How to receive the Holy Spirit
I’ve always wanted to be a heavy drinker. Of the Holy Spirit. To have His presence in me so much that love, joy, peace and patience rub off on those around me. Too often, all I have to share is anxiety.
Most Christians would agree that they too want to be full in this way. So how do we receive the Spirit? And why does it freak us out so much when He comes in unusual ways?
Like a rat up a drainpipe
In 2001 when I arrived as a student the School of Ministry in Toronto, I was like a rat up a drainpipe – ready to go, go, go. I couldn’t wait to get stuck in, meet God, be filled and transformed.
I was delighted when they presented us with a timetable of the next 4 months’ worth of teaching. I could see in black and white when exactly I’d be receiving revelation about certain things. Week 3 was Hearing God’s Voice. Week 5 - Faith. Week 6 - The Father Heart of God. I thought to myself, “Great, the second week in October is when I’ll ‘get’ this Father Heart thing that everyone here is so excited about.”
Did you know they’ve taken the word "naive" out of the dictionary? "Gullible" has gone too. As you suspected, you wise old badger, that’s not exactly how God works. He has His own timetable and usually it involves distracting you from what you want so you’re relaxed enough to receive it.
Un-learning how not to do it
Receiving from God isn’t an exactly an art but you can learn how to do it. Or perhaps un-learn how not to do it. Like most things in the Kingdom, it’s incredibly simple – a child could get the hang of it straight away. And yet we manage to make it very difficult when we strive at it.
"The more frustrated I felt, the harder I tried to receive the Holy Spirit and the worse it got."
Speaking as a card-carrying member of Strivers Anonymous (the best anonymity society we can make it) I had some trouble getting into the swing of things at the school at Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship (now Catch The Fire). Soaking was a nightmare. I kept ending up with a tension headache after 2 hours "relaxing", lying on the floor wrapped in a duvet listening to worship music and supposedly meeting with God. I mean, what was I supposed to be DOING? I was sure I was getting it all wrong and everyone else was being whipped up instantaneously into the third heaven while I thrashed about on the floor trying really hard to be spiritually in tune.
Worse still was when we went to pre-service prayer with the ministry team. The instant we stood in a circle and held hands, half of the students fell on the floor under the influence of the Holy Spirit or laughed uproariously, immediately filled with joy (AKA holy giggles). It was like being the only sober person at a party. And of course, the more frustrated I felt, the harder I tried to receive the Holy Spirit and the worse it got.
Like a horse tranquilizer
One of the first and most powerful encounters I had with God in Toronto happened when I least expected it. I was sitting in one of the nightly meetings and the sermon on God’s comfort (forgive me) was a little dull. I was sitting at the back counting the minutes till it ended, looking around and generally not trying to "make" anything happen.
“It was the most divine feeling.”
Gradually, I realised my limbs were becoming noticeably heavy and my head was drooping. Not in a sleepy way, but in a way I’d never experienced before. As the sermon went on, I got heavier and heavier and I slid further and further down my chair till I was on the floor. I just about managed to crawl to the ministry lines after the sermon and lay there. It was the most divine feeling. Not unlike being given a horse tranquilizer I imagine.
I can only try to explain it as being physically saturated in the Holy Spirit – a lovely feeling of weightiness. Like you’re wrapped in a huge Holy Spirit blanket of comfort. Relaxed in every cell of your being.
"I let go of my efforts to make something happen."
That encounter changed my heart. Some things that had been troubling me for a long time, some hurts that I honestly thought could never be healed – were gone in a few hours of receiving comfort from the Holy Spirit. Amazing. And God did it when I wasn’t getting in the way by striving or trying too hard.
Not trying to do anything at all
I finally got the hang of soaking by not trying to do anything at all, except enjoy a nice lie-down while listening to lovely worship music. I let go of my efforts to make something happen and, predictably, a few weeks later something happened.
I was soaking on my own, trying to get some chill out time from the busy schedule when all of a sudden, Father God was in the room. In fact, He was hovering right there above me, about an inch off my nose. His presence was incredible and I instantly understood something in my spirit that my mind had known since the week 6 Father Heart teaching. I remember thinking, “So this is what it feels like to be his daughter.”
“All we can do is make ourselves available by creating space for God to touch us.”
It was like being inside Romans 8: “The Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” (Romans 8:15-16 NIV.) When the Spirit of revelation comes, we suddenly receive (with apparently no effort on our part) some understanding or healing that we may have been struggling with for years.
We can’t predict when it’s going to happen. All we can do is make ourselves available by creating space for God to touch us. Soaking (lying down, listening to gentle worship music and inviting the Holy Spirit to fill you) is a great way to make space in our lives for God.
Why is receiving from God important anyway?
