OK I promised…it’s time to deliver on that promise…
Allow me to tell part of my personal story, not to use it as a normative experience ‘that you should have too’. You will understand the point as you read through it.
My very first church experience after I got saved at the age of 17 was through the very person that led me to the Lord, so going to his church did make sense at that time. Without putting any negative judgements on that church, I was part of that group for about 7 months. I listened to the sermons which were well over 1,5 hours, I enjoyed the worship, was very confused about the prayers and particularly the praying in tongues. After all, there was still a lot I didn’t understand at all about the Bible, but the church experience was a bit weird. Still, God used that time to shape me as I was growing in faith. Nevertheless, after 7 months I came to the conclusion that some of the practices I saw there, it wasn’t just the gibberish stuff, wasn’t for me. So I decided to go a more ‘traditional church’ closer to home. Some of my friends were going there too, so I wasn’t alone there. But I noticed by going from one rather extreme church experience, I kind of reacted and went into the other extreme. It wasn’t that the church was dead. There were decent, good Christians there, but ‘something’ was very different. It wasn’t form. It wasn’t music style. Yes that was different, but that wasn’t ‘it’. I wondered what.
After a few months I moved out of my parents home for good to settle in Rotterdam and I started looking for a decent church to congregate. With two other friends we found very nearby that decent church. It was called ‘Church of the Nazarene’. I didn’t know anything about that and the name sounded a bit strange. My parents always warned me about cults and they were very concerned when I was part of the Pentecostal church for a few months. They thought I went over the edge and got stuck in religious fanaticism just to find myself.
It was in this Nazarene Church where I found more balance. Back in the Pentecostal church I was often approached by some folks who thought that I should now get baptized as soon as possible. I didn’t even understand what baptism was, but I didn’t like the coercion. It felt like I was forced into something and I didn’t want that. In the Nazarene church nobody asked me to get baptized, but when I studied the Bible myself, I did come to the conclusion that baptism was the right next step for me. Jesus ordained it, did it Himself, and I sensed that I was drawn to that too. I wanted to say goodbye once and for all to my old life and welcome the new life in Christ. So, in 1996, 2,5 years after I became a Christian, I was baptized. It was the symbolical act of dying and rising with Christ and it was the sign of a grace that God was already working in my heart. It was such a liberating and awesome experience. Because it was a public testimony of faith, I shared a few words with the congregation – my non-believing family was present – and everyone could see that obedience to Jesus spoke louder than anything else.
My journey with God changed somewhat, but at the same time I still struggled a lot as a Christian. Some past addictions weren’t gone while I knew they were detrimental to my health. Some attitudes were not always that Christian and I often condemned myself for thinking thoughts about myself or others that weren’t lining up with the Bible.
Fast forward a few years. I am still growing in faith and understanding. After I got married I struggled so much with being a dad. Intimacy was one of the issues. I was afraid to be known by my own kids. I didn’t even know what it meant to be a dad really. As I started also out as a children’s pastor, I bumped into my natural limitations more than I could handle often times. It was in Brazil that I noticed that many Christians were so different from me. It wasn’t that they were Pentecostal charismaniacs as I sometimes called them. It wasn’t with everybody, but there really were quite some Christians there that spoke and lived in an intimacy with God I hardly knew. I was saved and baptized. I knew I obeyed God in that. Still, in many areas of my life I led a defeated life. There had to be more than just going to church or serving in some sort of ministry. One pastor friend invited me to come and pray on a mountain with a group of brothers and sisters. I happily accepted that invitation. I knew this pastor well, saw his testimony of life, and in some ways I was ‘holy jealous’ of him. He seemed to have an access to God that I didn’t have. As he spoke that evening about the Holy Spirit, it finally became crystal clear. I had thrown away the baby with the bathwater! My aversion to Pentecostal crazy people led me to believe that anyone even speaking of the Holy Spirit, must be a suspect. Yet, I couldn’t deny his testimony, his life with God.
It led to a crisis. I was confused and even frustrated. All these years I had been living, but I saw very little fruitfulness. I knew I was saved, that wasn’t even the point. But I wanted more. Not more experiences. I wanted more of God Himself. To know Him. Love Him. Be with Him. Not just to serve Him or show up on Sunday somewhere…
For months I studied scripture and prayed to God. One day, I was in my bedroom and like in 1993 when I asked Jesus for the first time to cleanse and forgive me, I prayed a simple prayer that would change my life. I asked that if there is really more of God and that I perhaps – unconsciously out of fear – blocked that due to negative experiences, I didn’t want to hold back, not because of people’s expectations, not because of weird manifestations, but simply because I wanted to know Him.
And He came! The Holy Spirit’s presence was so thick in the room. It was not that all of a sudden I was an extreme make-over of the old Patrick. I didn’t run out into the streets to heal the sick and raise the dead…It was more like a peace that went way beyond I ever experienced before in my life. Although I knew I was forgiven, I now started to own that position of being right with God, meaning that I knew, that I knew that God loved me. Some people call that the baptism in the Holy Spirit as we also read it in the Book of Acts. Others say that there has to be some sort of sign to say that the Holy Spirit had actually baptized me in a more profound way. I am not a sophisticated man in this. I simply don’t know. What I do know is that my life was different after that. It was still a process of growing and maturing, but the journey was different this time.
Pentecost 2018. It was a huge event almost 2000 years ago. A game-changer for the followers of Christ, for the early church and for the believers that came later. I believe that if there is one biblical key for you to unlock (not a seven steps plan to a better you…) something in your journey with God, it really is related to the Holy Spirit. There is so much confusion about Him. There is even fear about Him.
Let me close with this verse. It’s from Jesus Himself when He speaks of the Holy Spirit.
“If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” Luke 11:11-13
Perfect love casts out all fear the bible says. It’s true that there has been abuse about what the Spirit can do when it is done in human wisdom and power. Nevertheless, the Spirit has transformed over centuries of church the faith journeys many people’s lives. Is it your desire to be transformed by God? Do you really want to overcome fear, anxiety, past regrets and pain? I think the key is simply by asking Him to give you the power to do that, but it has to be on His terms. You don’t incorporate the Spirit as a nice add-on into your life. He has to be in control. And that is perhaps the scariest part for people. We like to be in control.
God never created you for yourself. He created you for Him. He’s in control and He is really a good Father who delights in giving good gifts to his children. Can you really trust Him?