Black church

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

Ephesians 2:14-18

I saw a funny video on Facebook of a comedian talking about his experience at “white church” when his white friends invited him on Sunday. It was not only hilarious but it highlighted some of the different experiences Christians have in church based on their race.

More and more churches have a diversity of races among them. Non-denominationalism has greatly helped this, but we still have a long way to go. There are still “white Protestant” and “black Protestant” churches and traditions. There are “white Pentecostal” and “black Pentecostal” churches and traditions. There are Baptist churches that are predominantly and historically white and there are Baptist churches that are predominantly and historically black.

When you look at studies done of the American church–from organizations like Pew Research and Barna Group–they show that the “black church” has had a strong emphasis on social justice. The “white church” in America has been trying to catch up to this emphasis for decades, first in the mainline Protestant traditions and now among evangelicals. But the other emphasis–the one that is hardly ever mentioned in the news, among evangelicals, or among mainline protestants–is how the black church has for decades emphasized the Holy Spirit, the gifts of the Spirit and the movement of the Spirit within the worship setting.

The Holy Spirit, the gifts of the Spirit, and the movement of the Spirit is not only emphasized in black Pentecostal churches, but even within historically black Protestant traditions. In other words, it seems that in the fight against oppression and injustice, the black church not only focused on the importance of social justice and transformation but also focused on the need for the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.

This hardly ever gets discussed in conversations about racial reconciliation in the church. Why?

The reason is because the white churches that champion social justice the most completely reject the gifts of the Spirit and the importance of the movement of the Spirit.

Here is what I’d like to propose. Until the white church understands the Holy Spirit better, how the supernatural gifts of the Spirit operate today, and what it looks like for a movement of the Spirit to happen, there will be large gaps in racial reconciliation in the church. How can a white church that rejects the fullness of the Spirit embrace a black church that not only emphasizes the Spirit but absolutely depends on Him.

Let me take it a step further. Until the white church embraces the charismata, we will never fully embrace our black brothers and sisters in Christ. If we don’t understand what is happening when that black grandma prayer warrior falls down on the church carpet after being prayed for, if we, in all our whiteness, still label it “emotionalism” or worse (black people getting carried away) then we’ll never be able to move toward racial reconciliation in the church. I propose that until we, as white folks, start dropping under the power of the Holy Spirit, racial reconciliation will just be an academic pursuit.

Paul said, “For through Him (Jesus) we both have access to the same Father by one Spirit” (Ephesians 2:18). The Holy Spirit is the One who unifies the Church, the Body of Christ. Again, Paul reminds us, “…we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink” (1 Corinthians 12:13). In 1906 when the Holy Spirit sparked the Azuza Street revival–the birthplace of Pentecostalism–blacks, whites, and Latinos all came together and worshiped together. William Seymour, the son of emancipated slaves, led the revival. This was completely unheard of in that time of segregation. But the revival fires of the Holy Spirit brought unity and racial reconciliation (however temporary).

We cannot seek unity and racial reconciliation and reject the Spirit. We cannot say “No” to the supernatural gifts of the Spirit that are on full display in our black brothers and sisters and then turn around and try to say “Yes” to unity.

So, are you a Christian who is passionate about racial reconciliation in the Church? Then I propose that you start investigating the Holy Spirit. I invite you to seek the baptism of the Holy Spirit, the gifts of the Spirit, and the manifestations of the Spirit. Start there and you’ll be on your way to increasing your understanding of the black church in America.

Batteries Charging Batteries

Last November my family and I went to Disney World. It was one of those trips that you save and plan for so that the memories can last a lifetime. Part of the planning was to bring external battery packs that could recharge our phones in the middle of the day. We knew that we would be taking so many pictures that our phones would need recharging by the middle of the afternoon. We were right.

Since there weren’t really places to stop and charge our phones (and there really wasn’t time to waste) we would just plug our phones into the battery packs as we walked through the parks. It was so nice to have a fully charged phone without having to stop. At the end of each day we would have to remember not only to charge our phones but also the battery packs. The battery packs weren’t a source of power; they were simply a storage place and conduit of power that was generated somewhere else.

