September 5, 2008 by

Close Encounters of the First Kind–The Holy Spirit in My Life


Categories: food for thought, My Story, post-charismatic

So I just found out about Robbymac’s synchroblog this morning (via Barb and Sarah)–the one encouraging people (especially post-charismatics) to tell our stories of “how we first became acquainted with, and eager for, the felt presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives.” And I was like, “Hey, I wanna do that, too!” 🙂 So here ya go.

I was raised until about age 10 in the Episcopal church. My divorced mom was devout, and I remember she and I being the only attendees many times at early morning Lent services (only one of us actually being a willing participant).

One Sunday morning, our priest announced a special meeting with a weird name that was taking place somewhere else in the small town we lived in–a thing called “Camp Farthest Out.” I was probably 8 or 9. I had no idea what it was, only that I thought the name was funny. But Mom took us. All I really remember was there was a lot of people packed into a Presbyterian church, and a guy was playing guitar and leading us in songs in front. This was unusual to me because up to that point all the music I’d experienced in church was organs and hymns. The other thing was that he was encouraging us to raise our hands in worship. A few people were, but it was scattered, and sometimes sort of a half-mast kind of thing. You could tell most of the people were uncomfortable with it. I don’t remember whether I raised my hands or not; all I remember is I really liked the idea, and there was a feeling of life in the place I couldn’t describe at my age–but I felt it. And I liked it a lot. I remember wishing our church services were like this one. And I remember wishing all of us had the courage to raise our hands. (And I remember wondering if our priest would have re-thought his announcement if he knew this stuff was going on in church.) I believe this was probably my first “close encounter” with the manifest presence of the Holy Spirit.

Meanwhile, in her own spiritual journey, my mom became involved in the Word-Faith movement. It was mostly through teaching tapes, and through a friendship she had with a woman in our church. But then it graduated to watching TV shows like “The 700 Club.” She became a Bible studying Jesus freak, and she and her friend would get together for hours and smoke cigarettes and study the Bible. I listened to some of the tapes, too, when I was bored. I especially liked the preachers who were funny. And I looked up the Scriptures in my Bible just to see if I could find them. But in that process…God began to sow His word into my heart.

And then some of the preachers would talk about “speaking in tongues.” I asked my mom what that was, and she told me about praying in the Spirit. I asked her if she could do that, and she said yes. She had gotten baptized in the Holy Spirit one day while she had been praying alone. I asked her if I could hear her speak in tongues, and she said she didn’t feel right about just doing it to show me she could. But then one day at my grandma’s house I got a terrible headache–the kind that makes you panic and cry, which of course just makes the headache worse. And my mom took me into the bathroom, closed the door, held me in her arms to calm me down, and prayed for God to remove the headache, and then she prayed in tongues. I heard it. It was the most myterious, supernatural-sounding, beautiful thing I’d heard. I calmed down, and my head got a bit better. I said, “Mom, you prayed in tongues!” And she said, “Shhh!” (The relatives outside didn’t believe in that stuff, and she didn’t want to have to explain herself.) So I got very peaceful, and went to sleep, and the headache went away.

And I began to see other changes in my mom’s life, too, from the Holy Spirit being in her life. The first time she tried to quit smoking, she was so ornery and yelling all the time that I begged her to take it up again. (YOU try being the only kid in the house when Mom is trying to stop smoking.) But then she tried again, and I barely noticed the difference in her nature. Something was different; it was apparent the Holy Spirit was helping her, empowering her to quit, beyond her own strength, and she wasn’t shouting at me. I was very grateful to the Holy Spirit.

And then…it was time for my own encounter with the Holy Spirit. My parents had reunited after a nine-year divorce (another story on its own). We went one night to a Full Gospel Businessmen’s meeting at a hotel. I was eleven at the time, and I went into the children’s meeting while my parents went to the main meeting. It wasn’t anything like Sunday school at the Episcopal church, or for that matter, like many children’s church meetings today. This guy was serious. He was praying for kids to be healed, telling us about God’s power…all the stuff my Mom had been telling me about. And then he asked if anyone wanted to speak in tongues. I did. So all of us who wanted it were corralled into another room to pray.

This was my first experience, so I didn’t know about any right or wrong way to baptize people in the Spirit; but looking back, this was more like your typical trying-to-get-people-to-speak-in-tongues kind of deal. You pray a prayer, and then they tell you to just “do it”, and then they speak in tongues loudly in front of you (or in your ear) to help you know how it’s done. A lot of the kids had some really scary looks on their faces. But when you really want something from God, He meets you despite the weird stuff people around you are doing. And I wanted this. And He gave it to me. Not only did I speak in tongues that night (and almost every day since), but I was energized with this incredible sense of joy and empowerment and presence. (I wouldn’t have used those words then; I just felt “good.” But that’s what it was.)

Since that time, I’ve encountered God’s manifest presence many times–in worship, lying in bed at night, just about anywhere. I’ve experienced specific “moves of God” (like the “Father’s Blessing” that Sarah referred to). I recognize the Holy Spirit as a Person–the “Comforter” Jesus talked about. And I have heard the Holy Spirit speak life-changing words into my heart that have been all but audible.

So in case you were wondering…yes, I am I tongue-talking Christian. I don’t consider myself post-charismatic because I stopped believing in this stuff. I just began to see all the extra hype and hoopla, and things we add onto it, for what it is–stuff that actually make people’s experiences with God seem less real. I don’t like how people identify themselves and differentiate themselves from others with being charismatic–as though speaking in tongues makes them more evolved than their brothers and sisters who are “just saved.” To the early church, their identity was in Christ, not in spiritual gifts.

