How Should We Respond to the Leading of the Spirit?

Sometimes when I read or think about something I get tremendous insights. I might make a strong connection between two things, see an angle I never saw before, or even think something completely original. I am sure you have had many similar experiences.

What do we make of these experiences—especially as they relate to the Bible or religious beliefs? Should we consider that we are simply learning? Or that we are experiencing creativity? Or is it, perhaps, the leading of the Holy Spirit?

holy spirit
My Experience as a Pentecostal

As an adult, I was pentecostal for 25 years. I spoke in tongues, and on two occasions I even interpreted messages in tongues by other people. Whenever someone gave a message in tongues I searched my mind to see if I had any sense of understanding it. Usually I did not, but on these two occasions I did.

The first happened in a large pentecostal church of about 2000-3000. I always wondered if, when I stood up, someone else would stand up as well, but that did not happen. I wondered if, when I gave an interpretation, the pastor would call me down. But he did not; he seemed to accept it as genuine.

The second time was in a smaller congregation of 150-200. Actually, someone gave a message in tongues and another member interpreted it. I thought immediately ‘That’s not right’ and gave an alternate interpretation. I had no idea what the pastor would do with that, but he approached me afterward impressed with my ‘prophecy’; he accepted both as valid.

Some time later I joined a non-pentecostal church and never had those experiences again. I didn’t repudiate them but no longer had an appropriate setting for their expression. I left Pentecostalism for two reasons. First, I was moving farther along my journey away from conservative Christian beliefs and Pentecostalism embraced all the harmful doctrines I had been shedding.

But secondly, throughout my time with pentecostals I witnessed constant extremes of various sorts—pentecostals are sometimes given to extremes. I thought a movement genuinely led by the Holy Spirit should produce a more steady and informed body in general—not a problematic one.

‘God Gave Me a Message for You’

A lot of ‘revelation’ goes on among some pentecostals. During sermons preachers share revelations; preachers will also give people personal revelations during prayer time; and even regular members might come to you and say, ‘God gave me a message to share with you’. How can you ignore a revelation from God just for you! I never observed this to be a general practice, but some individuals would do this.

I hated seeing it happen. Had I been the recipient, I would have listened and considered whether what they said had any merit but basically ignore the claim that God revealed a message to them for me. I figure that if God has a message for me, he/she will let me know personally.

If I felt prompted to talk to someone else about an issue I might say, ‘I had a thought the other day about such-and-such. I don’t know if it is helpful or not, but I thought…’ To me, claiming to have a message from God is high hubris. If it is of the Holy Spirit then the Holy Spirit will work in the recipient as well—we don’t have to announce it.

What does it even mean to say, ‘God gave me a message for you.’ Does that mean we are inerrant? Does it mean our message is authoritative? In that case, what happens to that person if they ignore us? And, on the other hand, what if we are totally wrong?

I think if we feel the slightest impulse to speak to someone about our thoughts (which is often risky in itself), we should approach it in all humility. The recipient shouldn’t even suspect that we think we are speaking from some special inspiration.

Does the Holy Spirit Reveal Truth to Individuals and Groups?

Do we receive specific guidance from the Holy Spirit on God’s truth? The gospel of John devotes several chapters to a discussion between Jesus and his disciples after Jesus tells them he is about to leave them. Two statements are relevant to the issue we are discussing.

John 14:

[T]he Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.

John 16 says:

But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.

These passages say that the Holy Spirit will:

* Teach you (the disciples) all things
* Remind you (the disciples) of everything I have said
* Guide you (the disciples) into all truth
* Tell you (the disciples) what is yet to come

What do these words mean? First of all, Jesus was not speaking to believers of today but to his disciples who were concerned that he was about to leave them. And, anyway, how can the Holy Spirit remind us today of what Jesus said? We weren’t there to hear it.

If we assume the Holy Spirit will teach us all things (as individuals or in groups) and guide us into all truth, then what results of that do we see in the church today? We see conflicting truth-claims on almost every issue often with the assumption that ‘the Holy Spirit revealed the truth to us, and everyone else is wrong’.