It is an interesting idea, though, when you really think about it–using one battery to charge another. The Lord brought this concept to mind this morning in the shower when I was reflecting on the spiritual reality of impartation.

What is impartation?

In basic terms, impartation is any time something is imparted from one person to another. In theological/spiritual terms, it is one Christian being a conduit of God’s power and anointing in order to transfer it to another believer. Impartation is a transference of the anointing of the Holy Spirit from one believer to another (and sometimes the transference of particular gifts of the Spirit). Impartation is one battery pack charging another. We see impartation in the Bible first with Moses and the elders.

The Lord said to Moses: “Bring me seventy of Israel’s elders who are known to you as leaders and officials among the people. Have them come to the tent of meeting, that they may stand there with you. I will come down and speak with you there, and I will take some of the power of the Spirit that is on you and put it on them. They will share the burden of the people with you so that you will not have to carry it alone.”

So Moses went out and told the people what the Lord had said. He brought together seventy of their elders and had them stand around the tent. Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke with him, and he took some of the power of the Spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders. When the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied—but did not do so again.

Numbers 11:16-17, 24-25

We see it again between Moses and Joshua with the laying on of hands/prayer.

Now Joshua son of Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands on him. So the Israelites listened to him and did what the Lord had commanded Moses.

Deuteronomy 34:9

We see it in the New Testament between Paul and the believers in Ephesus.

they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus, and when Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they began to speak in tongues and to prophesy. 

Acts 19:5-6

And we see it again between Paul and Timothy.

Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through prophecy when the body of elders laid their hands on you.

For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.

1 Timothy 4:14 & 2 Timothy 1:6

When impartation is released from one believer to another–when there is a transference of the power, anointing, and/or gifting of the Holy Spirit–amazing things can happen in the life of the person receiving the impartation. I have been on the receiving end of impartation and my life was radically transformed by the experience. I was flooded with the power and presence of the Spirit in a way that I had never experienced before. I was given new gifts of the Spirit, some in seedling form and some more fully formed.

I believe impartation is available for everyone. Our role in receiving it is to make sure the soil of our heart and our lives are ready to receive all that God has for us. We prepare the soil; God plants the seed. But that seed often comes through a conduit, a person commissioned to spread the seed that belongs to the Farmer. In other words, one battery pack is used to recharge another battery, but everyone knows that the Source of the power is not the battery pack. The battery pack is just a conduit of electricity that they themselves have first received.

This is what Jesus was telling His disciples when He sent them out to do ministry and miracles. He reminded them, “Freely you have received; freely give” (Matthew 10:8). Freely you have been charged up and empowered by the Holy Spirit, now freely release that power, that anointing, and those gifts to others.

If you are interested in learning more about impartation, I recommend the book There Is More by Dr. Randy Clark.

Understanding Physical Healing

In those days Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz went to him and said, “This is what the Lord says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover.”
Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, “Remember, Lord, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly.
Before Isaiah had left the middle court, the word of the Lord came to him: “Go back and tell Hezekiah, the ruler of my people, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of your father David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will heal you. On the third day from now you will go up to the temple of the Lord. I will add fifteen years to your life. 

2 Kings 20:1-6

We can learn so many things from this dramatic healing of King Hezekiah. First, prayer changes things. I don’t like it when people say, “Prayer doesn’t change things; it changes us.” Nope. Prayer does both.

Hezekiah got a direct word from the Lord through the prophet Isaiah that he was going to die from the illness he had. Then, Hezekiah cried out to the Lord and the Lord healed him. Prayer matters. Prayer for physical healing matters. The fatalistic idea that “God’s going to do what God’s going to do” is a poor understanding of God’s sovereignty. God has chosen to be in covenant relationship with His people, which means that what we pray and what we ask for in prayer has an effect on things.

Secondly, most people don’t understand the connection between “small” healings and “big” healings. All miraculous healings are “big” in the sense that God chooses to divinely heal. But what I mean is that people don’t seem to care much about physical healing until they or someone they love is in Hezekiah’s position with an illness that is heading toward death.

