Then when Paul laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them …
2 Kings 13:1-14:29
When I re-dedicated myself to Jesus at the age of 19 and, for the first time, chose my own church, I settled on a local Foursquare church with about 200 people and a vibrant college-age group. Everything about church was new to me: the songs, the doctrine, the worship. I’d never experienced anything quite like it, but I was hungry for every note and syllable.
I had never read the Bible for myself. In fact, prior to that, the only Bible I owned was a King James, and I had barely made a dent in that. So I had to be introduced to it all: the gospel books, the epistles, the miracles, the imperatives … all was brand new to me.
One Friday evening, someone in my college group asked me if I’d been baptized in the Holy Spirit. I had no idea what that meant, and told him that. And before I knew it, about a dozen of the boys led me downstairs and had me sit in a chair in the midst of them. Can I just point out how highly inappropriate that was? And incredibly uncomfortable for me. One started praying that God would fill me with His Spirit, and all the rest laid hands on my arms, head and back. I can still remember wishing I was anywhere but in that room.
I sat and waited. And waited some more. They waited. We waited together. I didn’t know what we were awaiting for, but I began to feel that I was failing. After maybe twenty minutes, one of the boys leaned down and said, “Just start babbling like a baby — you’ll get better.” And so, to get out of that chair, that room, and that highly inappropriate and horribly uncomfortable situation, I uttered a few nonsensical words. They cheered with relief, and we all traipsed back upstairs.
The memory still makes me shudder.
I didn’t feel any different, except that I was crazy in love with the Bible. I couldn’t get enough of it. Starting in Matthew, I worked my way through three of the gospels in the next two weeks after “the incident.” I was just starting John one evening when someone knocked on my front door.
I answered it and saw one of the boys from the college group standing there with a pizza in his hands. I’ll call him Lee.
I wasn’t interested in Lee — not even a little bit. He was friendly enough, but there was something about him that put my guard up. So when he held the pizza box out to me and said, “I just thought I’d come by in case you had any questions about the church,” I wasn’t thrilled.
But I wasn’t rude, either. I invited him in, we shared some pizza, and we sat in my mother’s living room talking about him, the church, him, the college group, him … you get the picture.
He had arrived around 9:00 pm. By 2:00 in the morning, I was beyond mad. I just wanted him to go home and let me go to bed. But he seemed as energetic as when he’d arrived. I hope I’m painting a good picture of how completely un-spiritual I was feeling, because there wasn’t a charitable, gracious, merciful bone in my body at that point. Only my mother’s etiquette training prevented me from demanding that he leave.
Finally — thankfully — he said, “Well, how about if we pray before I go?” I was all over that. One quick prayer, and I’d be free.
I’d been sitting on the floor cross-legged. Lee came and sat right in front of me, then reached out and took my hands. Again … not a welcome touch.
He started praying, and I honestly did not hear a single word. Because the second he started, I felt utterly electrified. In my ears, I heard the sound of a hundred bass drums, pounding in unison. My eyelids seemed to be a thousand miles away from my eyes, and all the space between them was nothing but miles and miles of fire. My whole body shook (although Lee admitted later he hadn’t felt it) and I had this feeling that if I didn’t hold my knees down with my arms, I might float to the ceiling. The experienced lasted the entire time Lee prayed, and it was only when he said, “Amen,” that the sights and sounds fled.
”Did … did you hear that? Did you feel that?” I asked.
”Feel what?” he asked back.
I tried to describe what had just happened to me, and Lee told me honestly that he hadn’t felt or heard a thing. But then, obviously wanting to have some part of the moment, he said, “But when we were praying, I looked over and saw an angel standing near you.”
That was the first time I experienced the gift of discernment. I knew he wasn’t being truthful, but I let it go.
Lee left, and I sat for a long time wondering what had just happened to me. The thing is, I hadn’t read the book of Acts yet. Not a word of it. So I was unaware of what the disciples had experienced when the Holy Spirit fell on them at Pentecost. When I did read these words eventually, I cried — for this had been my experience, too:
”When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them” (Acts 2:1-4).
For whatever reason, God chose to delay my baptism of the Holy Spirit until two weeks after those dozen boys had tried to open that door. And He chose to allow it through the least likely messenger, and while I was in about as impatient and unspiritual mood I could have been in. But that’s because He’s God, and His ways are unfathomable to us here and now.
Tongues? That’s probably a story for another day. Suffice it to say that in the months and years that followed at this Foursquare church (almost four years), I began to notice that a whole lot of what I was seeing every Wednesday and Sunday didn’t ring true to Scripture. I noticed that every week, two women would each give anywhere from two to four “tongues,” and then they would each interpret their own. But that didn’t jive with Scripture, which says that there should be at most three, and there use also be someone there with the gift of interpretation. So I eventually concluded that the whole thing was a fake, and I refused to participate. I was quite the rebel back in the day.
I wrote off tongues, and kept that opinion for years. Until one day, when I was trying to pray for a situation that was much bigger than me, and I felt at a loss for the right words. And suddenly, it seemed more natural to me to speak in tongues than to not speak in tongues. And once those words began to flow from me, I felt electrified again, just like I had when the Holy Spirit first visited me in my mother’s living room.
No one in my life has ever heard my private prayer language — for that’s what it is. I can’t conceive of a time when I will speak it in front of anyone else, because I don’t believe I have “that gift.” I do believe that God has availed another language to me for those times when my own words fail. And though I often forget that it’s there for me to use as I need to, when I do remember and I let the Holy Spirit whisper foreign words through me, I’m electrified all over again.
We can’t force anything out of the hands of God. But we can ask for His gifts. And if He chooses, He will give us those specific things — in His time, in His way.
Do all speak in tongues? No. Paul was clear about that. But do all of us have at least one spiritual gift? Absolutely.
And none of them are to be feared. When you’re operating in a gift that the Holy Spirit has handpicked for you, there’s not a more heavenly experience on earth.