37. Effects of the Spirit’s Moving

‘Living with Uncertainty’ Meditations: 37. Effects of the Spirit’s Moving

Jn 3:8   The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.’

Acts 4:8  Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them…

Acts 4:31  After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.

Acts 11:24   He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.

Be at Peace:  As I have suggested before there are often fears and doubts and uncertainties about the Holy Spirit which the Lord understands but simply warns us against speaking wrongly of Him (Mt 12:31,32). To deny the work of the Spirit is to deny God. But uncertainties are understandable, but it is the way we respond to them that is important. I testified in the previous study how I foolishly experienced the Spirit moving, backed away from it, yet was graciously drawn back in repentance to receive again. The Lord looks for hearts that are open to him, even if they are uncertain. Be at peace in all this.

Uncertainty is Natural: If a leader like Nicodemus (Jn 3) was confused, don’t be surprised if we often get confused. To take Jesus’ analogy about the wind, many of us feel fearful simply because don’t know when He is going to turn up and what He might do. We live in a world that teaches us to be in control so it is natural to be nervous when God turns up and takes control out of our hands. It is natural but we are not called to be natural, we are called to be supernatural. We are to live by faith not by sight (2 Cor 5:7), we are to live not by human wisdom but by Holy Spirit and scriptural guidance.

Effects: I want to finish these reflections about the uncertainty of the Spirit by noting the fruitfulness that comes when we allow the Spirit to lead, inspire and empower us. In the previous study I used the analogy of a son growing into his father’s business as a picture of what God wants for us, and when we see the things He says He expects of us, we realize that these are things we cannot do by our own ability.

Boldness: Using our verses above, in Acts 4  when Peter is brought before the authorities we see him, “filled with the Holy Spirit,” (v.8) and Luke surely means us to see that it was because of this that he could answer them fearlessly and proclaim the Gospel. In Judges we have seen the Spirit come upon people to make them bold and courageous leaders. When we are filled with the Spirit there comes a new freedom to stand up and be God’s people. At the end of Acts 4 when the church are praying, the Spirit comes on them all and they were all filled so that “they spoke the word of God boldly”. (v.31) We desperately need some Holy Spirit boldness to speak into the world today.

Characteristic: When a problem of administration arose in the church in Jerusalem the instruction of the apostles to the other believers was, “choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom.” (Acts 6:3) The experience of being filled, that results in visible changes in a person, was apparently obvious in the early church. “They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit.” (v.5) If you referred to someone as a ‘Spirit-filled believer’ you were saying there was something about them that stood out – a freedom in God, a love and joy in the Lord, and often wisdom – that could be seen! There was no wondering. Shortly afterwards we read of Stephen, “Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people.” (v.8) Is this what caused the enemy to stir up opposition against him and yet, “they could not stand up against the wisdom the Spirit gave him as he spoke.” (v.10) This opposition was to lead to him becoming the first Christian martyr. But see all those things describing him: full of faith, full of the Holy Spirit, full of God’s grace and power, performing great wonders and signs, speaking fearlessly with great wisdom, and able to face death fearlessly. This is the life potential for those “filled with the Spirit”. If the modern church cannot live up to these descriptions, is it because we use the words but don’t experience the reality of the Spirit?

Similarly in Acts 11, Barnabas was described as, “a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith.” (Acts 11:24). He was the man we know as an encourager (v.23), the one who drew Paul into ministry (v.25,26), who clearly was a significant teacher (v.26b)

A Quick Glimpse at History: We are sometimes not very good at understanding church history but let’s conclude this study with a quick refresher in respect of history and the Holy Spirit. It is said that you can find throughout the two thousand years of church history, little pockets of believers who were open to the Spirit but the so-called Azusa Street Revival, in Los Angeles, that started in 1906, brought out into the open the place and role of the Holy Spirit, which had already started to be considered in some ‘holiness churches’. Pentecostalism was born resulting in the formation of Pentecostal churches & denominations which spread worldwide. This teaching and experience restored the Holy Spirit to His proper place, but mostly stayed within Pentecostal churches

That is, until in the 1960’s when a change came which someone described as, “individual believers seeking the Father for his promised gift of the Holy Spirit.”  Out of his came a fresh awareness of the existence, experience, function, and role of ‘the body of Christ’.  The Charismatic Movement was born with personal Spirit-filling and gifting, and our place within the body, being taught and experienced in new ways. Unlike Pentecostalism the charismatic movement did not create new denominations but Spirit-filled believers continued their experience within their existing denominations.

