An e-mail from an acquaintance in the USA describes a series of prayer meetings at which the author says that God’s presence was visibly manifested by “weeping, violent shaking, loud groanings and travail in the Spirit, ardent prayers and cries for the lost, trembling, tongues, prophecies, visions and the glory of God swooping around the room like a iridescent blueish light.” Do I have any comment?
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How greatly all of God’s people need his divine visitation! However, a word of caution is also in order. Physical manifestations, even marvelous phenomena, are neither reliable nor indispensable signs of the Presence of the Holy One, and they can even be deceitful counterfeits (Matt. 24:24; 2 Thes. 2:8-9; Rev. 13:1-4). We must always be sure that Jesus is preached and exalted (1 Cor. 12:1-3), and we must both expect and search for the fruit of moral reformation, of deep repentance of sin and of changed lives which persevere in holiness and righteous living (Acts 19:18-20; 1 Thes. 1:5-10).
Spurgeon said, “I looked at Jesus, and the dove of peace flew into my heart. I looked at the dove of peace, and it flew away.” If we but keep our eyes on Jesus, he will pour out his Spirit as it pleases him. We may properly rejoice in any divine outpouring, but we must never seek the manifestations for themselves, or the Spirit without Jesus — which always leaves the door open to dark and deceitful spirits. We must also strenuously avoid the temptation to judge other believers in Jesus Christ who do not witness or experience phenomenal experiences such as the ones reported by my correspondent quoted at the top of this gracEmail. Such experiences are neither a requirement for a close walk with God nor a guarantee of the same.
Our message is and must remain the Evangel — the “good news.” That gospel is the report of God’s grace in the perfect and finished doing, dying and rising of Jesus Christ. It is our part to hear the gospel with faith; it is God’s part to provide his people with the Spirit and to work miracles among them as it pleases him (Gal. 3:5). It is our part to eagerly await the final manifestation of Jesus Christ himself; it is God’s part to see that we are not lacking in any charismatic gift he wishes for us to have (1 Cor. 1:7). It is right to earnestly desire spiritual gifts but it is the gospel, not gifts, which is of first and final importance (1 Cor. 14:1; 15:3-6).