I’ve encountered this attitude with people in my own church and people I’ve talked to about physical healing. They ask me why I think praying for physical healing is so important. They always use the argument that it is more important that people get saved and experience the loving community of the church than it is that they get physically healed. But this argument borders on gnosticism (an early heresy that thinks “spiritual” things are of ultimate importance while “physical” things don’t matter).

When a person doesn’t understand why I get so excited about “small” healings like a injured knee getting healed or a migraine problem going away, I start asking them about whether they would have that same cavalier attitude about stage 4 cancer getting healed or someone with traumatic brain injury getting healed. In every case, the person who was relatively indifferent about physical healing two seconds ago suddenly agrees that physical healing in those situations is supremely important. And what becomes clear is that they don’t understand the connection between the knee getting healed and the cancer getting healed. Most people don’t.

First of all, Jesus did not make this distinction between small and big healings. He healed blindness and He healed fevers. He raised the dead and He healed crippled hands. Jesus treated sickness as an attack on the body that God created. Whether it was a fever or blindness, Jesus wanted it gone.

Secondly, any spiritual gift must be used faithfully in order for it to grow. We accept this as a truth of the Kingdom when it comes to gifts like teaching or hospitality. We intuitively understand the parable of the talents applies not just to our financial resources but also to how we steward our spiritual gifts. This line of the parable should be ringing in our ears, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things“(Matthew 25:23).

The gift of healing (1 Corinthians 12:9) is no different. As we are faithful to pray for smaller physical needs and see God heal those, our faith grows. As we are faithful with “smaller” miracles, God can begin to trust us with “bigger” ones. When the apostle Paul talks about spiritual gifts in Romans 12, he teaches that we operate in our gifts in accordance with our faith (Romans 12:6). So while different gifts are given simply by God’s grace, we grow in these gifts by faith. We must exercise our faith as we use our gifts in order to mature in them.

So, when it comes to gifts of healing, praying for the “smaller” healings is what prepares you and your faith for the day you pray for life-threatening illnesses. Indifference toward small healing is a recipe for powerlessness and doubt when you need a big miracle. This is how all spiritual gifts work. If you’ve never preached to a group of 200 people, you wouldn’t assume you could step into a stadium full of people and preach an amazing sermon to thousands. Yet, this is exactly how we treat healing prayer.

Someone might say, “But couldn’t God move powerfully anyway?” Yes! Of course He could. He could also help that person who’s never preached to preach an incredibly powerful and moving sermon to a stadium full of people. God loves to do that! But on our end, we are being irresponsible and arrogant if we are relying on God’s sovereignty to bail us out of our indifference.

Paul’s advice to his protege Timothy was, “…be prepared in season and out of season…”(2 Timothy 4:2). This advice applies to all the spiritual gifts. And when it comes to healing, being prepared means we are praying for small and big miracles alike. It means we grow in our ability to hear the Holy Spirit’s guidance in healing prayer. It means we are seeing “small” healings happen and allowing those to build our faith.

So we celebrate every healing, big or small, because it is a tangible expression of God’s grace. We pursue and celebrate the healing of every disease, big or small, because healing is a sign of God’s Kingdom breaking into this world. We pray for healing because it is an act of love and compassion that was modeled for us by Jesus. Cavalier indifference toward physical healing is an unbiblical and irresponsible reaction that dishonors Jesus’s activity in the world.

What was important to Jesus should be important to us as His followers. And clearly, from reading the Gospels, physical healing was extremely important to Jesus.

Is it important to you? Who have you prayed for recently?

One Wish

At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.”

1 Kings 3:5

Solomon had just become king over the people of God. This huge responsibility weighed on him. Then God came to him in a dream one day and essentially gave him one wish.

If God did this with you, what would you ask for? Or, in an attempt to say the “right” thing, would you assume that in humility you shouldn’t ask for anything?

Solomon did ask for something. He understood the difference between real humility and false humility. False humility doesn’t ask for anything, assuming that’s the right thing to do in this situation. Real humility doesn’t shrink back from asking for God’s blessings and gifts, but asks for things that will benefit others.

“Now, Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?”

1 Kings 3:7-9

Remember that Solomon is asking for this in a dream. We can’t fake it when we are standing before God and especially not in a dream. Solomon was in a situation where God was seeing the true contents of Solomon’s heart. What Solomon truly wanted was a discerning heart so that he could rule over the people with wisdom and justice. God loved this about Solomon.

