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. Nothing 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.