Becoming Aware of the Holy Spirit Through the Sharpening of our Senses (Holy Spirit-part 2)

What does it mean to be have the Holy Spirit “fall on” you? What does it mean to be “filled with the Holy Spirit” or to “feel the Holy Spirit moving”? What is a “manifestation of the Holy Spirit”? Are these just a made up terms for overly emotional people trying to get attention?

Throughout my life, I have heard these terms used by people outside of the my Anabaptist circles. For much of my life, I tried to avoid people who used these types of phrases. I didn’t know what they meant and I didn’t understand what all the hype was about. None of these terms lined up with the ideas I had about the Holy Spirit. I thought of the Holy Spirit as a quiet, barely noticed influence.

In reading Acts, however, when the Holy Spirit is mentioned, the stories that are written about Him are vastly different than the ideas I have had about the Holy Spirit most of my life. When the Holy Spirit came upon people–whether individuals or whole crowds– they knew it and it seemed to be evident to everyone around them.

The first time we see the Holy Spirit make an appearance is in Acts 2.

2 And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested

on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.

The first thing that is mentioned is that they heard something with their physical ears. The entire house was filled with the sound of a rushing wind. They also saw what looked like tongues of fire rest on each other’s heads.

Verse four tells us that they were then all filled with the Holy Spirit. They saw, they heard, and they were filled. In order to know that they were being filled, they must have felt something, a Presence, fill their bodies.

People who have experienced demon possession and had demons cast out will tell you that they could physically feel the demon leave. Their body could feel it and they knew when it left.

We are spiritual people who have bodies. When another spiritual being inhabits us, or takes residence within us, we feel something–whether physically or spiritually. The problem is that many of us do not have our spiritual senses sharpened and are often oblivious to things that are going on in the spiritual world. When we aren’t aware of things going on spiritually because of dull senses, we dismiss or ignore things we may feel even in our physical bodies (caused by things happening in the spiritual realm) because we can’t identify it.

Some people are more “aware” of things going on in the spiritual realm than others. We can’t discredit people just because they feel something with their spiritual senses that we don’t. The same thing can happen even in the physical realm.

Suppose two men–we’ll call them John and Bill– stand looking at the same scene. They may see completely different things. John may see the general picture and Bill may see many details that the John is oblivious to. It’s not that John can’t see what Bill sees, he simply is not aware or noticing it. If Bill points something out to him, he suddenly notices. hidden-babyNothing in the scene changed, John just suddenly became aware. It’s not that John can’t see as well as Bill, Bill just has sharper senses visually. The same thing can also happen in hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching.

How does one achieve sharper senses physically? Some people are born with certain senses sharper than others, and for some it comes from practicing and sharpening by training by someone who already has their senses sharpened. An example of this would be training a detective might receive to notice every detail in a crime scene. Musicians often can hear the slightest “off” in an instrument because of years of training and practicing. There are experts at tasting wine who can tell you what kind of wine they are drinking and how old it is just by the taste. Perfumers have a sharp sense of smell and can detect scents that the average person cannot. But none of these became an expert overnight. Even those with natural gifting in certain senses had to practice and sharpen their natural gifting or had someone else train them.

In the spiritual realm, we have senses as well. Many of us have dull senses because we have had no teaching or training and we simply are not aware of things going on around us.

The Bible makes references to our spiritual senses. David tells us to “taste and see that the Lord is good” in Psalm 34:8. Job in chapter 6 speaks of using his taste to “discern perverse things” In Matthew 13, we hear Jesus talking about people hearing, but not understanding; seeing but not perceiving; their hearts being dull, barely hearing with their ears, and having their eyes closed. Hebrews 5:11 speaks of having “much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing”. These aren’t speaking of our physical senses, but rather our spiritual senses.

So if we can train our physical senses to be sharper by use and training, doesn’t it also make sense that we can do the same with our spiritual senses? Hebrews 5:14 makes mention of this: “..those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.”

Most believers agree that things happen in the spiritual world that we are often not aware of. But many disagree about whether or not we can sense those things –whether in the spiritual or physical realm. Should we be able to feel the Holy Spirit? Should we be able hear Him speak or see some evidence that He is there? In a previous post, I shared that I used to wonder how I would know if the Holy Spirit left– if I couldn’t tell when or if He had come.