In the 1990’s a new wave of Holy Spirit activity burst out across the world with the phenomena referred to as the Toronto Blessing, where the Spirit, sovereignly it seemed, broke in on individual believers as they gathered and brought a new joy and a new freedom to the people of God. It was not revival and mostly did not appear to stir evangelism into being. It was first and foremost a restoration of the wonder of being God’s children.

Now we may not have been around and experienced these times of blessing but the truth was that in each case new life poured into and through the church. Each of these were different from revival which is a sovereign powerful moving of God inside and outside of the church to bring fresh life to believers and a harvest of souls into the kingdom.

And Us?  Wherever we stand, whatever our experience of the Spirit and whatever our feelings in respect of Him, one thing in today’s world and today’s church is obvious: we need a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Whether He comes in revival sweeping all before Him sovereignly, or whether He comes in renewal and reinvigorates His Church to be what He wants it to be, is down to Him and we will have to wait to see. In this again there is uncertainty. There are signs in all that is going on in the midst of the world activities that the Lord may be getting ready, thus Isaiah’s (Isa 4:3-5 Msg) call is appropriate:

Thunder in the desert!  “Prepare for God’s arrival!
Make the road straight and smooth, a highway fit for our God.
Fill in the valleys, level off the hills,
Smooth out the ruts, clear out the rocks.
Then God’s bright glory will shine and everyone will see it.

How can we put it even more clearly?  Speak into this spiritual desert, this wilderness that is the modern world. Put your lives right for God is coming. Do all that needs doing to set your life right so that there is no hindrance in it to prevent Him coming and working in and through you. Clean it up, get rid of things you know would not bless God when He comes, fill in what is missing in your life and experience, and open up your heart to receive all He has for you, and then look for the coming of His glory.   Amen.

23. When He comes

Meditations on “God of Transformation: 23:  When He comes

Acts 1:8   you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

I suspect most of us underplay the Day of Pentecost, and yet what happened on it brought about the greatest people transformation that has ever occurred. Consider the events. Jesus has returned to heaven and, I suspect, left an even greater hole in the lives of the followers than after his death. He has been with them for about five weeks or so, and had shown them that he was truly back there with them as the risen Christ. He had no doubt laughed with them, talked with them and, of course, he taught them. And then he returns to heaven. In his closing words he has told them to wait for the promise of the Father from heaven, the coming Holy Spirit, and so they continued to meet together and pray. They appoint another to replace Judas but beyond that they do little other than pray. I mean what else can they do, their head who was the one who did ‘the stuff’ or specifically appointed them to do specific things, has gone. Until God comes and speaks with them or does something, they are somewhat helpless.

Jesus has said they will receive power when the Spirit comes but they don’t know how that will be, but they certainly feel powerless in the face of the Jewish and Roman authorities.  The authorities have the power, not them. Jesus had spoken about them being his witnesses there in Jerusalem and then up through Judea and Samaria and then – can you believe it? – to the ends of the earth, whatever that means!  But all they can do for the moment is sit around and pray – and no doubt talk and speculate.

And then the Spirit comes. He comes first with manifestations, sounds like a violent wind filling the house  and then what looks like tongues of fire over each one of them, and yet they are not being burned. And then it happens to them: suddenly they are all “filled with the Spirit” to overflowing and the overflowing is heard as they all start speaking in languages they don’t know, languages recognised by other visiting Jews as from all different countries. But the languages are praise and worshipping God, declaring His wonders. There was nothing pre-thought out about this, it just happened. He came and they did what came naturally and in so doing immediately the first part of Jesus’ last command was being fulfilled, they were being witnesses  to God and as the days went on they would be witnesses to Jesus as the Spirit enabled them. The sound came from heaven, the sight came from heaven, the Spirit came from heaven and the praise came from heaven; this was a 100% God event!

I am aware of the various schools of thought that you find around the church about being filled with the Spirit. Some say it happens when you are born again, some say it happens as a distinct event at a later date, some say it happens again and again. Rather than get bogged down in defending any one of those (and if you want to know what I personally believe is that it should happen at rebirth but frequently happens as a later event and certainly happens again and again) I would much prefer us to focus on the effect of being filled with the Spirit – whenever that happens – and ask the question, do you know personally these outworkings?

