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The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. 1 Corinthians 2:14 The terms spiritual gifts and easy are not often associated with each other in the minds of Christians. Most people think there is something very difficult about moving in the power of God. Their impression of God is that of a reluctant ruler with people below Him, begging for a crumb or trying to wrestle from Him something that they desperately need. Jesus’ parable of the persistent widow and the unjust judge (Luke 18:1-8) is sometimes used to illustrate the opposite of what Jesus in-tended. The widow pestered the judge until she wore him out. Finally, he gave in and granted her legal protection. The point was that the Fa-ther, who is a righteous judge, is not like that. Jesus concluded, will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly (vv. 7-8). This perception of a God who plays hard-to-get can have two very different effects. First of all, some people beg, plead, and cry out to God in prayer meetings to such an extent that it reminds you a little of the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. In this biblical account, pagan priests were trying to entice their idol to send fire down to consume the sacrifice (1 Kings 18). From morning until sundown, they cried out with loud voice, leaped around the altar, and did everything they could think of to get Baal to move. The idea was that their determination and sacri-fice would force Baal to answer. All the while Elijah was on the sideline egging them on. ‘Shout louder!’ he said. ‘Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.’ (v. 27). And with that, they regathered themselves and redoubled their ef-forts. Finally, they started cutting themselves with swords. Now that’s real dedication!On the other hand, having doused the altar’s wood and sacrifice with water, Elijah prayed, and God consumed it with fire. All the peo-ple fell on their faces and said,"The LORD, he is God! The LORD, he is God! (v. 39). I’ve heard people pray as if they had more faith in God’s reluc-tance than in His willingness. Answers to prayer are not the result of how hard we ask, as much as they are the result of the confidence with which we ask. Secondly, a perception of a stingy God will cause others to simply throw in the spiritual towel. They do indeed love God, and perhaps they believe in the power of the Holy Spirit. However, they consider the required degree of faith, dedication, and personal righteousness to be far beyond them. They view themselves as just average, common Christians; so, for them, there’s no use in trying. James wrote to the churches about enduring difficult situations, saying that God gives generously to all without finding fault (James 1:5). If spiritual gifts are so easy, then why don’t we see them mani-fested in and through more Christians? Let me illustrate how easy is often made hard. God’s salvation and forgiveness are given as free gifts. You would imagine that free gifts are the ones most easily obtained. But think of all the monumental things people have done through the ages in an attempt to earn their salvation. Think of all the people who believe that forgiveness is impossible for them. The problem is not that the gift of righteousness is so hard to obtain. It is that people keep themselves separated from God because of their natural tendencies to make it hard. In other words, they try to gain their salva-tion by works. The very act of trying to earn their salvation only sepa-rates them further from God. Ironic, isn’t it? It is no harder for Christians to move in the gifts of the Holy Spirit than it is to receive the gift of salvation. The goal is not twisting the arm of a reluctant God to forgive us or to manifest His power through us. It is simply putting away the attitudes that isolate us from Him and accepting what He wants to do in and through us. There are, however, several natural tendencies that isolate us from God’s power and prevent the gifts from flowing through us with ease. Just as our efforts to earn the gift of salvation are an enemy of salvation, these tendencies that are common to all of us are generally the enemies of the supernatural powers of God and, in particular, the spiritual gifts of the Holy Spirit. Here, I present five of these enemies of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
THE NUMBER ONE ENEMY OF SPIRITUAL GIFTS: FEAR OF THE SUPERNATURAL
Bertrand Russell once said, "Fear is the main source of supersti-tion, and one of the main sources of cruelty." The tendency of human nature is to avoid things that are mysterious or beyond rational explanation. For this reason, most Christians approach the subject of the supernatural with much trepidation. No one is afraid of a Bible study on the topic. But a personal challenge to be used by God in the realm of the supernatural would make most people very apprehensive. If you were to put them in an environment where the gifts are being demon-strated, it would make them very, very nervous. The first time I witnessed the operation of the gifts of the Spirit, there was a noticeable uneasiness in my heart. I was invited to a large charismatic church by a Christian woman. As an unbeliever, I sat respectfully in my seat, thinking back through how I had been talked into coming, and I was determined not to repeat the mistake. It