Saturday, December 09, 2006

Feel the Spirit

Do you ever sense the Holy Spirit as a real and tangible presence?

I believe that I have had, and continue to have, very moving and undeniable experiences while in the presence of God's Holy Spirit. I know that's a very spooky and vague statement, that could very easily be misinterpreted, so please read on.

First, let me address the potential pitfalls of what I'm examining here -- and there are many. We do not acknowledge, serve, or worship God just to get a good feeling or "spiritual sensation". We are not supposed to be motivated by selfish desires, or sing songs just to "feel moved by the Spirit". Additionally, we are called to serve based on faith, not on emotions or feelings. If there are no feelings, and nothing seems tangible or uplifting, we should still live in obedience to Christ.

Secondly, what we are talking about is so subjective that discussing it might seem almost useless anyway. People who practice meditation, yoga, and any number of countless other religious rituals report a sense of euphoria, strong emotional sensations, and other similar feelings. It's well documented that the power of suggestion in human experience is extremely strong, so telling someone that "the Spirit of God is here, do you feel it?", and playing beautiful music or using other similar techniques can arguably produce a counterfeit version of what I'm describing as real.

As somebody who does not show much outward emotion, and is by nature an observer more than a participant, I believe that I'm as wary of all these problems as anyone -- even to the point that I consider it a fault. I often have to overcome my natural impulses, such as being too skeptical, too cynical, and too slow to trust or believe.

But please consider something here: The Christ-followers gathered in Jerusalem in the Book of Acts were experiencing something. It was real enough, experiential enough, and tangible enough that they were able to act on it and live out lives of Christian discipleship with great power and boldness. Those who witnessed it knew they were encountering something undeniable. It served an important part in the birth of the Church, and I can't imagine God intending to start something so revolutionary with such a huge bang, only to decide that such power would have an expiration date.

There's really nothing else I can do here in a blog except to say it honestly -- many times in the past, and many times recently, I have experienced an overwhelming sense of the presence of God. It's a very real, and very tangible sense that He is nearby -- it's an overwhelming sense of peace and calm, a strong sense of reverence, and a sense of connectedness to the One who is ultimately the very longing of my heart, and the very One for whom I was made. It's particularly strong, for example during times of singing, praying, and worshipping with the people in my small group. The other night it almost felt like a tangible wave sweeping through the room, a moment when I suddenly became very aware that a strong, almost euphoric sense of the Holy Spirit was suddenly there among us.

I don't want to reduce this to some sort of self-glorifying "I must be someone really special and spiritual" type thing. Far from it -- lately I have been feeling increasingly aware of my inescapable wickedness of heart, my continual craving for things other than the Lord. I feel like I can be in a time of sincere prayer and devotion, among friends praying or praising, and my heart is begging God to help me be closer to Him, and I'm thinking of things in my life that stand in the way, and I'm vowing to remove those things so I can see Him more clearly in my life. Then, within that same hour, I'm totally distracted, and some worthless pretty charm has wrapped it's fingers around my heart and drawn me away, with ease that's just sickening.

But I am interested to hear the thoughts of others about this subject. Do you have any idea what I mean about the Holy Spirit's presence? Have you had tangible, moving experiences that you believe were real? Have you personally experienced or seen supernatural things? Is this a subject worth exploring, or is there danger in glorifying the experience, or some other wrong thing, rather than glorifying God and God alone, regardless of feelings?


  1. Very interesting and emontionally charged subject.

    I think it is interesting the much of the teaching of the Catholic Church used "sanctifying grace" in replacement for the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the very presence of God in our souls. It is how we communicate with Him and the power that we have to even know him. It his His very Grace.

    How else could be speak in different languages or believe that people hear the gospel in their language, or heal or cast out demons or anything miraculous without God the Holy Spirit dwelling in us.

    I think the pentacostal movement replaced the Holy Spirit, AT TIMES, with a superstisious emontionalism. Innocent and well-intended, yes. But wrong nonetheless. And the Baptists were guilty of moving his Power into the cerebral, etherial realm of hypotheical history.

    It is up to the leaders and the tradition of the Church to correct such errors and after about 60 or so years they are finally being corrected. Pentacostals are getting it together and a fresh wind is blowing through many Baptist Churches.

  2. I have a lot to say on this subject. I have thought several times about doing a blog series on my studies of the Spirit and just what He is and how God's uses the Spirit in our lives. I may still.

    I would agree with what Seth has alluded to, that those who have been speaking about the Spirit for the last few years have been loose and wild in their interpretation of the revealing of the Spirit, while everyone else seemed to quietly shirk away from those "loons on the fringe". It is way past time that we all claim the Spirit and embrace the Comforter and Counselor.

    One thing I tend to think is the problem with many people in relating to the Spirit is that Spirit is not so tangible. God the Father, role defined and we know about dads. Jesus the Son, role defined and we know all about children and siblings. Spirit, indwelling, huh? Is this like Casper's big brother or something, but nicer? It leaves most so confused that they leave the subject alone altogether.

    To me, it is helpful in knowing just where the word Spirit comes from. In Hebrew it is ruach, and in Greek, pneuma, both meaning exactly the same thing: air, wind, or breath. Gives a whole knew meaning to Ezekiel 37 and the breath of life on the dry bones, and to what occurred when in John 20:22 when Jesus breaths on the apostles and tells them to receive the Spirit. To think that we have life breathed into us - amazing!

  3. Seth and Euphrony -- Thanks to both of you for your thoughts on this. I was sort of hoping to get a fruitful discussion going here, but I've been busy and away from the blogosphere for the holidays, so it's just sort of stalled here. (And in case nobody has noticed, the blogosphere has mostly been pretty dead lately anyway.)

    I have cut out a few of the less relevant paragraphs from my original entry to make it a bit more concise. I know I ramble way too much, and blogging needs to be a little more to the point since most people only have a few moments to read blogs.

    Merry Christmas!

  4. well good lord man. You have dropped off the face of the earth or what???

    Tell your wife and daughter I said hello.

    Oh and all of those study friends of yours as well.

  5. This is an honest and encouraging post. Yes, I have definitely felt the presence of the Spirit in my life. Sometimes it is so simple that I almost feel safer being quiet about it and not telling anyone because it sounds hokey. Like the times when you just are overcome with chills and relax. I mean, that could happen in a movie, but, then again, who is to say that the Spirit of God isn't moving when you watch Remember the Titans? Rudy? Braveheart? Clearly God is plenty big enough to use any and all of life to teach us and move us from where we are to where He knows we need to be.

    Sometimes it overcomes me when I teach or when I lead worship. There is that loss of self. I quit thinking about whether what I say is the right thing or sounds good. Or I quit thinking about whether I look goofy when I move my head or raise my hands. And then the words flow, often not words I've prepared or even realize I had.

  6. Religion suits you up---too break through---Investigate Naturalism---and todays advances in neuroscience utalizing the EKG system. A synomym for God is Truth---you can't lose. Our predicessors got us this far in the evoloution program which demands our respect. Good Luck