Growing up in the Brethren in Christ Church, I prayed to receive Christ at an early age. Although I remember hearing a lot about the “holy life”—using words like consecration, freedom from sin, transformation of character, the fruit of the Spirit—it seemed vague and unattainable. As a result, I had no personal sense of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in my life.
That began to change while my husband, Warren, and I were living in California, and friends invited us to their home for an evening of worship with others from our church. Warren and I saw these brothers and sisters opening themselves to the gifts of the Spirit, including prayer for healing and prophecy, which we had never before encountered. I can still picture it: people filling the living room and joining their voices—sometimes all at once—and hearts in worship. There seemed to be intimacy with God, with the Holy Spirit showing up.
Though we trusted our friends, we didn’t immediately know what to make of it. Looking back, I see how this worship encounter was God’s initial invitation for Warren and me to personally experience the reality of the Spirit’s presence in our lives. This life in the Spirit, as we were about to discover, is an ongoing journey, and we had just taken our first step.
Kneeling, to be filled
After moving to Oregon, we continued to hear about how the Holy Spirit was moving in Southern California. Again, we had the privilege of seeing this firsthand when my parents came to visit us. Barely having their feet on the ground, they began to tell us of the Holy Spirit’s work in their lives. We saw they were energized in their walk with God. We knew we needed more spiritual vitality; maybe this was the way.
But we had a lot of questions. How would this be different from the Christian life as we had experienced it up to now? What did we have to “do” to be filled with the Spirit? How would we know we were filled with the Spirit? Would there be visible indications?
My dad’s answers were biblical and reasonable. He explained that, when we ask, Jesus will baptize us with the Holy Spirit, saturating us with His presence. In the words of Ephesians 3:16–21, we invite the Spirit to strengthen our “inner being, so that Christ may dwell in [our] hearts through faith . . . to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us.” As to visible manifestations, Dad said that our initial assurance of the Holy Spirit’s presence is by faith.
These answers made sense to us. So, kneeling by the old couch in our living room, with Dad and Mom on either side of us, we asked God to fill us with His Holy Spirit.
Of course, we wanted the Spirit on our terms, so what happened next came as a surprise.
Warren immediately felt an intimacy with God as “Abba, Father” that he had never known before and was moved to audibly confess and repent of sin. This caught me off-guard.
The days that followed were difficult for me for another reason: While Warren appeared to be enjoying close communion with God, I was not. As a result, I became increasingly angry and jealous.
Up to this point, we’d resisted expressions that would set us apart in ways that we felt were uncomfortable. We’d agreed that speaking in tongues, while okay for other people, was just not something for us. As I observed Warren in the days following our prayer, I thought, Surely he isn’t praying in tongues. But yes, he was!
I couldn’t let him “get ahead” of me, so even with this unholy motivation, I had the nerve to ask God for this gift, too. God graciously received my prayer, opened my heart, and with a language unknown to me, I experienced a new freedom in prayer and worship.
As I reflect, I am certain that the distresses that followed our prayer were not unusual. Luke 4:1–2 tells us that even Jesus was tested in this way! But the Lord redeemed our struggles, turning them into opportunities for us to deal with hidden impurities and deepen our intimacy with Him, so we could be truly ready for what He had in store for us.
Awakening to joy
The new experiences continued. When we moved from Oregon to the high desert of New Mexico, our growth in the Spirit took shape in a desire for deeper communion with God through daily prayer and the reading of God’s word.
We now had children, so we were challenged to find time and space for this. We decided to dedicate the early hours of our days to prayer. Warren would leave the house before the sun rose to walk the unused airstrip, and I would go out when he returned. In the midst of the sand and sagebrush, we cried out to God and, to our joy, we began to hear His voice. As we opened up this space in our lives, we began to learn that the Holy Spirit is waiting to be active in personal, prophetic communication.
We also discovered a deepening awareness of the Bible as the enduring word of the Living Christ, speaking directly into our lives in vital ways.
We experienced this profoundly when, after four years of ministry in New Mexico, we were facing the question of what to do next. Following the wisdom of a church leader, we began to consider church planting. Late one night, after much prayer and conversation, we decided to accept the call to plant a church in Oklahoma City. Unable to wait until morning, we read the next day’s devotional from the Moravian Daily Texts: “You did not choose me, but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit . . .” (John 15:16). We immediately knew this was confirmation from the Lord that we were following Him in this decision.
An ongoing process, an enduring promise
Over the years, the Spirit has continued to convict us of sin and increase our peace and joy in who we are in Christ. He is motivating us to see others come to faith and share in His heart through intercessory prayer. He is blessing us with intimacy with Him in worship and an increasing awareness of His presence in the moment.
Recently, Warren and I were asked to sing at the memorial service for an aunt. Going about my day, I found myself humming a tune I hadn’t sung for decades. As I began to add the words to the melody, I realized that this was exactly the right selection for the service. It was exhilarating to have this song come from deep within and to know it was the Holy Spirit guiding me in even this seemingly small decision. Indeed, while God has used dramatic moments as turning points, Warren and I have found the Holy Spirit to be a constant companion, partnering with us through all of life.
Perhaps the most gratifying thing Warren and I have learned about holy living is that it is a lifelong endeavor. I am grateful that God has taken us on this journey—and that He is not finished with us yet.