was an en-thusiastic group, and back then I was unsure what everyone was so ex-cited about. At one point, an elderly gray-haired man in the congregation stood up and loudly announced that God was going to heal a woman of cancer that very night. I can’t say I didn’t believe that God could or even would heal a person of cancer. It’s always easier, though, to believe something like that happening in another time and in a distant place. The idea of someone predicting that it would happen then and there, boy, did I feel uncomfortable! And how could this man say with such certainty, "The Lord would say to this people?" I was looking for the nearest exit! Despite all my personal reservations about this man’s seemingly disruptive behavior, a frail woman walked up to the front of the sanctuary, announced she had cancer, and claimed that the prophecy was speaking about her condition. Some of the men, who appeared to be the leaders, prayed for her. The woman seemed to be powerfully affected by what was happening. She even stood up before the congregation and said that she felt the power of God healing her cancer and that all the pain was gone. Though I witnessed a notable miracle, I kept telling myself, Nothing happened to that woman. Those people at that church are just crazy. Several days after the service, my friend informed me that the woman had gone in for more tests. The doctor who performed the re-examination had proclaimed her free of cancer. Although I couldn’t deny what I had seen, I surely didn’t want to believe it, either. I desperately sought a rational explanation because the supernatural answer really scared me. It forced me to rethink my beliefs and the comfortable structures of logic I had erected in my mind. Fear has both a positive and a negative side. Fear, in a positive sense, is the natural response to danger or pain (i.e., falling rocks, gun-fire, etc.). The negative side of fear, which is based on ignorance and dread of the unknown or unfamiliar, creates superstition, prejudice, misinformation, and bad theology. Both types of fear are common to all people. But, as Christians, we cannot let our theology or our practical experiences be governed by our fear of the supernatural.
Terrified by the Things We Hold Dear
Christians believe in eternal life, in heaven and hell, in the resur-rection of Jesus and His second coming, as well as the parting of the Red Sea, Elijah calling down fire from heaven, and a long list of other miracles. You would think that people who base their lives on such radical ideas about the supernatural would be drawn like magnets to the supernatural. But none of these biblical miracles makes us uncomfortable because they are conveniently removed far from our present experience, either in the past or the future. The truth is that most Christians are generally terrified of things they love, hope for, and believe. God wants us to enthusiastically embrace the supernatural. The Scriptures are full of instances where angels, who appeared before men, first said to them, "Do not be afraid" (Dan. 10:12; Luke 1:13, 30; 2:10). Human beings are not used to dealing face-to-face with spirit beings. And angels, unlike the paintings of babies with wings, are scary beings! Because God knows and understands this fact, He ensures that all of His messengers quiet our palpitating hearts by saying in an extremely believable and reassuring way, "Do not be afraid." Many times the Lord, in response to our prayers, sends His angels to fight on our behalf or to deliver messages, but it is in the form of a vision (Acts 10:1-8; 27:21-26). When our eyes are opened to their reality, those comforting words, "Do not be afraid," need to be quickly heard. Jesus cast a legion of demons out of a man who had terrorized all the people of the region with his demonically inspired, superhuman strength and animalistic behavior. This miracle was quickly reported to the townspeople, who came to see for themselves. The demoniac whom they had feared for so long was sitting there, dressed and in his right mind (Mark 5:15), talking to Jesus. You would suppose that they would have all rejoiced, saying with great joy, "Praise the Lord! We don’t have to worry anymore about being attacked by the crazy man!" But that was not the case.
Then all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear. So he got into the boat and left.(Luke 8:37) This was indeed a strange response, but one that is a common tendency of all natural men and women. It is also interesting to note that Jesus didn’t hang around to do more miracles in a place where He was considered unwelcome by people who were squeamish about the power of God. Matthew indicated that, when Jesus walked on the water, the disciples who were in the boat thought He was a ghost and were afraid. Once again, those comforting words were spoken: "It is I. Don’t be afraid" (Matt. 14:27). Peter cried out in reply, "Lord, if it’s you, tell me to come to you on the water." Jesus’ response was, "Come!"(vv. 28-29). This gospel narrative established the biblical premise that God does not want us to be afraid of supernatural things or spiritual gifts. He bids us to come and walk with Him in the miraculous. This is an eternal invitation for you and me to take a step of faith out of our comfort zones, amid our gawking friends, and dare to believe that God can use us to demonstrate His power.
