Recently, my friend Matt Reynolds invited me to write an article for Spirit & Truth Ministries, which describes it’s mission as, “a movement of Wesleyan-minded Christians seeking to awaken and equip the 21st-century church, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to share the Gospel and make disciples of Jesus Christ. We long to see a new movement of Christians who are empowered by the Spirit, rooted in the truth, and mobilized for the mission.”
I believe in what they are doing, and I appreciate them publishing the following article.
How many of you have that one family member? Most families have a strange aunt, uncle, or cousin that they don’t really talk about. If you live in a small town, you might even wish they had a different last name because in a small town there are always people who will ask, “are you related to so-and-so?” If you don’t have one, you just might be the one!
Unfortunately for far too many Christians, that’s how we treat the Holy Spirit. We are fine with God the Father. We are great with Jesus. But we aren’t quite sure what to do with the Holy Spirit. As a result, we think the Holy Spirit is just for “those Christians.” You know, the Christians who are a little different or unique or even maybe extreme or weird.
Perhaps you grew up in a church that emphasized the Holy Spirit in an unbalanced and unbiblical way. When that happens, the Holy Spirit can become associated with extremes and abuses. This should not be a surprise. If there is one thing I have learned over the last fourteen years of full-time ministry, it is this: without the Holy Spirit, we are lost. Therefore, the Holy Spirit’s value to Christians is inestimable, and anything of value will be counterfeited. There is a reason we don’t have fake pennies. We have fake hundreds and twenties because they have value. If you’ve experienced extremes and abuses of the Holy Spirit, I hear your concern, but I’ve never met anyone who says, “I once got a counterfeit $100, so I don’t want anything to do with the real thing.” The Holy Spirit is not the “weird uncle” of the Trinity. The Holy Spirit is as essential to our understanding of God and our life of faith as the Father and the Son.
How then, do we cultivate openness to God’s Holy Spirit in our congregations?
1. Personal Surrender
Until we are willing to go all in with God’s Spirit, we aren’t able to lead others to do the same. B.T. Roberts once wrote, “We cannot impart to others what we do not ourselves possess.” In my own life, I had to surrender and obey before I could lead with greater dependence on the Holy Spirit.
I often find that the key issue preventing followers of Christ from a more radical pursuit of the Holy Spirit is not a lack of belief, it is fear of obedience. We inherently know that when God communicates with us, there is a good chance He’ll ask us to do difficult things and possibly even things we don’t want to do. We tell ourselves that it is far easier to keep God at arm’s length than it is to say, “I’m all yours. Show me what you would have me do.”
The problem with that is, it is a lie. One of the biggest lies the enemy of our souls whispers is that God is not for us. We hear the subtle whisper: If we listen to God and humbly and faithfully obey, it will only lead to humiliation or shame. The truth is God loves us deeply and invites us into obedience to lead us to greater wholeness in our spiritual life and greater intimacy with Him. Believe it or not, God can even use the embarrassing moments of our lives to point people to the life-changing love of His Son, Jesus!
2. Start Praying
Every significant move of God and every move of the Holy Spirit is grounded in prayer. Early on, I had a sense we would eventually begin to have special services like nights of praise and worship including times of prayer ministry and healing. It was essential for us to first develop a team of prayer warriors. I began teaching and preaching on prayer. I taught on hearing the voice of God and discerning God’s will. We spent time walking through the Lord’s Prayer. We spent time in special studies exploring the practice of prayer together. Our existing leaders in prayer thrived and grew even as God developed others in this ministry.
One Sunday morning, after teaching on the life of a prayer warrior, I felt led to do an altar call for people who sensed God’s call to prayer ministry. Over twenty people responded, and as they were standing at the front of our worship space, I prepared to pray a blessing over them. However, I paused as I sensed the Lord wanted to do something else. There is a 99-year-old prayer warrior in our congregation who worked with E. Stanley Jones in the Ashram movement. I invited her to pray a blessing over these men and women as we closed the service. She prayed a simple, bold prayer which was incredibly powerful.
Our church purchased The Beginner’s Guide to Intercessory Prayer by Dutch Sheets for every member of the team. After giving them enough time to read the book, we came together for a training and vision casting event. Following that, we had another specific training and prepped for a Night of Prayer and Worship. You simply cannot pray too much if you are seeking to cultivate an openness to God’s Holy Spirit in your church.
The fruit of this has been powerful. During worship nights these prayer warriors have both prayed as we’ve prepared and prayed with others during ministry time.
3. Ask God to Send Like-minded People
Many congregations have a remnant of people who are devoted to God and who experienced a touch by God’s Spirit. It is important to build a critical mass, whether on your staff or in your congregation, of those who are open to the fullness of God’s Spirit. Keep praying. In our congregation, we have seen people who have come to our congregation and said things like, “I don’t know why I’m here. I’m not from this church’s background, but God led me here and I sense there’s something incredible going on.” That’s the kind of thing that only happens in answer to prayer. God’s resources and connections are not limited. He will give you the people you need as you begin to seek greater openness to the Holy Spirit.
