I remember the moment when I felt the spirit move in a room for the first time. I was flat out on my face between someone's shoe and a church pew. Like most spiritual encounters, they are hard to articulate. This wasn't me. Face in the floor wasn't how I carried myself. Some might say my days then were more dignified – albeit vapid. I preferred church attendance to have more etiquette, my coat and scarf in arranged order, common book of prayer in one hand, a packet of Altoids in the other. My mind and body were fully intact, the spirit – occasionally so.
One can attend church all their lives like this. We're fed a motivating sermon, we commune for a good couple of hours, we memorize as much scripture until a migraine develops. We evangelize in the streets, we recount John Lennox quotes in an apologetic debate; but, if the scripture is not imprinted on our hearts, if we are not aware of an internal drive to be seeking the spiritual part of the triune, if we are not aware that we are spirits floating around in bodies – we might miss the entire point.
I'm a pastor at The Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry, in Redding California. So naturally, or supernaturally, the unseen takes precedence in many conversations. How do we lead a room when the Holy Spirit might have other plans? How we manoeuvre within this dimension, is something that can be worked on – but never perfected.
Making space for the spirit to move is the first key, being flexible to change steps in any given moment is a prerequisite for the job. Oh the tears we've cried when we felt like we missed it. Oh the remorse we felt if we placed our agenda in front of the Lord's. Oh the grace He showed if we did, and the tenderness in His offering of 'there will be a next time.'
As discernment for the spirit became a necessity of my relationship with the Lord, I remember waking up one morning with Him revealing this day to be a triumphant one. Any fear, hopelessness or self-questioning I was facing was about to shift.
Each day in the second year class (670 students) holds a team of pastors who watch, witness, consider, observe and negotiate the next steps. The staff meet for 45 minutes sharing what the Lord's been saying to them. One pastor shares a picture of puddle jumping, to be like kids in the face of a storm. Another shares that we must make some time for the prophetic to occur. I take note of what looks like a World War 2 bomber plane, not a common sight in Redding, and feel the Lord say that victory is at hand.
We meet with our 20 interns – teaching them about feeling the spirit in the corporate body compared to our individual sensations – for there is a difference. We stay silent to see if they're gauging the same as us. 'God's been talking to me about Matthew 18.3. And being child-like.' I look to the pastor who mentioned puddle jumping and smile.
We walk in to the main room for a day of speakers and teaching. Halfway through the first speaker, the spirit fall heavily on the students as they voluntarily begin to sing in acapella: "Let It Rain". The speaker quietly exits stage right, allowing the spirit to take center stage. A passionate stir ignites in the students. As a team, we keep talking, pastoring the room, reacting to the Holy Spirit, asking the Lord what to highlight. Worship starts up again, speakers are cut short, or cut completely. In a sea of revelry, in the corner of my eye I see students jumping invisible puddles and I'm aware, more than ever before of who is really in charge.
There is no formula. No natural timing or rhythm. For the spirit creates its own music. Just like all great music, it takes practice.
I improve by listening to those who have gone before me, ones who were engaging in the spirit while I still ate Altoids in church pews. Amanda Cook, worship leader and artist for Bethel Music said to me, "We're built as seekers. With an internal compass that continually points North, no matter what we go through. We're wired to find Him. I am more of a witness than an activist. It is in the normal, the small things through which He speaks." And Hayley Braun also a pastor in second year, she concurs: "It's all for the benefit of the church – so we move with the spirit for connection, but unto the goal of benefiting the Body of Christ so that we could be set free. For after all that was the goal of Christ – to set us free."
The Bible is as relevant today as it was decades before I found Christ within me. But there is something on discovering the vibrant move of the spirit, that made me question why we attend church. Is there fruit? Is there freedom? Are there encounters happening today that create a great history with the Lord? As I hunger more of watching the Holy Spirit take center stage, there is no other tune I'd rather dance to than to His and His alone.