Inordinate Fear of the Devil
Several years ago, I was in a worship service where the pastor began to pray for a man who was demon possessed. As the pastor commanded the demon spirits to come out, the man fell to the floor and began moving backward in a spiral form, like a snake slithering quickly away from its predator. I had never seen anything like that before. It was as though someone was pulling this man by the collar as fast as possible. The serpentine motion was very unusual, especially for a human being. The demonic spirits that possessed him were frightened and were trying with all their might to escape without being exorcised. A Christian woman standing by became fearful in much the same way as did the townspeople in Gerasenes. Apparently, she had never witnessed an exorcism before. She swooped up her young son in her arms and ran to the back of the sanctuary, away from all the commotion. Her son showed no signs of any fear. The mother, however, was fearful for her son. Little did she know that God had already provided protection for her and her son through the covenant of salvation. The pastor cast out the demon, and no one was hurt, not even the frightened lady or her son. Some reject the manifestations of the power of the Holy Spirit be-cause they are so afraid of the Devil. The idea is that, since some manifestation might possibly be of the Devil, they will therefore have nothing to do with any kind of supernatural manifestation just to be safe. If God had not already protected us, there is nothing the woman could have done in her own strength against Satan. Running to the back of the sanctuary, or out of the building and down the street for that matter, has no protective ability against the attack of a demonic spirit. But we have no reason to be afraid of spirits, the unseen world, or su-pernatural gifts. God has everything under control. John the apostle wrote, You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world (1 John 4:4). There is a simple statement made by pastors in a lot of local churches which causes a common response from their congregations. The pastors say, "God is good,"and the people respond, "All the time." As simple as this sounds, it is, nonetheless, very biblical. For a more scriptural phraseology, the psalmist put it this way: "Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good" (Ps. 136:1). Throughout the Bible, it is clear that God is good, and all things that come from His hands share that same quality of state. The gifts of the Spirit are good. They have been given to the church as tools to build up the body of Christ (1 Cor. 14:4-5, 12). In fact, the apostle Paul established the premise by which we should pray to receive spiritual gifts: Since you are eager to have spiritual gifts, try to excel in gifts that build up the church (1 Cor. 14:12). The care for the church body should be the motivation for inquiring about spiritual gifts. And the main reason why someone cares for another person is that he seeks the person’s good. The more you care for people, the more God wants to use you. The Lord really is our Shepherd who provides for our needs. It is with this intention that God gave us spiritual gifts. I’ve met some Christians who are afraid to ask for the gifts of the Spirit or to step out in faith to be used by the Holy Spirit in a super-natural way. They are afraid that what they receive might be from the Devil. But read what Jesus said: So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!(Luke 11:9-13
This is rather conclusive: God wants to give us our heart’s desires. All we need to do is ask. If you have asked already and have not re-ceived a genuine manifestation, it is important that you continue asking. The words ask, seek, and knock are all in the present imperative, a tense that signifies continuing action. These words can also be literally translated, "continually ask, continually seek, and continually knock." According to The Interpreter’s Bible, this means that Jesus is urging us to keep on asking, keep on seeking, and keep on knocking continuously, uninterruptedly.These actions demonstrate the urgent sincerity we ought to regularly exercise. Norval Geldenhuys, a New Testament scholar, comments on these three verbs by pointing out that we must ask, seek, and knock with "all other exertion"towards the purpose of obtaining the things for which the prayer is offered. While confidently awaiting God’s answer, the one who prays must also from his side do everything that is necessary. Jesus concluded His statement to the disciples by affirming that, if earthly fathers desire to give good gifts to their children, how much more does our heavenly Father want to bless us (v. 13). This point ne-gates any false thinking or fear that tries to enter the heart of the Chris-tian who desires the manifestation of spiritual gifts. Whatever comes from God is good, including spiritual gifts. In fact, these gifts are innately good. That is why Paul said, "No one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, ‘Jesus be cursed,’ and no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit" (1 Cor. 12:3). The Spirit of God will never cause anyone to operate in spiritual gifts via demonic influence. If one is not careful, however, fear of spiritual gifts can result in one unknowingly creating an enemy to the activation of spiritual gifts.
