Because I have been asked to share my story as it pertains to the migration from Baptist cessationist to one who believes in the ongoing availability of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, it seemed prudent to put it down in writing for any who wished to understand the dynamics that led up to such a significant shift in my theology and life as a Christian. What I am writing is not my attempt to “convert” anyone to my way of thinking. Nor is this some defense against those who have viewed this change as a downward spiral. This, friends, is my testimony. This is me sharing my story about how God has led me in my understanding and experience with the gifts of the Holy Spirit – He continues to lead me and, honestly, I am repeatedly blessed to walk further through this wide-opened door. Some of you whom I love and respect will disagree with me, and I fully understand that. I would have disagreed with me 18-19 years ago. Nevertheless, I want to share my story with any who desire to know more about what has taken place in my life and ministry. Many who came from where I came are intrigued by what they have heard as pertains to me, my teaching ministry and what God is doing at the church where I serve. They have asked me to tell the story. Today’s blog is the second part of that story. In order to appreciate what is written below, please read Part 1 from my previous post. – Jeff
Not seeking any particular gift from God, during a nine-month season in 2002, as I was increasingly yielding to Him on deepening levels, I prayed daily for God to give me everything that He wanted me to have. During this time, I had been serving as the Interim Pastor of the church where I had been on staff for five years. By then, my pastor had resigned and the church asked me to fill his role during the transition time. I was eager to do so, and loved having an outlet for preaching expository messages. My commitment to the objective authority of God’s Word finally had a weekly outlet! Knowing that I needed a fresh touch from the Lord for this new responsibility, I burrowed down into more disciplined prayer, fasting and pursuit of the Lord. God was moving in our church and it seemed that we might even be on the brink of some revival or awakening. I am not sure I had ever been, up to that point, as excited in ministry as I was during those days. I found myself growing in my understanding of the Word…and also growing in my relationship with the Author of the Word. My recurring prayer in those days was for God to fill me, anoint my leadership and to expand the level of personal intimacy I had with Him. He would answer those months of cries in a manner I did not anticipate. Remember, as I wrote in previous blog, my theology about the gifts had already shifted, but I had no personal experience with anything that I would have labeled as supernatural at that point. Nobody knew that my beliefs had changed on the issue of the gifts. I was still in the closet and enjoying the privacy there. Yet, the Holy Spirit was soon to begin coaxing me out of that closet. Everything would change in February of 2003.
One morning, in answer to my cries to God for more, as an Independent Baptist pastor, I was “ambushed” by the Holy Spirit in my office . That is the best way to describe what happened. The gifts of the Holy Spirit moved from being a theological affirmation to me into an active force within me. That morning changed everything. I am simply going to try and explain what happened and how I responded to it. I do not wish for anyone to think any more of me, or any less of me, as I share this. Please know that it was an experience with God that I was not specifically seeking, but one that I am so happy now that He imparted. As I began my early morning prayer time that winter day, I was utilizing my normal structure and routine: bible open, a few moments of silent contemplation after reading, confession of any sin, praise to God for who He is, thanksgiving for what He was doing in my life, intercession for Amy and Alicia (Landon was not born at that time), and then prayers concerning my own walk of faith. Somewhere in the midst of that morning prayer time, great spiritual joy began to flow in me. I cannot tell you the specifics because I am not sure what exactly I was praying in those moments. All I know is that there was a very real sensation of something happening all around me, and also within me. My mind, my emotions and my soul seemed to stir within me. Today, it almost feels like I am cheapening the experience by trying to describe it, because I really do not have the adequate words. The level of my joy was unprecedented and, with no forewarning, my prayers moved from English into a language that I had never heard nor spoken. I heard my own voice praying words that made no sense to me (1 Corinthians 14:14 describes this experience). Frankly, my response to this moment was less than stellar. I literally clamped my hand over my mouth and apologized to God! It was a very strange moment for me. Though I had, just seconds earlier, been filled with joy, when I began to pray in tongues, the predominant sense moved to that of some inner-scolding – like a child who had broken the rules. It was not conviction from God, but rather some form of accusation from somewhere else. You need to know that I had friends in ministry who preached that tongues were demonic. Most of my peers did not go that far with their rejection of tongues, but they uniformly asserted that tongues were, at the very least, human emotionalism born in the flesh. Naturally, there would have been conflict in my mind about experiencing something about which I had no grid to explain. Though the presence of God had been quite real that morning, the layered teaching about the gifts from my previous years left me feeling inwardly as if I had just done something wrong. I quickly gathered my thoughts and immediately began praying in English again. In less than sixty seconds, my words again shifted into a language I had never heard nor spoken. This time, I sensed the joy simultaneously with the tongues for a brief spate before that inner-scolding began again. My prayer time came to an abrupt halt for that morning because I did not know how to process what was going on. Undoubtedly, I was being stretched. I hastily got up from my desk, walked out into the hallway outside my office, and tried to understand what was happening with me. To be honest, most of my thoughts were devoid of faith, focused on me, troubled about what others would say if they knew what had just occurred and, shamefully, how this new experience might jeopardize the brand new ministry I had received in being officially installed as the Senior Pastor of Meadow Baptist Church. You read me correctly, this unanticipated, unsought experience happened less than two full months after I was invited to lead the Fundamental Independent Baptist Church where I had spent my entire Christian life. Things were about to get interesting.
Paul’s admonition to the church at Galatia was going to chase me for a while. What was it that the Apostle asked those Galatian believers? “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:3). My next blog post will reveal my discussion with God about what He had sovereignly begun that morning in my life. I would try to convince Him that He made a mistake. It was one of the most fruitless endeavors I ever put my hand to.