(This is the first of a three part series on actually experiencing the power of the Holy Spirit for life and ministry/ aka baptism and filling, from a fresh perspective.)
Imagine me bent over my desk trying to come up with a powerful sermon. In spite of seeking to communicate the power of the Word, in spite of praying, I feel powerless. You’ve probably felt the same way. If you have the Type A personality, you may have just tried to “power through” on your own steam. Did the steam ever fizzle out? Worse yet, if you’re Type B, could you generate enough steam in the first place?
Powerlessness is part of contemporary life, along with anxiety and stress. In ministry, in particular, I have often felt a significant lack of power or spiritual authority. Many times, I have wrestled for personal purity and holiness, only to fail again and again. The individuals or couples I pleaded with to make a godly choice, a loving choice−often I watched them fall into sin and brokenness. I have lost friends and ministry partners to fatal illness or moral failure. As a community of faith, we had prayed and entreated the Lord to bring healing and restoration, but to no avail.
The Scriptures reveal that God wants us to live and minister with His authority, His effectiveness−not to remain in a tepid state of powerlessness. As a normal part of spiritual growth, He calls us to wear the mantle of power and authority.
Jesus himself emphasized the Holy Spirit’s empowering as a crucial aspect of kingdom ministry and life. He had a plan, a plan to “power-up.” First, he modeled the plan by submitting to Holy Spirit baptism (through John the Baptist.) Then he articulated it to the disciples. In his own ministry, he depended on the Spirit’s empowering. Finally, the early church lived this plan out. Acts and the Letters also demonstrate that “powering-up” wasn’t simply a one-time event. It continued and grew. Just like we need to gas-up the car on a regular basis, we can’t operate effectively without “powering-up” in the Spirit. Many of us today have never understood this plan. We have continued to live and minister through our own power and resources, not the Lord’s.
Announcing the Power Plan
It actually wasn’t Jesus who initially announced this power plan, but John the Baptist. Central to John’s “preparing the way” for the Messiah, it appears in all four gospels:
“I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” Mark 1: 8
This was a key aspect of John’s message, and yet the baptism in the Spirit (“powering-up”) plan has run amok in many parts of the church. From Pentecostals to Evangelicals, I have heard some confusing and perplexing arguments. All of this has kept much of the church in a powerless place.
A Biblical Precedent for the Power Plan:
John announced a certain kind of baptism that the Messiah would bring. I have wondered how his original audience understood this. As first century Jews, they probably understood the reference to the Spirit of God. Did they think back to any Old Testament stories? One story in particular serves as a foreshadowing to the idea of “powering-up.”
In Numbers, the people complained about having only manna to eat. Moses got fed up with their complaints and so he complained to God about their complaining. He complained that there were just too many people to shepherd, especially when they complained!
The Lord answered all the complaints. He sent so many quail that they came out of their nostrils−literally. Gross! Then he told Moses to gather seventy of Israel’s elders at the tent of meeting.
I will come down and speak with you there, and I will take some of the power of the Spirit that is on you and put it on them. They will share the burden of the people with you so that you will not have to carry it alone. Numbers 11: 17
How interesting is that regarding leadership? The Lord doesn’t talk about a formal education process. There was no Sinai School of Ministry to enroll in, a leadership retreat, a Desert Discipleship program, or required ministry experience. The Lord arranged for one thing and one thing only, the power of the Holy Spirit to rest upon them.
Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke with him, and he took some of the power of the Spirit that was on him [Moses] and put it on the seventy elders. When the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied−but did not do so again. Numbers 11:25
Did you notice? First, this empowering was only for the leaders within Israel. It wasn’t for the whole community, only for its leadership. Second, this story wasn’t about their conversion, their salvation. This was about the leadership “powering-up,” about ministry. Finally, they did not speak in tongues, but they did experience an outward manifestation of the Spirit upon them, they prophesied. This prophesying wasn’t meant to be an ongoing gift but was a sign of the Spirit’s empowering.
My favorite part of the story is what happened next. Apparently two of the elders, Eldad and Medad, missed the memo and didn’t make it to the tent of meeting. Regardless, God sent His Spirit to rest upon them and they started to prophesy as well. Joshua perceived this as a challenge to Moses’ leadership and wanted Moses to stop them, but listen:
But Moses replied, “Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all [emphasis mine] the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!” (vs. 29)
Moses wanted everybody, all of God’s children, to be empowered by the Spirit for life and ministry. As we will see in the next article, this becomes what I call a Prophetic Wish. This story and this wish would lay the foundation for what John the Baptist would proclaim. Jesus would come and fulfill the wish. Then, all God’s children would have the opportunity to “power-up.”