For years I wondered about that. I tried to serve God in my own strength by going to church, and trying to be disciplined in Bible reading and prayer time. I would do alright for awhile, but then fall away again. I didn’t particularly enjoy praying, but I kept long lists of people and needs to pray for so I could manage to put a little more time into it. I kept up appearances of being very religious and also did my best to keep any secret vices, sins, or struggles hidden from others.

I won’t go into much detail here, but there came a point in my life when I realized that doing all the right things didn’t seem to do me any good. Through a series of hard events, I came to a place of hitting rock bottom and turned to God in a more desperate way than I ever had before. I sat in a room all alone crying out to God to give me relief by either ending my life or changing what I was facing. He did neither of those things, but I suddenly was very aware of a Presence in the room with me and I felt a physical warmth, much like a blanket wrapping around me. The air was thick with a stillness and I knew instantly I was encountering the Holy Spirit. No one had to tell me that because I felt comforted like a child being held in his daddy’s arms. This was the Comforter that Jesus had spoken of.

He didn’t end my life, nor did He change my situation, but something changed in me that day.

I don’t like a lot of emotionalism and I prefer to figure out everything by logic and reasoning, so I was very curious about what I had experienced. That started some serious searching of the New Testament regarding the Holy Spirit.

Sometimes while I was reading my Bible, I would feel that same Presence come and I would pause because it seemed there must be something He was wanting to point out me on the page. Certain verses seemed to jump out at me and come alive. Reading the Word was different now. I was reading with hunger instead of because of duty. Prayer changed too.

I’ll share more of my story in a later post, but for right now I’m switching gears again.

Some of you have felt this Presence and know exactly what I’m talking about, some of you are perplexed but curious, and some of you are wondering if you should maybe find another blog to follow.

What I experienced does not mean that everyone else experiences the Holy Spirit in the same way. I have talked to many men and women of God that have shared their own testimonies with me, and only a few sounded similar to my own experience. And they have experienced things that I have not. If the Holy Spirit were able to be defined, pinned down, and put in a box, He wouldn’t be God. If God created us, He knows better than we do what the best way is to reveal Himself to us.

Throughout Acts, when we read about people experiencing the Holy Spirit falling on them or being filled with the Holy Spirit, we don’t always have very many details of what that entailed. But one thing that was apparent in every situation was that they all knew when He did. Did that mean they experienced something in the physical realm or in the spiritual realm? I don’t know if they always felt something in the physical realm, but there is no doubt that at least some of the times it was absolutely with their physical senses.

Throughout the entire Bible, God has been making Himself known to people. In the Old Testament, He made Himself known in the physical world usually to only a select few people for a specific purpose. When God makes Himself known to many, He is most often misunderstood by the majority because He reveals Himself in an unconventional, unexpected way.

Every time a Person of the Trinity has made an appearance on earth to a large group of people, not only was He misunderstood, but He was rejected by the majority of those people. He is unorthodox, He does not do things like we think it should be done, He takes us by surprise and takes us out of our comfort zones.

Think of God speaking to the children of Israel from Mount Sinai. In Exodus 20, we see them respond with trembling and fear and standing “far off”. They told Moses that they wanted him to speak to them instead of God. God did not seem safe.

When Jesus came to earth, He was rejected by the majority also because they did not understand His intentions. Even though they were expecting His appearance, He wasn’t what they were expecting, so they rejected Him. His teachings did not feel safe.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise then that now that the Holy Spirit has come, He also is often misunderstood, feared, and rejected. We prefer the safety of the “way we have always done things”. We would rather keep Him at a safe distance and let someone else speak to us for Him.

We read the stories in the Gospels and in Acts and we believe they are true. We don’t doubt that everything that is recorded there is accurate and inerrant. But then we look at ourselves and doubt that anything like that could happen to us. Most of us don’t even want that. It’s outside of our comfort level. Would I really want to speak in tongues and be accused of being drunk (Pentecost)? Would I want to fall on my face in front of others (Saul) or to be told to do something that puts me way out of my comfort zone (Peter being told to eat unclean things)? Would I want to do something like Agabus, who tied his hands and feet with Paul’s belt in order to deliver a message that the Holy Spirit had given (Acts 21)?

