Edited By: Leslyn Kim
Picture me at the age of seven being ushered to the basement of a Christian school. It was far too long ago for me to remember all of the details, but what I do recall was feeling a sense of anxiety and anxiousness. I, along with a handful of otherelementary, middle-schooland high-schoolers were all converging upon a conference room in the basement of the school for the purpose of being filled with the Holy Spirit. Why? Well, it’s a bit complicatedWe had all voluntarily chosen to do so, but why? Well, that’s a tough question to ask a seven-year old. It was more complicated than most adults would probably ever perceive. Peer pressure? Possibly. Coercion? Possibly. A fear of being left behind spiritually? Possibly. Yeah, just like most other kids, I was far more perceptive then what they gave me credit for .
Single file we entered a medium-sized stadium seating conference room and took a seat. A middle-to-late aged lady with short hair who we fearfully and respectfully referred to as Sister Janet entered the room. To this day, the very name Sister Janet still invokes some feeling in me that I just can’t quiet put my finger on (fear, mystery, respect, intrigue). But for brevity sake, imagine the relationship between a drill sergeant and a new Army recruit stepping into his first day of bootcamp. I was the new recruit and sister Janet was the drill sergeant. She commanded attention, primarily by fear in an effort to keep us young people in order, but also through respect. She was from the old-school, a disciplinarian with the figurative heavy and intimidating hand of a giant.
Shortly after we entered the room, the door was closed, and sister Janet almost immediately began to remind us all why we were gathered there. I would be lying if I said remembered exactly what she said at that point, but if I ventured to take a guess, from my impressionable seven year old mind it started something like this……
“Now look, we ain’t here to play no games today. This is serious! We’re here to pray for each and every one of you. When I call you up here I’m going to lay hands on you, and pray that God would fill you with his spirit. Being filled with God’s spirit gives you power in your life! After I’ve prayed for you, I want you to just open your mouth and begin to pray to God. But, not in your regular language, I want you to begin to speak in another language that God gives to you”.
At that moment, I clearly remember a sense of anxiety set in as I patiently watched sister Janet pray for each individual kid. Some who were prayed for immediately began to speak in another tongue, others struggled, but were fervently coached and encouraged with a sense of urgency to have faith that God would give them an unknown tongue. Others struggled to find the foreign words to speak. Were they struggling in their flesh to believe? Was their lack of faith the snare? Watching and waiting for your name to be called only strengthened the anxiety factor. What will happen to me when I get up there? What will others think? Will I receive the gift that so many others so readily seem to have received? Are some who are receiving it, receiving it in vain due to the pressure, or is it truly an authentic experience?
That day, I spoke in another language that was unfamiliar to me, but I can’t recall which category I fit into above. Again, it’s difficult to recall but I may have been one of the many that needed a small amount of coaching. However, I’m not convinced that how I received it or how well I spoke in another “language” that day was most relevant. The fact is, I willingly prayed and asked God to fill me a second-time apart from salvation with a fresh indwelling of His Holy Spirit. Christ promised that he would not deny anyone who asks for good gifts, but would give graciously more of the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.
“Then Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; 6 a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ 7 And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.’ 8 I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity[e] he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.
9 “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
11 “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for[f] a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
Although I was not thoroughly convinced of the authenticity of my experience that day I’ve been speaking in tongues, or more accurately defined – private prayer languages ever since, and have come to understand it’s meaning and power more fully through the revealed truth of his Word..
Thank God that his grace is sufficient to cover our deficiencies. I say that because the means by which the second filling of the Spirit was taught to me, explained, and executed made the process,my discovery, and my journey all the more arduous, confusing and unnecessarily difficult.
If someone (not necessarily Sister Janet!) had delivered the foundational truth of the spiritual gifts using the logos (the written Word of God) and it had been more carefully taught and understood beforehand, the outcome may not have changed, but my freedom to function in it may have. I don’t at all blame this specifically on Sister Janet. Even though I was afraid of Sister Janet as a kid, I actually love her, and have a tremendous amount of respect for her as a person. More than anything, I now respect the obedience that I witnessed in her life to the social aspects of the gospel. Maybe more on that in a different blog.
My point is, the way in which the call to be filled with the Spirit was executed made a poor theological impression on my young mind. It only served to reinforce my wrong thinking, and my anxiety….. Will God give me that gift? If not, am I lesser than those who seemed to so readily receive it? Were they faking it? Should I fake it in order to not disappoint those onlookers who sincerely want the gift for me? Should I fake it until it becomes authentic? Will I be seen as an outcast, or spiritually handicapped if I don’t have the faith to receive the same gift? The questions that we have, I believe, are normal and expected. Although, all too often the lingering doubts that we have are more often a result of poor doctrinal and theological (mis)understandings.
Does God withhold any good thing from those who walk uprightly and seek him diligently (James 1:17, Psalm 84:11)? According to the bible, the general answer is no. But, in his sovereignty, omnipotence and providence the answer is, Yes. He gives the gifts of the Spirit as HE sees fit, not always as we desire or think that we deserve or should receive. More on that later…….
In part 3 of the series it’s going to get a little more messy, as I start to share personal experiences from both extremes, in an attempt to point out the imbalance that occurs when an overemphasis is placed on the rhema Word at the exclusion or dilution of the logos Word, or the logos Word alone. I see both extremes as detrimental to believers and leading to an unfortunate imbalance in our walk with God by the power of the Spirit. And, all too often as a detriment to new believers who have yet to understand the real power and function of the Holy Spirit.