Notice God’s response. God doesn’t say, “Because you were humble and didn’t ask for anything…” No, God didn’t have time for that kind of false humility. God loves that Solomon truly wanted a gift from God that would ultimately benefit all of the people of God and not just himself.

The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for—both wealth and honor—so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings.

1 Kings 3:10-13

So what would you ask for if God let you pick one thing? We all could use a little more wisdom, but we’re not all kings, so wisdom may not be the thing that would be most beneficial. Would it be more love? More grace? More power? More authority?

When we start talking about God’s power and authority many Christians get squeamish. I’ve noticed that people get skeptical about those who would ask for more of God’s power or more of God’s authority. People automatically assume poor motives when power and authority enter the conversation.

If someone asks you, as a follower of Jesus, if you want more of God’s power and more of God’s authority, do not shrink back into the lie of false humility. Many Christians think they are being humble and holy by saying, “Oh no, I’m not interested in getting more of God’s power or authority.” But this is the epitome of false humility.

The purpose of God giving you more of His power and His authority is not about you; it is for the sake of others. With an increase of God’s power and authority in your life, you will be used to help set others free from things that oppressively hinder their life with Christ. It could be sickness and disease. It could be demonic oppression. Whatever it is, you’re going to need all the power and authority you are able to carry in order to help that person get free. By shrinking back in false humility, you’re essentially saying you have no desire to help others get free.

Imagine that a group of people are being held captive, and you’ve been assigned the mission to help them get free. Then someone comes up to you and says, “Before you go in there, I want to give you the gear that will help you accomplish the mission. I want to give you these weapons and this armor. Further, I want to deputize you as a federal marshal so that everyone understands you are operating in the authority of this government. All of this is going to greatly increase your chances of getting those people free.” Now imagine your response to that is false humility. Image you say, “Oh no, I don’t want all of that. I just want to stay humble.” Can you see the problem here?

The truth is that when God gives a person more of His power and authority, it is an incredibly humbling experience. Just as there is a weight to carrying heavy armor and heavy guns for the sake of other people’s freedom, there is a heavy weight to walking in the power and authority of God. It is a huge responsibility. But God is looking for those willing to take up the challenge.

So, if God asks you what you want, don’t be afraid to ask for more of His power and more of His authority. One of the most humbling things you can do is to ask for more power and authority because you know that, if He gives you more, it won’t be for you. Your life is not your own. You will now be commissioned to go and help others get free. Just know that whatever you ask for will come with its own weight, its own responsibility. God’s gifts are not toys for self-glorification. They are expressions of His love and weapons of spiritual warfare.

The Willing

“What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’

“‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.

“Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.“Which of the two did what his father wanted?”

“The first,” they answered.

Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.

Matthew 21:28-32

I met with a Methodist pastor the other day who is not only engaging in the gifts of the Spirit but is also equipping his church to do the same. He is creating space in the Methodist liturgy to give words of knowledge, pray for healing, and give testimonies of those who have been healed. Before he was a pastor he had a career in computer science.

I’m meeting with an Anglican guy today who wants to engage his church in the things of the Spirit. He’s a post-doctoral research scientist at Johns Hopkins University in Applied Physics.

It may seem strange to some that individuals with very rational and intellectual backgrounds who are from mainline protestant denominations are engaging in the supernatural gifts of the Spirit. We have tended to relegate the things of the Holy Spirit to the Pentecostals and those “crazy” charismatics.

But this is a pattern that I see emerging in the Church right now. God is taking men and women who are highly intellectual–Ph.Ds, medical doctors, scientists, professors–and He is taking men and women from denominations not known for emotionalism or hype, and He is pouring out the supernatural gifts of the Spirit upon them. It is easy enough for our snobbish superiority complex to write off a trailer park guy from a Pentecostal church when he tells us about a supernatural encounter with God he had. But trying writing off an Anglican scientist who has a Ph.D from Hopkins. Our smug rationalism doesn’t know what to do with that.

Jesus told the parable above to remind us that He is less interested in what people will say they will do and is more interested in what people will actually do. Tax collectors and prostitutes were entering the Kingdom ahead of the ones who knew the Jewish law so well.

