When you must be ‘led by the Spirit’

“For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.” (Romans 8:14)

“Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.” (1 Corinthians 12:7-11)

Despite all the problems he would later have to write about, Paul said about the Corinthians “you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed” (1 Cor 1:7). Cue Frank Sinatra singing “They Can’t Take That Away from Me.”

And Paul didn’t. Thirteen chapters, a blunt “still worldly,” and an insert-and-twist “mere infants in Christ” later (1 Cor 3:1). Paul said plainly, “Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy,” and then, “Therefore, my brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues” (1 Cor 14:1, 39). (Selah, before you shoot from the hip about goofball charismatics.)

They were gifted. The catalogue is in the second passage above. (There are other places in the NT that refer to spiritual gifts. Books have been written about them. I have a different purpose here.)

This is a particular instance of being “led by the Spirit” that is distinguished from the broader statement in Romans 8:14 above. In a nutshell, the expression (or manifestation, since Paul uses it here) of a spiritual gift by definition is “led by the Spirit.” Even if you’re unfamiliar with the charismatic church, you can probably deduce why from the longer passage above (6 mentions of Spirit, for starters).

There is no spiritual gift conceived, given, expressed, manifested, ministered or even made into a dog’s breakfast by an immature, inexperienced recipient apart from the initiative of and distribution by the Holy Spirit. You can’t have a gift of the Spirit without the Spirit.

And don’t skip over the last four words in that passage, which are vitally important: just as he determines. There is no spiritual gift that can be created, generated, manifested or “pulled down from heaven” at will. It just doesn’t happen. It’s the Spirit’s will, timing and choice. That’s why it’s called a gift of the Spirit.

(There’s no Amazon for gifts of the Spirit (i.e., guaranteed delivery). I’ll probably be sorry for saying that in about six months when they expand into MP3 prophecy downloads. You never heard me say that, OK?)

Not that people don’t try to manufacture them. I was once invited by a co-worker to his small fledgling church because “a prophet of God” was going to conduct the meeting. Who could resist such a build-up? (Actually, I could have, but I was trying to be courteous.)

Sorry, but I have to say it. Something like moths and lightbulbs is what draws a crowd when “a prophet” is coming to town. The irony is that the same Holy Spirit that woke me up this morning to prompt me to write about this is the same Spirit empowering anyone, big or small, famous or unknown, to prophesy. The Spirit of God is no less personal and intimate when a third-party isn’t involved.

When this prophet started circulating mid-service through the congregation (which wasn’t very large), he stopped at nearly every person in the audience and ministered something individually to each one. Of course, this is what people love about a prophet. It’s like curbside service of the word of God.

When he got to me, he said a few things I can’t even remember (spoiler alert), but I do remember this: I could have read the little strip in the fortune cookie that came with my lunch and been more edified.

He was a charlatan. He came for the offering. As far as I know, no one else made the same observation. Paul warned about a time when “evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived” (2 Tim 3:13). Looks like it’s still here.

There are, of course, less corrupt attempts at spiritual ministry that never quite get airborne, sort of like those grainy silent film clips that show crudely made, sometimes fantastically weird flying machines that oscillate, vibrate and surge forward fitfully before imploding or collapsing in a heap.

My brother-in-law told me about a man who stood up in a public meeting once and said, “And the Lord would say” [pregnant pause] “And the Lord would say . . .” [pregnant pause, water about to break]. (If you’re unfamiliar with prophetic etiquette, this is actually a common lead-in, perhaps because it mimics the poetry in various OT prophetic books.)

When he got to the third, “And the Lord would say,” he paused again and then, in obvious distress, said, “Oh no. I have said ‘And the Lord would say’ three times and the Lord has said nothing.” No harm, no foul. Don’t quit your day job, though.

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