He is unconventional. He makes us feel uncomfortable. He is unexpected. He isn’t concerned about us looking good, nor does He mind us losing our pride.

So why bother?

Because He is good. An encounter with Him changes us and empowers us to do what He desires for us. If He wants something for us, we can trust Him. We know how trustworthy Jesus is. If He tells us He is sending us the Holy Spirit to help us, why do we reject Him and try to figure out a different way?

Do we not believe what Jesus taught in Luke 11:10-13? If your son asks you for a fish, will you give him a serpent? If he asks for an egg, will you give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?

Why do you think Jesus taught us this and specifically mentioned the gift of the Holy Spirit? Are we afraid that if we ask for the Holy Spirit and open ourselves up to Him, that He will allow some demon to enter us instead? If we wouldn’t give something horrible that could hurt a child that we love–especially when they are asking for something good– why would our Heavenly Father? He is better than we are.

So ask Him in complete trust to fill you the Holy Spirit and for Him to manifest Himself to you in a way that you know He is there. Ask Him to sharpen your senses and to make you aware.

You have a perfect Father who only gives good gifts. And He is trustworthy.

 

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The Third Person in the Trinity (Holy Spirit-part 1)

Years ago I sat in a Mennonite church service and a visiting preacher preached about the Holy Spirit. I don’t really remember much of what he preached, but it is the only sermon that I distinctly recall hearing teaching about the Holy Spirit. What made an impression on my young mind at that time was that the bishop got up afterward and refuted everything the visiting preacher had preached about. He basically said, “We don’t believe like that in this church.”

I often wondered after that, “What do we believe about the Holy Spirit?”

I noticed that asking about or speaking about the Holy Spirit always seems to make Mennonites very uncomfortable. I don’t particularly relish the thought of writing my own thoughts and discoveries simply for the reason that it upsets many Anabaptists. I also am only learning and feel like I am a novice and am limited in what I can teach or write on this subject. But I will share what I have learned and experienced in the last few years and hope that it will help someone else.

Why we are so against Holy Spirit teaching?

The older generation remembers seeing a movement that wasn’t always very accurate in it’s teaching and brought about some pretty crazy stuff. Because of this, they put their guard up to protect their congregations from the wrong teachings that are out there.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. Pastors do need to protect their flocks from teaching that contradicts Scripture. But instead of avoiding the teaching and saying what all is false, they need to replace wrong teaching with right teaching. We can’t throw it all out because of there is bad mixed in with good.

money-bagSuppose someone gave me a large bag of money that was filled with one hundred dollar bills. If I was told that some of the bills were counterfeit, what would I do with that bag of money? Would I throw the entire bag away? What if I would, instead, just simply set the whole bag aside, realizing that while it still had value, I probably should not take the risk of attempting to use it?

This is what many of us have done with teaching on the Holy Spirit. We either throw out teaching about the Holy Spirit altogether or we realize there is value there to some degree and just “set Him aside” because we are afraid we will possibly do the wrong thing or are afraid our discerning skills may not be good enough.

If someone would truly see the value in that bag of money, they could study some real one hundred dollar bills to know what to compare it to. They could get help from others who were more knowledgeable and begin to throw out the bad while keeping the good. People who are in need and desperate enough won’t even think twice about using that money even if it means there is some extra work involved.

How desperate and in need are we for the Holy Spirit in our lives? Most of us Anabaptists are viewed as being self-reliable and self-sufficient. We have orderly lives and we run our communities in a systematic fashion. Our culture appears to be better than other cultures around us as we see lives falling apart in chaos and disorder.

Could this be why we don’t even see a need to teach much about the Holy Spirit? Are we not desperate enough? Do we see ourselves as being so self-sufficient that we do just fine on our own with our tightly knit communities and rule-governed lives?

But what about when it’s not enough?

