The Holy Spirit
Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in
step with the Spirit.
—Galatians 5:25 (NIV)
When I was growing up in Louisiana, still in my elementary school years, my family had a cotton farm. One of my chores was to carry buckets of water to the cotton choppers and cotton pickers at the far end of the field—a distance of almost a mile. You might think that would be a straightforward enough task, but God had surprising plans for it.
As I would carry the buckets of water, the Spirit of God would speak to me. He would say things like “I want you to go twenty steps straight ahead, then turn right and go fourteen steps, and then turn left again. After that, I want you to spin around three times and then go right.”
Remember, this was the American South in the summertime. I was hot and tired. I just wanted to walk straight to the farm workers and give them their water. But I knew I had to do what the Spirit told me. It made for a long and complicated way to get across the field! One day my dad found me on the other side of the cotton field from where I was expected to be. He asked, “What are you doing here?” I told him that the Lord had instructed me to go there. Then my dad (who wasn’t walking in the Spirit yet) started chewing me out. In no uncertain terms, he told me where to go and what to do. I went away, crying. What was I supposed to do? Was I supposed to obey God or my dad?
The Lord said to me, “It’s all right. One day you’ll be gone from here. You do what I’m telling you to do.” What I didn’t understand then was that God was teaching me to listen to His voice. He was training me to follow His directions in every detail. In years to come, this training would come into play over and over again as I traveled the world and had to make decisions about which nation to go to next and who to speak with along the way.
Time and again, I lay out a map on the floor and pray over it, and Jesus will tell me which nation to go to, which road to take, the date on which to go, and the date on which to come back. Often I am led in almost every detail of the trip, even if it is to be a journey of many months. I stick to the plan God has given me and am confident that His covering is with me as I follow the way Jesus has shown me.
The Power in Our Sharing
We should never make the mistake of thinking that our sharing of Jesus is our own project. No, it is meant to be something that is directed by the Spirit and carried out under His control. Should we try to handle it on our own, we will have little if any success. In ourselves, we have no ability to bring about change in a person’s heart; the power in our sharing comes from the Spirit working through us.
Jesus said, “When He, the Spirit of truth, has come, … He will glorify Me” (John 16:13-14). And the Spirit glorifies Jesus (at least in part) by convicting people of their sin and drawing them to the Savior. Our part is simply to offer invitations for people to come to Jesus. It’s not our convincing that does the work; it’s the power of the Spirit.
Shortly before His ascension to heaven, Jesus promised His disciples, “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you” (Acts 1:8). And that’s just what happened. On the Day of Pentecost, “when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness. And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 4:31, 33).
There were 120 men and women who were praying in the upper room that day, 120 men and women who were filled with the Holy Spirit, 120 men and women who went out to tell the wonderful works of God. And three thousand people were saved. That’s an average of twenty-five converts per witness on the Day of Pentecost. That’s what it’s all about! When we pray, God starts filling us with His Spirit, empowering us, and anointing the words we use in sharing Jesus with others. And the people we meet are never the same again.
Specific Spirit Leading
Sometimes the Holy Spirit gets minutely involved in directing the witnesses of Jesus. He may give specific instructions, pushing us to do something or forbidding us to do something else, just as He did with several figures in the early history of the church.
Sometimes the Holy Spirit gets minutely
involved in directing the witnesses of Jesus.
The apostle Philip had been carrying out a fruitful ministry in Samaria when he was told to go someplace else. “An angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, saying, ‘Arise and go toward the south along the road which goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza’ ” (Acts 8:26). Philip obeyed. And when he got to his destination, he received more specific instructions: “Then the Spirit said unto Philip, Go near, and join thyself to this chariot” (Acts 8:29, KJV).
The Ethiopian eunuch (official) to whom the Spirit directed Philip was apparently part of a large caravan heading south. There may have been hundreds of chariots, horses, wagons, and the like traveling together. But God told Philip specifically who he was supposed to speak with. When the Spirit said, “Join thyself to this chariot,” the Greek word translated “join thyself” means “glue.” So, in effect, the Spirit said to Philip, “Go and glue yourself to that particular chariot.” (It’s always good to glue ourselves to the will of God!)
The Ethiopian was spiritually ready, and when Philip explained to Him about Jesus as the Messiah, the Ethiopian eagerly accepted Him and was baptized on the spot. “When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so that the eunuch saw him no more; and he went on his way rejoicing” (Acts 8:39). The Spirit had control over this encounter from beginning to end.