Now if you’re one of those splendidly active people who like to be up and doing stuff with and for God, you might not naturally understand the importance of receiving from God anyway. Historically, the church worldwide has taught us that we need to do more. It’s important to praise and pray to Him and help people and show your faith by what you do. True. But what about the ‘Mary vs Martha’ debate?
“It honours Him when we give Him the gift of our time.”
Do you remember the Bible story? Martha was doing a sterling job running around exercising her gift of hospitality while her sister Mary was wafting about at Jesus’s feet, lolling about doing nothing. Except that Jesus said it was Mary who had chosen the better part. Waiting on God. Listening. These are other words for receiving or soaking. It’s the other part of relationship with God, where we stop talking and start listening.
Wasting time with God
Intimacy requires time. Time wasted on God. I know, I know, how can be time wasted on God? But to our guilt-ridden psyche, soaking can feel like a waste of time at first. It doesn’t yield its fruit when you expect it. Sometimes it feels pointless. But then when you least expect it, God draws near and you encounter Him in a way that changes you forever. God isn’t a vending machine where you put the money in and out pops the chocolate bar. He wants relationship. He likes to hang out with you. It honours Him when we give Him the gift of our time. Leave the fruit up to Him.
Drink, drugs and rock n roll
In Ephesians 5:18 Paul says, “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.” He writes “be filled” in the present tense to indicate a sense of “keep on being filled”. It’s not a one-off event. I find it interesting that he draws a comparison between being drunk on wine and being filled with the Spirit. Remember too that at Pentecost, when the disciples were overwhelmed with the Spirit, onlookers thought they were drunk.
"His peace, comfort and joy aren’t just words – they’re physical experiences."
Now if you’ve not experienced this yet you’re going to find this strange – but being filled with the Holy Spirit can be a gloriously drunken, joyful experience in which your limbs are not under your control any more, you may stagger, fall over and laugh uproariously under the influence of our joyfully powerful God. And it’s entirely biblical. (I know, He’s shocking isn’t He? He loves to shake up our ideas of propriety.)
How outrageously fun is our God? Well drink, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll are just poor substitutes for the real out-of-control joy of being under the influence of the Holy Spirit. His peace, comfort and joy aren’t just words – they’re physical experiences. Valium hasn’t got anything on the peace of God.
So what do you think? Are you dismissing me as a thrill-seeker? Are you feeling condemned that you’ve never experienced God like this?
God’s into experience
Well here’s the thing. God wants to experience us and he wants us to experience him. This isn’t a long-distance love affair. He lives inside us. The all-powerful God lives in us. It’s more surprising that we don’t spontaneously combust when he pours out His presence on us, than that we might laugh a bit and fall over.
“Fear and striving block us from receiving.”
God’s into experience. He created fresh bread and chocolate, and the smell of cut grass and a baby’s head. Jesus didn’t save us from a distance, He came and experienced exactly what it’s like to be human. He touched lepers. He hugged His friends. He cooked for them. Why do we think it’s so unspiritual to want to feel Him and know Him through experiences as well as by faith?
Faith is always the entrance way, the starting point, We have to believe God is good or we wouldn’t ask Him for good things. How many times in the Bible does Jesus encourage us to ask His Father for things? In John chapters 15 and 16 before Jesus’ arrest, He gives the disciples a pep talk during which He tells them four times to ask His Father for anything in His name. What shall we ask Him for then?
"The more you encounter Him, the more the people around you will encounter Him in you."
Isn’t it ok that we ask God to experience His peace and comfort? He’s longing to pour His life into us. He can’t help it if His life in us feels ridiculously good. That’s just Him. It’s like chastising a child for wanting to read too many books. You’re going to disapprove of this? On what basis? Because it seems too good to be true?
Don’t be afraid of experiencing God or think of it as frivolous. The more you encounter Him, the more the people around you will encounter Him in you. Intimacy with God bears more fruit than all our best dutiful works. “Love God” is the first command. Love Him and His nature and you’ll keep on being filled with His wonderful Holy Spirit. Fear and striving block us from receiving. But if you ask, and make some space for Him, God will find a way to catch you off your guard and overwhelm you with His love.
Things that help us to receive
Soaking helps, getting out and wandering in beautiful scenery helps, meditating on His word helps, praying in tongues helps. Worshipping Him helps. Smiling helps (try it, it really does). All these things position our hearts to listen, to receive. When we relax and let down our guard, He can touch our hearts. Like everything else in the Kingdom, it’s simple. You simply ask, then expect Him to do it, and then you thank Him and trust He’s on the case even when you can’t see any physical evidence of it. The evidence will come, just when you least expect it.
"Carry His presence, it’s the very best thing you can do for others.”
I encourage you to make time to soak and to receive from God, because the more of Him we have in us and on us, the more we have to give to those around us who desperately need to encounter a supernatural peace and joy that will kick their depression and addictions to the ground.
Carry His presence, it’s the very best thing you can do for others. And it feels amazing too. How good is God? Ridiculously good.