'Joyce!' I think I've been speaking in tongues!' That's the 'bombshell' one of the leaders of our young adults group dropped when he rang me one evening. 'Oh dear!' I muttered, still smarting from some of the extremes and eccentricities I had experienced in charismatic circles. 'Maybe we can talk about it after the meeting on Monday?'
The members of the group came and went and this co-leader and I settled down to talk. My resolve was 'to sort him out theologically'! As his story unfolded, though, and I heard of the winsome way in which God had fulfilled Jesus' promise by filling this young man with his Spirit, I was so deeply moved that not a word of criticism or caution came from my mouth. All I could do was to marvel and to suggest that, as we usually did, we should end our time together in prayer.
The Spirit of Love
We prayed for the group as we always did then, without my realising that he was going to pray in this way, my co-worker gently laid his hands on my head and prayed over me, almost silently, in tongues. The room, for me, became holy ground as a felt sense of the loving presence of God overshadowed me. Reflecting on this later, I described it in this way: 'It was as though God was pouring liquid love into me. I could almost feel it being spread into every cell of my brain before it percolated around the inner recesses of my entire being. The sensation stunned, silenced and thrilled me. As I walked home, the love seemed to intensify and as I slipped into bed beside my sleeping husband, divine love continued to overwhelm me.
Sleep eluded me for most of that night but I was grateful for yet more time and space to absorb God's love in a way I had neither envisaged nor experienced before. Months later, I was to discover and mull over Andrew Murray's claim that 'the Holy Spirit is nothing less than Divine Love descending to indwell us.' In other words, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit is the in - pouring of Love for he comes freighted with all the love of God the Father and of God the Son. In this sense, the Holy Spirit is the love of God. When he not only indwells us but also immerses us in love, he gives far more than the head knowledge that God loves us intimately and uniquely. As Paul reminds us, he spreads God's love into the nooks and crannies of our lives until we live and move in that love as a fish lives and moves in water. This love gives birth to the awe that prompts people filled with the Holy Spirit so to sense the presence of God that they cannot help but praise God from the very depths of their being.
Is it any wonder, then, that Charismatics are renowned for the nature of their worship: for their sparkling eyes, for the look of wonder, love and praise that often beams from their faces and for the overflow of adoration that prompts many of them to 'give it all they've got?' After all, charismatic praise, as John Leech once described it, is about the freedom to express love to God with all our being – including our hands, our arms and our bodies as seems right and appropriate at any given time.
That is not to say that Spirit-filled worship is all froth. Some of the deepest worship, I was to discover some time later, comes in Spirit-inspired and Spirit-in-breathed silence. As someone has expressed it: 'There is power in silence, the very power of God.'
Spirit empowered ministry
Before I learned that salutary lesson, like countless others in our church and country at that time, I discovered the pure joy of seeing and sensing and experiencing the promise Jesus made to his disciples just before he ascended to his Father: 'You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you' (Acts 1:8 Italics mine). Will I ever forget, for example, the beam that brightened one man's face when, having been a cripple for several years, the Holy Spirit healed him in our living room? He, Alistair, had hobbled into our home as he had done many times before. We had laid hands on him and simply asked the Holy Spirit to minister to him. As we continued to pray, first his stiff knees became supple enough for him to kneel for the first time in years. A few minutes later, grinning gleefully, he stood before walking right round the room. A little later that morning, he walked to Woolworths where he bought his newspaper as he did every day.
The newspaper seller confronted him with a question though: 'What's happened to you? You're not limping!'
Yes. We were conscious of the Spirit's companionship and consolation in all that we did: from praying to preaching to public and private living. It was as though he permeated the whole of us and his presence was powerfully sweet. No wonder Richard Foster insists that, as Christians, we may expect to enjoy a life immersed in, empowered by and directed by the Holy Spirit. No wonder John Powell describes live after receiving the baptism of the Holy Spirit as the 'Springtime of the soul' and no wonder Kilian McDonnell defines the charismatic Christian as one whose life is marked by 'Presence, Power and Praise.'
The One who gives us his Spirit in such abundance, though, is 'the God of Surprises'. While I was still marveling at the wonder of life in the Spirit, God gave me another gift: the treasure of contemplative prayer that I value even more today than during that weekend 30 years ago when I was made aware that there was such a method of prayer. Next month, this evangelical/charismatic/contemplative 'mongrel' will tell you how that particular gift was given.
- Coming to God in the Stillness: Discovering the power of contemplative prayer by Jim Borst MHM published by Kevin Mayhew 2004
- Listening to God by Joyce Huggett published by Hodder and Stoughton 1986 (chapters 2-6)
- Streams of Living Water by Richard Foster published by Eagle 2004 (chapter 4)