We all have tremendous insights, but the fact is that these insights are subjective—not objective truth revealed by the Holy Spirit. Our insights might, indeed, be from the Holy Spirit; but this does not mean that any of us is inerrant on any particular insight.

This should lead us to great humility about our experiences rather than audacity.

***

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35 Responses to How Should We Respond to the Leading of the Spirit?

  1. tonycutty says:

    I think this is great. I do think that it’s better to mention things gently to people rather than claim ‘God told me’, becuase then they are more free to interpret and apply [what will seem like advice] in their own way. They are the ones who need to decide whether something’s from God, not us. That’s why I prefer to keep such things low-key, myself.

    I do, however, think that what Jesus said to His disciples about the Spirit applies to us today as well, not just for them back then. This is for two reasons: essentially, they were just ordinary people like us, and what can be true for them is not precluded from being true for us too. Secondly, as I know already, this [teaching of ths Spiri] has been a reality in your life and in mine. Why not? He’s just the same now as He was back then!

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Thanks, Tony; good comment. I agree with you that the Holy Spirit is active among us today. What concerns me most is believers who claim to be special emissaries of God with God’s own authoritative truth. I wish it were that easy.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Judy Hornbrook says:

    I just read “How Should We Respond to the Leading of the Spirit? And, I am very, very thankful I received it – and while I follow this website with great interest and enthusiasm, I regret to say that I am still not sure how to address the man who does the online teaching … Sir? Brother? Oh well … Years ago, when I was young, and divorced – also a member of an “evangelical” church – I felt the burning stings of rejection; other young, married women were “nice”, but it didn’t extend to including me in their fellowship groups. I felt the sting of exclusion but the best – no, seriously the WORST was yet to come.

    About eight years after my divorce, I remarried – a man 25 years my senior, a fine, upstanding man. Sadly, we were married only three short years, when my husband passed away. I was devastated, lost, felt like I was drowning.

    Three months after my husband’s death, I was invited to attend a women’s retreat; there was an evening worship event, which ended with people being welcomed to come to the altar for “rededication, prayer, ….” I was broken, smashed to pieces … and I knew it; a lady I had not been introduced to came over to where I was sitting, crying brokenly. She sat beside me, putting her arms around me, and prayed for the Comforter to come. Feeling so, so broken – it felt like I was drowning in heartache, and I knew I needed the Comforter!!

    This lady (call her ???) tenderly put her arms around me, gave me some tissues, and asked, “… are you married?” Still sobbing, I said, “…. my husband is gone ….” Without missing a beat,
    ??? said to me, “I have a word from the Lord for you …your husband will return to you.” Well, I knew this wasn’t a word from anyone – except from this woman!

    She may have wanted to be helpful, but “seeking to become wise” – she made a mockery of the Word and a fool of herself. I told her, “No, he will not – you don’t understand, my husband is GONE.”

    But up there on her”hallelujah-high-horse”, she missed the point, and insisted … “… your husband will return to you …” I totally lost my composure, and responded: “Honey, he’s cold in the grave … you need to get straight with the Lord.”

    I have people stand over me, clenching my head in both of their hands, speaking in tongues … no interpretation … regrettably, too often I have seen an abuse of the gifts – and I know others have as well. So, I am a firm believer that “harmful doctrines” are … well … Harmful!!

    Liked by 3 people

    • tonycutty says:

      Ouch. That’s pretty rough.

      Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Judy, what a terrible experience! I am sure she meant well but how much further off-base could she be?

      You said, “I regret to say that I am still not sure how to address the man who does the online teaching.” If you are asking what to call me–my name is Tim. Tim Chastain.