4. Learn from Mature Leaders
I am blessed to serve under regional leadership that is focused on the power and presence of God through the Holy Spirit. As a result, we invited Pete Bellini from United Seminary to come and teach and minister to pastors in this region of our denomination. Mark Barrow from Aldersgate Ministries came and led worship. Later on, we hosted a Holy Spirit event for laity and pastors with Luther Oconer. It is essential to seek mature, balanced leaders who can teach and lead the congregation to a greater openness to the Holy Spirit.
These events fulfilled two purposes. They were learning opportunities for our laity, pastors, and staff, and they created the opportunity to see how the Holy Spirit leads in teaching, worship, and ministry time. I also believe these are the kind of events that help shift the spiritual atmosphere and raise expectations for those who participate. Mature leaders provide models for balanced Spirt-led leadership.
5. Do the Stuff
There’s a great story about John Wimber, the founder of the Vineyard Movement. John and his wife Carol had visited a church early on after he had spent time reading the gospel accounts of Jesus. One day after worship, John approached his pastor and asked, “So, when do we do the stuff?” “The ‘stuff’,” said the pastor. “What’s the ‘stuff’?” “You know,” John replied, “the stuff in the Bible, like healing the sick and casting out demons. The stuff!” “Oh,” replied the pastor. “We don’t do the stuff. We believe they did it back in biblical days, but we don’t do it today.” With a rather confused look on his face, John could only say: “And I gave up drugs for this?” Throughout his ministry, Wimber continued to talk about and to actually “do the stuff.” At some point, as you are open to God’s Holy Spirit, you’ll see amazing things begin to happen. For instance, you’ll pray for the sick and they’ll experience healing.
A few weeks ago we had a night of prayer, worship, and healing. We were filled with confidence and expectation. Our praise team was prepared and focused on the Holy Spirit. We had invited our church to fast for 24 hours in the days leading to the event. We had a trained prayer team.
On the evening of the event, we had people from across our community, including those who aren’t part of our congregation attend. While we planned for the service to last an hour, I had to take a brief break during our time of prayer for the sick and hurting and tell people they needed to go get their kids from the nursery, but that the praise team would keep leading worship and we would keep praying until we were done. Nearly thirty minutes after we were finished, people were still sitting in the presence of God, experiencing His goodness, praying and tearfully reflecting on their faith. Why is this? Because God was present. God was moving. And “stuff” happened.
One testimony shared with me after the event demonstrates the kind of things that happened that evening, “I have to tell you where I am health wise after last Wednesday’s Prayer, Worship and Healing service. I have had very little pain from the cancer on the spine and have cut way back on the hydrocodone I had been taking. I don’t feel at this point I need the drugs for the pain, as I have not experienced any of the debilitating pain I had been having when I didn’t take the pills.I thank God for laying this Healing Service on your heart and I give our Lord and Savior all the glory. I am so blessed to be a part of this church family.”
As you read this, it would be easy to think this happened overnight, but this has all been the result of a pursuit of God and a walk with the congregation that has taken nearly six years. For me personally, it’s taken a little over 40 years! You may also be tempted to think that everything we’ve seen has fallen into place with very few hiccups, but that has not been the case at all. Some are scared of the “weird uncle stuff” or who have had bad experiences in the past, with those claiming to represent the Holy Spirit. There are always ups and downs and twists and turns. We must continue to pursue God and trust that he will bring us through to the place He wants us to be. Be faithful. Surrender to Christ and repent of your sins. Patiently wait on the Holy Spirit. Pray deeply. God will provide.
7. Have Faith
When I first came to this congregation, I was coming off of one of the most exhausting and challenging seasons of my life. My health was in a bad place, and there were many days in that busy season of adjusting to a new congregation that I had to use my lunch break to take a nap to build up the energy for the ongoing meetings and events. But, I knew at the core of my being I was where I was supposed to be. In my weakness, God simply kept showing up in incredible ways. People were joining the congregation and we were growing like we had not in years before.
In situations where I didn’t know what to do, the Holy Spirit has given me insight beyond my own understanding. I am walking in greater obedience and faith than I have at any other time in my life, I am continually seeking fruit. I want evidence that what we are doing and how we are seeking the Spirit leads to the fruit of changed lives and mature followers of Christ.
There are doubts and fears that I continue to take to the Lord. There are days I ask God why we aren’t seeing more men and women coming to Christ, and I wonder what to do; I am often examining fruit.Walking with the Holy Spirit does not relieve us from having to walk in faith. As Hebrews 11:1 reminds us, “…faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
At the end of the day, I wouldn’t do ministry any other way. It’s worth the risk. It’s worth the hard questions. It’s worth it all because partnering with the Father, Son, AND Holy Spirit is what ministry is all about. I’ve never experienced more life-giving work than “doing the stuff” in partnership with our glorious Triune God.