On this particular day we have already noted the noise, the sight, the effects in the believers of being able to worship in other languages and then – which we haven’t mentioned yet – Peter being enabled to preach a great sermon and see wonderful fruit, thousands being saved. In Acts 4:8 we read, Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said….” In other words the Holy Spirit – refilling him? – enabled him to have great boldness to testify to the religious leaders. A little later we read of the believers praying together and then, “And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.” (Acts 4:31) which was clearly an answer to their prayers. Now I can’t help but note that one minute they weren’t filled and the next minute they were, which suggests a more than once experience (although of course there has to be a first time), but the big thing to note is the effect – boldness and enabling to speak God’s word.

For persecutor Saul, when Ananias was sent to him (Acts 9:17,18) he was filled with the Spirit and was enabled to see again, his blindness was healed, sight or vision was given. We also note that very soon he was out preaching (v.20) a possible effect of what had happened to him; now he was testifying to Jesus in his preaching.

When Peter preached to the Gentiles in the house of Cornelius we read, “the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.” (Acts 10:44-46) Although the word ‘filled’ was not used that clearly was what was happening with identical effects as on the Day of Pentecost. Message?  It’s for Gentiles as well as Jews.

Bizarrely after persecution, on one of Paul’s journeys, we read, “And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 13:52)  The Holy Spirit clearly filled them and they knew joy which overtook any fears they might have had. Power in another form.  A while later after some believers had been baptized in water, we read, “When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied.” (Acts 19:6) Again, clearly a filling and similar fruits – gifts of the Spirit. More power.

So here is the central message of the Holy Spirit: when He comes He transforms the weak and helpless into power-filled, witnessing, emboldened believers.  If these characteristics are absent from the Church or any individual local church, i.e. the believers,  then the church needs to be praying and seeking the Lord because what we have been reading is clearly God’s intention for His people. Any view less than this has surely got to be unbelief.

15. A Filled People

Meditations in Colossians: 15. A Filled People

Col 1:9   For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding.

Simple words, profound meaning. Have you ever poured someone a cup of tea or made them a cup of coffee and for whatever reason didn’t fill it very full and got the ribald comment, “So, I’m only getting a half a cup then?” We want a full cup and feel deprived if we get a partial one. Watch children in a sweet shop going to the Pick ‘n Mix counter and they take a cup, and one thing you can be sure of, they will fill that cup right up;  they want to get every bit they can.

These pictures from everyday life simply say that a full cup is what we want because we like the contents and want as much of it as we can get in the cup. How we take Paul’s writing for granted! I wonder how many times we have read this verse above with little thought of the meaning of this phrase we are focusing on today. What is the alternative to what Paul says?  We’re asking God to give you a little glimpse of the knowledge of his will. Which bit? How would that help us?  We’ll come to look at the knowledge of his will in the next meditation but the apostle’s intent is not that we just get by with a minimum of knowledge. No, he wants us to be filled up with this knowledge. Just like those cups, he wants us to get every bit we can.

This presents a challenge. Is that how we view the knowledge of God’s will? Are we a bit indifferent to it? Well, I expect if I study the Bible long enough I might catch a bit of the stuff that is on God’s heart, sufficient perhaps to keep me happy, sufficient to reassure me, but just sufficient……   That is a minimalist approach to faith. It’s a bit like the person who says, “Yes, I’ll have faith the size of a grain of mustard seed.” (Mt 17:20) Well, yes, according to Jesus you can move a mountain but why think in tiny bits. Jesus was deriding the disciples for their lack of faith. He wants us to have lots of faith, not just a tiny bit!

To the church in Ephesus the apostle Paul wrote, And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge–that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Eph 3:17-19) That is staggering! There he speaks about having knowledge and love as much as God can give, and the picture is of a never-ending resource. You can never get to the end of God!  Paul wants abundance, no, super-abundance of knowledge and love for us. Later in that same letter, he said to them, “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.” (Eph 5:18) The world says wine is good for it lightens the heart (Psa 104:15) and makes merry, but the apostle says being filled with the Spirit does it so much better.

How we take that expression for granted – being filled with the Spirit. Let’s not worry whether it happens for every believer at conversion or is a separate experience but let’s note that it’s always “filled”. Paul didn’t say, “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, have a little bit of the Spirit, just sufficient to lift you up without becoming an embarrassment!” When it comes to descriptions of the ‘amount’ of the Spirit, it is always ‘filled’ and make no mistake that means filled right up. It means have a lot, have all you can take.

Look at another of Paul’s prayers: “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ–to the glory and praise of God.” (Phil 1:9-11) He doesn’t say, “I hope you will have a little bit of righteousness,” he says he wants us filled up with righteousness so there is no space for anything else.

