Seeing several youth baptized in the Holy Spirit this past weekend caused me to remember my first experience with the baptism in the Holy Spirit.
I grew up in a number of different denominations, including a Pentecostal church during my high school years. From eight grade up until four years ago, I struggled with my own personal beliefs on things such as speaking in tongues, the baptism in the Holy Spirit and supernatural acts attributed to the Holy Spirit. For a while, I thought my mother was a bit crazy babbling away in some unknown language.
In elementary and middle school, I attended a Baptist school where I heard people talk about tongues as if it is something that had gone away. Some claimed that it was only for the early Christians. But this never seemed to make any sense to me. Why would God give such a powerful gift to them and not to us? Don’t we need God’s power as much now as they needed it back then?
One day, I saw my dad speak in tongues. He had always been so reasoned and calm. My father’s experience led me to believe it was real. Then came the question, “Is it for every believer? Is it for me?”
I struggled with this question through high school, college and even my first couple of years in the working world. I knew that speaking in tongues and the baptism in the Holy Spirit was in Scripture. I knew it was for today. But I was afraid? I was worried that as soon as I let go, the Holy Spirit would come and take over my body. I thought that I would cease to be me. I thought that I would become a spiritual zombie.
Nothing could be further from the truth. But that is what I thought, and nobody could convince me of anything different. I had to reach the point where I just let go and learned to trust God.
Once this fear left me, I had to deal with concerns about wanting to be sure that whatever happened to me was real. I did not want a fake or counterfeit experience. I did not want to conjure something just so that I could say that it had happened to me too. I internally struggled with the whole baptism in the Holy Spirit thing for years.
In college, I participated in a Presbyterian fellowship where the people believed the gifts had ceased. While I never agreed with them on that point, I did learn a lot from them, especially when it comes to God’s sovereignty, grace and discipleship.
Some friends even pointed to my struggle and said that my agonizing over it proved that God could not be in it. While it is true that complex issues, such as the baptism in the Holy Spirit, can be tough for youth to process, our struggles also help make us who we are.
A big part of growing up is learning how to deal with doubt, questions and problems. What is life except a constant struggle to grow closer to God and know Him? Sure, the whole baptism in the Holy Spirit question can be a stumbling block for youth who seek it and do not receive it right away. But it can also be a vehicle that God uses to shape us. Everything must be looked at from a long-term perspective not just the crisis of the moment.
Finally, my time came when as a youth leader I went on a Royal Rangers camping trip. I had been in Royal Rangers, a Christian camping organization similar to Boy Scouts, as kid. While hanging out the first day, I hear Steve Hughes, a fellow commander and Christian brother from my church, playing his guitar and singing in tongues at the same time. I felt almost drawn over to watch Steve worship. I could tell that he was lost in another world. He seemed so at peace with God and life in general. I wished that I could have what Steve had. Suddenly, Steve notices me watching him. He turns and asks, “You have a good voice. Do you sing in the spirit?” Caught off guard by his question, I say, “No I don’t do that sort of thing.”
While strumming his guitar, Steve looks at me with a big grin and says, “That’s a shame because you’re missing out.” He turns and continues to praise God, sometimes in English and at other times in his prayer language. Steve wasn’t mean about it. He was not trying to rub my face in the fact that he had something special. He did not accuse me of being less of a Christian than he was or try to coerce me to seek the baptism. By how he lived and worshipped, Steve provoked me to get beyond my own hang-ups.
He later talked with me, and I shared my concerns and questions. He encouraged me to search the Scriptures and see for myself. He said that God would reveal to me what I needed to know when the time was right if I would just diligently seek God with all of my heart and be open to whatever He wanted to do in my life. He was right.
The next day during the council fire, I prayed for boys and worked at the altar. Then it happened when they turned the tables on us and had the boys pray for the leaders. While a bunch of the boys that I had worked with over the year gathered around me and prayed, I suddenly knew it was time for me to let God do something special. I turned to Steve and said, “Brother, it’s time.” He said, “Bless God, brother it’s time.”
While I was on my knees praising God, I asked for the baptism in the Holy Spirit. I asked God to give me a prayer language and give me whatever spiritual gifts He desired. With many of the leaders that I had known as a boy praying for me and the boys in my outpost praying for me, God broke through a hard heart and stubborn mind. I let go. And God did the rest.
Out of depths of my gut, words came forth that I had never spoken before. I had to open my mouth and speak it. But God gave me what to say. I felt such a divine connection that night. I was on a spiritual high the entire night. I couldn’t sleep. It was the best spiritual adrenaline rush of my entire life. I knew it was real. I knew it was from God. And I knew it could lead me into greater depths of living as God had intended all along.
As I look back on it, I had to get to the point that I simply let go and stopped trying to figure it all out. Some things are just too big for my small brain. I knew it was in the Bible. I had to learn to trust God.
Not only was my heart receptive to it, but this moment in time marked me coming full circle. I had strayed from God a bit the previous year. While living in another state a year before that I had tried to live a dual life. I partied on Friday and Saturday and did the church thing on Sunday and Wednesday. But the night I was baptized in the Holy Spirit, I was living for God. I was surrounded by men I trusted and boys I had recently spent time serving. God timing showed me that He was there all along. Slowly, He was leading me back to where I should be. He brought me full circle. Ever since that night, I have never doubted God’s sovereign hand in my life. I know that God has a plan for me, and I know that I can trust Him with everything.
If you are struggling with receiving the baptism, maybe it is just not your time yet. Keep on seeking God, He will make all things beautiful in His time. Maybe you are like how I was – you can’t let go. Maybe you are not willing to take a leap of faith.
Maybe you have sin to confess or unforgiveness in your heart toward another person. Maybe God wants to try and test your faith just to see if it is pure. Maybe God is developing in you the gift of faith by leading you to press through doubt, questions and fear. I don’t know why God does what He does all of the time.
God’s ways are sometimes just too high for me to figure out. But I do know that He gives His Holy Spirit to those who ask for it. You have to ask in faith. If you ask in doubt, do not expect to get anything. God gives gifts when the time is right. But you will never have more of the Holy Spirit in your life if you don’t ask.