THE SECOND ENEMY OF SPIRITUAL GIFTS: SOCIAL ACCEPTANCE
Throughout church history, the gifts of the Spirit have been avoided by well-intentioned saints who were unable to detect the invisible war between social acceptance and the supernatural. I grew up in a household that took pride in being socially intelli-gent. This became a significant part of my culture. One Sunday morn-ing the Lord told me to visit a particular church in another city to deliver a prophetic word. I did not know the pastor but had heard a little about him from mutual friends. On Sunday morning I arrived to join them for worship, but the only empty seat was located directly against a wall, approximately six or seven seats from the nearest aisle. As the worship time was coming to a close and everyone was still standing, a prophetic word came to me. I knew by its internal intensity that demonstrative gestures should accompany the spoken word. Since everyone was standing during worship, the quickest way to get to the nearest aisle was to walk over the six or seven chairs next to me. So I jumped up on the chairs and began to make my way to the aisle. I walked around waving my hands like one of the Old Testament proph-ets who would have been labeled a madman. I was prophesying loudly that the church had to be willing to release the pastor to the nations so that he could fulfill his translocal calling. The prophetic delivery was so intense that the worship leader did not know what to do or say afterward. The pastor walked forward to the platform and said in the microphone that he did not know who I was, but it was indeed a true word from the Lord. If that church or I were more caught up with external dignity, the word of the Lord would not have been given or received. Although my culturally preferred behavior pattern was opposed to that style of prophetic delivery, obedience to the word of the Lord is more important than social acceptance. Today, that pastor has a powerful international ministry based out of that same local church I visited. The church gra-ciously received the word and acted upon it.
For Crying Out Loud!
When it comes to socially approved religious etiquette, there’s just no place for crying out with a loud voice. God sent a prophet to King Jeroboam, who had set up his own altar so that people would not go up to Jerusalem in obedience to God’s command.
By the word of the LORD a man of God came from Judah to Bethel, as Jeroboam was standing by the altar to make an offering. He cried out against the altar by the word of the LORD: "O altar, altar! This is what the LORD says" (1 Kings 13:1-2)
Mary, the mother of Jesus, went to visit Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, when they were both pregnant.
At that time Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea, where she entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!" (Luke 1:39-42)
Mary had already entered Elizabeth’s house. Nevertheless, the Bible declares that Elizabeth cried out with a loud voice while delivering a prophetic word. Neither disrupting a worship service with a word for the king who is in attendance nor yelling out in someone’s home are socially acceptable forms of behavior. Yet, it was God who orchestrated both of these instances. People in the Bible often cried out loudly to prophesy or to ask for a miracle by faith. When Solomon dedicated the temple in Jerusalem, when Elijah prayed for the son of the widow of Zarephath to be resurrected from the dead, when Isaiah the prophet cried unto the Lord and God brought the shadow ten degrees backward, when Jesus commanded Lazarus to come out of the grave, and when Stephen was being stoned to death while asking for his murderers’ forgiveness they all had one thing in common. They cried out with a loud voice. Throughout the book of Revelation, angels and cherubim and the heavenly host cry out with a loud voice, without ceasing! The social pressure can become so overbearing that well-in-tentioned believers gradually slip into a pseudo-spiritual, non-supernatural Christian worship and lifestyle. For example, the presentation of a sermon in a teaching format is more religiously correct, than a fiery preaching style. A hymn that is sung like a funeral dirge is more socially acceptable than an exuberant charismatic chorus. Religion that is approved by the world is not supposed to move one to external expressions of enthusiasm or excitement. Consequently, this type of environment makes many people think that a refined and dignified ministry (lacking a manifestation of spiritual gifts) is more honored by God because of its social grace and style.