The apostle Peter used this ‘abundance-type language’ as well: “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (1 Pet 1:8,9) In other words, may you be blessed up to the hilt with the shear wonder of this salvation we have.

How do you get all these ‘fillings’? Jesus said it so simply: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” (Mt 5:6)  You want to be like Jesus? Watch this: “A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured.” (Mk 1:30-42)  You don’t touch a leper with just a glimmer of compassion. To be Jesus we need to yearn for all that Jesus has, and if that includes compassion to touch lepers, let’s have it in abundance!

So when we read on and consider the verses that follow on here in Colossians, will you read with a hungry and thirsty heart, a heart that says I want it all, I want everything God can pour into me, His word and His Spirit; they are both so wonderful that I want this cup filled to overflowing!  Now there’s a good word to meditate upon – overflowing! Not just a bit, not just filled to the brim, but overflowing! That’s what the Lord wants us to aspire to. Go for nothing less!

Just one more thought: when believers were ‘filled with the Spirit’ it was always to overflowing so on the Day of Pentecost they overflowed with languages that praised God, when the disciples were filled they spoke the word of God boldly (Acts 4:31) and when Paul prayed over the Corinthians, they poured out tongues and prophecy (Acts 19:6). Rather like the love and faith we considered before, when the Spirit is poured in to overflowing, it is visible, it is in abundance. Accept nothing less. Hunger and thirst!

15. Why Other Tongues?

Meditations in Acts : 15 :  Why Other Tongues?

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 observed two things amazingly happening on this day of Pentecost, this world-changing morning – a sound of a mighty energy releasing wind, and tongues of fire resting on each disciple without burning them up. Now we come to the third thing, the one that seems to stir up controversy. Let’s simply take note of what we are told and then reflect on it.

Luke simply records that they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. Perhaps we have read these words so many times that they have lost all significance. We might have simply recounted the three things we’ve already noted, but Luke says that what was happening here was that these men (and women?) were being ‘filled with the Holy Spirit’. The wind and the fire seemed to be indicators of it happening and the ‘other tongues’ seemed to be the outworking or expression of it. Now that phrase, being ‘filled with the Spirit’ was not unknown. It was first used by God to describe how He had equipped two men to work creatively in making the tabernacle (see Ex 31:3) and was later repeated by Moses (Ex 35:31). This ‘filling’ was to enable them to do something they were naturally unable to do.

Now the expression isn’t used again like that but similar ones were. For instance, he took of the Spirit that was on him and put the Spirit on the seventy elders. When the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied, but they did not do so again.” (Num 11:25)  Although the Spirit did not fill them, when he came on them momentarily, they were enabled to prophesy. Similarly, “When Balaam looked out and saw Israel encamped tribe by tribe, the Spirit of God came upon him and he uttered his oracle:” (Num 24:2,3)  i.e. as the Spirit touched him he was able to speak out in a way he previously couldn’t do. When we come to the book of Judges we see this again and again, e.g. “the Spirit of the LORD came upon Gideon, and he blew a trumpet, summoning the Abiezrites to follow him.” (Jud 6:34)  Boldness, courage and strength were the enabling things that the Spirit brought when he come ON each of the judges God used to deliver Israel. The famous prophecy in Joel spoke of the Spirit coming: “Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.” (Joel 2:29) but note that even there it is ‘on’.

Jesus had said, “in a few days you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit.” and “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you.” (Acts 1:5,8). The power had clearly come and Luke, possibly with the wisdom of the years of teaching from the likes of Paul, identified it as a ‘filling’. As we said in a previous study, when you baptise or immerse a cup, it is filled. These disciples were immersed in the Spirit in such a measure that they weren’t just touched by the Spirit, but they were filled with Him. He has come to dwell in them for ever more.

Now comes the outworking or expression of it. We’ve noted what the Spirit enabled men to do in the Old Testament period, so why this expression now? Sometimes we are careless with our language and just speak of ‘tongues’ but here it makes the emphasis, “other tongues”, i.e. they have the ability to speak another unlearned language. This was the specific enabling of the Spirit. In what follows, we will see that it is the ability (in this case at least) to praise and worship God in specific languages of the people round about them.

It is like a barrier has been taken down between them. It is like God is saying there is a new possibility of there being no division between men, there is a new possibility of unity between men so you can all worship together. It is like it, but not it, because this was a one-off situation for the initiating of the church (except when it happened to the Gentiles in Acts 10). Elsewhere Paul speaks of ‘tongues’ as speaking to God in mysteries (1 Cor 14:2) so this episode (and possibly the Acts 10 one) appear to signify something special.

