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.

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?