      Like

  3. Terri Johnson says:

    Thank you for sharing this insight. I never knew what to make of the Holy Spirit as anything describable. However, I know I am and always have been mysteriously lead to people or situations where my assistance was immediately required.
    I consider myself a progressive Christian (oh, and try to describe THAT!), with a high church Episcopalian background.
    Having filled in those unsolicited details for you, my story is that a Pentecostal acquaintance told me out of the blue that God laid it on her heart to let me know I was going to hell because I wore makeup and jeans. I have never been so turned off in my entire life. I thanked her for her concern and changed the subject. I have since written her off as ignorant; I have no other experience with Pentecostals, but is this one of their beliefs? Thank you for any information you can share with me. Terri Johnson

    Liked by 3 people

    • tonycutty says:

      I’d not like to say that this is necessarily a belief of the Pentecostal churches per se, but rather it’s something that some congregations – of many fundamentalist denominations – believe, usually depending on the attitude of their leadership.

      And you are not alone in being turned off by this; in fact it’s one of the main things that turns rational people away from Jesus, even though it’s not something He said anything about. Put simply, what happens is that anything ‘they’ don’t like – be it dancing, jeans, cinema, generally having fun, whatever – they will say is a ticket to Hell. I am so glad they are not the real gatekeepers of heaven! Because they’re not. Bottom line: Take no notice of these people; they really are idiots.

      I have heard it said that a Puritan is someone who has this terrible fear that someone, somewhere, is having fun. I would not like to live like that, would you? 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

    • tonycutty says:

      In addition to what I have already written in reply, may I suggest that you read as many blogs about freedom as you can. Not all Christians are legalistic straitjacket people. Some of us know true freedom in Grace; Tim is one and I am another. No doubt Tim can direct you to my blog if that’s ok; I wouldn’t want to hijack his post with a link 😉

      Liked by 2 people

    • Filosopete says:

      Maybe because they weren’t Holey Jeans hehehe. Yeah, law upon law, rule upon rule. The law keepers. Sorry, Jesus, Your efforts wasted. Some still earn salvation their own way.

      Liked by 2 people

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Terri, you said: “My story is that a Pentecostal acquaintance told me out of the blue that God laid it on her heart to let me know I was going to hell because I wore makeup and jeans.” That is so sad. This is called legalism, and I agree with Tony that not all pentecostals are this way–but some are–and many fundamentalists are heavy legalists as well.

      If you are interested, you might find this helpful:
      https://jesuswithoutbaggage.wordpress.com/2015/04/06/how-legalism-stunts-our-spiritual-growth/

      Like

  4. Filosopete says:

    Over the past thirty years, seen so much witchcraft in Pentecostal churches, also how people were given classes to speak in tongues – because they didn’t know their Bibles but followed dogma. One day, a missionary from Israel stood up and spoke in a tongue, it was interpreted as Haggai 2 which was open in front of me. The entire church rejected it and shunned the lady.

    So I shunned that church. Easy.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. scraffiti says:

    This is the subject that puts my back up more than anything else. I suffered years of ‘Holy Ghost’ stuff and it was nothing short of utterly destructive to both my family and that of friends. The biggest weirdos I ever met were pentecostals. Nobody but nobody should be telling anybody else what they ‘should’ be doing. Messages given in the name of God/Holy Ghost are nothing short of abusive behaviour. I’ll go further and state that I have grave doubts about any of Jesus’s quotations from Johns Gospel. I don’t believe he said any of it for reasons that we have discussed in other posts. None of that stuff is mentioned anywhere else. Hope this isn’t too blunt, Tim, but anybody tempted by a pentecostal/fundamentalist church should run!

    Liked by 2 people

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Scraffiti, “Nobody but nobody should be telling anybody else what they ‘should’ be doing. Messages given in the name of God/Holy Ghost are nothing short of abusive behaviour.” I was pentecostal for a long time and saw a lot of what I consider the abuse of assuming God’s ‘authority’. But, of course, this is not true of all pentecostals.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I attend a Pentecostal church because I felt rejected in conservative churches for my belief in the gifts of the Spirit. Prophecy is often wrong. It is like divine healing where most people are not healed. But many are healed. It is simply obedience to Jesus for his disciples to teach and continue his ministry when he was on earth (Mt 28:20). So, we should never say “God said …” but rather, “I think God might be saying… Does that mean anything to you?” We should not throw out Spiritual Gifts just because they are misused, but learn to use them correctly and teach others to do so.

