7. Wonderful Spirit

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?


43. Wine & Spirit

Ephesians Meditations No.43

Eph  5:18-20 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

So often we lose the impact of what Paul is saying in these verses because we focus on the wine-debauchery-Spirit part at the beginning, whereas the thrust of the verses is upon us having a thankful outlook on life. This, he is surely suggesting, is to be the nature of the Christian life experience – it is to be a joyful experience that is full of praise and thanksgiving and joy.

His starting point is a negative warning: Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery.” which harps back to our old lifestyle before we came to Christ. In that respect this is an extension of the lists of things not to be seen in the Christian’s lifestyle, yet he is using it as an illustration and contrast to what he does want to point us towards. An excess of wine leads to a reducing of inhibitions, a releasing of the tongue and exuberant outward behaviour. Now that is exactly the same sort of behaviour that accompanies being filled with the Holy Spirit. The classic example, of course,  is the day of Pentecost when the Spirit first came upon the believers together and they were filled with the Spirit (Acts 2:4) and their tongues were released. However their behaviour was so free that some of the onlookers, “made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.” (Acts 2:13) which prompted Peter to reply, “These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:  ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.” (Acts 2:15-17).

Sometimes in the Christian world, we have been so concerned to avoid any appearance of impropriety that we have been afraid to face the truth that indeed the filling of the Spirit brings a freedom which is accompanied by joy, and which can be misinterpreted by onlookers! Paul contrasts being drunk when he puts the positive instruction before them: “Instead, be filled with the Spirit.” This comes in the present tense and so speaks of an ongoing repeatable experience but please don’t be afraid to note that it is an experience that marks out people. When God’s Spirit turns up in power and in filling, people are changed even more than at their initial conversion, and this is supposed to be an ongoing Christian experience, this being filled and empowered and released by the Spirit.

I think a personal testimony is in order here. In my younger days as a Christian, I did experience this filling with the Spirit and experienced great joy and freedom. It was not something I sought, but something that was just given on one occasion when I was seeking the Lord. It was unexpected and inexplicable and I floated a few inches off the ground it seemed (not literally!). Unfortunately in months following I came under the influence of those who would be more serious and sober and I actually came to question the experience. This questioning carried on for a year during which time I can only say that I become more and more spiritually dry. (It’s the only way I can describe it.) Then on one particular day, the Lord in His grace allowed me, at three different times in the day, to encounter three different Christians who were clearly filled with the Spirit and full of His joy. After the first one, I went away muttering about ‘frothy Christians’ and after the second one I grumbled about so many shallow Christians. After the third one I came to my senses and acknowledged that they had something that I once had but no longer had. I sought the Lord and sought His forgiveness for my foolishness and was immediately filled afresh with the joy and freedom of the Lord. We normally disparage these things out of fear or insecurity. Knowing the Lord, Paul is saying in today’s verses, is to be a bubbly, effervescent, joy-filled freedom. Remember Jesus likened it to new wine (Mt 9:17).

Thus Paul continues, “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Please note he’s not saying do this all the time, every minute of your life but when you come together. Use music, he is saying, because music is an expression of a freed heart. Have you noticed that when you are happy and free you sing? Perhaps many of us don’t sing (outside of church services) because we haven’t got much to sing about or, being Christians, we’ve forgotten how much we have got to sing about. Part of this, the motivation if you like, is thankfulness. When I was filled with the Holy Spirit I became immensely thankful. On the day of Pentecost, the onlookers heard them, “declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” (Acts 2:11) That’s what we do when we are thankful; we declare the wonders of God in our own way.

Perhaps what this should leave us doing is reflecting on the nature of our own personal Christian experience. Is our experience simply one of ‘religion’ which is cold and somber? Surely the real article helps us see the wonder of God, the wonder of what He has done for us in and through His Son, Jesus, and that wonder should almost overwhelm us with joy when we see the reality of it. If the world has quenched or quashed that reality, we need to be filled with His Spirit, to realise and experience afresh (or for the first time) the shear exuberant wonder of His glorious presence. May it be so!