But Philip was by no means the only person whom the Spirit instructed back in those days.
On the important occasion when Peter learned that God accepts Gentiles as well as Jews who trust in Jesus, the Spirit of God arranged a meeting with Cornelius. The Spirit told Peter, “Behold, three men are seeking you. Arise therefore, go down and go with them” (Acts 10:19-20). The Spirit’s instructions could not have been much clearer or more specific than that.
Then Paul, on one of his missionary journeys, was twice prevented by the Holy Spirit from going where he had planned. “When [Paul and Silas] had gone through Phrygia and the region of Galatia, they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia. After they had come to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit did not permit them” (Acts 16:6-7). The Holy Spirit used a vision to show Paul that he should go to Macedonia instead.
Was Paul trying to go to Asia or Bithynia on a vacation or a business trip? No, he was going to preach. There was nothing inherently wrong with his intentions. But the Spirit of God said no. He had other plans for Paul in Macedonia at that time.
At times, the Holy Spirit was specific in directing Jesus followers during New Testament times. The same is true today.
The Man in the Window
Late one night in 1968, I was in Los Angeles, California, and another evangelist, Leo Humphrey, was in a car with me. I was driving and was about to head down to the Sunset Strip, when suddenly the Lord gave me a vision. In my mind, I clearly saw the image of a man sitting by a second-floor window with a light shining over his shoulder. The Lord said, “That man’s ready to be saved. I want to lead you to him.”
I turned to my companion and said, “Leo, would you drive?”
“Where are we going?”
“Just drive.” Then I began giving directions. “Go out of here and turn left up there.” A little later I’d say, “Take that next street to the right.” As we traveled, I could feel that we were getting nearer and nearer to where God wanted us to go.
We kept turning. Then I said, “Now, tell me when you see a second-floor window open with a man visible in it. You can just see the top of his head and a light shining over his shoulder.”
After a little while, Leo slammed on the brakes and started crying. He said, “There he is.”
We got out of the car and went up to the taxi dispatcher’s office where the man was sitting. Even though it was two o’clock in the morning at the time, we knocked on the door and the man inside said, “Come in.”
I explained, “I’ve come to tell you how to receive Jesus.”
A Bible was lying open before him. He said, “I’ve been studying the Bible. I don’t know how to be saved. I want to be.” And we led him to Jesus.
Many times, when carrying the cross around the world, I have felt God directing me to one place instead of to another.
In 1972 I was in Europe, carrying the cross, and from Paris I planned to head into Germany. But on the morning after I’d spent the night in Paris, when I picked up the cross and started to walk, I felt the Spirit speaking to me. He said, “Don’t take another step. That’s not the way.”
What a strange feeling! I had no peace about going to Germany now. It was like there was a wall in front of me. So I thought, Well, then, I’ll head up to northern Europe. I’ll go to Amsterdam.
Again, no peace, only a wall in my mind. Apparently I was not supposed to go to Holland anymore than to Germany.
At last I prayed, “Lord, where do You want me to go? Do You want me to go to Spain?” Now I felt a release in my spirit. I turned south and headed for Spain that very moment.
There was nothing bad about ministering in Germany or Holland; eventually I made it to both countries. But at that moment, God wanted me somewhere else. And in fact, my ministry in Spain was one of the most glorious (though difficult) of any during my long cross walk around the world.
Francisco Franco was still in charge of the nation, and freedoms—including the freedoms to worship and assemble—were limited. When I got to Spain, I was arrested within the first mile. I was released before long, but then, when I made it to Madrid and began speaking in the Plaza Mayor to tens of thousands of people, the civil guard beat me and several others in the crowd. But none of it kept me from carrying the cross and sharing about Jesus. It was the beginning of a nationwide revival in Spain.
And it all began with God saying, “Go there,” and me obeying.
How We Hear the Spirit Speak
After I was saved at age seven, I used to love to climb up in the old pin oak tree in the front yard of our farmhouse. I’d find a comfortable branch to perch on, and I’d pray all night.
This pleased my mother, but it worried her too. She would set her alarm clock, and every hour on the hour, she would holler out the window, “Son, are you okay?”
“Yes, Mama, I’m okay.”
“Don’t fall asleep and fall out of that tree.”
Up in that tree, under the night sky, I had a great time with God all night. I would visit with Him, and He would visit with me. And many nights since then, in far-flung corners of the earth, I have had the same sort of experience.
