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“One aspect of life in the Spirit that was essential for Peter was hearing the Spirit speak. Is there such a thing as a word from the Lord today? Can anyone hear God speak? How do we know it is God who is speaking? This book answers these questions.” –Carol Lawrence from her preface Peter Lawrence was a vicar in the Church of England for many years until his death in 2009. As he began to write this book about living fully in the Spirit’s healing power, he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Accepting God’s ...
“One aspect of life in the Spirit that was essential for Peter was hearing the Spirit speak. Is there such a thing as a word from the Lord today? Can anyone hear God speak? How do we know it is God who is speaking? This book answers these questions.” –Carol Lawrence from her preface Peter Lawrence was a vicar in the Church of England for many years until his death in 2009. As he began to write this book about living fully in the Spirit’s healing power, he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Accepting God’s will with grace, he has left behind this moving account of the spiritual reality that radiated from him and touched many lives. Blending anecdote, self-effacing humor, and biblical teaching, Peter describes how he discovered the gift of receiving a “word” from God, and the amazing healings of spirit, mind, and body that resulted. And he shows how God’s Spirit can guide you—powerfully, personally, day by day.
THE GOD WHO SPEAKS
* * *
The speaker at our conference looked like Santa Claus. He had a big belly, a full beard, a jovial smile, and an American accent. There were several thousand of us in the Sheffield Centre in Britain in 1985 who had been persuaded against our better judgment to attend a conference with the not-at-all-British title "Signs and Wonders."
Santa played a keyboard to the highest standard and led us in a time of musical worship. (I discovered afterward that he arranged songs for the Righteous Brothers and actually had three top-ten hits in America, all at the same time.) He then came to the lectern, told the story of how he had become a Christian, and regaled us with all kinds of stories and jokes for an hour. I was captivated and enjoyed myself immensely.
In the evening there was much more teaching from the Bible, emphasizing Jesus' dependence on His Father. Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does" (John 5:19).
Our speaker placed the emphasis on Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, taking His orders from His Father. Jesus teaches us what the Father teaches Him (John 7:17), He speaks what the Father speaks (John 8:2–11), and He says what the Father says (John 14:10). All of which comes from the Father through the Spirit: "For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit" (John 3:34).
And then the speaker, whose name was John Wimber, had a go at speaking a "word."
"Is there a lady here," he asked, "aged thirty-two, with a bad throat, with a name beginning with L, who would be willing to come out?"
I had never witnessed anything like this before, so it was good we had heard John's testimony and his teaching from the Bible beforehand. It could have been a put-up job, but I trusted him. When the "word" was given, Linda sensed the Spirit speak to her, and she came down from the back quite quickly.
During the interview it was obvious she had a bad throat, but she was adamant that her age was thirty-one, not thirty-two. A team prayed for her; she went down on the floor, and when she came up, her voice was clear and seemed to be healed. It was impressive. But there was no way I could have possibly guessed what Santa's sack had for me next.
"Is there someone here," John asked, "whose testicle did not drop as a teenager?" What a question! What an embarrassment! It was me. Fortunately the stage was full of people receiving prayer for other "words," so John said it might be better if the person saw him privately afterward. Good job!
Just before the conference a surgeon had seen me and advised that I have my testicle removed in case it turned cancerous. He booked me in for an operation when I returned from Yorkshire. After the service, I checked to see if anyone else had claimed the word—apparently not.
Sadly, nobody could find John Wimber to pray for me, so I saw a curate, and the next day a bishop. I wasn't healed and I had the operation, but I had much to think about. It appears not only that God can still speak to us today, but He is willing to do so.
I came home from Sheffield on Wednesday and had one day to prepare for a celebration meeting in our church, at which our bishop was preaching. Should I or shouldn't I—have a go, that is? I decided if God gave me a word, I would give it. During the meeting I got a twinge in my left thumb and thought it might be from God. The speakers at Sheffield had told us that pain in our bodies can sometimes be a word from the Spirit of God for somebody He wants to heal, so I tried it.
"Is there anyone here who has something wrong with their left thumb?" I asked hopefully, after the bishop had spoken.
Now you would have thought that in a group of 150 people there would be somebody with something wrong with a left thumb, but apparently not. The bishop looked at me—should he close with the blessing? I nodded, and he dismissed the crowd.
