How would we respond today if God wanted to repeat the miracle of Pentecost in one of our carefully scripted Sunday meetings? I wonder if we would embrace the unexpected wildness of that Acts 2 moment. Or would we tell the Spirit to behave?
Pentecost was an abrupt heavenly invasion. It wasn't planned in a staff meeting; it came "suddenly," according to Acts 2:2. The noise of wind was not on the program; neither were flames of holy fire.
No one in that prayer meeting in the upper room in Jerusalem expected to speak a supernatural language. Certainly Peter did not expect to give his unrehearsed sermon, and I'm sure he was surprised when 3,000 people were converted. The church was born in a moment of unearthly, unimagined strangeness.
We will celebrate Pentecost this year on June 4. Would we have room for this miracle today if God wanted to do it again? Would we welcome the interruption? I fear we have enacted so many human controls that the Spirit is totally left out of our Sunday experience. If we don't give Him free rein, worship can become a man-made ritual that is stripped of God's power.
The apostle Paul warned us not to "quench" the Spirit in 1 Thessalonians 5:19. "Quench" means to extinguish a fire. I fear that today our trendy churches have been equipped with state-of-the-art fire extinguishers that do a professional job of eliminating any risk of a holy outbreak. Let's be mindful of the most common ways that we quench the Holy Spirit.
- We ignore the Holy Spirit. Many churches today make no mention of the Spirit. He is, as author Francis Chan says, the "forgotten God." We play it safe by focusing on Jesus and salvation—yet we forget that Jesus talked incessantly about the Spirit. And it was Jesus who told His followers that they must be "clothed with power from on high" (Luke 24:49). We are not being faithful to Christ if we don't take people into the deeper waters of the Spirit that He Himself promised.
- We limit the gifts of the Holy Spirit. There are thousands of churches in this country that teach that the gifts of the Spirit no longer function. Even though the apostle Paul said, "Do not forbid speaking in tongues" (1 Cor. 14:39) and "Do not despise prophecies" (1 Thess. 5:20), speaking in tongues and prophecy are off-limits—along with healing and miracles.
It was a lack of faith that created the doctrine known as "cessationism." Respected Bible teachers have convinced whole sectors of the church that God no longer operates supernaturally. Christianity has been reduced to an intellectual argument, devoid of power. And even in churches that wear the Pentecostal label, we have created such tight controls on our meetings that the gifts can't function.
- We misuse or abuse the gifts of the Holy Spirit. We Pentecostals and charismatics have sometimes quenched the Spirit more than evangelicals who deny His power. We have whacked people to the floor or waved our sportcoats in the air to prove our "anointing," manipulated audiences with mood music, used fancy titles to fake apostolic authority and manufactured counterfeit miracles to con people to give in offerings.
God forgive us. We cannot use the Spirit or His gifts to achieve our selfish agenda. Either we submit to His plan, or He withdraws and lets us play our silly games.
- We misrepresent the Holy Spirit. How often have we heard, "Thus says the Lord," or "God told me this," when the Spirit had nothing to do with the message we cooked up on our own. When we give the Spirit credit for messages that did not originate from Him, we take the Lord's name in vain. There are many popular "prophets" given platforms today, but some of them bring lying words and false visions. Never let a charming false prophet mislead you with flattery, manipulation, exotic visions or promises of wealth.
- We divide the Holy Spirit. When the apostle Paul corrected the Corinthians for quenching the Spirit, he addressed sexual sin and the abuse of spiritual gifts. But first He challenged them on the way they were treating each other. "Has Christ been divided?" he asked in 1 Corinthians 1:13. We grieve the Spirit when we judge each other, build walls, divide ourselves racially, follow personalities or create camps according to doctrine.
The secret of Pentecost is found in Acts 2:1: "They were all with one accord in one place" (KJV). Can that be said of us today? We are divided between black and white, white and Hispanic, Republican and Democrat, Protestant and Catholic, denominational and non-denominational, evangelical and Pentecostal. We are fragmented and weak. We have quenched the Spirit with our disunity.
Please join me in praying for a new Pentecost. Let's throw away our fire extinguishers and invite a fresh heavenly flame to engulf the church.
J. Lee Grady was editor of Charisma for 11 years before he launched into full-time ministry in 2010. Today he directs The Mordecai Project, a Christian charitable organization that is taking the healing of Jesus to women and girls who suffer abuse and cultural oppression. Author of several books including 10 Lies the Church Tells Women, he has just released his newest book, Set My Heart on Fire, from Charisma House. You can follow him on Twitter at @LeeGrady or go to his website, themordecaiproject.org.