You have sent Your Spirit
to renew the face of the earth
Speaking in Tongues .uk
I had become a Christian in the autumn of 1979 in a small village called Kilmartin (above) in the Scottish Highlands. I had never known a personal relationship with God but without my knowledge a group of local Christians had started praying for me, and after a car crash I met for the first time with Jesus Christ in a room by myself and, unbeknown to me, on the same night as my car crash a member of the Kilmartin Fellowship had been caught up in spiritual prayer in tongues. The Fellowship, based at Nether Largie in the Kilmartin Valley and led by Ken MacDougall, was on hand to explain the gospel to me: a gospel of repentance, conversion and grace which I had encountered for myself and which was then shown to me in the words of the bible.
In the months that followed I discovered that my untaught experience was shared by many others and, indeed, had been shared by the earliest Christians in accounts written down in the Bible. It was a blessing of God, in the early and formative days of my Christian experience, to find shelter and spiritual teaching in a charismatic Christian fellowship where prophecy and speaking in tongues was part of a day to day life with God. But the most wonderful thing was not simply the manifestation of the Holy Spirit but the presence of the risen Jesus Christ with us, there with us, always with us, waiting to be welcomed and received.
The following spring I found myself walking in the hills above Kilmartin, with the Hebrides sparkling over the waters to the west, and the day so full of beauty and life - and I was filled with a longing and readiness for yet more of God's presence in my life. I remembered the words in Romans about "all creation waiting on tiptoe for the sons and daughters to come into their own" and my heart said, Yes, this is right and there is so much beauty and grace in God and all God's creation - even me. By this time I was aware of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit and the way God wanted, longed, to come upon us, and fill us in a way which would bring us yet more alive in the life of the wonderful Holy Spirit. I shared this with Ken and other members of the Fellowship and it seemed a normal part of Christian experience to them, so they prayed with me and laid hands on me. At that moment, and without fanfare, I just knew and accepted that I had received God's Holy Spirit in a charismatic sense in my heart. I didn't suddenly see a vision or speak in tongues or anything. It was simply an acceptance in faith in my heart.
I had become a Christian after a disastrous night of drinking and a car crash which left me in an overturned wrecked car filling with water. At that moment I had confronted death and assumed this was simply my turn to die. There had been a chaotic tumble of headlights, then the rolling and rolling, and then utter darkness. And in that darkness and submerged going under I seemed to be led by an inexplicable hand through a hole in the undercarriage where my feet had been, and I emerged from the water alive on a lonely lane as thick sea-fog prevented me seeing anything more than a few yards in front of me. The Bible says: "The Light shines on in the darkness and the darkness will never overwhelm it." The crash made me confront the life I was leading, and where it was leading, and there followed wholly unexpected tears - crying as I had not done since I was a child - followed by a sleep, from which I awoke in a lonely room to an experience of light, the whole room seemingly bathed in light, and a person present who I had no doubt was Jesus Christ, because he told me so deep in my heart.
After I had become a Christian, and after I had been baptised in the Holy Spirit, I still suffered from a real fear of travelling in cars: the experience of that night haunted me and I hadn't been able to let it go. One day I shared this with a couple of Christian women and as they prayed they reminded me that "Perfect Love casts out fear" and they laid hands on my head. I felt the Holy Spirit come and with my eyes shut I just felt this really light and gentle feeling and saw a picture of butterflies (I can't explain that - it sounds really sappy!) and then for the first time I found myself speaking spontaneously in tongues and knowing my Jesus with me as fear was replaced with the strong love of God. And do you know what? Since that day I have always been able to speak in tongues, not because I am any holier than anyone who doesn't (I may well be less and I'm often failing God!) but simply because God gave me this as a gift and wanted me to have it.
The Holy Spirit is the comforter, protector, joy-bringer. The Holy Spirit has feelings because the Holy Spirit is God at work in our lives and our world. I had become a Christian in a part of Scotland which was beautiful and historic, steeped in the presence of the Celts and those who had gone before. Just along the road from Nether Largie, where we met at a farmhouse to worship, were the standing stones of Temple Wood (pictured above at bluebell time). The whole Kilmartin Valley is full of history and somehow, along the fringes of so much beauty and history, the supernatural just seemed part of the cycle of our lives and, anyway, the supernatural was a part of my Christian experience from the outset. Not that you go looking for the supernatural, which can be a serious diversion, but why shouldn't God intervene supernaturally in our lives in so many sweet and personal ways when God is, truly, God?
However, the years pass by and I moved to be closer to my parents, and my father was taken from us with cancer and - later - Ken MacDougall himself was taken to be with Jesus. I was now working as a school teacher (this was before I retrained as a nurse), living in a town called Berkhamsted, and attending a church called Sunnyside - a Church of England church although, of course, the denomination is hardly relevant. To me there are simply Christians and I came to realise that God was working charismatically in Christians who were Baptists, Christians who were Anglicans, Christians who were Catholics, Christians who were simply Christians. Without going into the details, I want to tell you that I have found the Gift of the Holy Spirit and the gift of tongues that followed to be true blessings in my life and a source of many good things. Sometimes pictures have accompanied these tongues, once a vision, and once something so particular that I am not going to write about it here. But more normally, I have found that I can speak in tongues in prayer to God, or sing in tongues, at any time at all. It is as straightforward in my life (though still to be revered) as turning on a tap to get water.
