What if I never feel anything?
It can be normal to think, “the Holy Spirit will fill everyone except me”. Jesus assures us that if we seek we will find. As we detail in Everyday Supernatural a) all Christians have the Holy Spirit and b) we can all have more of the Spirit. It’s quite common for an infilling of the Holy Spirit to be tangible and experiential. When the disciples were filled they knew it had happened. However, it’s important to remember that we are seeking the Spirit, not a particular type of experience.
Both of us have encountered the Spirit but we have done so in very different ways. How you encounter the Holy Spirit will look different again because you are built differently. Some of us work more from our heads, and others of us operate more out of our emotions. Our advice is not to worry about what may or may not happen in terms of an experience, just seek Jesus and trust he is faithful. Andy has never so much as shaken an eyebrow but he has been filled with the Spirit. The main way he experiences the Spirit is through a sense of peace which doesn’t look (or feel) especially dramatic. God tends not to make Mike fall over in ministry times because if he did they would feel the after-shocks in Ireland. Emotions and manifestations can be a normal part of meeting the Living God, but they aren’t the main point. The main point is an encounter that leaves us changed.
What about all the weird stuff?
You may have been in a time of ministry and noted that people sometimes behave in some strange ways. What is going on? Honestly, we’re not always sure. Some of it is God meeting people and their relief, pain, joy or something else finding a physical outlet.
Is all of it God? No, some of it is our response to God. Occasionally, because we so desperately want to meet God, we can try to ‘help God out.’ We remember a time at Soul Survivor when three young men were standing next to each other being prayed for. The two at each end both fell down under the power of the Spirit. The lad in the middle opened his eyes and realised his friends were on the floor. The look on his face told us he was making a decision; then he closed his eyes and he fell over as well. He just didn’t want to be left out!
Shouldn’t we stop that? As much as possible we try to be relaxed in ministry times. We don’t need to hype the Holy Spirit up, he comes down. This means, whilst God can do what he wants, we don’t need to help him out by being strange. God will meet his people in ways that cause powerful and interesting responses – if he can part a sea, it shouldn’t surprise us if someone’s eyelashes flutter. Often when we talk to these people afterwards it becomes clear that God has been doing a deep work in their hearts. We shouldn’t feel any need to assist him in this. However, when someone like that young man does react out of enthusiasm no harm is done. After a while they just get bored and get up again!
In his parable about the wheat and the weeds the master cautions the servants against pulling up the weeds prematurely. If they do, they may pull up the wheat with them (Matthew 13:24-30). We choose to make space, we recognise that what happens will always be a mixture of God and us, but we know and trust that whatever is of God will have a lasting impact.
What about demons?
Demons are real but that they are nothing to lose sleep over. Satan has two tricks he likes to play on the church. He either tries to get us to forget he exists, or he tries to make us spend all our time thinking about him. Neither is wise. We deliberately resist spending much time talking about demons because we don’t want to give them more attention than they deserve.
It’s extremely rare for a person to be taken over by a demon. Jesus did encounter people like this but he dealt with them easily (see Mark 5:1-20). Most cases of demonic activity will be what is called ‘demonisation.’ This is when a demon attaches itself to a certain behaviour or fear and afflicts us. Paul writes, “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold” (Ephesians 4:26-27 italics added). There are certain things that we can indulge in (like anger, greed or lust) or be exposed to, that give easy in-roads to demonic activity. It doesn’t mean a person has a demon it means a demon is bothering them in a particular way.
If we come across this we don’t need to worry at all, these are just little nasties that we are given total authority over. It’s not necessary to gather 16 friends and start screaming at the demon. We don’t need the garlic and stake. All we need to do is command it to leave in the name of Jesus and the demon will have to go. The person we are praying for doesn’t even need to know, we just say, “If there is anything here contrary to the Spirit of Jesus we command you to go in Jesus name.”
The best way to deal with Satan is making God our main focus. James puts it like this, “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you” (James 4:7-8). We are to concentrate on our Lord, submit to him, draw near to him. This is why worship so often helps. Just as demons fled when David sang (1 Samuel 16:23), and the prison was broken open as Paul and Silas worshipped (Acts 16:25-26), so any stronghold the enemy has over us is broken when we glorify the name of the Jesus.
I have been filled with the Spirit, why am I still struggling?
Sometimes we imagine the Spirit to be an all-healing medicine. We can think that the moment we encounter the Spirit we will never doubt, struggle to step out or give into sin again. This isn’t how it works. God is transforming us and though at times he will do something dramatic in our hearts that brings deep and lasting change, we will always need to continue to walk with him day by day. Paul, writing to the Galatians, talked about the importance of keeping in step with the Spirit (Galatians 5:25). Often we are healed and set free on the journey, not in a single moment or encounter.
Both of us have had the Spirit effect serious change in our hearts, but we both still have struggles. As well as assuring them of the gift of the Spirit, Jesus also told his disciples, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). We’ll always find, this side of heaven, that we face difficulties and make mistakes. Peter, even after the day of Pentecost, still got things wrong; Paul still fell out with his close friend Barnabas, and the various churches they planted continued to battle with sin (Galatians 2:11-13; Acts 15:36-41). However, we can take heart even in the midst of struggles because the Spirit is already living inside us.
The Spirit may not completely transform us in a single moment but he is a guarantee that we are being transformed and that we will get there. In Romans 8:23 Paul writes about how we have the “firstfruits of the Spirit.” When we see the blossom on the trees and the daffodils shooting up we know beyond doubt that spring is on the way. The Spirit may not have healed us completely yet, but the first healing is the assurance that wholeness is coming. Writing to the Corinthians Paul uses another image, he talks of how God has, “anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come” (2 Corinthians 1:21-22).
When you book a room in a hotel you put down a deposit. It’s the way we show we are serious about taking the room; we won’t pull out or change our minds for fear of losing the deposit. God has put more than a financial down-payment on our lives, he’s literally moved into the room by his Spirit. His Spirit is already living inside of us and that’s the guarantee that our future is secure. God cannot now abandon us without abandoning himself!
It is normal to struggle, even after being filled with the Spirit. Our advice is two-fold: go on being filled with the Spirit and take heart! Jesus has overcome the world! The same Spirit that raised him from the dead is living inside of us and our future is guaranteed. It is written in the concrete, unfailing, promises of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.