Today’s post follows the two previous posts that I shared last week regarding my own personal journey with the Holy Spirit. If you do not read the first two, this one will not make much sense. Last week’s posts contained my testimony about how God incrementally brought me from my beginning as a denominational cessaitonist, to one who could no longer theologically remain a cessaitonist, and then, in addition to that shift in my theological position, one who received the supernatural experience of praying in tongues. Today’s post communicates my deep inner struggle over this personal experience of tongues, and how I sought to avoid the issue with God. Maybe some of you reading my words today are now as I was then: caught between the leadership of the Lord and the desire to remain in high esteem with people. Maybe my own testimony will help you to see that there is a place and a people for you, people who had to choose between pleasing the Lord and pleasing those around them. The battle can be very real. I have been there and I want to assure you that there are people who will nod their heads and tell you that they know what it feels like to be stuck between the offer of God and the fear of man. Ultimately, I had to make a choice. – Jeff
The morning after “the day of ambush” by the Holy Spirit, I approached my prayer time wondering what might occur. Never before had I sensed such a conflict within my own heart concerning my personal relationship with the Lord. I found myself afraid of something big and good. Though my heart was telling me that the experience the day before was valid, biblical and beautiful, my head was filled with years of cessaitonist teaching which was quite difficult to dislodge. If I am being honest, I entered my office at the church with no small apprehension that day. Comically, there was an elephant in the room between me and God, and I surely wasn’t going to be the one to bring it up! As with most every morning before this particular day, I began my time of reading and prayer with no variation. I remember enjoying the Lord that morning. I remember the pleasure in my soul as I prayed in English and spent time thanking the Lord for the blessings of life. Somewhere in the midst of those prayers, that inner stirring from the day before began again. I did not suppress it and, this time, when the prayer language began, I chose not to initially resist this new work of God in my life. Yet, within just a few moments of praying in tongues again, my mind began grinding its gears as I became self-aware and unnecessarily afraid. So strong was the conflict in those few seconds that I pushed back from my desk and said something like this to the Lord:
“Father, I can’t do this. I am a BAPTIST pastor. I don’t understand what this is about, and I don’t want to have anything to do with it. I am sorry but I am not going to pray in tongues. In Jesus’ name, AMEN!”
It is kind of funny to remember that moment now but, I assure you, on that day I was quite serious in my highly presumptuous declaration to God Almighty that His gift was going to be refused. Here is the stickler: He honored my decision and, for more than three years, I did not pray in tongues again. That is not to say that I did not feel the Holy Spirit stirring within me during those disobedient years. Nor did I try to convince myself that my tongues experience was counterfeit – I knew it was the Lord’s doing. I never once considered going back to my cessaitonist theology. Let me tell you what I did: I quenched the Holy Spirit, and willfully entered into a season of life where my heart was not as it should be toward my good and wise Father in this particular area. He had imparted something to me that I returned to Him for a refund.
During the next couple of years, my ministry was still being blessed. The church was growing. My preaching still had a fruitful anointing upon it. Surprisingly, God poured out some pretty incredible grace on me, even though I had this portion of my heart about the gifts of the Spirit on pause. I was preaching through the book of First Corinthians toward the latter half of those three years, and I came to a crisis in January of 2007 as I came to chapter thirteen of First Corinthians which, of course, addresses the issue of the continuation of the gift of tongues. I found myself in a minefield wearing oversized snow shoes. I could not skip this controversial passage of Scripture. There would be the expectation of the church for me to pound the nail of cessationism, as all those pastors who went before me had done at Meadow. The week arrived and I had to make a decision about what I would do with the sermon. Friends, this is, to this day, the only time I that I ever stood in the pulpit and preached a message that violated my own theological convictions. I am still ashamed to recall that I willingly hardened my heart, and convinced myself that it was best for the people if I did not push the theological envelope by teaching that the gifts continue to this very day. I let the fear of man rule the moment, ignored the conviction of the Holy Spirit, and chose to preach a message that declared that the gift of tongues was no longer valid. I knew both by biblical interpretation, and also by my own recent personal experience, that the Scriptures did not allow for this position of claiming that the gifts of the Spirit were not for today. Yet, this was the precise position of my church, and I caved in to the presumed pressure to toe the denominational line. The bylaws of Meadow actually had a disclaimer, stating that we stood against tongues and those ministries which validated tongues. I have been preaching the Gospel since the first Sunday of 1995 and this is the only time that I have ever preached something that I knew was not true. Though I repented before God that very day and received forgiveness for my sin, I still feel sickened that I preached what I did that Wednesday evening (I didn’t have the courage to do it on a Sunday). On some level, I am confident that I will have to give a very sad accounting to the Lord Jesus for that regrettable message. I am unspeakably grateful that God did not remove me from ministry that day. He could have justifiably done so. He is merciful, compassionate and quick to forgive. He gave a temporarily compromised preacher another shot at doing the right thing.
After that awful day, I knew that I would no longer be able to staunch the flow of the Holy Spirit in my life. This singular fraud in my heart had to be expunged. The next couple of months would prove to be a turning point in this journey with the Holy Spirit. God would be confronting me about just how long I believed He would be allowing me to quench His work in my life with no consequences. I was alone, with no friend or mentor to speak to about this issue. I was not reading charismatic books or listening to Pentecostal preachers. I had no desire to join any movement. As a matter of fact, besides my own voice doing so, I had never heard anyone else speaking in tongues, save for one occasion when I was eleven years old. God had sovereignly brought me to a crossroads where I had absolutely nothing to lean on. Apparently, He wanted some one-on-one time with me, and I would need to decide whose I was – His servant… or my denomination’s servant. I will pick up the story in my next post.
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