I first encountered the whole "spiritual gifts" thing - baptism in the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues - way back in 1982. I was working in London, teaching in a city school in the North east area - the last stop on the Victoria line of the underground, at a place called Walthamstow. I was involved in a Methodist Church at the time, very much a part of the youth group, although at 24 years of age I was one of the older "youth".
I think it must have been the Easter of 1982 when all the youth went off to Spring Harvest. I have been to big national get-togethers since, but this one really sticks out in the memory. I had never encountered anything remotely Charismatic or Pentecostal up until that point. As far as my church background went, I had been brought up in a Roman Catholic home, and for a few short weeks after I asked Jesus to come and live in my heart, I went to a Plymouth Brethren church. For the three years up until this particular holiday, I had been pretty much settled in the Methodist Church. Nothing really prepared me for the Holy Spirit.
It happened right at the end of a worship meeting. I had been used to hymns - twice through and then you sit down. In the youth group we sang choruses - twice through and then you sit down. At the end of this meeting, however, people began to sing in the Spirit, and in tongues - a language only God could understand. There was just this rising wave of a melody that was unplanned.
It totally freaked me out! The music, the singing - I could handle, but the sense of God's presence was so strong that I was literally pushed to my knees. People talk about the fear of God and use words like respect and honour. That afternoon, I was terrified. I was just waiting for this bolt of lightning to hit, so conscious that God could see all of me, nothing hidden, everything exposed.
For weeks afterwards I couldn't step over the door of the church, or open my Bible at home without this same fear just flooding through me. I was seriously frightened. I had lived a "normal" safe Christian existence up to this point, entirely comfortable with church and hymns and order and ritual (for want of a better word), and all that seemed to be gone. I didn't know what to do and friends just advised me to "let it happen" and see where "it" took me.
I didn't take my friends' advice. It was too scary and I hated feeling out of control. So I ran away, basically. The chance of a job in a church based primary school in a Cyprus came up and I snatched it. There were other things that I was running away from too - but I was certainly running away from that level of intimacy with God.
I guess God had made up his mind that I wasn't going to get away. After three safe years tucked away in the Plymouth Brethren church, (where the activity of the Holy Spirit is very carefully managed), this thing started up again. My mother had become a Christian and the activity of the Holy Spirit in her life was just phenomenal. Under His care she blossomed and flourished and didn't seem to stagger from one crisis to another like I did.
Well to cut a long story short, eventually the Holy Spirit caught up with me, and I embraced, very timidly, everything that was on offer. I am not saying that I was a lesser Christian before then, and a more spiritual one afterwards - I just found a new love, a new way of relating that was vibrant.
There have been few occasions as compelling and awesome as my Spring Harvest encounter. I don't think I could handle it is it was an everyday experience.
Having said that, yesterday I came close. I was spending time in the presence of God. We were chatting about gifts and talents, and the next step of faith. I can't explain exactly what happened next - but I began to sense a real excitement - not in my heart, but in God's - He was getting excited about something. There was this sense of expectation, like when people suddenly go silent and hold their breath. God was holding his breath. I got the impression that spiritually - all the "planets" had lined up - that the right conditions needed for something monumental to happen had just occurred. His excitement boiled down to one thing - my next step of faith.
At this point I got scared - the same sense of fear, the same falling onto my knees as before. I know some people have a desire to see into the heavelies - they see spiritual beings whether angels or demons. I know that this particular step of faith was to allow God to peel back the heavens, not to frighten me, but to reassure me that there is a very real heavenly realm and that He is seated on his throne. In His hands I am entirely safe, and the future that He wants to lead me into is prosperous and full of hope. It is a good future - but a little bit scary - and so I got up and went to make a cup of tea!
I haven't made the step yet. I recognsie that my vision is limited - it is to self centred and small. I believe that at that moment, God was ready to let me see a little more. I don't think the moment is gone - it wasn't just that once in a life time - miss it and it is gone kind of expereince. Just like for weeks after my Spring harvest encounter I was hounded - I have to admit to being a little bit wary of opening my Bible, or stepping into God's presence! What is stopping me? It is probably something to do with hating to be out of cantrol. I don't really know - but I know that something has already changed in me. I sense it. I am freaking myself out just thinking about it, so i think I might just go and make myslef another cup of tea.