THE THIRD ENEMY OF SPIRITUAL GIFTS: THE CARNAL MIND
Granted, the supernatural is not easily understood by the carnal mind. The term carnal refers to the natural, unregenerate way of thinking, not necessarily to something morally evil. The spirit realm calls for faith and an acceptance of God’s unfailing ability to do exceedingly abundantly above all we could imagine or think. The logic of the Holy Spirit and how He manifests Himself in the church through the gifts is not according to our way of thinking or reasoning. His ways are higher than our ways, and His thoughts are higher than our thoughts (Isa. 55:9). Every few months there is a cover story in Time, Newsweek, or U.S. News & World Report about miracles, the Resurrection, or the true identity of Jesus. In short, all these magazines simply rehash old arguments about controversies that exist between historic Christianity and the philosophy of the modern world. What complicates the matter is that the battle lines are not so clearly drawn, primarily due to the fact that over the centuries a lot of the world’s materialistic philosophy has wormed its way into Christian theology. Now, you need to understand that materialism is the philosophical belief that the material world as seen by the five senses is the fullness of the universe and that the spiritual realm does not exist or is not significant. As a consequence of this philosophy working its way into theology, the church has for a long time been at odds with itself over the philosophical foundation of faith. Some of the implications are very subtle. On the other hand, the best and most telling indicator of the foundation of faith is in the way one approaches the subject of miracles and, in particular, spiritual gifts. For a thousand years, Christian theology was based on a world-view similar to the philosophy espoused by Plato, namely, that the most real things are unseen and that what is seen is created by the unseen. For Christians, that would be the spiritual world. Beginning around the twelfth century, there was in the Western World a great renewal of interest in classical literature. Both Plato and Aristotle believed that truth is only gained through reason. However, Aristotle disagreed with his teacher, Plato, and said that the only reality is in the material world. Donald Palmer, in his book, Looking at Philosophy, says that the ra-tionalism and materialism of Aristotle were becoming so universally accepted that they threatened to bulldoze the Christian faith. The church eventually adopted the position found in the writings of Thomas Aquinas, who incorporated Aristotelian materialism into Christian theology by separating the spiritual world and the physical world. Aquinas considered the spiritual world to be governed by the spirit, and the world in which we live by rationalism-materialism. According to William DeArteaga in Quenching the Spirit, it was an effective answer to the Aristotelian skeptics, but there was little room left for the miraculous in this world. Many people who stop believing in God’s involvement in the world through the miraculous eventually stop believing in the supernatural altogether. A recent poll of American Christians by the re-nowned marketing analyst, George Barna, indicated that, when asked the question, "Do you believe in the reality of Satan?"fifty-one per-cent of the twelve hundred Christians polled said that they did not know or that Satan was only a symbol of evil. The result of such a materialist worldview can take two religious forms. The first is cessationism, which is based on philosophical skep-ticism (there is no God or supernatural). The other religious form is based on theological skepticism, which is a religious attempt to argue against the presence or possibility of the miraculous. Those who take on the latter form are called demythologizers.
Jack Deere, in Surprised by the Power of the Spirit, says that ces-sationism is the belief that all miracles and all gifts of the Spirit ended with the death of the apostles. This belief is not based on Scripture itself but is an attempt to explain the absence of the power of the Spirit in the church. Augustine, in his early life, was a cessationist, but he completely reversed his position because of the number and frequency of miracles he witnessed in the fourth century church. Many conservative, fundamentalist Christians are dogmatic cessationists. Undoubtedly, they believe that the world of the Spirit exists but that the spiritual realm, in the form of miracles and the spiritual gifts, never affects the world we live in. You might call it a sort of 'materialistic interlude' between the early church and the second coming of Christ. If it appears that a miracle has occurred, the auto-matic conclusion is either that it did not happen or that the Devil did it, because, of course, miracles do not happen in the church age.
