Manipulating the Life-Preserver
“In that world where jingles replace doxology, God is not free, and the people know no justice or compassion.” ― Walter Brueggemann, Prophetic Imagination.
During the summer, many of my friends participated in two pentecostal denominations’ bi-annual international conferences. These denominations are steeped in beauty, built with authentic sincerity, possess a specific niche in the pentecostal market, and are the origins of my spiritual foundation.
Suppose you grew up protestant (i.e., one of the three historical facets of Christian faith with Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy). In that case, you might be unaware of the 20th-century Christian movement called pentecostal, which foundations are of classic protestant tradition with a different belief that speaking in tongues is the initial evidence of the infilling of the Holy Spirit post-conversion. Uniquely to each subset within pentecostal churches, other qualifying aspects denote individual ideas defining pentecostal practice; I’ve merely chosen one clarifying aspect which I believe is the primary defining trait of the pentecostal movement.
Over the weeks since those annual pentecostal gatherings, I have read (via social media) a good bit regarding the terms “spirit-filled” and even charismatic (which I’ve always viewed uniquely differently than pentecostal). Truthfully, both terms are triggers for me at times, so these posts (undeniably not written to lead me to write this today) have caused me to pray, reflect, mute some people (sorry), and research what people, theologians, and multiple denominations say on the subject.¹
My time of reflection has been deeply profound in my life and ultimately caused me to ask questions I never thought I would ask. Additionally, the findings have given me strength in facets of my spiritual life that I’ve always known and grown the awareness of places to expand my vision. Below are a few of my musings over the last few weeks, they are not prolifically formed or without fault — they are genuinely an honest reflection of where I am and places where I am committed to growing.
Through evaluating my personal experiences and research, I see that too many defining convictions seem to be getting in the way of the main thing leaving an unbalanced trinity with the elevation of the Holy Spirit over God and Jesus. Imagine you see a drowning man, and the life preserver in your hand is all that stands between him and certain death. You wouldn’t disguise the flotation device to resemble the water in which he was drowning. You wouldn’t openly question the efficacy of the life-preserver or debate the relative merits of other floating objects. And you certainly wouldn’t try to convince him that he could manipulate the power of the life-preserver if he simply had enough faith.²
God, please help me and forgive me for times I made the path to you difficult!
I shudder at the idea that baptism in the Holy Spirit (evidenced by speaking in tongues) frequently seems to make a believer better equipped and more able to discern God’s guidance and in closer communion with him by employing this new empowering by the Spirit. Have we fallen victim to reducing our commitment to Christ as a competition? Thoughts like this exclude rather than invite. I’ve sat too many times with friends who have sobbed that they’ve felt “less than” or “passed by” for not having “the gift.” I’ve served with leaders who dismiss others who have never spoken in tongues because they are “less anointed.” I sang in environments where promotion is often attached to perceived anointing, leaving many in the wake of “I’m not good enough” or “I guess I’m not anointed.”
God, please forgive me and undue any hurts others may have endured when I have led with thoughts/actions of superiority.
I also question the impression that being Spirit-filled places keys to instant success as a Christian. Many teachings center on the idea of “name it and claim it” and “speak to your mountain.” If you have faith, you will (fill in the blank). Please do not hear me saying I dismiss these scriptures and do not believe in the power of faith. Quite the contrary, I highlight a perceived manipulation of the Holy Spirit, not the doctrine of authority and inerrancy surrounding Scripture. Although truth exists within many charismatic teachings, once the wonder has worn off, many of our brothers and sisters awaken to the same problems and failings returning. Seemingly reducing the Spirit of God to a genie in a bottle rather than an authentic comforter promised to those that believe. More often than not, there is a process to spiritual wholeness, not just a nose twitch and the repetition of a clever phrase. Not that this is important, but I’ve also heard more songs and sermons on this topic than I care to recollect.
God, keep me alert to your word and promises, and please forgive me for the times I have missed the beauty of the spiritual process by embracing cliches and gimmicks attached to your name.
I also believe that the word “charismatic” should not be limited to specific manifestations but refers to the fact that every Christian receives a gift, or gifts, from the Holy Spirit. In Romans 6:23, Paul states, “…the wages of sin is death, but the gift (charism) of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Meaning that all who are born again, receiving the gift of life in Jesus Christ, are under the facility “charismatic” in the broadest sense of the word. Another example is Ephesians 4:7 (New Life Translation), “Loving-favor has been given to each of us. We can see how great it is by the gift of Christ.”
Our conviction as believers should be a stance that all Scripture is inspired by the Holy Spirit (2 Timothy 3:16)³ and that He illumines our minds to understand the truths of God’s Word (John 14:26)⁴. May we never pick and choose what we want to believe but hold fast to the truths that He has spoken in His word. May we never be fearful or envious of how others experience the fullness of the Holy Spirit and remember that each of us has specific gifting and how beautifully crafted into a perfect tapestry are we when we use our particular gifting in tandem together.
God, please help me to experience the fullness of who you are, not just the part of your nature that accommodates my needs on any given day. Let your word lead me in a silence-breaking cry wherein all doubt turns into the most straightforward path toward life in fullness. In Jesus’s name, Amen!
In closing, I invite us to pray for a realignment of The Trinity in our lives. May this triune work bind us together in holy love. As we pray, click the link below, and let’s let the words of this song; lead us into prayerful reflection.
Holy Father, Son, and Spirit
Holy Communion Three in One
Come with Your peace with Your invitation
Bind us together in holy love.
- Parker, Stephen. “Tradition-Based Integration: A Pentecostal Perspective.” Journal of Psychology and Christianity, vol. 33, no. 4, Christian Association for Psychological Studies, Inc., Dec. 2014, p. 311.
- All the Holy Writings are God-given and are made alive by Him. Man is helped when he is taught God’s Word. It shows what is wrong. It changes the way of a man’s life. It shows him how to be right with God. — 2 Timothy 3:16 (NLT)
- The Helper is the Holy Spirit. The Father will send Him in My place. He will teach you everything and help you remember everything I have told you. — John 14:26 (NLT)