What about those hundreds and thousands of men and women in our communities that live secretly addicted to porn and other vices? What about those families with molestation hidden from the eyes of others? What about those parents who are only able to “control” their families by anger and physical abuse? What about those husbands and wives who go from counselor to counselor trying to find help for a marriage that just doesn’t seem to get any better? Worse yet, what about those husbands and wives who have given up because there doesn’t seem to be anything more that they can do except to live as two separate lives under the same roof?

Do we just keep on pretending that we don’t have problems because our rules and the way we do things are good enough to at least keep up appearances?

How are we any different than the Jews in Jesus’ day? We have a different set of rules that we abide by than what they did, but many of us don’t seem to have God’s law written in our hearts any more than those of Jesus’ day did. Instead of making sacrifices in the temple for the sins we keep committing, we hide them until we can’t anymore, then we do our penance by making a confession in public and being “put on probation” for awhile.

Why aren’t we able to help those that can’t walk in victory over sin no matter how many guidelines and fences we erect? We simply can’t because that is the work of the Holy Spirit. The whole point of the law was to show us that we cannot do it on our own. Without the Holy Spirit as a living, breathing entity in our lives, we are left to fight the flesh alone with the help of only our rules pointing out all that we are not doing right.

“But we believe in the Holy Spirit! Of course we have the Holy Spirit– all Christians have the Holy Spirit!”

Every Christian has access to the Holy Spirit, but with no teaching about Him, we are like a gardener with a hose in his hand trying to water the garden with the spigot turned off. Why can’t we teach our people about the power that is available? Could it be that our leaders themselves don’t know either? How can they teach what they have not learned?

Jesus spoke of the blind leading the blind and when a leader’s solution for sinful addictions is to proclaim more laws and/or judgement because that is all they can offer, they are only leading them into another ditch.

Is it possible to know whether that “spigot” is turned on?

For most of my life, the little teaching I received about the Holy Spirit was that He was just a quiet influence– much like your conscience. I always wondered how I would know when it was my conscience and when it was the Holy Spirit. And my salvation experience did not bring any change in the voice of my conscience. I felt guilt when I sinned just as I had before salvation, but that “quiet influence” was so quiet, I could not have shared what the Holy Spirit actually did differently in my life.

I remember hearing a missionary ask his audience if they would even notice or be able to tell if the Holy Spirit had left. That question haunted me because I didn’t know how to tell if He was there or not. Maybe sin or lack thereof would be the telling factor? But if I couldn’t tell when He came, how would I be able to tell if He left?

It was years later before I experienced a manifestation of the Holy Spirit. Trying to talk about my experiences to other Anabaptist believers brought mixed reactions. I saw doubt, disbelief, and outright scorn; but in the past few years, I have found many others who have also found something–or rather Someone– different than any teaching we received in our Mennonite upbringing. And these with whom I talked to, now lived drastically different lives than they did before this experience. Many found freedom from bondage, but all found life and joy in the Christian walk rather than a life of struggling to obey rules. The Christian walk was no longer a hard thing void of all pleasures. Praying was suddenly different than it had been before. No longer was it a discipline to pray, but rather a time of pleasure and joy– something to look forward to. Feeling His Presence in a real way is “fulness of joy” and “pleasures for evermore”!

How will we know what is real and what is counterfeit?

There are many counterfeit teachings out there. Every time God gives us something good and pure, Satan loves to twist it into something that looks similar and uses it to entrap people into bondage and sin. So how will we be able to tell what is the good and perfect gift from God and what is Satan’s counterfeit? Are we better off just rejecting all things pertaining to the spiritual world altogether?

Satan would like us to think so.

But the fact of the matter is, we were created as spiritual beings who happen to have a physical body. We tend to forget that and think that we are physical beings who just happen to have a spirit. Though we may not understand everything, we can not discard teaching about our spirit or the Holy Spirit.

Jesus said that God is a Spirit and those that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth. How can we do this if we have no idea how to?

The Bible is not silent regarding the Holy Spirit. Read it and check to see if any teaching you hear or read is lined up with Scripture or not. Feel free to give me feedback if you feel something I write is contrary to Scripture. I want to speak Truth and write nothing that contradicts God’s Word.

I realize I have probably raised more questions than I have given answers in this post. But for the sake of easier reading, I am once again planning to divide this study into segments. So be patient, more is coming.