Today, Methodist computer scientists and Anglican Ph.Ds are engaging in the Spirit of God ahead of many others simply because they are willing. They are willing to step out in faith and risk. They are willing to believe in the supernatural things of God. And so they are seeing people get healed in their churches, they are seeing people activated in the gifts of the Spirit, and they are seeing God’s Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven simply because they are willing.

It doesn’t matter what denomination is on the church sign out front. It doesn’t matter if you call yourself charismatic or Pentecostal or “spirit-filled” or nondenominational. If you aren’t willing to step out in faith and believe in the supernatural, if you aren’t willing to engage in and practice the gifts of the Spirit, God will find those who are willing.

I don’t want to be like the second son who said that he would do it and then didn’t. I want my story to resemble the first son. Though at first I wasn’t sure about these supernatural experiences and supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit–maybe at first I was hesitant and too scared to step out in faith and give a prophetic word or a word of knowledge or pray for the sick–but eventually I decided I had to be obedient and do it. The question still stands, “Which of the two did what his Father wanted?”

No matter what our educational background, no matter what our denominational tradition, are we willing? Are we willing to explore and engage in the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit? If not, God will find those who are, and they will experience the Kingdom of God ahead of us!

Uninformed

Now about the gifts of the Spirit, brothers and sisters, I do not want you to be uninformed.

1 Corinthians 12:1

Paul’s great desire for the churches that he started was that they not be uninformed about the gifts of the Spirit. And yet in so many churches today, most of the members are uninformed about these gifts.

I’ve had so many conversations in the last month where people asked me about the gifts of the Spirit. One girl came to me asking about tongues and whether she should even desire that gift. She also wondered that, because she doesn’t pray in tongues, whether she is baptized in the Spirit.

In another conversation, a pastor of another church came to me asking about the gifts. When he prays for people in the morning, he feels like the Lord gives him the ability to see them the way God sees them. He never had a label or a name for it. It was just something he noticed God enabled him to do. So we talked through the difference between a “word of knowledge,” a “prophetic word” and “discerning the spirits.” All three of these gifts of the Spirit are revelatory in nature but have slightly different functions.

In a different conversation, a woman in my church asked about impartation and its value. Impartation is when a person lays hands on another person and asks God to release a transference of anointing or gifting in the Holy Spirit. We see this sort of thing talked about in Deuteronomy 34:9, 1 Timothy 4:14, and 2 Timothy 1:6. Her question was, “Does baptism in the Spirit or new gifts of the Spirit come only through impartation?” She wondered if one could just receive more from God while praying one-on-one with Him. My answer was that those are the two main ways people receive new things from the Holy Spirit–waiting in prayer and impartation.

In another interaction, a couple in my church had some struggles with healing prayer and wanted to learn more. We dialogued back and forth about certain elements of praying for physical healing which led to them wanting to read about it on their own. So I suggested a few books for them.

In yet another conversation, a pastor of another church had a detailed dream that he felt was significant, but he couldn’t discern its meaning and wasn’t sure if it was from the Lord. So he asked for my help. As he and I discussed the dream, the meaning began to emerge. The Holy Spirit began to lay out the interpretation. When I shared the interpretation that I felt I was hearing from the Lord, he was deeply touched. The Lord had spoken to him so directly and so specifically, addressing a family situation that he had been concerned about.

The point is that many in the church are uninformed about the gifts of the Spirit but are hungry to learn more. People don’t want to stay uninformed, but many pastors are fine with them staying that way. Many pastors are themselves uninformed about the gifts of the Spirit so they can’t begin to teach on it. Or, if they do know about them, they only know enough about them to view them skeptically and suspiciously. They don’t want anyone operating in the supernatural gifts of the Spirit in their church because it might mean a loss of control for them. Or maybe they’ve never seen these gifts used with maturity or within healthy boundaries, so they don’t believe healthy use of the gifts is possible. Whatever their reason, it ends up muting the Holy Spirit’s expression in the local church.

The apostle Paul had a different approach. Here’s one of the places he talks about the gifts:

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healings by the one Spirit, and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishings of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.