But I believe in tossing the bathwater, and keeping the baby. I don’t criticize anyone else’s experience, or see myself as different or better than others over the issue of speaking in tongues. To me, the Holy Spirit is real, and He fills my life, and He is precious to me. That is all. I simply cannot imagine living without His presence. This is the part we need to keep, and to hold dear.

Musician. Composer. Recovering perfectionist. Minister-in-transition. Lover of puns. Hijacker of rock song references. Questioner of the status quo. I'm not really a rebel. Just a sincere Christ-follower with a thirst for significance that gets me into trouble. My quest has taken me over the fence of institutional Christianity. Here are some of my random thoughts along the way. Read along, join in the conversation. Just be nice.

11 Responses to Close Encounters of the First Kind–The Holy Spirit in My Life

  1. grace

    I enjoyed reading about your experience. I also agree with your concerns about differentiating based upon charismatic experiences. I believe it has caused unnecessary division in the body of Christ. I hope that some people who might not identify themselves as “charismatic” will also share their experiences with the Holy Spirit.

  2. Sarah

    It’s cool to hear your story, Jeff. I totally relate to the last two paragraphs, and agree. It’s funny – having been a YWAMer, I got more exposure to lots of different denominational backgrounds. Recently, a fellow YWAMer and I were swapping stories about our respective religious cultures’ paradigm of pride. From the perspective of her non-charismatic culture, charismatics were just ‘fanatics’ who were overly emotional and not rationally stable about their faith, while her denomination was the more mature brand. I laughed because the charismatic culture I came out of exhibited the same pride, thinking they were the more ‘matured’ version because of the spiritual experience element. Funny, the pride of man! Well, not really. Sad, actually. Needless to say, both of us could relate to rejecting that us-and-them mentality.

  3. Stacy

    Your second to last paragraph is me too, only you say it much better. My hubby and I are in a church right now that doesn’t teach tongue-talking, although they don’t have much negative to say about it either. I’ve been to churches who teach that it is a necessary sign of being saved, and I don’t agree with that at all.

  4. Lightbearer


    Thanks for sharing the story of your spiritual walk. It always interesting hearing how others come to faith in Christ and about the jouney on which the Lord has brought them.

    I thoroughly identify with your last 3 paragraphs.


  5. Jonathan Stegall

    Hi Jeff,

    I’m really enjoying this whole series, and your post really brings praying in tongues to the front of my mind in a way that it hasn’t been in a while. At this time, I’m involved with a church that hasn’t addressed issues like this, and it’s okay because I don’t want it to be a divisive issue either… but I want to encourage experience of the presence of God there.

    In any case, it’s great to see a story like this, and have such things brought to the forefront of my thinking. Thanks for being involved in this.

  6. Mork

    Jeff –
    I thankyou for “giving it a go” – I find this synchroblog – to be the best I have had the pleasure of reading.

    I too believe in keeping the baby.

    Thankyou for your honesty, no you have always been honest – thankyou for your openess …

    God does indeed act out and inside time and space!!!

  7. Jeff McQ

    I find it interesting how I used to be in a charismatic culture in which it was “uncool” NOT to be a tongue-talker; and now I’m around a culture where it’s almost “don’t-ask-don’t-tell”. 🙂 Charismatics in a post-charismatic culture are almost a bit hesitant to share their experience for concern of being labeled.

    Your comment brought to mind an important reminder–and that is that the Holy Spirit is also working in the lives of those who wouldn’t call themselves “charismatic”, who either haven’t had the charismatic experience or don’t even believe in it theologically. Holy Spirit is still present with them, and I imagine we could learn some things from their experiences…

    I’ve had lots of people relate to the end of my piece…which makes me sort of glad they read to the end, I guess. 🙂 I think the pride issue here stems from a need for identity–and humans (Christians included) are notorious for taking their identity from the wrong things.

    Thanks. 🙂

    Interestingly, this is sort of how our house church operates. Just about everyone there is charismatic, but we rarely talk about it–not because of shame or fear, but because to us it’s just a normal part of the Christian life, and not something we draw our identity from.

    Jodi, thanks for chiming in. I’ll take a look at your post.

    I think this particular synchroblog is a great idea overall, and has given us a window into the lives of other bloggers. Thanks for the encouragement.

    Thanks for chiming in. It’s been a privilege to participate.

    Thanks again for the encouraging words. It has been a neat experience, to be sure.

  8. Kansas Bob

    What a great way to start my morning Jeff.. your story is so encouraging because it is so real and nonreligious. It brought me back to my experiences with the Full Gospel Businessman in the late 70s. Though we are a bit different age-wise (all right – I am ancient) I think that we are fairly similar experience wise. Job well done Jeff.

    I especially liked this..

    “their identity was in Christ, not in spiritual gifts” speaks to the naturalness of spiritual life.. as we walk in/with the Spirit He manifests himself in us in fruit and gifts.. each a reflection of His character.

    Happy Weekend!

  9. Ginny

    ‘”I just began to see all the extra hype and hoopla, and things we add onto it, for what it is–stuff that actually make people’s experiences with God seem less real. I don’t like how people identify themselves and differentiate themselves from others with being charismatic–as though speaking in tongues makes them more evolved than their brothers and sisters who are “just saved.” To the early church, their identity was in Christ, not in spiritual gifts.”
    Great point. I have been part of a group that speaking in tongues is a vital part of, as well as the other 8 manifestations of holy spirit as described in I Corinthians 12-14. These are tools by which we can really help people.

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