Spirit Filled Silence
“Have you received the Holy Ghost, brother?” I must have gave a puzzled look or something because the follow up question came quickly after.
“The Holy Ghost. Have you been baptized in the Holy Ghost?”
If you grew up Pentecostal like me you might have been asked a question like this. It doesn’t matter whether you were baptized for 20 years or were just picked up off the floor after accepting Christ, this question mattered.
I spent every Sunday night of my teenage years going to what we called “renewal” services. Sunday morning was for teaching but, Sunday nights was when the faithful few gathered. Most of these meetings were for the sole purpose of receiving a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit. We were tactful to not call them revival meetings. In Pentecostal spaces, revival meant something was dead and needed resurrection; renewal was a continuation of that resurrection. For many of us it was where we became “sanctified, saved and filled with the Holy Ghost”!
Strangely, as conservative and orderly as we were these services got loud. The music set wasn’t as many songs but, they definitely inspired you to receive fire from heaven. It’s all we sang about! “Set a fire down in my soul that I can’t contain, that I can’t control” we belted out for 20 minutes at a time as a guest speaker would line us up. Going one by one down the line with the deacons in tow and the “catchers” walking behind us we would be slain in the spirit and drop to the floor. This was usually initiated with a forceful nudge and an understanding that the anointing would do the rest. It was only a successful night if the altar was littered with bodies on the ground covered in small silky blankets.
We attended an Assemblies of God church during this time. It was understood that you may have been touched by the lord but, without “tongues of fire” the baptism never came.
“suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested[a] on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.” Acts 2:2-4
In the “16 Fundamental Truths” of the Assemblies of God charter somewhere in the middle you will find truth number 7. This is what we were trying to achieve, the baptism of the Holy Ghost. We wanted to speak in tongues! Huddled at the altar we begged and pleaded with God to allow us to live a spirit filled life! How could we walk in this world without the empowerment of the Holy Spirit? How can we fulfill the Great Commission without the power of pentecost in our back pockets?
Those of us who could speak in tongues were somehow now qualified to do ministry and give people “the full Gospel”. This doctrinal stance left many people waiting at the altar wishing they were empowered to do the work of the Lord. Admittedly, my problems with the church were not because of how this doctrine played. I have no problem with people wanting to speak in tongues or feeling like they have to wait to do it to live their best Christian life. I do however, have a critique of how boisterous this can all become.
It’s no secret that Charismatic/Pentecostal circles are highly susceptible to sensationalism. More often than not, the whole reason for gathering is to chase an experience with God. This feels like a commercial collective mysticism. People gather in packed out auditoriums listening to swelling, dense and repetitive music hoping that the collective voice will bring God down from heaven. This highly mobile and versatile way of doing this form of liturgy has an advantage in that you can have church anywhere but, its flaw is that it’s always searching. Aren’t we supposed to search for God? Yes, we are but, it’s not making as much noise as possible and physically moving to where we think the spirit moved. God is not elusive.
For the Christian, you are resurrected with the same spirit that resurrected Christ from the dead. This Holy Ghost is a member of the Holy Trinity and is God. Now not only do we bear the image of God but we also are the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. We are a temple and an icon. This means that God is not somewhere else for the Christian. There are no heavens to reach to or place to try and chase God. If we believe that God is omnipresent then it doesn’t make sense to go from conference to conference or renewal to renewal. We don’t have to make noise for God to hear us and grace us with his divine presence.
I have found that when I am silently looking inside and contemplate the love of God I can better become the love of God. A spirit filled life is a life steeped in the very being of God which is love because God is love. This means that the Holy Spirit starts and ends with a life lived with love. Silence is where we can learn to love ourselves, our neighbors and most importantly God. Looking inward to converse with what some call the “Silent Sovereign” allows us to evaluate if we are nothing more than the smashing of cymbals. Love is the very skin holding together the fruit of the spirit. If we honestly examine ourselves, we find that the power of the Holy Spirit is first that we love. St. Paul warns us that if we speak in the tongues of angels but first don’t have love then we have nothing! Our witness to the incarnation of Christ is an alignment with the cause of love set in motion by the Godhead. We will be known by our love not the syllables we speak.
Being known by our love is how the great commission is fulfilled. The fullness of the Gospel is the revelation of God’s love for humanity. Christ becoming flesh and blood removes the illusion that there is any separation between humanity and its creator. Where the spirit was hidden the spirit is now visible in Christ becoming the image of the invisible God! Jesus as a human didn’t speak in tongues as far as we know from scripture and he transformed heaven and earth. It’s not essential to people drawing near to the love of God to speak in another tongue to be moved in the spirit. Love transforms the heart and from the heart humanity speaks. How much more does the love of God cause us to be in this world. Confession is made internally before the external truth is manifest because the saturation of the Holy Spirit within.
Whether or not our speech is intelligible or not, so long as we speak with love we are being like Christ. No matter the tradition we come from nobody has a monopoly on who is being moved or baptized in the Holy Ghost. Silence is sometimes the most beautiful attribute of the spirit and it’s ok to spend time in it. As we reflect and listen we will know when the silence needs to be broken and we can speak words of life. May we know when to speak and as the spirit enables us may our words be the heart of the Father.