My faith story is riddled with examples of how things can go bad in pursuing spiritual manifestations apart from religious rootedness (and emotional and spiritual health). But my personal apocalypse, along with my transition from the first to the second half of life, has restored my belief in the necessity of the Holy Spirit’s work. As fed up as I have been, I cannot shake the deep-seated need to experience Jesus personally by the moving and manifesting of the Spirit. I want to be a part of a new charismatic expression of Christianity as the church continues through this apocalyptic transition.
Throughout my childhood I attended church services and events that were made to manipulate experiences with the Holy Spirit. Most of the time, I never fell for these contrived encounters because I never felt anything. And as a thinker, an internal processor, an introvert, I questioned all of it from a pretty young age.
There was the time, for instance, when I went with my class from the East Texas church school to see a female preacher from China who was leading an event nearby. At the event, our class lined up to be prayed for by this supposedly powerful woman, and she laid hands on each of us so that we would be “slain in the Spirit.” For the uninitiated, that’s when a person falls down on the ground (hopefully with someone to catch them), trancelike, under the power of God. All the kids from my class dropped like flies, but when she got to me, I felt nothing and kept standing. Undeterred, she kept praying for me, the frustration in her voice growing, until suddenly, her “laying on of hands” turned into open-palmed swatting of my forehead—hard. Though the power of God didn’t slay me, I feared her hitting me would, so I fell down just to get some relief!
But there were other times, usually the less contrived and spectacular ones, when I had unmistakable experiences with the Holy Spirit’s power, when I genuinely and deeply felt something, when the manifestation was beyond my comprehension.
Once, when I was a teenager, we had a prayer meeting at my family’s house with some of my father’s followers. Someone began to speak in tongues, aloud, and as they did, words suddenly came into my mind and formed a sentence that had the form and cadence of a prayer. But I didn’t verbalize the prayer. I was too shy, too cautious to blurt out what seemed like alien words. I just kept my eyes closed and my mouth shut and wondered if these words were meant to be an “interpretation” of what the person across the room who had been speaking in tongues had said. In any case, I was too uncertain to get all prophetic in public.
Then, the unthinkable happened. Someone else in the room offered their prophetic interpretation of the tongues, and they vocalized the exact same phrase that had formed in my mind. I was stunned. To this day, I can’t remember what the phrase was—because that really wasn’t the point. The point was that in that moment, I knew Jesus was real. I knew God was with me. I knew that I was accepted, that I was beloved.
And I knew, beyond a doubt, that the Holy Spirit had filled me and called me for a purpose in the world.
On the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the disciples who were gathered in that upstairs room in Jerusalem, is a dramatic sign of approval, acceptance, and belovedness. Especially because (as many commentators believe) the presence and power of Jesus by the Spirit was poured out equally upon a large group of disciples in that room, potentially spanning age, gender, and class, fulfilling the prophetic promise, “Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy” (Acts 2:17–18). And as the twelve apostles then took to the streets speaking in other tongues, it was a profound sign of acceptance, approval, and belovedness that all who heard them, regardless of race or cultural background, heard the good news about Jesus graciously preached to them in their own language, a gift of assurance in and of itself.
This identity of acceptance and belovedness is the fundamental gift of the Spirit, who “testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children” (Romans 8:16). It is this same Spirit whose voice convinces us that “neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38–39).
But the Spirit doesn’t stop at this level of identity. The Pentecost Spirit pours out charisma—gifts and callings—that all of us might serve God, one another, and the world in a powerful way. The Spirit empowers us for works of service—a fundamentally outward-facing thing. That’s the whole purpose of those gifts and callings in Ephesians 4, fostered and equipped by the foundational leaders in the church—the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers.
The whole point is so we all can bring our good faith, and this good life, to our neighborhoods and to the world.
Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann often uses the terminology of “military consumerism” to describe the way of the American empire. But when he speaks of the role of the church in light of this, his description is undeniably Spirit-centered. It is well-nigh Pentecostal: “The church is the meeting that hosts the Words From Elsewhere, and if we do not host the Words From Elsewhere, we have become . . . a chaplain for the empire. Everything depends on the Words From Elsewhere.”
“The Words From Elsewhere”! Kind of like those words that appeared in my mind during that living-room prayer meeting, assuring me of my belovedness and God’s kingdom call on my life. I’m not saying that these words need to come through an experience of speaking in tongues or receiving a supernatural interpretation. Nor am I saying that they have to take on a charismatic shape. But we desperately need the supernatural words that come from outside our empire system and bring a blast of kingdom light. This is why we need religion and even the church: because that’s the only structure through which the Spirit can speak the Words From Elsewhere. Everything depends on these words because the empire you always have with you. And only Jesus, by the Spirit, through the church, can bring the peace, justice, and freedom of the kingdom of God, on earth as it is in heaven.
And this is where I find myself today, in the early stages of my new beginning, after my own personal apocalypse. I am leaving behind shallow roots and unsustainable (and often harmful) practices. I want rooted religion that will sustain our faith over the generational long haul. But I have no interest in abandoning that personal and powerful work of the Spirit, who assures us of our belovedness and empowers us to walk in our gifts and calling. I want my faith and life to be animated by John Wesley’s “charismatic enthusiasm,” yielding a seamless life of humble holiness with prophetic and even political utterance.
Because, believe it or not, Pentecost is political.
Read more here: Was Jesus A Liberal Or A Conservative?