1 Corinthians 12:4-11 NASB

If you are a follower of Jesus, the Holy Spirit dwells in you and these gifts are available to you. But like most other things in the Kingdom of God, you’ll need to pursue them. And part of pursuing them is becoming informed about them, even the gifts you don’t yet have.

If you want to become more informed about these gifts, how they work, what they’re for, and how to express them in a healthy way in the church, I have an entire teaching series for you. I called it the Supernatural Christian Life. Each week has an audio teaching, slides, links to videos, and book recommendations. It’s a 7 week series where I cover every gift listed in 1 Corinthians 12 in detail. I offer it to you freely at the link below. My only request is that you hunger for more. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (Matthew 5:6).

https://horizontowson.com/supernatural-christian-life-study

When the Spirit falls

Word came to Saul: “David is in Naioth at Ramah”; so he sent men to capture him. But when they saw a group of prophets prophesying, with Samuel standing there as their leader, the Spirit of God came on Saul’s men, and they also prophesied. Saul was told about it, and he sent more men, and they prophesied too. Saul sent men a third time, and they also prophesied. Finally, he himself left for Ramah…But the Spirit of God came even on him, and he walked along prophesying until he came to Naioth. He stripped off his garments, and he too prophesied in Samuel’s presence. He lay naked all that day and all that night. 

1 Samuel 19:19-24

Saul was out to kill David. Saul was jealous of David and at times lost his mind in fits of rage. Yet, when the Spirit of God falls, the plans of humanity fall apart. No matter how many times Saul sent men to kill David, they all ran into the thick Presence of God and started prophesying. Saul then decided to do it himself, and he too was waylaid by the Spirit of God. The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry...especially when God decides to interrupt them.

One of the main promises of when the Holy Spirit is poured out on everyone–prophesied by the prophet Joel and then quoted by Peter–is that everyone will be able to prophesy.

…this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
“‘In the last days, God says,
    I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
    your young men will see visions,
    your old men will dream dreams.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
    I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
    and they will prophesy.

Acts 2:17-18

So we know that when the Spirit falls upon people (like in the Old Testament), or when the Spirit fills people (like in the New Testament), the result is often the gift of prophecy.

We also know that when the Spirit falls, our plans get interrupted and disrupted. Things get messy. King Saul found himself lying naked day and night. Neat and tidy Sunday services burst open with fervor and fire. Calm and respectable people get undignified. This has always been the case when the Spirit falls in power. It will always be the case no matter how tidy we try to force the Spirit to be.

Sometimes the Spirit falls so powerfully that we are unable to continue with our day. We are knocked to the ground or so enraptured with His Presence that we don’t want to do anything else but be with Him. Notice what happens to one of Saul’s servants when he goes to offer sacrifices at the tabernacle.

Now one of Saul’s servants was there that day, detained before the Lord; he was Doeg the Edomite, Saul’s chief shepherd.

1 Samuel 21:7

Sometimes in our normal obedience, maybe something we’ve done a thousand times, the Lord comes and detains us in His Presence. Suddenly the ordinary worship becomes a divine encounter. When this happens, it’s best not to fight it. If the Lord wants to interrupt our routines and traditions with His beauty and power, we should be grateful. We should linger. We should surrender and allow ourselves to be detained before the Lord.

We American Christians can get so offended by the messiness that comes with the Spirit of God. We can get put off by such raw displays of divine affection. We like to be in control, and we’ll often resist the move of the Spirit to try to stay in control.

But is that what the Lord did with us?

No. The Lord saw all of our messiness, the sin and chaos of our lives, and never once flinched. He didn’t get offended by our mess or distance Himself because of it. Instead, He did the opposite. He came near. The Spirit saw all of our chaos and mess and decided to move in. He decided to take up residence inside the mess and then invite us to join Him in the great renovation of our lives.

Do we not owe God this same response to the messiness that comes with a move of the Spirit? When the fire falls and we get pushed out of our comfort zone with things like the gifts and manifestations of the Holy Spirit, shouldn’t we do what He did for us? Shouldn’t we lean in instead of push Him away? Shouldn’t we embrace Him as He has embraced us…mess and all? Shouldn’t we put to death our inner control freak and let the Spirit lead us?

