I grew up singing and praying in a number of different Baptist, Salvation Army, and (primarily) Pentecostal churches. Each church was unique in how they worshiped God, and each had distinct perspectives regarding what it meant to experience the Holy Spirit and how the Holy Spirit worked. The first time that I remember having a real experience of the Holy Spirit was in Greenwood, in a modest Pentecostal church with brick and white siding and gravel in the parking lot. This is where the Spirit called me to put my faith in God.

I was nine years old. I sat in my hard pew one Sunday morning, listening to the guest preacher end his message. From behind the pulpit, standing at the front, at the end of his testimony, he asked if anyone would like to invite Jesus into their life and become a follower of Him. Now I’d grown up in church and my Sunday-school teachers had asked this question multiple times. But up until that morning, I had determined (and this is kind of scary) that I would wait until I was older and had the chance to enjoy life a while longer (that is, sin a little) before I would become a believer—maybe in my twenties, when it was time to get married.

That Sunday morning, however, as the pastor was giving the invitation, I remember my heart was thumping like the foot of a nervous rabbit and I just sensed the Holy Spirit telling me, “Andrew, you can’t wait any longer. You need to decide to follow me now.” And so I raised my hand in response, I prayed a prayer along with the pastor, and that was the day that I made my personal decision to follow Jesus with all my heart, mind, soul, and strength. Now at that point, I don’t think my faith in God meant too much to me. You know… I was nine years old, I hadn’t had the chance to sin that bad yet! It wasn’t probably until I was in my teens in a different part of Nova Scotia that I became more serious about my faith.

“Andrew, you can’t wait any longer. You need to decide to follow me now.”

At 12 or 13 years old, I began reading my Bible regularly, entering more into worship, engaging in prayer regularly, and having a lot of experiences of God. Looking back now, I’m not sure that all of them were legitimate. To some extent, I think I was just copying what other “spiritual” people were doing. I saw and heard people pray in tongues and eventually I did as well. I think at least some of that was legitimate. I saw people laugh and dance and they were saying that this was the spirit involved in their life. Other people were saying that they were drunk in the spirit as they sort of stumbled around. So I too would laugh and dance and kind of copy their stumbling or whatever because my understanding was that’s what it looked like to engage with the Holy Spirit.

At that point, my Christianity was really about experiencing God, although I was reading my Bible and praying and so forth. And so I’d go to church and sit in the pew and sing the songs, but what I was really eagerly waiting for was what we called the altar call, the after-service, when the pastor would give us the chance to respond, to come to the front and really experience God because that was what it was about for me.

I did all of this because I yearned to know God more or, probably more so, to experience God. For me, it was a spiritual high, as some people call it —a feeling of peace, elation, happiness, if you will. I suppose I could add, I’d go to church camp too because, you know, at camp there were church services and altar calls every night of the week and I could experience God in these deep and meaningful ways. While I have no doubt that the Spirit was forming me in positive ways during my teenage years, you might say that I became a bit of a Spirit-experience junkie.

At that point in my life there were two important things I didn’t yet appreciate:

1. The Spirit’s work can be quiet and undramatic.

I was looking for these big moments when I could really sense God’s presence. Sometimes we only look for the Spirit in the miraculous, dramatic and amazing things, and I want to affirm that the Spirit does work in those ways too. As a teenager I would think about texts like I Corinthians 12 where Paul talks about spiritual gifts – that to one was given the gift of healing by the spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another tongues and interpretation of tongues. And wow! It was amazing to experience these things!

Likewise, I think of the Day of Pentecost, after the Spirit’s been poured out, and Peter gets up to preach and tell the people what’s going on, quoting from Joel chapter 2 where God says that in the last days, “I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughter will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.” It’s like wow, this is amazing, all these charismatic experiences!

Now surely, the Spirit does work in some pretty spectacular and dramatic ways. But I didn’t realize that there was a broader spectrum of the ways in which the Spirit worked, or as I said, that the Spirit’s work can be quiet and undramatic. So I think back to the first time that I remember experiencing the Spirit, back in that church in Greenwood, Nova Scotia when I sensed the Spirit drawing me, convicting me of sin. Even in that moment, I’d say that it wasn’t dramatic, but it was something noticeable. I had a real sense of what it says in John 16, when Jesus says: “When the Holy Spirit comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment.” Or in I Corinthians 12, in the same chapter where Paul talks about the spiritual gifts, he says, “…no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.” And so when I made that confession – Jesus, you are Lord of my life, I’m going to obey and follow you – this was the Holy Spirit at work in me in this, perhaps, quieter and less dramatic way.

Even when we think about the gifts of the Holy Spirit… let’s look at Romans 12, because as I said, Paul talks about it more than just in I Cor. 12. Here he mentions some of the same gifts – here’s prophecy, but right beside it we have serving and teaching and encouragement and giving. You know, when people have the gift of encouragement, they don’t necessarily go around talking in their “King James voice” all the time. Like “Thus sayeth the Lord,” or “Be thou encouraged.” Or like, some people have identified the gift of teaching in me and I don’t stand in front of the class and say something like, “I am now about to declare to you the teaching that the Spirit has revealed to me.” Sometimes the Spirit is working as the person is serving, encouraging, and leading in quieter, less dramatic ways. I didn’t recognize this at that earlier point in my development. The language Paul uses here with regard to the gifts of the Spirit is interesting. He says “walk by the Spirit.”

Pentecostals often think this means miracles, signs and wonders, and hearing the Spirit speak in very clear ways. Those things do happen, but what Paul meant here is to not gratify the desires of the flesh. He gives some examples – sexual immorality, jealousy, rage, selfish ambition – and then he provides contrasts, saying, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” And then a couple verses later, he says,

“Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.”

And so for Paul in this passage, walking by the Spirit is about How is your life? How is your character? Are you giving in to those sinful desires and temptations, or are you keeping in step with the Spirit and walking with the Spirit? And again, not always in ways that are so amazing. You know, peace and patience won’t necessarily get you a Christian TV show. Miracles might, but this is the spirit working in slow, quiet and sometimes hidden ways and growing us over time. What I needed to realize and have come to realize is that yes, sometimes the Spirit works in dramatic and amazing and spectacular ways and sometimes in quiet and slow-moving ways.

See, the Holy Spirit is like the wind. If you read both the Old and New Testaments, going back to the original languages Hebrew and Greek, the two words that are used for Spirit both mean “wind.” This is a very apt metaphor for the Spirit because like I said, the Spirit is like the wind in that it is unpredictable, uncontrollable, and sometimes it blows very strongly so it is very obvious that the wind of the Spirit is blowing while other times it’s more like a gentle breeze and unless you pause, you might not even be conscious of the stirring of the Spirit around you.

Photo credit Seth Schwiet on Unsplash

Sometimes we only look for the Spirit in the storm, in the loud and spectacular, but we need to be aware that the Spirit is also like a calm breeze. We shouldn’t deny that the Spirit blows in both ways and we need to recognize and be open to and affirm all these ways as the Spirit works around us.

Another thing that took me some years to realize is that…

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Photo credit Stormseeker on Unsplash
Listen to the full message

Stephanie ChristiansonTaken from Andrew Gabriel’s message presented at Calvary Temple, Brandon, MB (prerecorded) May 2, 2021
Transcribed by Cheryl Ashton

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