Part 2: Personal experience with God’s presence
“And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages…How can this be?” Acts 2:4,7 NLT
If you’ve never read Acts 2, or haven’t in a while, first go read it.
And then spend a moment simply reflecting on the power, importance, and personal nature of the story it tells.
God’s Spirit – His very presence – fills His disciples. This is “God with us” to a whole new level.
No longer is it Jesus – God as man – being with disciples and empowering them. Instead it is now God within them empowering them.
And the people witnessing this miraculous event are in awe: “How can this be?”
How can this be that a group of people who are not educated in our languages could be speaking our languages?
How can this be that they have flames of fire resting upon them as they speak?
How can this be that they are sharing the truths of God with us so directly (as if they are prophets or priests)?
But the power of the story in Acts 2 doesn’t actually lie in the miracle of speaking in tongues. It really lies in the extremely personal nature of God to inhabit – make his habitat – His disciples.
God isn’t merely “filling” them with His Spirit so they can prophesy (like He had done before with His people). God is making His dwelling among them in a whole new way. He is making them His very home. That is why the New Testament goes on to describe the believer individually and the believers together both as the Temple of God.
The deeply personal nature of this event should not surprise us. Nor should it be something we overlook in order to focus on other details. Too many times people are drawn to the speaking in tongues or later the 3,000 being added to the church that day. But the power and simplicity of this group of disciples (and then eventually all those who also were added later) receiving God Himself into their very being is the foundation for what then occurs for the rest of the entire book!
This brings to mind some other “How can it be?” questions for me. As I think about much of the American Church in light of this story I ask:
How can it be that there are those in the American Church who have never had this sort of a deeply personal, powerful experience with God’s Spirit in their life and yet call themselves Christian?
How can it be that we get so focused on the external workings of God (like speaking in tongues, healing, prosperity, numeric growth, etc.) rather than keeping our focus on the world-changing internal miracle of God to live within us?
How can it be that we’ve lost our sense of awe and dependence upon God to do what only He can do – fill people in ways only He can, add to the church those who are being saved in ways only He’s able, grow within us fruits of the Spirit that then display His very heart thru our very life, and so much more?
Other questions might come to your mind too as you reflect upon how these Acts 2 stories compare to many of the modern expressions of church in America…including questions like the one I asked in Part 1 concerning whether we’ve actually (unintentionally) “de-personalized” God thru how we “do church” today…
There are several stories I could share about how God has personally and powerfully shown up in my life:
- On a mission trip where He stripped me of my emotionalism so I could know it was really Him there with me and not just my heightened feelings
- At a concert with some friends and He sent an angel (that I visibly saw and physically felt near me) to heal one of my best friends, as we could feel the fullness of His presence around us
- In the moment, after a church leader had brutally hurt my wife and I, when I wept during one of my seminary classes as I expressed my desire to leave the church while they surrounded me to embrace me and pray for me, showing me how God was so very near to me in my brokenness
- As God has once again “put on flesh” thru my time this past year with a spiritual director and a small group of people who are journeying together with me in the area of spiritual direction, and has met me in such ways that I never really knew He could be oh so personal…and real…and tangible…
Maybe you have such stories as well. Maybe you don’t.
I actually don’t write any of this with any desire that my experience with this powerful God would be compared with yours. But rather that it would simply echo the story of Acts 2. That this deeply personal God desires to become very real to you, to each of us, if we will wait upon Him as the disciples did and live into the kind of community He forms us to be (that we see His disciples living out immediately).
A personal experience with God’s presence is the main foundation of a journey to becoming more Christlike than American.
As we begin to reflect upon our own experiences with God in relation to the stories in Acts we will hopefully begin to see similarities. And yet we will also see some distinctions – many times because as Americans we’ve added some things to what we see happening in Acts. Mostly out a cultural desire for more or better, or for uniqueness or modernity. And yet it will take identifying those things and stripping them away to really rediscover the simple core commonalities of what a personal relationship with God worked out in community really looks like today. Just as it did in the life of those disciples in Acts.
Becoming more Christlike means being in relationship with a deeply personal God as He sends His Spirit to dwell with us.
It transforms our lives.
And it forms our churches.
May this relationship with God, and these relationships as the church, be the basis of a re-formation of God’s people once again today.