My first exposure to the idea of the Holy Spirit happened on the front porch of my high school girlfriend. On summer evenings, Sundays and Wednesdays, when we were snuggled together on the porch swing, we looked across at the small building of what we called a “holy roller” church. Unlike the serious and stately services of most churches at the time, this church had electric guitars and drums, and we heard them loud and clear. I was told, because I never entered a “holy roller” church, that they ran up and down the aisles, jumped up and down, raised their hands, shouted praises, and spoke in tongues. For a young Methodist, it was truly bizarre and laughable.
Fast forward to my early days as a committed Christian, and the charismatics in my college town were still considered strange, phony, and even demon-possessed. One of my friends in college used to tell how he was taught to speak in tongues by a charismatic pastor and he could do it upon request. In other words, no Holy Spirit required. In my college years, no one emphasized the work of the Holy Spirit. If there were discussions, it usually involved tongues and healing, and typically led to heated arguments. I also met one young woman, shortly after my father passed away, who told me it was sad that my father failed to have enough faith to be healed. She participated in a local charismatic church.
After graduating from college, I spent three years in seminary and there was little teaching regarding the Holy Spirit, other than that the miraculous gifts listed in I Corinthians 12 were applicable for the 1st Century only. In fairness, there may have been some professors who taught more about the Spirit and I just don’t remember it. However, I can say that the denomination which supported the school placed little emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit.
So it would be no surprise to hear that I entered vocational ministry with some significant bias when it came to the Holy Spirit. However, it didn’t take long for me to figure out from a more thorough reading of the Scriptures that the Holy Spirit was talked about often. Nor did I buy into the fact that the spiritual gifts were no longer applicable in our lives. Yet, I continued to struggle with what I considered shaky theology and practice of the charismatic/Pentecostal churches. For example, to be a true believer, one must speak in tongues. Paul seems to destroy that contention with his rhetorical question to the Corinthian Church: “Do all speak in tongues?” (I Corinthians 12:30)
To be honest, like so many, I avoided teaching about and leaning on the Holy Spirit because of my own stereotypes developed over many years. I didn’t begin to open my heart until I first met my wife, who early on told me she believed in the active use of the miraculous gifts of the Spirit and spoke in tongues herself. Because I grew to love her, I had to be more open-minded about the work of the Holy Spirit.
I share all of this to lay a foundation on which to talk about the work of the Spirit. For so many of us who truly believe and have the Holy Spirit dwelling in us (a true relationship with Jesus is required in order to receive the indwelling of the Spirit), I think the primary reason we quench the Spirit (of which I wrote earlier) is pride. We think we know what we need to know, and that our thinking is correct. We think, with some effort, we can change ourselves, or maybe, we just don’t care. We’re content with who we are and desire to remain so. Regardless of the reason, what lies at the root is our pride. And pride will quench the Spirit like a hundred gallons of water thrown into a fireplace—quickly and utterly.
So the first step to begin to experience the work of the Holy Spirit is to humble ourselves before the Lord, which is not necessarily in vogue at this moment in time. We need to acknowledge our weakness, our bent toward sin, and our need for his help and guidance. We need to confess (if it applies) our woefully inadequate devotional life—time spent in the Scriptures, meditation, and prayer—and our need for increased hunger to spend time with the Lord. We need to plead for the Spirit’s help to lead us into a much deeper relationship with the living God. And as a part of this time, we need to ask the Lord to fill us with his Spirit. This is not a one-off request, but a daily one.
For too long, we Christians, whether due to stereotypes or ignorance, have pushed the Holy Spirit to the fringes of our lives. And as we look at churches around our nation, we should ask the question often posed by counselors to clients: How is that working for you? Paul framed it a different way: “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.” (I Corinthians 4:20) For the most part, that power is displayed in the lives of Christians—lives transformed and distinctly different in attitudes and actions. That can only happen if the power of the Holy Spirit is at work in us. It is impossible for us to do it on our own; we need his help. Let us not be too prideful to ask.
© Jim Musser 2020 All Scripture references are from the New International Version, 2011.