Feature

The Journey

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“I’m here to get my needs met. I want my desires fulfilled.” This seems to be the mindset of many Christians today. In our worship gatherings we sing, “It is the cry of my heart to follow you” or “I surrender all.” Yet surveys tell us there is no significant difference between the lifestyles of most evangelicals and that of nonbelievers.

Why this great divorce between our belief and our behavior, especially among those of us who believe and teach the infilling of the Holy Spirit? Perhaps the answer is in our responses to the Call along the journey.

Living Examples

I was raised in a Christian home, and my family was active in a small Alliance-affiliated church that was heavily influenced by fundamentalism and the holiness movement. I remember sermons about “a Holy Ghost revival” and “being filled with the Holy Spirit,” but this kind of emphasis eventually split the church. This conflict deeply wounded me as a boy of perhaps eight or nine years of age.

My parents were part of a group of about 35 people who left this church and formed “a real Alliance church.” The pastor of the other church led the splinter group and served us for perhaps three years. I admired him but never felt close to him. Because of the church split, I had negative feelings toward anything allegedly connected to the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer.

When I was 12 years old, a new pastor brought a different flavor to the congregation. A peacemaker and an encourager, he mentored young people. Although only about 100 people attended the church, 17 of its younger members become full-time Christian workers during the next eight years. Not a lot was said about the Holy Spirit, but a lot was lived before us. I liked that.

How Can We Know?

I attended college at John Brown University, which was not an Alliance school. The Bible faculty comprised an American Baptist, a Presbyterian and a brother from the Christian Church. They were refreshing and unguarded in their relationships with one another and the students. Their theological differences did not interfere with their friendship.

While taking graduate classes, I was called to pursue licensing with The Christian and Missionary Alliance. The pastor at the church I was attending gave me some tips about the interview process. One, he told me, be sure to read the C&MA doctrinal statement, and two, be careful of Mr. “E,” who was on the Ordination Council. My pastor said that he and Mr. E didn’t agree on much and avoided speaking to one another.

At first, I accepted this type of strife as normal. After all, it was similar to my past experience. Later, I began to wrestle with the pastor’s strained relationship with Mr. E. What did it mean to be a fully devoted follower of Christ? I thought. If Christian leaders cannot disagree amicably, what does it mean to be filled with the Holy Spirit? How can I know if I’m sanctified?

New Insight

The first new light that came to me was through the discovery of an old hymn that I had sung as a boy: A. B. Simpson’s song Himself. I understood Simpson saying in this hymn that the Holy Spirit’s work was to put forward Jesus and to make us like Him. I realized that the key to living the deeper life was to seek Jesus and His fullness rather than being diverted by lesser things.

At the Alliance ordination examination, I knew I would be drilled not only about my beliefs on the work of the Holy Spirit but also about my personal experience. I said to Wendell Price, my colleague and peer mentor, “I’m not sure when I was filled with the Holy Spirit.”

I told him about my conversion at age 7 and mentioned that as a teenager I had dedicated my whole life to God. “Don,” he assured me, “this is when you were filled with the Holy Spirit.”

So these were the answers I gave to the members of the Ordination Council, who seemed to accept them. In the 50 years since, I do not recall anyone ever asking me if I was presently “walking in the Spirit.”

As I continued to walk with God and study the Scriptures, I learned that the command of Ephesians 5:18 in Greek was literally “_be being_ filled with the Spirit.” The filling was to be a continuous experience. Slowly it dawned on me that my testimony about when I thought I was filled with the Spirit was not nearly as significant as whether I was presently demonstrating that God was infilling my life. I later realized that in the Book of Acts, the apostle Paul gave testimony of his conversion three times but never talked about when he had been filled with the Holy Spirit.

Reconciliation

After four decades of ministry, I am learning that “seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” is what really matters. It is easy to mistake the voice of God for my own wounded ego. I have matured the most through a half dozen crises in my ministry, each of which was an attack on my own needs.

Unfortunately, I have also found that many Bible-believing churches do not handle conflict well. Because of the painful church split in my childhood, I long for the Bride of Christ to be a community of love and unity. To help Christians heal wounded egos and emotions, I have been a trained reconciler with Peacemaker Ministries for the last decade.

To learn from others on the spiritual journey, I have discovered and devoured the writings of Henri Nouwen, Philip Yancey and Thomas Merton on the issue of full surrender to the deeper life. I think my brother, Paul Bubna, said it well in his booklet Christ and the Crisis:

If we are to experience the fullness of the Spirit’s life within us, there is something that needs to die. Our Lord’s call to His disciples was a call to the cross. “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). Bonfoeffer wrote from a Nazi prison camp where he later died, “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.”

Trust and Obey

Recently, I was reflecting on the Alliance logo mounted on the wall in my church. Without forgetting my failures and inadequacies, I was repeating prayerfully in my heart, “Jesus is my Savior, Jesus is my Sanctifier . . .” It was a special moment of worship.

Can becoming a fully devoted follower of Christ, or being filled with the Spirit, be as simple as trusting and obeying the prompting of the Holy Spirit from situation to situation in a way that reflects Jesus? Is it really about humility and servanthood? Is it really about giving up my own agenda and putting His Kingdom first? Is it really about the Holy Spirit quietly and continuously conforming me to the image of Christ?

Yes! My commitment to becoming a fully devoted follower will result in my becoming like Him! God wants to be my helper in my responses to hurts to my ego. He wants me to be a peacemaker in my family, our church, our neighborhood—and the world!

As I continue the pursuit of the Holy, I have chosen to allow God to sanctify my motives. My journey now reflects the prayer of Thomas Merton:

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.

Himself

by A. B. Simpson

Once it was the blessing, Now it is the Lord; Once it was the feeling, Now it is His Word; Once His gift I wanted, Now the Giver own; Once I sought for healing, Now Himself alone.

Once ’twas painful trying, now ’tis perfect trust; Once a half salvation, Now the uttermost! Once ’twas ceaseless holding, Now he holds me fast; Once ’twas constant drifting, Now my anchor’s cast.

Once ’twas busy planning, Now ’tis trustful prayer; Once ’twas anxious caring, Now He has the care; Once ’twas what I wanted, Now what Jesus says; Once ’twas constant asking, Now ’tis ceaseless praise.

Once it was my working, His it hence shall be; Once I tried to use Him, Now He uses me; Once the power I wanted, Now the Mighty One; Once for self I labored, Now for Him alone.

Once I hoped in Jesus, now I know He’s mine; Once my lamps were dying, Now they brightly shine; Once for death I waited, Now His coming hail; And my hopes are anchored, Safe within the vail.

Chorus: All in all forever, Jesus will I sing: Everything in Jesus, And Jesus everything.

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