Manifestations of the Holy Spirit: Responses to some commonly asked questions
Over the years, one of the most frequently raised issues concerning the revival that began in Toronto in 1994 has been that of the manifestations that occur when people are touched by the power of God.
Our meetings have often been characterized by visible signs of God touching people; with manifestations such as falling under the power of the Spirit, laughing, crying and shaking.
Some people have questioned why these manifestations occur and if they are biblical.
The disciples manifested the Holy Spirit at Pentecost
When the Holy Spirit fell at Pentecost, the waiting believers experienced the power of God:
“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)
"Some, however, made fun of them and said, ‘They have had too much wine’. Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: ‘Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. ‘These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It's only nine in the morning!’” (Acts 2:13-15)
They manifested the Holy Spirit by speaking in tongues and drunken behaviour! This gives us reason to suppose that when the Holy Spirit fell on them they were so overwhelmed in their physical beings that they looked "drunk" – perhaps staggering around, laughing and even falling.
The baptism of the Holy Spirit can be translated as being "completely immersed" in the power and presence of the Living God. John the Baptist, speaking of Jesus, described him as the one who would “baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with Fire" (Luke 3:16). The implication is that this is a powerful experience that one would expect to feel and have some outward sign or manifestation.
We are supposed to "feel" the Holy Spirit
Especially in the West we have been conditioned to rationalize every experience and not to trust our emotions. We are so afraid of being caught up in emotionalism that we can miss the fact that we were designed to feel the presence of the Living God because He is a person.
God is an emotional God; throughout the Bible He expresses a full range of emotions, including love, compassion, anger, sorrow and even regret (1 Sam 15:11). God has made us emotional beings because emotions give life a colour and a richness of experience. A marriage without any emotions or outward signs of affection would be called loveless. In the same way, our relationship with our loving Heavenly Father and Jesus our bridegroom is designed to be experienced at an emotional level. He expects us to respond to Him in our emotions so it is hardly surprising that in His presence we experience laughter, tears and deep levels of peace.
(This does not endorse excessive over-emotional behaviour that originates in a carnal desire for attention).
Child-like trust is essential
The first requirement for receiving more of God’s presence is a child-like belief that He wants to bless us. This is faith – coming to God in belief that He is good.
“Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:11-13)
Sadly, instead of receiving like little children, some critics worry about falling into deception or being taken in by a counterfeit experience of God. If we come to God and ask him for more if the Holy Spirit, he won’t give us a "snake" or a "scorpion" or in other words some kind of demonic experience.
Some critics have described the manifestations as being demonic; by doing so they seem to put more faith in the enemy’s ability to deceive and control us than God’s ability to protect and bless us.
Be slow to judge
We have to exercise discernment in the Holy Spirit when we see a manifestation that on first glance might appear to be "strange".
What would you think if someone came home from a religious meeting and they couldn’t speak? You might be tempted to say that it was demonic. Yet in Luke 1, we see how Zechariah was struck dumb in the presence of God and couldn’t speak throughout Elizabeth’s pregnancy.
"Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah and wondering why he stayed so long in the temple. When he came out, he could not speak to them. They realized he had seen a vision in the temple, for he kept making signs to them but remained unable to speak." (Luke 1:21-22)
Similarly, Saul was struck temporarily blind by his encounter with Jesus on the Damascus Road:
"Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything." (Acts 9:8)
What if you witnessed something like this as a casual observer? You see a guy fall under the power of God and when he gets back up again he’s blind! That doesn’t sound right does it? It can’t be Jesus, surely – it must be the devil! Can you see how pre-conditioned our thinking is – how easily we ascribe supernatural, out of the box events to the devil but not to God?
Some might even criticize something similar to Peter’s experience in Acts 10:10 where “Peter fell into a trance” as "New Age".
Sometimes there is actual demonic activity in a meeting – that is the demons are departing from people as the power of God falls on them. We have found that sometimes in a meeting, the presence of God is such that people are spontaneously freed from evil spirits – these may manifest as they are leaving the person.
The issue of self-control
Some people will ask, what about self-control? Isn’t that one of the fruit of the spirit? So why would people being touched by God show such little self-restraint?
Similarly, people like to comment that "The Holy Spirit is a gentleman", implying that he wouldn’t so take control over your body that you seem "out of control".
