Have you ever been in a prayer meeting and heard someone pray something like this: “Father, we ask you to send the Holy Spirit,” or, “Let the Spirit fall in our gathering this morning”? Have you ever wondered what that means, what they are actually asking God to do in those moments?
What would it look like if the Holy Spirit showed up in worship this weekend?
Or to ask the question a different way, Would we recognize a manifestation of the Spirit if it happened? If we have wrong ideas about what it means for the Spirit to move, God may have answered our prayers “Yes!” a thousand times, but we’ve missed it because we were looking for the wrong things or in the wrong places.
Strive to Excel in Building Up
Paul says some significant things about manifestations of the Holy Spirit. For instance, the churches in Corinth, like many of us, were very eager to see the Spirit move in their gatherings in demonstrable ways. But Paul guides their understanding of what the Spirit’s presence in their midst would look like.
So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church. (1 Corinthians 14:12)
Paul knows the Corinthians are eager for spiritual gifts and evidences of the Spirit’s work among them. But his description of that reality probably took his original readers by surprise, and might surprise many even today.
Do you want proof the Holy Spirit is working among you? Do everything you can to benefit the people you gather with for church. What does a manifestation of the Spirit at church look like? It looks like men and women expending great energy and employing their unique gifts to serve and build up God’s people.
Does that seem strange to you? We might expect an outpouring of the Spirit to be characterized by strange, unexplainable phenomena and clouds of mystery. We might imagine a haze of God’s presence, visible or invisible, obscuring our mental capacities, overwhelming our ability to comprehend what is happening. But Paul paints an altogether different picture.
Two Kinds of Gifts: Passion and Clarity
Clarity of mind is central to Paul’s argument in this chapter on the spiritual gifts for church life. He begins this chapter urging the church to earnestly desire the gifts that come from the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 14:1). And while all spiritual gifts are good and desirable, apparently only certain kinds of gifts benefit gatherings of God’s people for church (1 Corinthians 14:18–19).
Paul describes one kind of gift that is deeply and personally meaningful (1 Corinthians 14:2). It affects the receiver deeply with a connection to God, but it is not easily shared with others. Paul deeply values this kind of gift and desires it for all of his readers (1 Corinthians 14:5).
But for the gathering together of saints, for a church, Paul highlights an altogether different kind of manifestation of the Spirit — clarity (1 Corinthians 14:3). The litmus test for gifts from the Holy Spirit that build up the church is clear communication (1 Corinthians 14:6–8).
By calling these instances of clear communication (teaching, prophecy, revelation) “gifts,” you might think it’s something you simply receive or don’t receive, and there’s nothing you can do about it. But Paul seems to suggest that the gift-ness of these kinds of helpful actions (1 Corinthians 14:1) doesn’t preclude our effort (1 Corinthians 14:12). In fact, his language on this point is emphatic. He tells his readers, “Since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church.”
If there’s a distinction between the Spirit’s part and our part in his exhortation, Paul doubles up on our part. It’s like Paul is saying “Do you want this gift? Work at it, and work at it hard.”
Manifestations of the Spirit Among You
So, when we ask the Spirit to fall in our gatherings, what exactly are we looking for? What types of evidence could we point to as proof that God has indeed poured out spiritual gifts among us?
Does a preacher spend days studying Scripture texts in original languages, consulting the rich deposit of Christian thinking past and present on a passage, and setting aside hours for preparation to communicate his understanding of the text clearly in a way that builds up your church? That is a manifestation of the Holy Spirit.
Does a musician spend years practicing an instrument, arrive early each week to rehearse with fellow musicians, and skillfully provide a context for you to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with one another? The Spirit is moving.
Does a church leader pray in your gathering in such a way that you feel your own thoughts and affections directed like a laser beam toward the supremacy of Christ and the beauty of the gospel? The Spirit may have fallen on your gathering after all.
The more we let texts like 1 Corinthians 14 shape our thinking about the Holy Spirit’s gifts and manifestations, we can better identify how God is working among us to do exactly what we have prayed. We ought to work hard at communicating truth about God to one another, all the while recognizing that in all our effort it is not just we who are working with all of our spiritual gifts, but God working in and through us (1 Corinthians 15:10).