First it is a Holy Spirit supernatural enabling so they can do something they normally cannot do, and second, it signifies a taking down of barriers between men. It is a sign of the opening up of the life of the Spirit and thus salvation through Christ to the whole world. Here in Jerusalem it was primarily Jews but they had come from a variety of surrounding nations. They were representative of the world. Later in Acts 10 we will see the Gentiles specifically included by the same means, but for the moment, the greatness of God is being spoken out without language barrier by the enabling of the Spirit, thus indicating, we suggest, the intent of God. He wants barriers to fall so that no people grouping anywhere in the earth feels excluded. The Message: there are no boundaries when the Holy Spirit is at work!

To conclude this examination of the things that happened to the disciples on this day of Pentecost, as the Church is brought into being, let us summarise what happened: the power of God came (sound of wind) the post-Cross acceptance of God came (fire without destruction) and a divine empowering to enable these disciples to cross  national barriers (other tongues). To create the new Church, the disciples were empowered, accepted and sent. This is what we are, a people who have been transformed by the power of God, a people accepted by work of God and a people sent by God to bless His world. But one critical thing more that we haven’t really picked up on much: this empowering brought a joy and a wonder at the greatness and goodness of God and that overflowed from these disciples and was heard by the surrounding world. Does the surrounding world hear and see the greatness and goodness of God through us because we have been empowered by God’s Spirit? If they don’t see it, is it because we need a flesh filling? We’d better ask for it!

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?

 

3. Wait

Meditations in Acts : 3 :  Wait for the Spirit

Acts 1:4,5  On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

Once they have got past the shock of going back to Jerusalem, the disciples can focus on why they are going. Jesus speaks of a gift they are to receive, the gift of the Holy Spirit. Having taken in the basics we can then reflect on some of the other aspects of these verses. This was a gift that the Father had promised. So when had God spoken about His Spirit coming? It was there in what we now call the Old Testament documents. And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.” (Joel 2:28) Now the power and the presence of the Holy Spirit was understood through the Old Testament.

There were numerous occasions when the Spirit came on people and they were endued with power, and then Joel in the latter days of the Old Testament period had spoken of God pouring out His Spirit on many people.  Jesus had likewise spoken about the Spirit’s coming  e.g. Jn 14:26, 15:26,27 etc. yet one wonders just how much the disciples understood.  I have lived as a Christian though the seventies, eighties and nineties of the twentieth century, a period which contained what is referred to as the charismatic renewal, and a period in which there was much teaching about the Holy Spirit and the baptism of the Spirit, but it was also a period of controversy about just what that means and when it happens. The truth is not always ultra clear to everyone (or anyone?).

Jesus tells his disciples that they will soon be baptized by his Holy Spirit and the only picture he gives them to give some meaning to that phrase is the parallel of John the Baptist baptizing people in water. The disciples are about to be immersed in the Spirit in the same way that John immersed people in water. When this happened as recorded by Luke in chapter 2 of Acts – for the events of Pentecost can be the only fulfillment of Jesus’ words –  he speaks there of them being “filled” with the Spirit. What is the link between being immersed and being filled? It is simple: if you immerse a cup in water it is filled.

The more I read Scripture, and I have read it for well over forty years, I am sure that for most of the time we only take in surface meaning and miss out on so much more. For example, I wonder what the disciples were feeling as Jesus was giving them these instructions. In the previous meditation I have suggested that they might feel upset at the thought of having to return to Jerusalem for an undefined period of time. But what, I wonder did they think about these references to the coming of the Holy Spirit. I mean they might have known the Old Testament teaching about what happened when the Spirit came upon a person (see the Judges for example) and had known that power and confidence seemed to come with the Spirit – but did they need that?  I mean, we’ve been out at Jesus’ direction before and preached and healed the sick and cast out demons, why should we need anything else?  Surely we’ve got all we need?

Isn’t this the same natural thinking that so often raises its head in the Church today? We’ve got the completed Scriptures, we’ve had really good teaching, we have established buildings and organizations, so what more could we want?  It is a way of thinking that doesn’t realise our frailty and the impossibility of dealing with the spiritual powers of darkness without the power and presence of the Lord.  For the disciples at that moment, with Jesus still there with them, still full of life, still full of vitality, and still full of authority, it may have appeared the same.  It doesn’t seem that he has made it clear that he is going to leave them soon.  They had been through that once and it had left them emotionally devastated; surely he wouldn’t do that to them again?  But how long can he stay with them? Five years, fifty years, five hundred years, or for ever?

