I've been reading through the book of Acts the past few weeks, and my heart has been inspired and revived as I see the experience of the early church. So raw, so real, so empowered to do above and beyond what we often think is possible in the 21st century. I keep finding myself asking for experiences of the early church to be repeated in my experience and in our church -- the widespread conversions, the involvement in ministry, the genuine fellowship, and of course the sharing of meals. :) But there's one dynamic of the Acts church that I feel an intense longing for right now: they consistently discerned the instruction of Holy Spirit and were quick to follow His lead.
We all know that the book of Acts begins with the church being filled with God's Spirit, but the rest of the book details how they were led by the Spirit. Here's a sampling from just the first half of Acts:
- Acts 2:4 -- And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
- Acts 4:8 -- Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them...
- Acts 4:31 -- ...and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.
- Acts 8:29 -- Then the Spirit said to Philip, "Go near and overtake this chariot..."
- Acts 10:19-20 -- While Peter thought about the vision, the Spirit said to him, "Behold, three men are seeking you. Arise therefore, go down and go with them, doubting nothing; for I have sent them."
- Acts 11:12 -- "Then the Spirit told me to go with them, doubting nothing."
- Acts 11:28 -- Then one of them, named Agabus, stood up and showed by the Spirit that there was going to be a great famine throughout all the world...
- Acts 13:2 -- As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, "Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”
- Acts 13:4 -- So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia...
- Acts 15:28 -- "For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things."
- Acts 16:6 -- Now when they had gone through Phrygia and the region of Galatia, they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia.
The early church was truly led by the Spirit in what to say, what to do, where to go. The Spirit instructed them with great specificity and clarity. And it makes me ask if the Spirit still speaks like that today.
Has the Holy Spirit withdrawn, or have we forgotten how to listen?
I'm convinced that it's not an unwillingness on God's part to lead us but lack on our part to actually listen. I can't claim to be an expert on the subject of listening to God and following His lead, but I wanted to share a few things that are helping me learn to listen to and be led by the Holy Spirit.
I believe experiencing the Holy Spirit's leading starts with expecting Him to lead in the first place. If I'm not expecting the Spirit to give counsel and instruction, then I won't be listening for His counsel and instruction. It won't be on my radar, plain and simple. But if we assume that He has plans for us individually and for His church, then we'll be in a position of anticipation and readiness to discern those plans. The Holy Spirit has been actively involved in the movements of earth since the very beginning (cf Gen. 1:2) and will be until the very end (cf. Rev. 22:17). Why shouldn't we expect the Spirit to move today?
It's one thing to assume that the Holy Spirit leads, guides, instructs, and counsels. But it's another thing to ask for that leading. God isn't one to impose His will on us. He gives us room to seek and ask. He's not playing hard to get. He's just being a perfect gentleman and a Father who wants the best for His kids who are eager and willing to receive what's best from Him. Jesus made it clear in Luke 11:12, "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!" If we want to experience more the Spirit's leading in our lives, let's ask for it!
Let me add one caution here. When we ask for the Holy Spirit to lead, we're asking for the Holy Spirit to lead. No, that's not a typo. When we ask for the Spirit to lead, we're not asking for power to do our own agenda. Instead we ought to ask for this gift with humility, confessing surrender to be led to fulfill the Spirit’s plans and purposes. The Spirit isn’t a mere power or force for me to manipulate but a Person for me to to surrender to.
When pursuing the present-tense instruction of the Holy Spirit, we can't be negligent of the Spirit's past revelation in the Word, inspired and ultimately authored by the Holy Spirit (cf. 2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 1:21). If we want to hear the Spirit's instruction today, I believe we must habitually listen to and align with what the Holy Spirit has already revealed before. How can I expect Him to speak in the present if I have ignored what He has spoken in the past? The more we give earnest heed to the Spirit's revelation in Scripture, the more our ears will be accustomed to the Spirit's voice and values, instructions and intentions.
As we learn to listen, may we experience a revival of the Acts church in our day!