The first time I entered a charismatic conference as a teenager, I was stunned. As a pastor’s kid who had grown up in a small, moderately conservative church, the sheer volume of people in the room floored me. The volume of the bass was like a magnet, and soon I was jumping, clapping and raising my hands with the best of them. Prior to this day I had known the Holy Spirit, but that evening in a massive stadium, I felt like I met it (or Him) in a whole new way.
Since that day, I’ve seen both extremes of Christianity: The side of the pendulum where a room of people start speaking in strange tongues, to a service where I was looking to my friend for cues on when to sit, stand, speak and accept Holy Communion. Through these experiences, I have observed that we in the Church have a tendency to forget there is more than one way to meet with God, and as such, His Spirit.
We all have different ideas about we perceive as the problem with Christian spirituality. If you attend a conservative church, some label you “un-spiritual,” and if you attend a charismatic church, some may say you are “too spiritual.” We see churches focusing solely on the Word and shying away from mentioning the Spirit much at all—churches that make little room for the Spirit to move and minister. And on the other hand, we see congregations so completely manifested in the Spirit that they intimidate newcomers with prophecy, gold dust and slayings in the Spirit—churches so focused on the Spirit that they forget the importance of the Word.
Neither side is intrinsically bad. We have seen God work through people of varying denominations and styles of worship for millennia. But what happens when we lean so far to one side of the scale that we lose hold of who God is and what He has asked us to do on earth?
And this doesn’t just apply to churches. In our own lives we all have a natural leniency in how we respond to the Spirit, and some people express this more visibly than others. But these activities, when fuelled by our own strength and without wisdom from God, can be detrimental to our faith and our lives. In this, the problem with Christian spirituality is that we often focus more on the Spirit or on the Word, when in reality they are inseparable.
If we ignore the Spirit, aren’t we ignoring a fundamental aspect of what makes us believers? Jesus Himself told us we would be filled with his Spirit.
“And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept Him, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. But you know Him, for He lives with you and will be in you” (John 14:16-17).
Therefore, a Christian life walked in ignorance to the Spirit is denying God the opportunity to work through us here on earth.
Alternatively, what happens when we focus too much on the spiritual? We know that the supernatural realm is real and that God can do miracles on earth through his Spirit (John 14:12). Yet there is danger is hyper focusing on it, especially if we are naïve or unprepared for what we may encounter. As Paul says,
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12).
Whatever your experience of the Spirit is, it is imperative that we keep ourselves from leaning too far one way or the other on the pendulum. To do this, we must seek out God and His Word in all we do. We can assess how healthy our relationship with God is by taking stock of the fruit in our lives.
Where there is the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control; God is present and His Spirit is moving. Where there is a lack of these things, it is time for us to draw back to the Word and what it says about the Spirit. However we worship, let us do it in spirit and truth so that we live our lives to the fullest for God and see His fruit in our lives.