    Liked by 2 people

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Derek, I love this! “So, we should never say “God said …” but rather, “I think God might be saying… Does that mean anything to you?” We should not throw out Spiritual Gifts just because they are misused, but learn to use them correctly and teach others to do so.”

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Ah, this! I wrote about this in a couple of places on my blog/website because of all the trouble it brought me. I heard in various places about getting “words” from God, only to find the “words” were not real: https://nyssashobbithole.com/main/nyssas-opinions-theology/page-1/#an6

    and here, close to the end: https://nyssashobbithole.com/main/index/life-roanoke-college-memoirs-september-1991-may-1995/january-1992-dealing-breakup-probable-nvld/

    Liked by 2 people

  8. michaeleeast says:

    Tim, I have experienced the “opening of scripture”.
    Once I started to read the Bible with discrimination i found or was led to many passages which I was unfamiliar with but confirmed my new understanding of Christianity and God. Needless to say there were also many passages which I rejected. I can’t say it was the Holy Spirit but there were too many coincidences for it to be an accident. So, like you, I experienced sudden insights and revelations. Perhaps future generations will call us blessed.

    Liked by 3 people

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Michael, it is so exciting when that happens!

      Liked by 1 person

    • newtonfinn says:

      Same experience here, Michael. I even went so far as to write and publish a new synoptic version of the gospel, taking the NT texts apart–saying by saying, parable by parable, story by story–stripping what appeared to be editorial gloss, and then putting the pieces back together again in light of what I had gleaned from modern biblical scholarship. I undertook this task in “fear and trembling” but always felt the guiding hand of Abba as I plodded along week after week at my cluttered basement table. My hope and prayer is that He allowed me to tell the story about his Son (if only for myself) in a more lively, compact, and contemporary way, and that I remained respectful of and faithful to the gist and thrust of the treasured canonical accounts.

      Liked by 2 people

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  10. michaeleeast says:

    NewtonFinn, It is good to hear that others are experiencing these new insights.
    Hope spring a anew

    Liked by 2 people

  11. ancadudar says:

    Pentecostals are some of the craziest out there. Southern Baptists are some of the meanest, even meaner than Pentecostals!

    I had a pastor in Australia 3 years ago prophesy to me in front of the whole Church that many men will follow my led and I will teach men (laughing tears here!) then he paused and here is where it got weird. He then proceeded to say that God is making me a male in the spirit, that my spirit is male and not female. At this point, I was calling bs in my head on the whole thing because I know there is nothing wrong with female teaching others, including men. He then said that when I marry my husband will be my spiritual covering and that the lower I go under his headship and in submission, the higher I will grow. I was fuming inside at this point, yet he paused again and said actually that’s night right, you don’t need to be under his headship, just be yourself. He admitted that he could not understand how or why I would teach men one day but not need a male covering. I laughed the whole way home in the car, it was such a bizarre experience.

    In my teens prophesy almost destroyed my life as it was used by a few idiots to convince my parents to force me to marry this really evil person. I ran away before the wedding and lost my whole community, I had to rebuild from nothing.

    In the past few years, however, I have had some prophesies given to me by people who did not know anything but my name that was spot on, I mean they were really accurate and detailed, not some generic stuff, and what they prophesied happened within a short timeframe. They did not say thus saith the Lord blah blah, they simply told me they felt to tell me this and to weight it within myself and ask the Holy Spirit to let me know if it was from him or not. They were really humble. For example, in 2017 I was stuck in a Muslim country for six months with immigration problems and the guards at the borders refused to let me exit the Country (despite exit papers from Immigration) so that I could go to the airport of the neighboring Country and catch my flight. After first waiting for immigration to finalize things the first month, I then lost three flights in five months! I even tried another border and the local international airport. I had to repeatedly go to Immigration for new paperwork and special pleading, each time paying them under the table. It was so bad before that, that my parents were reaching out to lawyers and authorities in the embassy here in the USA on my behalf. Two days before my last attempt I was so scared and discouraged that I randomly did a google search for and reached out to an online spirit-filled ministry in the USA and asked them if they had someone who could pray with me. All I said was my name, no details about my situation or what Country I was calling from as I used a USA skype number to make the call. The person started to pray and then in the middle of it said that they felt to tell me that I was like in a prison being held back from exiting, but that this time God was going to open the doors for me to walk straight out and to follow through on the plans I made after I reach my destination. A lot more was said as well. Two days later on my final attempt, after some more hold up with airport immigration and almost losing my flight. I was allowed to exit and leave the Country. It goes even deeper because the airline carrier moved airports in the hours I was held up and I was at the wrong airport. I had less than an hour to get there. This young man who worked at the airport train station ticketing box after seeing me panicked and in tears enters the train before it takes off and said not to worry that he would take me straight to check-in so that I don’t get lost. And he did, had it not been for him I would not have made it as that airport was huge! I will never forget this!

