Like many of you, I am hesitant to adopt labels and the limitations (or “boxes”) that tend to go along with them. I generally describe myself as simply an inner-denominational Christian who respects and learns from all the diverse branches of the Body of Christ. My personal journey has certainly had its share of peaks and valleys. It has had many beautiful, many painful and many humorous moments, but I will testify until my dying breath about the reality of the Spirit filled life and the immeasurable impact that the Pentecostal message has had on me.
Admittedly, I thought that the first Charismatics I had come into contact with were a little odd, but I couldn’t deny that they had a depth to their walk with God that I didn’t. I was saved, and I genuinely loved God, but I had always felt something missing. Looking back, I can see how God strategically placed a number of Spirit-filled people in my path over the years to help me see what that something was.
In 1986, I became friends with a man who Iwill call Don, although that was not his real name. He was the first Charismatic to ever explain his beliefs to me. He would talk about the mighty moves of the Spirit he had seen in his church, and the impact that speaking in tongues had had on his prayer life (he even prayed in tongues over his lunch once when we were eating together).
Now that is not to say that Dons and my relationship didn’t have its tensions. He could have a very “holier-than-thou”attitude at times, and he always made it clear that he was “graduate school Christian”and I was kindergarten! Of course, he was probably right about that, but Don planted some seeds in my life that have never gone away!
Even within the denominational church I attended at the time, there was a small but passionate group which would meet in “praise gatherings” in the chapel. This was the first time I had seen people lift their hands in praise, and pray together verbally. Again, this seemed a bit odd to me, but I saw very tangible fruit in the lives of those who attended. One lady especially stood out to me with her joyful, kindly demeanor and powerful prayer life. I noticed that whenever she would pray for me, it was answered on an even greater scale than I had asked! Obviously, she was onto something!
A few months later, I was visiting some relatives in Dayton, Ohio and I was flipping channels on the television. I came across a local Christian station that was showing footage of a large Charismatic Bible conference. At the time I had never spoken in tongues, never experienced any of the other gifts, and had never even been to a Charismatic church service. But I realized that day that I had been Charismatic all along and didn’t even know it!
The man speaking was an African-American preacher, I dont know his name. But his message was simply “God is still God! Many people dont believe that God can still part the sea and do all of the miracles we see in the Bible. But He can!” That message really spoke to me on a very deep level. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe that already, but I had never thought of it that way. I started thinking that I needed to check this out!
My quest took me to a tiny Pentecostal church that I had seen advertised in the local newspaper. My first few visits were a bit awkward at times, but I did see a passionate love for God and people and a genuine fidelity to Scripture. Passages that I head read but struggled with began to make sense as I watched them practiced in real life, things like speaking in tongues and laying hands on the sick.
Eventually, the pastor preached a very direct sermon on the baptism in the Holy Spirit, and the role of speaking in tongues as the evidence. I responded to the invitation, having no idea what to expect. I did not receive the first time, but was assured that if I would keep seeking and I WOULD be filled!
The church also had a Wednesday evening prayer meeting that I would usually attend. I remember getting off from work that day feeling tired and thinking I would skip that night. I am so glad I didn’t! That night, the pastor and my Sunday school teacher prayer for me again. As I was prayed for, I suddenly “felt” strange, unknown words well up inside me. As I began to speak them out, a gigantic tidal wave of God’s love and power flooded into me. I knew I would never, ever be the same. The date was April 27, 1988. Next to my salvation, this has been THE defining event of my Christian life.
I wish I could say that from that moment forward I was always a spiritual superman, but that would be dishonest. Yes, I was overwhelmed by this newfound presence of God in my life. I was eager to get rid of anything in my life, whether real or perceived, that might be displeasing to Him. But in my zeal, I was still very immature in my walk with God. In my sincere desire to be rid of sin, I gave place to even greater sins such as pride and self-righteousness. These sins, in addition to making me very difficult to deal with, also caused me to overestimate myself and leave me vulnerable in other areas as well. My attitude alienated people I should have been able to help. As I learned, sometimes the hard way, humility is the proverbial “glue” that holds the Christian life together.
Like many newly Spirit filled believers, I quickly decided that I was called to preach. I enrolled in the correspondence program from Berean Assemblies of God Bible College and began the early steps of my academic training. However, circumstances soon closed those doors, seemingly forever. In looking back, I can see even that as an act of divine providence. Although I certainly had the zeal, my lack of maturity would have spelled certain disaster for any ministry I might have attempted. When that door finally did open many years later, I could walk through it with gratitude and confidence in God’s timing.
All these years later, though all of my peaks and valleys, my belief in these truths is stronger than ever. Walking with the Spirit is a journey that only grows richer with each season of my life.