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JOE LAGUARDIA: The Spirit works in people many different ways

Joe LaGuardia

Joe LaGuardia

"When Paul laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied" (Acts 19:6).

I remember the first time I got a taste of the charismatic movement inspired by the Brownsville and Toronto revivals of the mid-1990s. I was walking into a family friend's healthfood store and interrupted the friend and another person in prayer. She looked up at me and said, "Hi, Joe, we're glad you're here. Come and catch my friend as I pray for her."

I was 15 at the time, and I didn't know why I had to catch someone during prayer. Nor did I know why I had to catch a strange woman. I was very uncomfortable.

Nevertheless, my friend prayed for the woman, she fainted in my arms, and I obediently lowered her to the ground. She was, according to my friend, "slain in the Spirit."

Shortly after that time I started attending a charismatic Presbyterian church. Slaying in the Spirit, speaking in tongues, and other gifts became commonplace in weekly worship. Although I did not have these same experience as others in the church, I appreciated the Spirit's movement in the congregation.

I did not have the same prayer language, but it was that same Spirit that nurtured my faith and inspired my calling.

Charismatic gifts are a controversial subject, but the fruit of the Spirit's mysterious presence is abundant despite what some may believe. Charismatic faith expressions are on the rise throughout the globe, especially in South America and Africa;Pentecostalism -- the primary denomination that promotes such gifts -- is growing faster than other Protestant groups.

As a Baptist who has walked with two different camps -- one in which charismatic gifts was a way of life, and the other in which "private prayer languages" was all but banned for denominational leaders and clergy (the Southern Baptist Convention had issues in 2007 on the subject) -- I know that it is better to give the Spirit room to work than to quench the Spirit by denying His power.

Paul's first letter to the Thessalonian community encourages readers to "not quench the Spirit" and to "test all things" (5:19-21). Paul seems to argue on behalf of moderation: To claim that the "baptism of the Holy Spirit" as expressed by tongues and other manifestations is necessary for salvation is just as erroneous as denying that these same manifestations exist whatsoever.

One thing I learned in my home church is this: The Spirit works differently among Christians and Christian communities. Only when we deem our own perspective as the "only way" that God works do we start to deny the Spirit's power in God's kingdom agenda for all creation.

The Bible also affirms the importance of the Holy Spirit in the Trinity. It's the Spirit that drove Jesus to the wilderness and anointed Him for ministry to the poor, oppressed, captive, and blind (Luke 4). It is the Paraclete (Greek forcomforter) that consoled the disciples in a time of persecution and gave them the appropriate words to say to defend the Gospel. It is the Spirit that motivated missions, inspired visions, and promoted the work of God in the early church.

The Holy Spirit continues to work in our life even when we forget to acknowledge the Spirit's presence. The Holy Spirit continues to impart gifts that grant us power for ministry and missions.

Catching that woman so long ago did not necessarily inspire me to become "slain in the Spirit," but it did impress upon me a timeless, surprising truth: That my relationship with the Spirit is necessary for an effective life as a Christ-follower.

This year, as you make your New Year's resolutions, I encourage you too to provide room for the Holy Spirit to work in your life, and to surprise you along the way.

The Rev. Joe LaGuardia is the senior pastor of Trinity Baptist Church, 301 Honey Creek Road, Conyers. E-mail him at trinitybc3@bellsouth.net or visit www.trinityconyers.org.