In 1988 I flew the cross into Angola, which was in the midst of civil war at the time, and I was held hostage for a week in an old camp before being permitted to carry the cross. Every night, I would look up at the sky and visit with God.
One night in 1977, in the Golan Heights, I got lost between the Israeli army and the Syrians. So I had to spend the night lying on a bus stop board that people had sat on while waiting for the bus. (The board was the only part of the bus stop that was still standing; the bus stop had been blown up during the fighting.) I spent the night hours praying intimately with the Father.
Two years later, near the end of my time carrying the cross through the Darién jungle (partly in Panama, partly in Colombia), I emerged at a small village in Colombia. The only place I could find to spend the night was on some boards that I laid over a pigpen—I called it “Pig Hilton.” The pigs kept grunting and rooting about all night, keeping me awake despite my aching and my exhaustion. But God was there, and I had a wonderful night with Him.
Oh, I pray that I will never lose what I found up in that old pin oak tree when I was a child! I have a friendship, a love relationship with God in which I constantly talk to Him and He talks to me.
It is out of this kind of close relationship, which we cultivate with God every day, that we hear the Spirit give us our directions.
I have a friendship, a love relationship
with God in which I constantly talk
to Him and He talks to me.
But someone might ask: “How can we know that we are really hearing the voice of God?” There is no simple answer to this question, but let me give you a few test questions to ask yourself. Does what you are hearing line up with the Word of God? The Holy Spirit will never tell us to do anything that contradicts Scripture. Does it sound like Jesus?
The more we know Him, the easier it is to tell if something is consistent with His ways. Does it produce the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control? When it does, it must be right. (For articles on knowing the will of God and doing it, go to (www.blessitt.com/weekly/archive.html.)
Yes or No
Here’s another question that might be in somebody’s mind: “If I don’t hear a specific leading from the Holy Spirit, should I do nothing?” Answer: certainly not.
Jesus has already given us our marching orders: “Go … and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). We should assume, based on this, that we should be sharing Jesus every opportunity we get. Should the Holy Spirit want to fine-tune our sharing from time to time by telling us, “Go here” or “Go there,” that’s great. But we should never not share Jesus unless the Spirit specifically tells us so.
I’ve found there are two kinds of Jesus followers. The first are those who never share Jesus unless they receive some kind of revelation. These almost never lead people to the Lord. The second are those who speak to everybody they can unless the Lord says not to do it. It is these who are helping the lost people of the world find the Jesus they love so much.
Now, having said that we should not be stymied when we don’t get a specific leading from the Spirit, let me hasten to repeat that sometimes we will get that kind of specific leading. Indeed, we should be expecting it and be listening for it at all times. Sound unlikely to you?
Assuming you are a follower of Jesus, I guarantee you that someday the Spirit of God will speak to you. You will be sitting in a restaurant and see a patron at another table, and you will know that God wants you to share Jesus with that person. You will be driving home and come upon a disabled car stopped by the side of the road, and you will sense a prompting to stop and help.
You will be shopping and notice a woman who is upset because her kids are crying, and you will want to say, “God bless you.”
There is no question that the Spirit will speak to us. The question is, how will we respond?
Let’s consider what might happen should we decide to ignore the Spirit’s guidance. In Scripture, that’s called “quenching” the Holy Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:19). The Greek word for “quench” was used to refer to blowing out a light. It doesn’t take much to blow out a light, does it? Just so easily can we say no to the Spirit’s leading. When we reject the Spirit’s leading like that, the Bible tells us, we “grieve the Holy Spirit of God” (Ephesians 4:30). The Holy Spirit is a person, just like Jesus is and just like the Father is. And since the Spirit is a person, we cause Him pain when we reject or suppress what He tells us to do. But ignoring guidance from the Spirit has an impact not only upon Him but upon us as well. The Bible warns us, “Today, if you will hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts.” (Hebrews 4:7)
Ignoring the Spirit hardens our hearts the way manual labor gives our hands calluses. And so it becomes that much harder to obey the Spirit the next time.
When we say yes to the Spirit, on the other hand, our hearts are softened. Our ears become better attuned to hearing the Spirit’s voice, and it becomes easier for us to say yes the next time. We go from obedience to obedience in the marvelous adventure of following the Spirit’s leading.
Questions to Consider
• Is there spiritual power in your sharing of Jesus?
Why or why not?
• What changes could you make in your relationship
with God so that you will be better prepared
to hear the Spirit when He speaks?
• What, if anything, might the Spirit be telling you
to do right now?