And in one sense that image is quite helpful. The experience of tongues for me has been like the way water flows. The words come to me and through me in a flow, which is also a knowledge and awareness of the presence of God. It is not, in any way, outside my control. I can stop at anytime. I am in charge, because God respects our identity and our free will. Admittedly there have been times when the tongues have been urgent and almost overwhelming, but the Holy Spirit is personal, tender, gentle and so protective of us. Sometimes in ministry to others, the gift of tongues has been given to one person and explanation of the message given to another. Sometimes, I have found the gift of tongues coming at a time of spiritual warfare and intense prayer, when I have been praying for someone. Sometimes I have found myself "taken up" in prayer in tongues, without knowing who or what I am praying for... very much in the way the Christian prayed in tongues on the night of my car crash without any idea of what had happened along a lonely fog-swept road... but knowing, as he explained later, that he needed to pray and that the prayer wouldn't stop but just kept coming.
I find this sweet gift from God such a help in all kinds of ways in my private day-to-day life and I know it's not about my holiness at all, but all about God and the way Godwants - in different ways - to draw close in people's lives and be with them and live in fellowship with them. I fully accept that different Christians encounter God in different ways, and some of the people I have respected most deeply in my life have had no experience of this Gift of Tongues. Because what counts is God - our great High King and Servant King - and God's faithfulness (far far more than ours!) and deep desire to share in our lives and stay with us and bring us into joyful and eternal fellowship in the household of the Trinity.
Do I think the Gift of Tongues is a big deal? Yes I do actually. I won't demean the gift God has given to so many people, or deny the experience of the Holy Spirit in my life. Does the Baptism of the Holy Spirit make me "Holy" in some way? Not really - I don't know about you but I mess up so often in my life, sometimes very badly, wounding other people. I'm like a child who stumbles and falls and stumbles and falls. And yet, this great God is always faithful and waiting to pick us up again. God's love and goodness don't change. God is constant and faithful. Does the Baptism in the Holy Spirit make me aware of God in any way? Well yes, I think it was a specific event for me, and almost like a kind of love-gift and 'branding'. I don't think I could be quite the same afterwards. Put it this way: it was part of the way God chose to be disclosed to me.
But we are all made in so many different ways, we are all special to God. For me, my conversion was as sudden and seemingly unsolicited as Paul being called to repent on the road to Damascus. Before, I had no knowledge of a personal God, and no-one had explained the Gospel to me or how you became a Christian. Similarly, when I was Baptised in the Spirit, I know when it happened and I only found out afterwards how all this could be outworked in my life. But I love the description of some Christians for whom "being born again" is an altogether more gentle experience, likened to walking through the heather between England and Scotland. You know in the morning you are in England, you know in the evening you are in Scotland, but you can't say exactly when you crossed the border. All you know was that the day was lovely, the hills were beautiful, the sun sometimes shone, and you have arrived!
The Love of God looks to break into our lives like sunshine in so many different ways! The tender care of God longs to draw close and touch us and Jesus longs for us to welcome Him each day, in our homes, at work, in our hearts, in our actions. The Holy Spirit is like a constantly flowing river. The Spirit is the flow of God in our lives. And the outworking - how we let God guide and direct us and how we live - isn't just one spiritual experience. It is a lifetime and it is life. The life God invites us to live. It is a life we may choose to live in the context of God. A life where we try to keep our hearts open to the kindness and sanity of God. A life dignified by the death and commitment that Jesus undertook for each one of us. A life dignified by the presence and constancy of Jesus Christ: the only person who came back from death to never die again... because "the Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never put it out".
There is a word from God in the Psalms which says: "I send my Spirit, to renew the face of the Earth."
Isn't that amazing? "Behold, I am making all things new!" says God. And part of spiritual renewal - in our lives, in our church, in our community - is about the work of God's Holy Spirit, renewing us into the image of God: the person who humanity was modelled on, the creator who made us to belong. God wants to reclaim and restore people, and wants us to say, Yes! However many times we sin or mess up, God wants us to reclaim our best, reclaim the beautiful image that God so desires for us, and reclaim life in fullness of grace and fellowship with the holy and heavenly lover of our souls. More than that, God looks at our world and sends the Holy Spirit - the Spirit of the living Jesus - to renew the face of the earth.
The Son of God, Jesus, stretched out his arms and called every single person to God that they too might become sons and daughters of God. And then He shed his life blood and committed himself to each person to the point of no turning back, a total commitment given once and for all time. God the Father raised him back to life, and Jesus showed himself over many days to His disciples. Before he returned to heaven, he assured them "I will send my Holy Spirit!" And the followers of Jesus waited for the Spirit to come. "When the Spirit comes" Jesus said "you will receive power and you will be my witnesses."
So I witness to this Jesus Christ.
"And when the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like a mighty wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them." (Acts 2:1-4)
Then Peter stood up and told those who wondered what was happening:
"Let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These men are not drunk, as you suppose. It's only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: "In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people."
There are other accounts in the New Testament of the work of the Holy Spirit. Many people to this day bear witness to the ways in which they encounter the Holy Spirit in their lives (or the lives of those around them). May God, in God's own way and your own way, bless you and keep you and send the Holy Spirit to you.
The Spirit of Jesus Christ
author: susannah clark email: thecommunity (at) gmail (dot) com