As people began filing out, a young man made his way forward to see me. "I cut my left thumb opening a tin," he said apologetically, "but I didn't like to mention it in front of all those people."
Go away, I thought, it's no good now. Inwardly I was screaming, Come back, everyone, the thumb's here! But it was too late. I thanked him for coming forward, prayed for him, and then crawled home, mumbling as I went.
Greg, a man from our church, rang to encourage me the next day, which was totally unexpected and very welcome, as I thought I might need to start looking for a new job. Thus reaffirmed, and having thought things through a little, I tried again, this time with our young people on Sunday night.
Roger Jones, our director of music, had come to talk to the youth, and after he'd finished, we waited upon God. Immediately thoughts flashed into my mind: Toe, back, eye. This was crazy stuff. It was a young people's meeting and there were only nine or ten present. If I'd received such words at our over-sixties group, I'd have felt more confident. At this point Roger began to cough painfully, and I knew he often suffered from a sore throat, so I said to God, "What about this man, Lord?" The answer came back, "Not on the agenda." So I gave it a try: "Anyone here with a pain in the toe, back, or eye?" I asked, feeling very unsure of myself. Three teenage lads claimed one each and we divided up to pray for them.
The one with the pain in the back said he'd only begun to feel pain when he sat on the chair in the room. We were very slow to realize that these three were our most skeptical members; two of them claimed to be unbelievers. With hindsight and more experience, I now believe the Holy Spirit gave those three words about very small complaints to show three people, who in varying degrees were struggling with unbelief, how much He loved them. Clearly, if I'd had a word about "two unbelievers and a skeptic," everyone would have said I knew that anyway. No one knew of the physical complaints mentioned, especially as one had only cropped up at the time. Had we not been so dim-witted, we might have used the Spirit's words more lovingly and profitably.
Nevertheless, I was encouraged. We carried on with the ministry on Sunday evenings and in our small midweek meetings, and learned not to despise "the day of small things" (Zech. 4:10). I enthused about the conference and shared with my friends whenever the Spirit came and did something significant among us. Occasionally people received a picture or a sense of peace, but most commonly we received "word[s] of knowledge" (1 Cor. 12:8 NKJV).
I shared a few of these things with an acquaintance from another church and then half-jokingly said, "Get me an invitation to one of your services and I'll come and do a Wimber on your congregation." This was a very silly thing to say. She took me seriously and a letter arrived from her vicar inviting me to speak and minister at a Thursday night celebration in January. I was too embarrassed to refuse.
I meditated upon the problem and then ransacked my library in search of confidence-boosting fodder. I was looking for something on words from God. I needed some quotations to add authenticity to my message, and eventually my eyes rested on a book by Stuart Blanch, a former archbishop of York. Like several of the books in my study, it was unread, but I thought a casual aside from an archbishop would sound impressive. I read the first eleven pages, usually enough to find a decent quote, but then found myself putting the book down in total amazement. One sentence stopped me in my tracks: "The Bible ... rests on the assumption that God speaks." With all the "words of knowledge" we had been getting, this spoke volumes to me.
It was what my friend Bishop John Finney would describe as a "blob" experience—a moment of insight, a sudden encounter with truth. In the past few months I had been thrilled to hear the Spirit speaking to me and had paraded my stories in the pulpit like a centenarian with a telegram from the Queen. Most of us think God may, from time to time, beam in with a special word on special occasions for special people. I had likewise exhibited my words from the Holy Spirit as trophies or rewards for good conduct, as evidence of my high spiritual standing, but suddenly that lie was exposed. God is a God who speaks! Just as I am a man who eats, God is a God who speaks. On Sundays nobody asks me if I've eaten anything in the past week; everyone assumes I have. I am a man who eats; it is part of my very nature as a man and something I do without thinking. God is a God who speaks; the Bible declares it from beginning to end.
As the penny dropped, I recognized in myself a wrong-thinking about God. People are inconsistent. Even the mature saint fails to do good all the time. We cannot always discern accurately who a person is from what a person does. If a Christian preacher confesses to spending a night with a prostitute, as some have done, we cannot easily tell if it is the confession of a "con man" who has been found out or a sinner who is repentant. There are two kingdoms at war within us, and at different moments either might be seen to have the upper hand.
