Series: Midwives Of The Holy Spirit #5
In the Vineyard we take a pretty broad approach to the Holy Spirit. Not only do we expect to experience the Spirit with our spirits, mind, and emotions, but because the Holy Spirit is the powerful personal presence of God with us, interaction with him can also be physical.
As far as I can tell from Scripture and experience, there’s no one sure sign or way that the Spirit is present and acting. He can show up in any number of ways causing a variety of responses. He can do a deep quiet work with no evidence or he can cause a ruckus. When we invite the Spirit and begin praying for someone we often see telltale signs that he’s at work. Some are physical, like trembling for instance. Some are emotional, such as tears or laughter. Some are obvious, like falling down. Others are subtle and easily overlooked like deep peace and restfulness. But they all indicate that the Spirit is at work in some way and that can be very helpful in directing our prayers.
The more exaggerated physical phenomena can be controversial and even problematic. Shaking, quaking and falling down is all the rage in some circles. The thinking is that if you don’t fall over, there must be something wrong with you. If the faith healer or conference speaker is really good, people fall over by the busload when prayed for. That’s how you can tell that the conference speaker is the real thing. You fall over or spas out. If there’s not sufficient falling over or shacking going on, it’s obvious that the Holy Spirit hasn’t really shown up. This is nonsense of course. I remember a very distressed young man asking my advice after a meeting. He was worried that God hadn’t blessed him because he hadn’t shaken or fallen over. I told him that this falling out business is a fine thing, if it’s real. If it’s contrived it’s just silly. The Spirit is real and his presence is real, but when it becomes a big show or a mark of spirituality, it’s time to move on to more important things, like following Jesus and loving people.
What are we to make of the strange shaking, jerking, falling down, and drunkenness that occur now and then? Is plain old attention grabbing? Is it demonic? Or is it God? Should it be discouraged or encouraged? Are manifestations good or harmful? My answer to these sorts of questions is “yes… no… sometimes… it depends… I don’t know”.
Although strange phenomena can be found in Scripture they’re not something that I would always associate as being from God, though they may be a reaction to the Spirit’s work. I do recognize that they’re in the Bible but I also recognize they don’t appear to be central to salvation and connecting with God. So if the Bible doesn’t make a big deal out of them I figure neither should I. I personally put them in the category of conjecture and mystery. As a midwife of the Holy Spirit I don’t make a big deal of them. I neither encourage nor discourage them. I don’t even need to know how they work or why they occur, if they occur at all. If they happen, they happen. I’m more interested in the aftermath – the affects of the experience to see how it relates to the person’s life.
Encounters with the Holy Spirit can be seen by some as an initiation into some sort of private ‘bless me’ club or be a launching pad into the adventure of kingdom service. One response leads to a state of arrested development and the other to maturity. My view is that if the people who are having these experiences are growing spiritually and maturing as followers of Christ then I guess it was something from God and good. John Wimber used to say, “I don’t care how the tree shakes, what’s important is its fruit.”
During the Toronto Blessing the Vineyard USA Board published the following statement that I’ve found extremely helpful in navigating the tricky and some times messy terrain of spiritual phenomena: “Rather than promoting, displaying, or focusing on phenomena, we want to focus on the main and plain issues of Scripture. For instance witnessing, healing, demon expulsion, ministering to the poor and widows, etc. This way, people will find their identity in doing Scriptural work, not in experiencing phenomena. We would like people to be known as “evangelists” or “zealous Christian workers” rather than “shakers”… We do not want manifestations to be a mark of spirituality. Rather, the fruit and gifts of the Spirit and godly character should attest to true spirituality.”
Good, wise, naturally supernatural advice wouldn’t you say?