness in my inner being that there is a shift in what the Holy Spirit is doing in a place. It seems that the “atmosphere” changes and I feel that He is doing something different or special. I don’t know how many others are also aware, but I feel sure that some are.
In the Old Testament one of the words for God’s presence is the Shekinah Glory. The Glory of God is an intense, concentrated form of God’s presence. Some call it the atmosphere of Heaven. At the Transfiguration, when Jesus became “glorified” He literally shone with light, even His clothes. This is the Glory of God. The Shekinah Glory is what fell at the dedication of the Temple when the train of God's robe filled the Temple and the Priests could not stand to minister. They could not stand because the presence of God had substance. The word Shekinah comes with the sense of physical substance and weight and is often referred to as the weighty glory. The Priests could not minister because the weight of God’s presence literally pressed them to the floor, not in a crushing or painful way, but like being under a heavy, cozy warm blanket. The Glory of God has not changed and we still physically feel His presence in varying degrees.
Those of us who grew up in the modern world were taught not to trust feelings, and rightly so, but we have to be aware that God communicates through physical sensations and in our inner space. We need to exercise discernment to be sure, but we must also understand that as new creations in Christ the Spirit of the Lord communicates in many ways and feeling or sensing or having an awareness of His presence is one of those ways. Rather than ignoring or shutting those down, we should ask Him to teach us how to hear Him through our inner selves by opening the eyes of our hearts and how to physically discern His presence and understand His promptings.