There are two things here: first if he stays they will leave it all up to him to do and that isn’t God’s plan.  Second, until he goes and until they feel their sense of loneliness and frailty and inability, their hearts are not going to be open so that the Father can fill them with His Spirit. When we are full of self and self-ability, we cannot be filled with Him.

No, they may not understand what this is all about at this stage but they are hearing God’s will declared.  How often, I wonder do we hear the Lord’s will declared and not realise the fullness of it?  Very often it is only when we have entered into it and are able to look back on what has happened, do we realise some of the greater dimensions of what the Lord had said previously. Yes, the Lord will speak it, but so often we’ll only understand such a small part of it – but that won’t stop us being used by Him. Thank goodness He doesn’t wait until we have full understanding to use us!

6. Those who Hunger

MEDITATIONS IN THE BEATITUDES – 6

Mt 5:6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

To catch the full import of this verse we need to recount the previous three verses and see this one in context. First there had been the requirement to recognize our spiritual poverty. Second, simply recognizing it was not sufficient, there had to be a mourning or grieving over it that showed we understood how awful being dead spiritually was. Third, and following that, there had to be a willingness to submit utterly to God’s will, for nothing less than that could open the way up for His blessings to flow into our lives.

But now comes a further aspect of the same thing. If on one hand we saw and rejected our old lives, recognizing the failure to be good that there was in that life, what there also needs to be is a yearning for the good life, for a life that is good and right. Do you see the importance of these stages? You can be aware of your poverty and just wallow in that and remain there. You can see it and anguish over it but be unable to let go your self-centredness and so you stay there in it. You can be aware of your poverty, mourn over it and want God’s will and yet only desire it for what it can bring you – and that is still self-centred.

To go the whole way you have to come to this point of submitting to God’s will whole-heartedly and yearning for a right standing before God. That is what righteousness is – right standing before God, right living before God. Again, do you see the two aspects there? When we become aware of our poverty, aware of our failure, aware of our guilt, for the work to be fully done, there also needs to be a yearning to be freed from the guilt and shame and to be put right with God. In the awareness of our spiritual poverty there also needs to be the recognition that it involves sin against God. Do you remember in Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son, when the son returns to his father he declares, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.(Lk 15:21). When the Holy Spirit brings conviction it is not merely of our failure, but our failure in respect of God. As we realize that, we understand we have offended God and that needs to be put right. Somehow we need to be reconciled to God – but we cannot do it ourselves. It is only as we hear the good news of Jesus dying on the Cross in our place that we realize that the Father alone has provided the means for us to come back into a right standing with Him.

But there will also be a yearning to change our way of living, to get rid of things that offend God, and to live rightly before Him. Behind this hungering and thirsting, this heart yearning, there will also be this desire to lead a good life, a life free from sin. The New Testament shows us the nature of that life, and particularly the apostles’ letters put detail to that, but the main thing we find, is that God provides His own Holy Spirit to live within us, so He is there to direct and guide us, to show us the way in any particular situation, He is there to empower us to enable us to overcome and live as God’s child. Whether we recognize it or not when we look back, this is the work the Holy Spirit does in us when He convicts us of our need – a recognition of our poverty, an anguish over it, a desire for God’s will and a desire to be put right with God so that we can live the life He wants us to live, as His children. Those are the facets of what goes on within any person as they come to God to be born again.

And this is where we come to the latter part of the verse: they shall be filled. When someone is hungry, they are empty. When their hunger is satisfied, they are filled. It is a picture of being completely satisfied. At the end of a banquet, people are heard to say, “That was wonderful, I am full up. I couldn’t eat another thing!” And that’s the truth; when God does His work in us He does it completely and there is nothing more to be added. Every aspect of what we have considered has been covered. From being poor isolated wretches we become children of God with all the blessings of God. Our mourning is turned into rejoicing. We rest and rejoice in coming into the purposeful will of God, where we sense a new purpose and direction in our lives. The yearning to be put right with God is completely satisfied as we are declared forgiven, cleansed and totally pardoned and, as the Holy Spirit comes in, we are energized to live the new life. We are filled, we are utterly satisfied. Yes, we are filled with the goodness of God and of His Holy Spirit as we submit ourselves to Him and let Him do what He wants with us. How wonderful when it happens, how scary for the person who wants to remain in their self-centred isolation!