I think so.

Do not quench the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good…

1 Thessalonians 5:19-21

Fear of the Power of the Spirit

Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David.

1 Samuel 16:13

Saul was afraid of David, because the Lord was with David…In everything he did he had great success, because the Lord was with him. When Saul saw how successful he was, he was afraid of him. But all Israel and Judah loved David, because he led them in their campaigns.

1 Samuel 18:12, 14-16

When the Spirit of the Lord comes powerfully upon a person, fear tends to be the number one reaction of those around that person. Saul had a few different reasons to be afraid of David, but those were just surface reasons. The deeper truth was that the Spirit of the Lord upon David stirred up a fear in the heart of Saul.

I have seen this over and over again in my own life and in the life of others. When a person experiences a powerful touch from God, the enemy often stirs up fear in those around that person. When I got powerfully touched by God, baptized in the Holy Spirit, and began to experience the supernatural power of God in my ministry, many people around me started to operate in fear.

Some were afraid I would become “too charismatic” and would go off the deep end. Others were afraid that I now thought I was super-spiritual and held it over them. Some were afraid that the power I was now experiencing was from the enemy. Others didn’t really believe I was any different but that I was exaggerating my experiences for personal glory.

Most of these fears came from wounds that already existed in the person. The enemy exploited these old wounds and insecurities in some of my friends in light of what God was doing in my life.

The reason fear is the primary thing that gets stirred up is because that is what the enemy is feeling. The enemy is afraid others will also catch fire and experience the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit. The enemy knows this is a huge threat to his kingdom of darkness. So because he is afraid, he projects that fear on as many people as possible in hopes they will distance themselves from the one who is experiencing the power of God. This strategy is as old as the story of David in the Old Testament. The enemy keeps using it because it still works today.

Imagine what would have happened in the life of Saul and in the life of Israel had Saul embraced what God was doing in David’s life through the power of the Spirit. Saul and David would have become a dynamic duo for God’s Kingdom, like Peter and Paul for the early church. But instead, what unfolded was a tragic story of Saul spiraling into ruin and David rising to the throne.

I remember the feeling of being unsure and scared of the supernatural aspects of the Kingdom of God. I remember feeling uneasy about the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit. I too was faced with a fork in the road. It was the same fork I faced in college when I decided to reject the things of the Spirit in favor of a more reasonable, safe, and academic version of Christianity. By God’s grace, 15 years later, God once again put in my path another fork in the road. I once again had the opportunity to embrace or reject the powerful move of the Holy Spirit in my life. I just had to be willing to take the risk. I had to be willing to get beyond my fears, my prejudices against charismatics, and my unbelief.

Most of global Christianity has embraced the powerful, supernatural side of the Kingdom of God through the Holy Spirit. Only a small segment of western Christians have not. While I once thought the Pentecostals/charismatics were the weird ones, I now realize by rejecting the supernatural gifts of the Spirit I was the extreme minority in the worldwide Church. I was the “weird” one.

Fear will always be the main tactic of the enemy to try to pacify the Body of Christ into powerless Christianity. Don’t let fear win. Don’t let fear keep you from an entire aspect of the Kingdom that you were born for. You were made, in Christ, to be supernatural. Don’t believe anyone who would tell you otherwise.

Convergence: social justice, the supernatural, and scholarship

I have noticed that streams of Christianity that have a limited view or limited experience of the Holy Spirit tend to err toward conservative, legalistic fundamentalism or universalistic and licentious progressive liberalism. Unfortunately, in the past, streams of Christianity in western culture that have embraced a full experience and practice of the Holy Spirit have tended toward anti-intellectualism and a cult of personality.

Thankfully, what is emerging now in America is a stream of Christianity that fully embraces the Holy Spirit and scholarship and is also informed by global, charismatic Christianity. Global Christianity sees no conflict between caring for the poor and believing in miracles. In fact, one informs the other.