But God is not like that. His nature is perfect, incorruptible, and totally consistent. He always reveals His true character in everything He does. We may not interpret all He does correctly, because we see through a glass darkly due to our sinful natures, but when so many believers over so many centuries have encountered the God who speaks by His Spirit, it seems right to conclude this is part of who He is. The Bible rests on the assumption that God is a God who speaks.
My whole being thrilled to this new concept, but with the excitement came a twinge of fear. If this is true, I thought, then I can expect the Spirit of God to speak to me regularly. And if I preach it as true, the congregation will expect the Spirit to speak to them. This was a moment of truth for me! I began to realize why some of my ancestors had denied the present-day existence of spiritual gifts and settled for a more comfortable way of life. It is always much easier to claim that God has spoken and God will speak than that God speaks. All my past hurts, fears, rejections, and psychological hang-ups surfaced at once, as my yearning for security sought to bury this simple, luminous truth in the ground, like the man in the Bible did with his one talent (Matt. 25:14–30). As a vicar, I had always sought to hide my insecure emotions by commenting on life rather than risk taking part in it, and yet I couldn't bear the thought of spending the rest of my days running away from truth in search of a quiet life.
I decided to think through this new concept and prepare my sermon for the evening service at my friend's church accordingly. If, after investigating, I still thought God is a God who speaks, I would expect Him to validate His word. I asked myself three important questions:
1. Does the Bible rest on the assumption that God speaks?
2. Does God speak by His Holy Spirit today?
3. In what way does the Holy Spirit speak today?
Does the Bible Assume God Speaks?
The Bible opens with these words: "In the beginning God created." The way He created was by speaking: "God said, 'Let there be light,' and there was light" (Gen. 1:3). As the psalmist says, "The heavens declare the glory of God" (Ps. 19:1).
As soon as mankind appears, God speaks to them. He speaks to Adam and Eve and to their family; He speaks to Noah, Abraham, and the patriarchs. From Moses to Malachi, the prophets thunder, "Thus says the Lord."
He speaks to the world through Jesus, the Word of God. The writer to the Hebrews says, "In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son" (Heb. 1:1–2 RSV). On the day of Pentecost the Spirit of God was poured out for all believers: "The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call" (Acts 2:39), and it is through the Spirit's gift of tongues (languages)—God speaking—that the world is alerted to this truth.
Paul assures us that God, the God who loves to speak, is now dwelling in every believer by His Spirit. "If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ" (Rom. 8:9). "We were all baptized by one Spirit" (1 Cor. 12:13); "You are the body of Christ" (1 Cor. 12:27). The gifts of the Spirit that Paul talks about are nearly all gifts that enable us to hear God speaking or discern what He is doing. And the final book of the Bible continues on the same theme: "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches" (Rev. 2:7).
This revelation about God is present from beginning to end of the Bible—and it is present as a powerful truth. If we compare the statement "God speaks" with other biblical statements like "God heals" or "God loves" or "God forgives," we can appreciate its strength. Anyone who says "God heals" has to have something to say about the plagues He sent upon Egypt (Ex. 9:8–11; 12:29), the leprosy He gave to Gehazi (2 Kings 5:27), and the blindness He gave to Elymas (Acts 13:9–12). Even in Revelation, John tells us that at the end of history God will not heal everyone (Rev. 20:11–15).
Anyone who says "God forgives" has to have something to say about "God judges," and those who claim "God loves sinners" can never forget that "God hates sin." It is far easier to claim that God "speaks" than that God heals, forgives, or loves. Whether He is saving Daniel (Dan. 6:22), killing Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:5, 10), forgiving a woman caught in the act of adultery (John 8:11b), urging the stoning of a man to death for collecting sticks on the Sabbath (Num. 15:32–36), whipping the money-changers with cords (John 2:15), or accepting lashes Himself (Mark 15:15), God is speaking. Even when He is silent, He communicates: "Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD, and for seven years he gave them into the hands of the Midianites" (Judg. 6:1). Verses 7 and 8 continue, "When the Israelites cried to the LORD because of Midian, he sent them a prophet."
There are times in Scripture and in the history of the church when the word of the Lord has been rare (e.g., 1 Sam. 3:1), but it seems to have been the result of people's sin rather than God's unwillingness to speak (1 Sam. 2:12–36). In Genesis 1—2, Adam and Eve had fellowship with God, but after they sinned in chapter 3, they hid from Him. It appears that sin causes us to turn our backs on God, while the saving activity of God enables us to turn around, face Him, and call Him Father. God has recalled us into fellowship through His Son, Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 1:9); Paul prays for the "fellowship of the Holy Spirit" to be with the Corinthians (2 Cor. 13:14); and John says, "Our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ" (1 John 1:3). God's desire is to have fellowship with His children, and salvation through Jesus restores us into that fellowship. A God who creates us for fellowship—and calls us back into fellowship through repentance and faith—is a God who loves to communicate with His children.
