Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The spirits [and minds] of the prophets

Funny the things you remember. ~ Forrest Gump

I remember something Stuart Greaves said during my summer 2003 internship at IHOP.* He exhorted our group of young charismatic zealots not to "manifest" when we felt the Holy Spirit--not to shake and convulse and scream, as much as could be helped--by sharing a story from his youth.

During a certain season, the Spirit began to grip him intermittently and he would groan and shake in God's presence. These experiences interrupted the daily flow of his life, driving, being in church (I hope I'm remembering this correctly). When a leader who was discipling him spoke to him about it, the young Greaves replied, "I'm sorry--I just can't control it. It's God." His leader rebuked him, saying, "No. The spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets" (1 Corinthians 14:32). Greaves went on to instruct us, saying that wild manifestations are alright when you first encounter the spirit, but as you mature they really help no one. He exhorted us to, when we feel the weight or power or fire of God's presence, resist any urge to manifest but rather turn that spiritual energy back towards God by means of contemplation, prayer or some combination thereof.

These words returned to me this weekend at the conference I attended with some seminary friends. It was called "Dreams, Visions and the Mystical Realm" (they should add that subtitle to Urbana and see what happens). I think Greaves's instruction was relevant in two ways. The basic application occurred Saturday night, when I really did begin to feel God's presence in such a way that might have lent itself to convulsions (and it was happening as I was observing other people go through holy shakes, no less). Rather than whoop, shout, or shake (not that there's anything essentially wrong with such expressions), I focused that divine gripping into intercessions in tongues peppered with maranatha pleading ("Come, Lord Jesus!").**

The other application had to do with many times in the conference where my mind flat out rejected what was being said, but through stirring up my spirit through muttered prayers I was able to receive from the Lord and suspend my judgments. This is not to say that I because I was feeling spiritual I just accepted everything I heard uncritically, but I feel like I was able to be encouraged and provoked by God through this man's ministry. Without the extra prayer I just would have gotten a headache. In the first case, I restrained the fire, in the second I fanned the flame.

The truth that our spirits are subject to us speaks to the relationship of spirit and mind. The charismatic tendency (I speak as one reared charismatic) is to welcome the Spirit and shut out the mind, encouraging a kind of divine possessing where we lose control and God takes over. I contend that this has more in common with Eastern mysticism and Gnosticism than the spirituality encouraged by the Christian Scriptures. To have an active mind is not less spiritual, to turn off one's mind is not more spiritual.

I am reminded again of Psalm 27:4 (another mark of IHOP's influence on my life). It's words don't encourage mindlessness, but rather mindfulness. "Ask, seek, behold, inquire" are sensory words about a creator god who can be known, explored and given witness to in concrete ways.

The incarnation testifies that spirit and flesh dwell together, not one over the other. Jesus did not set us an example of self-emptying so that he could be remote controlled by the Holy Spirit, but rather he "became obedient to the point of death--even death on a cross" (Philippians 2:8). The life of worship ought to be characterized by a fiery spirit and an active, disciplined mind that daily yields volition to God's direction--not his usurpation.

"I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God--what is good and acceptable and perfect." ~ Romans 12:1, 2; emphases mine

*International House of Prayer
**I contend that shouting because of a mystical God moment does not "release" something abstract in the Spirit, as is common to say in charismatic parlance. I don't see that in the Bible.

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