However scriptural evidence shows that God often moves on people in ways that they have little choice in how to respond. On the Damascus Road, Saul was clearly not in control of what was happening to him and yet this encounter bore amazing fruit in his life. At the inauguration of Solomon’s Temple, the presence of God was so overwhelming that the priests couldn’t stay standing.
Sometimes in the context of a public meeting, people do "act up" in uncontrolled carnal behaviour; perhaps to gain attention or else just because they are desperate to feel "included". We seek to pastor these people and help them to calm down and receive from God for real.
Are we really ever out of control if God is in control?
When we surrender ourselves to the Holy Spirit it’s just like driving a car – we make the decision to move over and let him take the wheel. Are we out of control? No, we just have a different driver now.
What is the fruit of it?
Manifestations are evidence of the fact that God is touching a person or that His presence is with us here and now. But what about after the falling over or laughing or crying? What is the lasting fruit of these experiences?
In late 1995, a Christian sociologist, Margaret Poloma, asked to interview a cross-section of people who had fallen under the power of the Spirit. Margaret surveyed around 1,000 people. The survey found that 92% of people testified to the fact that they were more in love with Jesus since the experience than they had ever been in their lives. 82% of people mentioned that they were more motivated and excited about sharing Jesus with family and friends than ever before.
In statistical terms those are very high percentages to extrapolate from any sample group of people. Emotionalism or demonic activity would not lead people to love Jesus more and want to share Him with others more.
Biblical Examples of Common Manifestations:
Falling to the ground
“The priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud” (2 Chronicles 5:14 NASV)
It seems that the presence of God was so powerful their legs gave out and they fell to the floor.
Daniel fell forward:
“As he [Gabriel] came near the place where I was standing, I was terrified and fell prostrate…while he was speaking to me, I was in a deep sleep, with my face to the ground. Then he touched me and raised me to my feet.” (Daniel 8:17-18)
“My legs gave way beneath me and I shook in terror” (Habbakuk 3:16 NLT)
“The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.” (Matthew 28:4)
“Abraham fell face down; he laughed…” (Genesis 17:17)
Joy & Childlikeness
Given the fact that God affirms childlikeness, it’s not that surprising that people who are touched by the power of God sometimes act in a child-like way. We have seen people filled with the joy of the Holy Spirit laugh, roll around on the floor and run about just like children.
In the Bible, Jesus himself was overcome by joy:
“At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said” (Luke 10:21)
King David acted undignified when he was so overcome with the joy of the Lord that he danced in the street in his underwear. His wife was scornful of him but his response was;
“I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes.” (2 Samuel 6:22)
Prophetic Symbolism – Acting things out
Sometimes under the power of the Spirit, people are communicating something through their actions, rather than just responding emotionally to God’s touch.
Simulating flying like an eagle
Roaring like a lion
Crowing like a cockerel
Once, at a gathering of pastors in Stirling, Scotland, the worship leader led the worship beautifully but every now and again would crow like a cockerel. When I asked her what was going on, she replied, “I feel like the Lord is saying, ‘Church, it’s time to wake up! There’s a new day coming. It’s time to wake up!'”
In 1998 when Microsoft launched Windows 98 they had a TV commercial in which a cockerel flew up onto a fence and crowed. The tag line appeared on screen "It’s a new day!”. Nobody would be offended by this advert, so why are so many offended when God speaks this way in the church?
Throughout scripture God loves to speak through pictures, stories and prophetic symbolism as these things communicate so clearly to our hearts, often by-passing our "cerebral" analytical selves.
The Apostle Paul explains:
“My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on man’s wisdom, but on God’s power.” (1 Corinthians 2:4-5)
“People who aren’t spiritual can’t receive these truths from God’s Spirit. It all sounds like foolishness to them and they can’t understand it, for only those who are spiritual can understand what the Spirit means.” (1 Corinthians 2:14 NLT)
To the rational mind, the things of the Spirit seem like foolishness. So when we see something that we would consider "strange" we need to be slow to pass judgment and use the discernment that the Holy Spirit provides. We can trust our heavenly Father to give us good gifts when we ask for them. So let us be unafraid and press in to ask Him for more of his wonderful Holy Spirit.