Jeremiah 10:10 says, "But the LORD is the true God; he is the living God," and Paul teaches about God's spiritual gifts that enable us to discern His activity and hear His voice.
The God of Isaiah (Isa. 37:17), Jeremiah (Jer. 23:36), Daniel (Dan. 6:26), Hosea (Hos. 1:10), Jesus (John 6:57), Peter (Matt. 16:16), Paul (Acts 14:15), the writer to the Hebrews (Heb. 12:22), and John (Rev. 7:2) is a "living God." He is not a dumb idol but a God who speaks.
If we accept the biblical revelation, it seems we are on firm ground when we claim that the living God, who lives in all believers by His Holy Spirit, is a God who speaks.
Does God Speak Today?
In a world of changing pressures and insecurities, the Bible has always been very precious to me. Ever since my conversion at fourteen, the foundation of my Christian faith has been the Scriptures, and I firmly believe the Spirit speaks to us today through them. Every day I try to spend time reading from the Bible, asking the Holy Spirit to speak to me through God's Word.
Most Christians accept that God communicates through the Bible, but some go on to say that today God speaks to us only through the Bible. It is this "only" that concerns me. I was brought up to believe in a God who has spoken and will one day speak again, but for the present speaks only through His written Word—lest we should be tossed about by every whim and fancy. I believe the main way God speaks to us today is through the Bible, but I do not believe it is the only way God speaks. I spent some time thinking about this and found three reasons why I could no longer accept that the Spirit speaks today only through Scripture.
Excerpted from THE SPIRIT WHO SPEAKS by PETER H. LAWRENCE. Copyright © 2011 Peter H. Lawrence. Excerpted by permission of David C. Cook.
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Posted September 13, 2011
To say the New Testament teachings no longer apply to us is to add a new interpretation of Scripture, invariably based on experience- or lack of it- rather than what the Bible teaches. "I have not heard the Spirit speak," so God does not speak. "I have not healed the sick", so God no longer heals the sick. "I do not speak in tongues, " so the gift has died out.
This is what the Bible encourages us to do. It teaches us that anyone who has faith in Jesus will do what He did (John 14:12), the Holy Spirit is promised to "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord. for you and your children and for all who are far off" (Acts 2:21, 39), all under the new covenant will know God "from the least of them to the greatest" (Heb. 8:11) " and receive His words in their mouths". I believe the Bible. I believe God speaks to us today through the Scriptures. I believe God also speaks to us today by His Holy Spirit. ~ Peter H. Lawrence
Peter H. Lawrence was a vicar in the Church of England for thirty-two years before his death on February 22,2009, from a brain tumor. For the last fourteen years, he led the three churches of Canford Magna in Dorset. His greatest desire was to see God work in the hearts and lives of people. Just before his death, he signed the contract for the publication of this book.
The chapter's contents include, but are not limited to: God speaking, Hearing a Word from the Lord, Prayer, Healing of emotions and sickness, Casting out demons, Signs from the Holy Spirit, and Testing everything. He shares 13 questions which should be asked prior to a word given during a service. He also gives Prophetic Guidelines for Leaders to ensure the validity of the message and minimize possibility for harm to the receiver or body of Christ. This book also includes a study guide, which would be helpful for a small group or Bible study group.
I wish I had been able to read this book 25 years ago when I first entered pentecost. The author's plain style of writing is easy to understand. Peter Lawrence , although pentecostal and charismatic, hesitated to link himself with any pentecostal denomination because of the foolishness that enters some services, and have personally witnessed from some current televangelists. Peter Lawrence encourages the reader in every chapter to test, test, test every message with Scripture. If it does not agree, it is not from God!
I believe this book should be in the libraries of every pentecostal church. If you are seeking more of the Holy Spirit's work in your life, have an interest in learning more about the Holy Spirit, are a minister desiring a tool to distribute to your congregation, or to personally use in your ministry, search no further! The Holy Spirit does speak and He desires to speak through you!