Early in the twentieth century, skeptical theologians (most nota-bly, Rudolf Bultmann) took the next logical step of cessationism: not only do miracles not take place today, but they never did. The assumption was that the miracles of the Bible did not actually occur be-cause it is not possible that miracles can occur. From this assumption, the task became to de-myth the Bible by giving rational explana-tions for all recorded miracles. Consequently, according to Eerdman’s Handbook to the History of Christianity, the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection, the miracles of Jesus, and so on, are all considered legends created by the early church. The result is a materialistic belief system that is non-Christian because it is stripped of all the essential elements of faith. Unfortunately, the ideas of Bultmann and other demythologizers are taught in most denominational seminaries. No wonder the church is so powerless! When you try to incorporate the philosophy of the world into Christian theology, you always end up with logical inconsistencies. Both the fundamentalist cessationists and the demythologizers are guilty of circular reasoning, a logical fallacy characterized by simply using a desired conclusion as the premise. In other words, as C. S. Lewis wrote in his book, Miracles, they reason in a circle by asserting that miracles do not happen because they cannot happen. This kind of in-bred theological skepticism about the miraculous, which is nothing more than a dogmatic commitment to doubt and unbelief, is an enemy of the gifts of the Spirit. Jesus Himself said that in His hometown He could only do a few miracles because of their unbelief (Matt. 13:58). Thus, the carnal mind, even when infused with biblical terminology, is a natural enemy to the supernatural.
THE FOURTH ENEMY OF SPIRITUAL GIFTS: THE DESIRE FOR CONTROL
The desire to control the form of worship and the way faith is practiced causes some people to make terrible mistakes in spiritual discernment and in the theology they concoct to support their faulty perceptions. Case in point: the Pharisees. The word Pharisee means "separated one." The members of this Jewish sect prided themselves in having separated themselves from the clutches of worldliness. Being a Pharisee also meant that you spent most of your life studying Moses and the prophets. But, with all their devotion, they became theological hairsplitters who spent endless hours arguing over relatively insignificant points of the Law. This was, in their minds, what it meant to be truly spiritual. They took pride in being able to interpret the Law in such a way that it provided a prescription and a regulation for absolutely everything. All the questions were answered, and religion was fit into a neat little package. Some contemporary theology is not so different from that of the Pharisees. Some modern-day Christians have determined that the Bible relegates all demonstrations of the power of the Holy Spirit to the Old Testament, to the first century church, and perhaps to heaven or the Millennium; but nothing to the present age. What’s left are creeds, laws, and practices, in written or unwritten form, that work with or without the presence of God’s power. In fact, the whole business of church, for them, could go on very well without any involvement what-soever from God. That’s not too exciting. However, it’s very safe and very easy to control. That’s what the Pharisees and their legal experts, the scribes, had created predictable and manageable religion. With all the accumulation of religious education and supposed on-going communion with God, the Pharisees still lacked the basic knowledge of spiritual things. Consequently, the supernatural ministry of Jesus really caught them off guard. Jesus didn’t have certified theological training, He cared little for their interpretations of the Old Testa-ment, and, most importantly, He wasn’t one of them. They probably would have considered Him easy to be discredited had it not been for all those miracles! Jesus cast a demon out of a man who had been blind and dumb, so that he could both see and hear. This astounding miracle caused the multitude to take the first steps toward believing in Jesus as their Mes-siah. But the Pharisees, who could not refute the miracle itself, said, "It is only by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, that this fellow [Jesus] drives out demons" (Matt. 12:24). Jesus used a simple argument to help them see that He could not be demon possessed and, at the same time, deliver a man controlled by demons. He said to them,
Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand. If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand? (Matt. 12:25-26)
Those Pharisees who asserted that Jesus had cast out demons by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons, seemed to be more concerned about protecting their religious control than they were about discerning what was truly of God or of Satan. Consequently, Jesus condemned their evaluation in the strongest possible terms:
He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters. And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be for-given.(vv. 30-31)
It goes without saying that we need to be careful about ascribing supernatural manifestations to the Devil that may, in fact, be the work of the Holy Spirit. It is also important to note that God does not condemn people for making a sincere mistake in judgment. But, in this situation, the Pharisees were not so concerned about the origin of the miracle, whether it be from God or Satan, as they were about maintaining their grip on organized religion. The Pharisees knew that if God were to intervene directly with His people through the miraculous, then they would lose control. The Pharisees were outright enemies to Jesus. Most Christians, when reading the accounts of Jesus’ interaction with the Pharisees, si-lently root for Jesus to verbally stomp them. Consequently, our modern-day religious packaging of worship services is not easily connected to the Pharisees. Yet, there is a real and true parallel here. Rigidity, inflexibility, and hard-and-fast rules regarding the Spirit of God work against the supernatural in our worship services. Our corporate meetings must offer a genuine ease and latitude for the Holy Spirit to do whatever He chooses at any given moment. I am not suggesting that there should not be a clear order and structure to our services; I am simply point-ing to the environment in which spiritual gifts are most easily manifested, an atmosphere of freedom. In chapter eight I will further discuss how we can create the proper atmosphere for the operation of spiritual gifts. The Holy Spirit’s work is like a kite flying in the wind. Too much tension on the string by the one flying the kite will prohibit the kite from soaring to new levels or moving laterally in new directions. Local church leaders hold the reins of the service. Hence, they set the direction and purpose of the meeting. If they are inflexible or insensitive to the Holy Spirit, the manifestations of the Spirit are quenched. Paul admonished us to "quench not the Spirit" (1 Thess. 5:19 KJV). Quench is the Greek word sbennumi (pronounced sben’-noo-mee), which means "to extinguish, to go out." We are urged not to extinguish or to allow the works of the Spirit of God to go out.