The greatest representative of this convergence of social justice, supernatural Christianity, and scholarship is Heidi Baker. As a missionary she has run an orphanage for decades that cares for hundreds of impoverished children. She also happens to evangelize by using signs, wonders, and miracles. Specifically, she and her team enter a village, call forward the deaf and blind, and show the power of the gospel as they pray for healing and see most of them get healed. This all happens in front of the other villagers who, naturally, then want to know more about this Jesus who heals. She also has a PhD in systematic theology from King’s College London. She is currently launching a university in Mozambique. She daily lives out this beautiful convergence of social justice, the supernatural, and scholarship.

Global Christianity is teaching American Christians that churches which don’t operate in the power of the Holy Spirit are ineffective. Our brothers and sisters around the world are also teaching us that empowering women and caring for the poor is essential to the gospel. Likewise, they are warning the American church that caving to a sexual ethic that is at home in America but foreign to the Bible and global Christianity will weaken the Church and diminish the gospel. And as global Christians get beaten, imprisoned, and killed for the sake of the gospel, they expose universalism for the lie that it is.

The church in America is shrinking while global Christianity is exploding in revival. It is time we learn from them and from the convergence they represent.

A Different Person

Then Samuel took a flask of olive oil and poured it on Saul’s head and kissed him, saying, “Has not the Lord anointed you ruler over his inheritance?…The Spirit of the Lord will come powerfully upon you, and you will prophesy with them; and you will be changed into a different person. Once these signs are fulfilled, do whatever your hand finds to do, for God is with you.”

1 Samuel 10:1, 6-7

Samual was the prophet and judge for Israel when Israel asked for a king. They wanted to be like all the other nations around them who had a king, so God handpicked Saul. Samuel anointed Saul with oil and spoke a prophetic word over his life. The Spirit of the Lord would come upon Saul, enable him to prophesy, and would change him into a different person. And that is exactly what happened.

As Saul turned to leave Samuel, God changed Saul’s heart, and all these signs were fulfilled that day. When he and his servant arrived at Gibeah, a procession of prophets met him; the Spirit of God came powerfully upon him, and he joined in their prophesying. 

1 Samuel 10:9-10

What happened to Saul when the Holy Spirit came upon him is a foreshadowing of what happens to the early disciples when the Holy Spirit comes upon them during Pentecost in Acts 2.

When we put our faith in Jesus, we receive the Holy Spirit within us and are saved. We see this happen to the early disciples in John 20:22. Yet, when the Holy Spirit comes upon us, as it did to the early disciples in Acts 2, we often see a dramatic shift in the life of the believer. Along with life change, we see supernatural gifts like prophecy awakened.

When Peter tries to explain the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost, he describes it as a fulfillment of the prophecy in Joel 2:

Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These people 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.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
    your young men will see visions,
    your old men will dream dreams.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
    I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
    and they will prophesy.

Acts 2:14-18

One of the effects of the Holy Spirit coming upon a believer–sometimes called being “filled with the Spirit”(read Ephesians 5:18; Acts 2:4; Acts 4:8 & 31; Acts 13:9 & 52)–is that they begin to prophesy. In other words, they begin to hear more clearly from the Lord than they’ve ever heard before, and they feel a fiery urge to speak those words. Yes, there are many other gifts that are awakened or imparted when a person is filled with the Spirit, but throughout scripture, prophecy is one of the most prominent and consistent ones.

And similarly to Saul, when a believer goes from having the Holy Spirit dwell in them to then also being filled with the Spirit–having the Spirit come upon them–they feel changed. It often feels like a second conversion experience. Many testimonies attest to the feeling of being changed into a different person, as Saul was.

A hunger for intimacy with God gets ignited. A sense of how completely loved you are by the Father overwhelms you. Gifts and talents that you had before are set ablaze with the power of the Spirit. Love and grace for people around you increases. Your prayer life deepens. Old sin habits aren’t given a second thought because your desires have been renewed. You no longer want the old things you used to want. Your boldness for the gospel triples.

I am convinced that as followers of Jesus we were never meant to only have the Spirit dwell within us. We all were meant to have the Spirit come upon us. We were meant to be changed and empowered as Saul was. We were all meant to be filled with the Spirit and meant to live a dynamic, supernatural lifestyle. This is what God always intended, not a new religion but a new kind of humanity.

“…His purpose was to create in Himself one new humanity…”

Ephesians 2:15