    Tim, I do think the Holy Spirit speaks to you and all of us here. I think it’s usually a mix of ourselves and the Holy Spirit at times. I know it’s subjective and open to flaws, but sometimes the Holy Spirit is a strong feeling beyond our usual feelings, a presence that we pick up on like a frequency that we cannot quite put our finger on, a hearing, an insight, and creativity that we inwardly know is more than just our own thoughts. Not always, but sometimes.

    Liked by 2 people

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Anca, I have known a lot of good, solid pentecostals; but you are right–some of them are way out there. And it seems that you have had your share of experiences, both good and bad, in regard to ‘spiritual’ messages. Of course, I have as well.

      I really like, and agree with, what you said about the Spirit leading us, “I think it’s usually a mix of ourselves and the Holy Spirit at times. I know it’s subjective and open to flaws, but sometimes the Holy Spirit is a strong feeling beyond our usual feelings, a presence that we pick up on like a frequency that we cannot quite put our finger on, a hearing, an insight, and creativity that we inwardly know is more than just our own thoughts. Not always, but sometimes.”

      Well said!

      Liked by 2 people

  12. Sojourner says:

    Good article Tim to inspire some great conversation. I do have to agree with one of the other commentators that I question your quoting of Jesus words from John about the spirit being that we really don’t know if Jesus said anything of the sort. Having said that, I do believe that God being father, son and Holy Spirit does lead us, inspire us, direct us, protect us, heal us, provide for us and most of all loves us in the middle of our mess and is with us in it. I believe his entrance into our mess in a way that he had not been in it before was through the crucifixion in which he submitted to the wrath of man being us. This is what rings true to me at this time in my journey towards truth. I, along with many who have commented and with you Tim, had my stint of more than 20 years in legalistic Pentecostalism. I do not hold animosity towards my brothers and sisters who are still caught up in that but I am so thankful to be free from it even though I know they are looking at me, possibly even praying for me, because they believe I am on my way to hellfire and damnation. I did the same when I was in it. I also really like what Derek said as well about us needing to be very careful how we speak to others about what we think God might be saying. I think we also have to be very careful about how we act or decisions we make based on what we think God might be saying. Thanks Tim for keeping this conversation going with your easy to read and thought provoking articles.

    Liked by 2 people

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Sojourner: “I, along with many who have commented and with you Tim, had my stint of more than 20 years in legalistic Pentecostalism. I do not hold animosity towards my brothers and sisters who are still caught up in that but I am so thankful to be free from it even though I know they are looking at me, possibly even praying for me, because they believe I am on my way to hellfire and damnation.”

      I do not hold any animosity either. My groups were legalistic, but there were many very good, solid people among them.

      And thanks for your kind words about my articles!

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Cathy day says:

    the saying is eat the chicken and spit out the bones. like your blog there is some good God stuff and some is just your opinion, interesting though it may be.

    Liked by 2 people

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Cathy, you are right. A lot of things I write are my opinion. But this is true of everyone who writes about the Bible and following Jesus.

      Liked by 1 person

      • tonycutty says:

        That is indeed true. Eating the chicken and spitting out the bones is an excellent analogy; personally, I think that one size does not fit all, and that God can speak different things to different people even from the same passage of Scripture. How much more so, then, from what we write on the Internet, either as blog post or comment?

        Liked by 1 person

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