When God's presence comes it can look like a whole host of different things. Some people shake and some people laugh. Other people experience a deep peace and still others feel nothing.
If we want to be churches that prioritise God's presence, we have to create an environment where people can meet with God however He chooses to come, without the fear of being judged.
We see God's presence coming in different ways in scripture. At Jesus' baptism we're told that the Holy Spirit came and rested on Jesus like a dove. The truth is that doves are incredibly jumpy birds. We have some who come and eat the seeds on our bird feeder. You only have to make the slightest movement in the kitchen and they fly away, startled. In order for a dove to land on a person, that person would need to be still and calm and full of peace - especially if the dove was to remain for any length of time.
The Holy Spirit descended on Jesus like a dove. I don't think the Holy Spirit is easily startled like doves are, but I do think He is able to remain in some environments more easily than others. I do think, for example, that if we're always in a rush or we're always tied to getting through a schedule, we'll miss out on experiencing the Holy Spirit like a dove. I also think that if we haven't gone on a personal journey of inner healing - allowing God to put His finger on and bind up wounds in our heart - we won't experience as much of God's peace as is actually available to us. If we have inner turmoil, the Holy Spirit (dove) will find it challenging to land.
The Holy Spirit comes like a dove, and when He does, it can look like nothing much is happening. People are still and usually silent. They may express some gentle emotion and be receiving some deep and profound revelation. On the outside it's quiet as most of what's going on is internal. But that doesn't make it any less powerful or life-changing. I love it when the Holy Spirit comes like a dove.
The Holy Spirit also comes like fire! When the disciples were waiting for the promised Holy Spirit at Pentecost, He came like tongues of fire and rested on each of them. The result of their encounter with Him was that they spoke in different languages and acted in such a way that made those watching think they were drunk. The Holy Spirit came like fire and the results were external and very obvious for all to see.
I love it when the Holy Spirit comes like fire. People shake, they laugh, they feel heat pouring through their body. Sometimes people shout, or speak loudly in tongues, or fall down because God's presence is so strong. When the Holy Spirit comes like fire it's usually loud and obvious and visible. Often I have encountered God's presence like fire and had no clue what He was doing. I was just hungry for more of Him and told Him I wanted His presence no matter what it looked or sounded like. The thing with fire is that it's consuming. Unlike the dove, it's not easily diverted, but we can choose to run away from it if we want to. When God's presence comes like fire we have to choose to run towards it if we want to receive all He has for us.
So God's presence comes like a dove and He comes like fire. There's also a whole spectrum of manifestations and ways of meeting with God that happen in between these two extremes. If we want to be churches who experience the full range of what God wants to do amongst us, we have to teach our people not to judge how those around them meet with God.
If your normal way of meeting with the Holy Spirit looks like Him coming as a dove, you could be tempted to look at those at the fire end of the spectrum and judge them:
'They are so attention seeking! I wish someone would have a word with them and tell them to stop making so much noise. This is just emotionalism. It's so over the top!'
If your normal way of meeting with the Holy Spirit looks like Him coming with fire, you could be tempted to look at those at the dove end of the spectrum and judge them:
'Bless them. They're so uptight. I wish they were a bit more free like me. I think they probably need some internal healing so that they get set free from needing to be in control. Get them God!'
Of course, most of us aren't at the extreme ends of the spectrum. Most of us would probably put ourselves somewhere in the middle when it comes to how we meet with God - in a more balanced position. Far from that being a good thing, the problem for us is that we get to look towards both ends of the spectrum and judge both groups of people:
'Thank you Father that I'm not as shut down as them. But thank you also that I'm not as over the top and emotional at them! Thank you God for making me more balanced'
When we judge other people and the way they meet with the Holy Spirit, we cut ourselves off from what the Holy Spirit wants to do with us
Judgement in our heart closes us off from what the Holy Spirit wants to do in and through us. It's toxic. It's especially toxic in leaders because our judgements don't just affect us, they impact the atmosphere and culture of the things we lead. We need to recognise our judgements, repent for them and invite God to come however He wants, with no restrictions and no limitations. We also need to coach those we lead to go on the same journey.
When I was new to experiencing God's presence, I only wanted Him to come like a dove; His fire freaked me out. Now I am just hungry for more of Him no matter what it looks or sounds like. The truth is that when God comes anything can happen. It's in His presence that lives get transformed: bodies are healed, spiritual oppression has to flee, people come into the relationship with Him they were created for. His presence is power and His presence is peace and we cannot stay the same when we encounter Him.
If you only ever experience the Holy Spirit like a dove, I want to encourage you to cry out for His fire. If you only ever experience the Holy Spirit like fire, I want to encourage you to cry out for His peace. Let's be hungry for ALL that is available to us as sons and daughters of God, rather than settling for far too little. And let's rid our hearts of judgement so that God's presence is free to flow in us and through us.
One final provocation to end. When I travel to different churches, on zoom and in person, it seems that most of us are much more comfortable with and expectant for God's peace rather than His power. We seem to be happy with the dove but more wary of the fire. Does that describe you and your church context? It's maybe time to think about why that is and to start to cry out to God for more of His unrestrained and unpredictable presence.
Come Holy Spirit!
Wendy Mann Equip | www.wendymannequip.comBuilding Family, Prioritising God's Presence, Extending God’s Kingdom