I just want you to hold me.
Those were the syllables streaming off the lips of my new bride on the first night of our marriage. Just to give you context, we waited. And waited. And I can’t overstate how ready I was to fully know my wife. Biblically. As Jesus followers we were saving our sex for our marriage. And as a Bible guy I knew that my strongest desire was supposed to be the Lord’s return, but I had a different prayer: Please wait until after my wedding night. I had nightmares about seeing my beautiful wife, in bed, giving me the look of desire as I leapt through the air, toward my lover, just as the trumpet of God sounded. You get the idea.
But when my long-anticipated night approached, my bride was far from the frisky, disciple of desire I had imagined. She froze up. She just wanted me to hold her. How do you define hold, I wondered. But it was no use. In the aftermath a dozens of well-intentioned Christians loading down my wife with every conversation and book about the holy-act-of-marriage-wild-woman-intimate-joy experience, I was done for. Maybe we could try in the morning, she suggested. I set the alarm for 3:00AM.
I tell that story because of the way I see so many Christians approach the Holy Spirit. All you have to do is thumb through the book of Acts or the writings of Paul, and you discover a far more intense relationship and openness toward the Holy Spirit than you see today. They treated Him like a person. They expected holy interaction. They approached Him as God. Because the Holy Spirit is I Am. Transformation itself “comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18) I hear many people profess a theoretical submission to Jesus as Lord; but how many have functionally allowed the Spirit to be Lord? Everything Jesus was to His followers, the Holy Spirit is. Helper, comforter, friend, advocate, counselor. For as much as we Bible-Christians pride ourselves on our commitment to Scripture, it’s stunning how shallow we have gone in the truth of the experience of the Spirit.
A little explanation.
Every believer has the Holy Spirit living inside of him or her. “Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, ‘Abba, Father!’” (Galatians 4:6) Like a pilot light that will never go out, the Spirit begins to live in us from the moment we first believe. However, every believer is not always walking in a real-life experience with the Spirit. This is why Paul says in Ephesians 1:13 that all believers were sealed with the Holy Spirit, but then four chapters later he says to “not be drunk with wine … but be filled with the Holy Spirit.” (Ephesians 5:18).
According to Paul, the experience of being filled is something like coming under the influence of alcohol. You lose some of your natural inhibitions; you have more boldness; your tongue gets loosed; and you aren’t afraid of what people will think. It’s like what happens when the pilot light is allowed to grow into a fire source that boils your water. You don’t need a new flame, you need to go all the way with the flame you’ve got.
This is why in Acts 19 Paul’s opening question to a group of disciples was, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” (Acts 19:2) A real relationship with the Spirit is a game-changer because you are different when you are under the influence of the Spirit. There are crucial conversations you should never have until you are filled. There are painful memories you should not even think about unless you are filled. There are some activities you were never meant to attempt until you get filled. There are commands in Scripture that are downright impossible without the influence of the Spirit. Forgive your enemies? Bless those who curse you? Articulate the gospel in an awkward environment? We spend too much time striving to do with a pilot light what can only be done with a raging fire.
And this is where all the controversy and family feuding is so counterproductive. It freezes people up. It turns the Spirit into an it about which we theorize instead of a Person with whom we relate.
We get tripped up over terms like the baptism in the Holy Spirit and the various manifestations of the Spirit. When Charismatics over-emphasize specific experiences, they fail to recognize that believers have Spirit encounters all the time. If you’ve ever walked into church cold and then walked out on fire; if you’ve ever been in an intimidating situation and an unusual boldness came over you to articulate the gospel; if you’ve ever felt lost and someone spoke a word of encouragement that had a God-centered effect you could not explain … then you have come under the influence of the Spirit. It’s almost like drinking spiked punch you thought was kool-aid; it just happened to you. You came under the influence accidentally. On the other hand, what non-Charismatic Christians under-emphasize is the biblical mandate to intentionally pursue this experience. Coming under His influence is supposed to become a lifestyle. So ask for the Spirit (Luke 11:13) Charismatics are correct in pointing out the possibility of an experience subsequent to salvation. But they seem so obsessed with the initial infilling that they under-stress the call to live a life of being filled again and again and again.
He wants to do more than seal you for the day of redemption. He wants to fill you today. Is fear closing in? Ask for the Spirit. Are you in trouble? Ask for the Spirit. Having trouble praying? Ask for the Spirit.
It really is tragic. While the world has become more spiritual, Christians have become secular. Natural. You were never wired to be satisfied with a purely natural life. Lay aside every unbiblical inhibition, set your gaze on Jesus, and wait for the Spirit.