In the last month, a good number of people in our congregation prayed to receive the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.
If you’re reading this and you have no idea what I’m talking about, that’s fine, just head over to our podcast page and have a listen to The Big Three, our most recent sermon series about Salvation, Water Baptism, and the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.
This last week, Pastor Ross wanted to help us navigate what life in, by, and through the Holy Spirit might look like. He told us that we:
- will experience conviction,
- should be looking for direction, and
- that this isn’t the end, only the beginning.
As I was listening to his sermon, I started thinking about my own walk with the Holy Spirit since I received His baptism at the age of 14 and how I and others close to me have made some pretty common and easily avoidable mistakes trying to walk in the Holy Spirit. There’s three things I’ve learned about the Holy Spirit in the last 16 years I’d like to share to hopefully save our people (or anyone reading this) some time and embarrassment.
First, the Holy Spirit will never contradict the plain word of God.
I have seen some people (myself included) do a lot foolish things and make a lot of foolish decisions just because they got alone in their prayer closet one day and “felt” the Holy Spirit told them to. I watched a man divorce his wife because apparently the Holy Spirit led him to do so. I watched a man let his home slip into default and then repossession because apparently the Holy Spirit told him to. I myself chose to go to a school I couldn’t afford for a degree I didn’t want simply because I felt the Holy Spirit told me to. All of these situations ended with a lot of pain, shame, and regret.
And those poor ends could have been avoided by one thing: a deeper knowledge and understanding of Godly wisdom in God’s word.
The first man’s marriage wasn’t in great shape, but some godly counsel and elbow grease on his part would have saved it and helped it thrive. The second man needed a better understanding of God’s principles concerning good stewardship littered all through Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the New Testament. I also needed that same understanding of stewardship to better recognize my own gifts and abilities and financial situation.
Sure, there are gray areas in scripture where nuanced conversation and understanding are necessary, but we can’t divorce our spouses just because we’re bored with them. We shouldn’t over-spiritualize common sense financial decisions. If your marriage is struggling, go get some help. If you have to sell your house to say afloat, do it. If you can’t afford that private Christian college, don’t go.
What I have found is that the Lord opens doors for us when we do what me must. He makes a way where at first there seemed no way—when your marriage starts falling apart, when you have to sell your house, or when you can’t go to college and you just have to work. He is always faithful; it just might not look like what we immediately want.
This means we need to soak in God’s word, and not merely through our own understanding, which is often immature and flawed. All the thoughts of today’s greatest preachers are at our fingertips thanks to our phones. Go. Listen. Be humble and submit your mind and heart to their good understanding of scripture. Then go read for yourself and see if what they say is true. Find good mentors in your life with good marriages and stable finances. Learn from them. Ask of them. The Spirit often speaks to us most clearly through the mouths of his servants closest to us.
Second, the Holy Spirit will never confuse you; he’ll make his will clear.
In the desire to hear and respond to the Holy Spirit, I often found myself asking, Holy Spirit, is that you? And what I’ve learned now over the years is that, generally, if I’m asking that question it’s probably not him.
Sometimes I am motivated by the wrong desires. I’ve often felt I should pray for healing for someone, but it was because I wanted to see God’s power because it’s cool and it gratifies me to be used that way. It often had little or nothing to do with helping the person or glorifying God. It took me a lot of years to recognize those selfish motivations.
In the times where God moves through me to heal or prophesy or pray for someone, I find several common elements:
- First—I am overcome by boldness I don’t usually have.
While I am naturally shy and stand-offish, when the Holy Spirit wants to minister to someone through me I find gentle confidence and peace. I don’t have to work it up. It’s just there.
- Second—it doesn’t feel weird.
I used to be so eager to do the work of the Holy Spirit that I made things awkward. The work of Holy Spirit is super–natural, not super-weird. When I’m weighing whether or not to step forward and speak into a situation or pray for healing or some other work of the Holy Spirit, I choose not to if the situation feels weird.
- Third—sometimes, you just gotta ask.
Sometimes I’m not overcome with boldness or I’m still feeling weird about a situation, yet I will still feel motivated to bring the work of the Holy Spirit to a person. In that situation, I’ll just ask outright. I don’t force the issue, but a simple question like, “hey, can I pray with you?” can make all the difference. Or something like, “look, I’m just a normal guy, but could I offer you some advice / encouragement?” Prophesy often comes as one of those two things—advice or encouragement (I. Cor 14:3). Healing can come in a moment after a simple question awakens faith in a person they might not have known was there.
In all of those situations or any situation where we’re trying to minister to someone, kindness is key—“Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” (Col. 4:5-6)
Finally, the Holy Spirit will never shame you.
Pastor Ross said that we should expect conviction, which is true. But sometimes we confuse conviction with shame, and there’s a key difference. Conviction is “…godly sorrow that leads to repentance and leaves no regret,” whereas shame is embarrassment cloaked in fear that leads to regret and self-hatred. I have struggled with shame over sin and poor decisions for much of my life, but a few years ago the Lord began to help me overcome shame by leading me to Psalm 103 which beautifully lays out the Father’s heart for his children:
The Lord is merciful and gracious
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always chide,
nor will he keep his anger forever.
He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.
For he knows our frame;
he remembers that we are dust.
Shame came with the fall of Adam and Eve, but grace and salvation came through Jesus. We will surely continue to stumble along our way home, but God doesn’t push us back in the dirt and leave us on our own. The Holy Spirit is our advocate, our counselor, our comforter, and our strength. Yes, sorrow over our sin and mistakes is ok, but only enough to break the stiffness of our hearts. Godly sorrow softens the places of stone to make us more like Christ.
As always, we as a church staff welcome your questions. Please feel free to email any one of us about a life in the Holy Spirit. We’d love to talk with you.