Motivation Meditations in Acts : 7 : The Wonder of the Holy Spirit
Acts 2:4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
We have already in the previous meditations suggested that motivation by the Holy Spirit is what we, as Christians, should be learning, and you might think that that is all that needs saying about it, but it is often not so simple as that – especially at such times when God seems to be moving sovereignly and strange things happen.
The disciples, almost by necessity, have been obedient to Jesus’ instructions and had waiting in Jerusalem. Then at the beginning of this feast, which was all about harvest, as they are together, suddenly the Holy Spirit comes on them all and it was a strange experience. We have more fully described in the general series on Acts 1 and for the point of this series we only want to focus on what the disciples seem impelled to do. Now in what follows it appears first of all they were in a house (v.2) but then lots of people were able to hear what they were saying, which would suggest that they spilled out into the streets and carried on doing it so that people from different parts could hear them praising God in their own languages.
So we have these men and women filled with the Spirit and speaking out in unknown tongues, spilling out into the street and becoming a public spectacle. In fact the follow on, when Peter gets up and preaches, results in about three thousand being saved, which suggests a large open public square. The result of the filling of the Holy Spirit meant that, in this case at least, the apostles were impelled into public view doing something they appeared to have little control over. Now the ultimate end result of all this is quite glorious with so many being saved, but initially, that which took place presents problems for some of us.
We don’t actually say it about the Acts 2 situation because we would not like to appear to be going against Scripture, but when we start talking about it and seeing it in our own context, many of us start making excuses why this was a one-off occasion and why they wouldn’t want it to happen to them.
Now I am old enough to have gone through the Charismatic movement in the back part of the twentieth century and also through the period that history books now record as the Toronto Blessing just before the turn of the century. The Charismatic movement was a more quiet opening up of the church to the filling of the Holy Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit and a variety of books at the time spoke about it – but it wasn’t as crazily dramatic as the Toronto Blessing when the Holy Spirit came and people laughed uproariously, fell over in the Spirit, shook uncontrollably, jerked around, appeared drunk, and so on.
Being part of a church when this occurred, it was interesting to observe people’s reactions. In the secure environment of our own church a number of people exhibited a variety of these ‘manifestations’, but not everybody. Moreover as the word spread, we found ourselves with visitors who clearly came to observe, but not enter in, and who sat in the middle of the laughter and joy like little black clouds. Now I still come across people who speak negatively about that time and about the various things that occurred, but there are things to be observed and learned here.
First, God does not force Himself on people. The disciples on the Day of Pentecost were given over to the will of God, whatever than might entail. I note that in the time of the Toronto Blessing, you didn’t have to join in – and some people purposely held back and were pure observers. I believe in every case of some such manifestation, that person gave God permission to do what He will with them. Second, at the time, such ‘manifestations’ whether tongues on the day of filling, or laughter or whatever else in the time I have been referring to, are strange.
Now it is this strangeness that people object to. For some reason I have been around in conversations several times recently when this has come up and I have heard several times, the plaintive cry, “But I don’t want to look silly!” and that, I believe, is the primary reason people object to such manifestations which, basically, is all about pride.
Rather than make you feel bad or defensive, if that was you, may I give some encouragement. In Jesus’ day he was accused of being of the devil (Mt 12:24) and he had to refute that by basically saying, think about the fruit of what I am doing. Will Satan cast out demons and undermine his own rule? No, of course not!
So let me tell you the fruits I saw coming out of the Toronto Blessing that some people still attribute to Satan. First, I witnessed an amazing healing. We prayed for a young man at a conference and he shook violently for half an hour as we carried on praying. A strange time of prayer but next day he had an appointment to see a specialist again, and what we hadn’t known was that he had had very bad stomach ulcers. The next day every sign of those ulcers had gone to the marvel of the doctors. Second, people came to pray meetings like there was no tomorrow and the prayer meeting became the most vibrant meeting of the week. Third, I saw in my people a new bubbling love for Jesus and, fourth, I saw people starting to read their Bibles like they had never done before. There was a new vibrancy of life in the Christians who were involved. Does Satan bring about these fruits? I don’t think so!
Read the history of revivals, where there is a sovereign move of God, as on the Day of Pentecost, and you find many reports of these sorts of things happening. When I was first filled with the Spirit I was filled with joy and a fresh and wonderful sense of being loved by God. Other things followed, but I ask, is joy and love bad?
What I often see, sadly, is that people who are offended by the Holy Spirit, don’t appear to be offended by the world’s behaviour and so often they imitate it, and in this Paul’s words are apt: “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.” (Eph 5:18) Don’t live as the world lives, but instead let the Holy Spirit fill you and leave the outcome to the Lord, the fruit will be good, even as it was on the day of Pentecost, and even as we saw it in the Toronto Blessing days, even if, along the way, you might appear silly. Is your pride the thing that you will allow to stop God moving in such a manner that He is able to bring about rich fruit for the kingdom – through you?