Alive in the Spirit: Part 4

This week, Chuck Redfern shares his experiences with the Holy Spirit as we continue reading Clive Calver’s Alive in the Spirit together:


Riding On The Wind

The Holy Spirit snuck up on me from behind, kidnapped me, and buckled me and my family into a roller coaster seat in the early 1990’s. I’ve sometimes whined about the thrill-ride, which often jolted me past the theme park’s hawkers, freak shows, and diabolical clowns offering onion-flavored cotton candy. God has sometimes unsnapped the buckle and allowed me to wander in “normal” Christianity again. It is astonishingly dull. I rushed to the roller coaster and breathed a sigh of relief: My empty seat awaited.

Confusion often swirls when we talk of life in the Spirit. Some stress underlying, covert reality while others emphasize their personal experience and God’s overt acts. We talk past one another. Fingers wag. Frustration mounts. We take back our toys and run home. Fact is, the Spirit pervades our existence whether we feel Him or not, so my journey began long before my felt experience. God “breathed” the “breath of life” into our nostrils (Genesis 2:7). The Hebrew word for “breath,” nismat, is translated as “spirit” in Proverbs 20:27, which means the passage could speak of how God breathed “the spirit of life” into our forebears. Our intimacy with the Holy Spirit was severely marred at the Fall in Genesis 3 but never completely destroyed. Theologians call God’s activity among unbelievers “common grace:” He halted our slide before we slipped into absolute demonism and gave us the ability to choose. Jesus began to restore fuller intimacy when he breathed on his disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:22).

Underscore and emphasize: Jesus’s disciples were the forerunners of the “new creation” of which Paul wrote (2 Corinthians 2:17; Galatians 6:15). They were “made new in the attitude of (their) minds” as they donned the “new self,” bearing God’s “true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:23-24). We’re harbingers of an alternative creation. We’re “ambassadors for Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:20), present-day tokens of His future kingdom (see the Parable of the Weeds in Matthew 13:24-29) for which creation groans “as in the pains of childbirth” (Romans 8:22). We bear His fruits (Galatians 5:22-23) and swap society’s culture for God’s.

Such is the underlying reality. God always acts through His Spirit. The Spirit, although a person and not a mere force, can be like the still air, which always sustains us whether we’re know it or not.

And sometimes He stirs overtly. No mistake. This is God.

I felt God’s overt act at the peak of an adolescent crisis in 1973 when I was almost 17. I gave my life and He flooded me with a new sense of purpose. God acted even more dynamically in the summer of 1984. I awoke from a strange dream that illuminated how I’d been worshipping my journalism career. I confessed my sin and felt an energy surge flow into my head and through my torso. God rinsed me. I felt born-again again – and my days in newspapers were over. I unpacked my bags at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary six months later.

Then came the roller coaster. I served an inner-city church and I prayed with a group of pastors. I innocently asked a colleague: “Have you ever read anything by John Wimber?” The late John Wimber spear-headed the Vineyard Christian Fellowship in Anaheim, California, from which about 700 churches had been planted. Many told of honest-to-goodness New Testament-style signs and wonders: Cripples walked out of wheel chairs; legs lengthened; the blind were seeing and the deaf were hearing. What’s more, there was none of the dubious theology or eccentric methods found in other sectors.

My friend loaned me Wimber’s Power Evangelism.

I was enthralled. Wimber and other church leaders read of God’s power throughout the Bible and reasoned it should be today’s norm. They began praying for healing and saw no results for about a year. Some even got more sick. Wimber and his elders actually cried out to God: “It’s not fair!” But they persisted in sheer obedience. A healing finally came one morning, soon followed by others. There were visions and words of knowledge. The Holy Spirit even swept through an evening church service in which almost all the young people fell down. The felt the same type of energy I felt on my bed in 1984.

This was key: Vineyard prayer teams never shouted over anyone, nor did they blame those who were not healed (and not all are healed). They often asked people how they were feeling during the prayer sessions, which made sense.

I decided to try the Vineyard method, fully confident I would flop like a rag mat. I prayed for a woman with neck pain and asked her how she felt. “Much better!,” she said. My cool pastoral reply: “WHAT?” Another had a terrible cold; she felt power from my hands. I visited a third person whose dentist had drilled the wrong tooth earlier that day. I gingerly laid my hand on her jaw and, while praying, felt it tingle. She gasped. The pain evaporated. And then there was the woman with back pain in her kitchen. I prayed for her and nothing seemed to happen. She complimented me on my “nice” prayer and we kept chatting, then she cried out: “Oh my God! My back is getting hot!”   The pain vanished and the air was thick with God’s presence. She wobbled like a drunk while walking to the refrigerator for a glass of water, shedding new light on Acts 2:15: “These people are not drunk, as you suppose …”

It was a rush. We held prayer meetings in which everyone felt “hot.” I drove to Toronto and witnessed a Pentecost-style renewal. Other churches experienced the same type of renewal in the 1990’s and I traveled to many of them.

But then the roller coaster plummeted: Many in the church were worried that I was trying to make the church “charismatic;” others levelled a variety of accusations and everyone seemed to be yelling at each other. I was constantly tense and biting my nails over the next phone call. I even had to face a panel of church members, one of whom read from a written statement in which she said I was worried that I had joined a cult. I successfully established the Biblical basis of the signs and wonders – and no, I was not making people speak in tongues; and no, I would not impose a guilt trip on those who remained unhealed; and no … and no … and no …

The panel was pleased, but there were more fights and battles and struggles and clashes. Finally, a huge brawl rendered me exhausted. I felt like I had lost all credibility. I resigned and we moved to New Hampshire, where a Pentecostal church was experiencing a Toronto-like renewal. The Spirit moved mightily, but the roller coaster twisted and turned when I took the helm of a dying church. We restored its solvency and trebled its size, but old issues bit back and it crumbled. What’s more, there were odd teachings about how we must fawn before self-designated prophets and apostles. It was so strange, so twisted: God’s renewal had morphed into a freak show with diabolical clowns offering that terrible cotton candy.

I finally resigned and, after a break, took on an interim pastorate in New Hampshire in which I had a lot of fun. The Spirit was active like the still air: There were few healings, but He always nurtured me. We moved to Connecticut and I took the helm of another church, which proved to be a mismatch. I then helped two conflict-riddled churches re-establish themselves and I’ve found that deeply satisfying. Miracles and healings did not abound (although I prayed for two people on their deathbeds and they got up the next day), but I re-learned the lesson of savoring the unspectacular. The Spirit is always there and the roller coaster is always moving – perhaps a little slowly this time. I also now see the sense of Mark 1:41-45. Jesus healed a man with skin disease, but then warned him not to tell anyone about it. I love the signs and wonders, but they can be misinterpreted and they can stir a hornet’s nest – especially among veteran believers. Witness the reaction of the teachers and the Pharisees to our Lord: They criticized him for healing on the Sabbath.

Still, I ache for a setting in which the Holy Spirit is allowed to roam free, where both inner and outer healing is welcomed, and where we can continually savor the living water of Christ. Perhaps even some of those hawkers and clowns will quiet down.