THE FIFTH ENEMY OF SPIRITUAL GIFTS: THE LACK OF DISCERNMENT
While many in the church are rejecting the supernatural, the world is making a fortune promoting toxic spiritual experiences of one form or another. Television commercials flood the screen daily, advertising psychic advisors who can provide you with supposed divine guidance on relationships, a career, and even the lottery. Although the Bible clearly states that we must not seek after witches, warlocks, or anyone involved in psychic phenomena (Lev. 19:31), the spiritually uninformed are mesmerized by the mystery of the spiritual realm. The reason why there are so many commercials is that so many people are responding. This demonic lure has resulted in the psychic industry in America grossing multiple millions of dollars annually. Many in the church respond to this phenomenon by digging in their nails, so to speak, and fortifying their stance against any kind of supernatural manifestations. That way, they make sure none of the bad stuff can get in. However, the apostles took a very different approach. The early churches that existed outside of Palestine were in a world filled with pagan mysticism and every kind of occult practice imaginable. They were like some people today who are content to let almost anything happen as long as they don’t miss what God wants to do. Did the apostles recommend that they prohibit spiritual manifestations in the church? Not at all. Nor did they recommend simply letting anything take place unchallenged. John wrote, "Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world" (1 John 4:1). With regard to prophecies from those within the church, Paul wrote, "Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said" (1 Cor. 14:29). Throughout the New Testament, the apostolic admonition was not to quench the Spirit’s manifestations, but to discern. Discerning of spirits, one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:10), has been given to the church to help protect her from unwanted intruders and faulty spiritual practices. And, natural discernment has been provided to the church by God to ensure our health and purity. The body of Christ must learn to exercise with great wisdom the discerning of spirits so that the true gifts can be allowed to flow freely. The alternative is to announce to the world that all we have is a religious form without power. One way to destroy the horrible occult industry, with all of its lies and false hopes, is for the church to move in the miraculous power of God. People would no longer seek the false when the genuine is in full demonstration and readily accessible. Whether out of fear, ignorance, or a carnal mindset, many mis-guided saints unconsciously reject the power of God. The enemies of the gifts of the Spirit can have many damaging effects: people become insensitive to God, develop false doctrines in order to avoid dealing with the reality of spiritual gifts, and even ascribe authentic works of the Holy Spirit to Satan. We must begin viewing the gifts of the Spirit as means by which God delivers and empowers His church to live victoriously. A faith perspective is the best weapon we have in the war against fear, doubt, and unbelief. Dr. Billy Graham tells the story of an Eskimo fisherman who came to a certain village every Saturday. He always brought his dogs with him, one black and the other white. The dogs were trained to fight on command. One Saturday the white dog would win. The next Saturday the black dog would win. The Eskimo would take bets from the observers, but he always knew which dog would win. When asked to explain the phenomenon, he replied, I feed one dog and starve the other. The one I feed always wins because he’s stronger. God wants you to operate in the gifts of the Spirit with ease. If you feed your faith, the enemies of the gifts will be starved into submission.