I Told God No
By Laura Bagby
I remember the day vividly. I was arguing with the Lord as I was driving
down a winding, country road late at night to my favorite beach. When I reached
my destination, I turned the car off and said aloud to God, "I don't want
anything to hinder my relationship with You, Lord, and this search for the
Baptism in the Holy Spirit has caused a rift. My pursuit has led me nowhere,
so I don't want it, especially if I start thinking I am better than everyone
else because I have this gift. I simply don't want it."
There, I finally spoke my mind. It was the dramatic conclusion to a long
pursuit for more of the Holy Spirit.
Since I had become a Christian as a young child, I had known about the Holy
Spirit. I knew that I had the Holy Spirit living inside of me, as all Christians
do upon salvation. I knew that the Holy Spirit was there to counsel me and
teach me about God. Although I was raised in a traditional Presbyterian church
that sang mostly solemn hymns and was often suspicious of emotional demonstrations
of praise, my parents were both Spirit-filled Christians who spoke in tongues.
I didn't grow up thinking that speaking in tongues was wrong or weird. I knew
that the gift was in the Bible, and I knew that it was given to people today
like it had been given to the New Testament church in Acts. I just wasn't
sure it was something that I needed for my Christian walk.
At least not until I came to Virginia.
I attended several charismatic church services my first two years of graduate
school because that was where the young people gravitated. Typically during
worship, people next to me would raise their hands and mumble phrases that
weren't in English. I wasn't used to this spontaneous activity. Some Sundays
I felt so completely overwhelmed that I wanted to bolt out of the door. However,
I was curious, and so I kept going to these Spirit-filled services. I noticed
that those who spoke in tongues could pray and prophesy with power and authority.
I sensed there was more to be had with this God stuff, and I was beginning
to think that I might just want it.
At one church service, the preacher asked if anyone wanted to receive the
Holy Spirit to come up to the altar. I nervously left my seat and went up
to join the others, unsure of what might happen next. The minister prayed
and asked the crowd to begin uttering a couple of syllables in faith. I obediently
uttered a sound or two and waited, feeling foolish. I tried again, but it
felt so unnatural to me. I could hear the others around me speaking in other
languages and laughing and crying. I was crying too, but not because the Holy
Spirit had entered my soul in a fresh way; I was crying because I hadn't received
it, and I couldn't understand why God wasn't answering my prayer.
For years after this initial experience, I would go up to the altar or follow
the pastor to the back of the sanctuary for prayer and get the same results:
nothing. Either there is something desperately wrong with me, or people
are faking it, I thought. I made up my mind that if others around me were
faking it to be accepted by the church, that was their business. I, however,
would stay true, even if it meant leaving without the Holy Spirit once again.
Despite my resolve, I couldn't help feeling abandoned by the Lord and even
rejected by Christians who couldn't understand my situation. One well-meaning,
but misinformed Christian was so concerned at my plight that she asked me,
"Is there sin in your life?" I promptly replied, "No," somewhat annoyed. Then
she asked in a grave tone, "Are you sure you are a Christian?" I was indignant.
I grit my teeth and said curtly, "Yes, I am a Christian. That is not the reason."
I thought to myself as I left that night, That kind of response could cause
a struggling Christian to completely forsake Jesus Christ. Why would anyone
say such things?
So here I was, in the car, shaking, nose running, red-faced, and a policeman
was knocking on my window. Instead of being sympathetic, he gruffly asked
me to leave the premises. I turned the car on and cried harder. Thanks
a lot, Lord, I thought.
Although I had told God no, I couldn't stop thinking about this gift of the
Holy Spirit and the angry words I had said to the Lord that night in the car.
I didn't know how to resolve something that days before I thought I had resolved
-- and with great conviction. The only thing I knew to do was to talk to my
pastor one-on-one about it.
I scheduled a meeting a month in advance and prayed that God would give me
the words to say to my pastor. As the day approached, I wasn't getting any
answer from the Lord. Great, I am going to walk in, my pastor is going
to ask me what he can do for me, and I won't have an answer. I thought
about canceling the appointment, but I felt compelled to go regardless.
The day of the appointment, I woke up with joy that lasted throughout the
day. I had peace although I still didn't know what to say. I walked into my
pastor's office and began pouring my heart out to him. I expected a look of
disapproval or a quick fix-it comment. Instead, my pastor told me about how
he received the Holy Spirit alone in his bedroom. He had tried going to the
altar as I had and walked away empty and frustrated just as I had. I couldn't
believe my pastor -- the most spiritual person I knew -- hadn't received the
Holy Spirit the traditional way. Hearing his testimony brought relief. When
he prayed for me to receive the Holy Spirit, breaking the Spirit of Fear over
me, I wasn't on edge. Peace and faith filled my heart and the words came out
of my lips in a tumble.
I thought I would feel strange, but I didn't. It wasn't weird at all. Actually,
it was an incredible blessing that the God of the universe answered my heart's
cry rather than the words of my lips. God knows our hearts. He knows what
we truly desire and what we truly need. He is a gracious God. I found that
out that day.
Why am I telling you this? Not to prove that I am better than you now that
I have this gift, because that would be considering myself more highly than
I ought, and the Bible says I shouldn't do that. Not to judge you because
you aren't sure where you stand on this issue, because I know that if I judge
you, then I will be judged by God.
No, I am telling you this because I want you to know that you are not a second-class
Christian simply because you don't have this Baptism. God loves you just as
much as He loves me. God answers your prayers just as He answers mine when
we ask in faith, believing in Him.
But there is more out there. Do not let fear hinder you. I empathize with
those of you who have been hurt by the Christian community, but as one who
has been on both sides of this issue, I beseech you to forgive them. Forgive
those who have spoken or thought ill of you because of this.
Look only to God. He is the one with an open hand. Every good gift is from
the Lord. He is patient and will come to your aid as soon as you are ready.
Because you have free will, God respectfully backs off when you feel threatened.
But know that He will teach you and prepare you for more of Him if you ask
God knows how best to minister to you. For me, it was in the quiet of a pastor's
office. For some it might be the altar at church. For others it might be in
the quiet of your bedroom or prayer closet. It matters not where you are,
only that you are willing to receive all that God wants to give you. He is
gentle and wise. He will not mock you.
Don't give up on the Lord. Make yourself available to Him, be honest with
Him, put your trust in Him, and watch what miracles He will do in your life.
Comments? Send me an
e-mail. Although I may not be able to answer all responses, I will respond
to as many as possible.
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