Jesus' Plan to "Power Up" (Part 3)
This is the third in our series about the power of the Holy Spirit in life and ministry.
Meet Ken, a pastor and mentor of mine. A seminary graduate in the reformed tradition, Ken had little previous instruction on Jesus’ plan for empowerment. But during an Alpha Course, he heard, for the first time, teaching on being filled with the Holy Spirit. Even though Ken was a little hesitant, he went forward. The Anglican priest placed his hands on Ken and prayed, a moving and meaningful experience. Then Ken decided to press the priest a little theologically and remarked, “Nothing overt or dramatic happened, so how do you know that I have really been filled with the Holy Spirit?”
The priest inquired, “Did you sincerely ask from your heart to be filled with the Spirit?” “Yes,” Ken replied. The priest simply said, “Then you have been filled. We believe it by faith.” The priest was probably thinking of Luke 11:11-13:
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 … how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!
Several months passed. Evidence of Ken’s increased effectiveness in ministry piled up. There was a definite change compared to before. Jesus’ plan for empowerment had made a difference.
Meet Ben, a younger colleague and friend. Ben had a similar background and training as Ken. Ben, however, had a different experience of empowerment. As it happened, he was in the midst of praying for the Holy Spirit’s touch on someone else. At that moment, he suddenly found himself speaking in a “prayer language.” With this charism (spiritual gift), the Holy Spirit empowered Ben to pray for the person’s healing. Seeking to minister to another, Ben found himself empowered through the prayer language. A beautiful equipping gift!
DYNAMICALLY CONNECTED YET DISTINCT
In my first article, we saw Moses and the 72 elders foreshadowing Jesus’ Power Plan (Numbers 11). In the second article, Jesus and his disciples modeled powering-up. Now watch the early church follow the plan and explore ways to do it today.
Read Peter’s explanation of Pentecost and his resulting invitation. He understood the baptism in the Holy Spirit as dynamically connected and yet distinct from salvation. Quoting Joel-
In the last days… I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days and they will prophesy. Joel 2:28-29 (Acts 2:17-18)
Remember Moses’ prophetic wish? I believe Pentecost and the plan to “power-up” is its fulfillment.
I wish that all [emphasis mine] the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them! Numbers 11:29
In our faith community, we say, “everybody gets to play,” meaning that the Spirit calls, gifts and empowers us all-men, women and children.
Yes, the invitation for salvation, as well as for empowerment, is for all.
Repent and be baptized every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. [Many churches stop here, but Peter doesn’t.] And [emphasis mine] you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 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 2:38-39
Water baptism signifies forgiveness and the gift of salvation. The Spirit of God enters into the person (John 3:5-8) and brings new life. This is what it means to be born again. Baptism in the Spirit is a gift of spiritual power (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4, 2:33) signifying empowerment for life and ministry. The two are intimately connected, yet distinct.
THE LAYING ON OF HANDS
Water baptism is the physical act representing the spiritual reality of salvation. The laying on of hands represents another kind baptism, not in water, but in the Spirit. It represents the spiritual reality of empowerment. This dynamic is demonstrated in scripture in numerous places.
In Samaria, Philip proclaimed the good news of the Kingdom and the name of Jesus. Many believed and were baptized in water. Then Peter and John came to see this work of God. Note both their observation and response:
When they arrived, they prayed for the new believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John placed their hands on them [emphasis mine] and they received the Holy Spirit. Acts 8:15-17
The apostles didn’t question the Samaritans’ salvation. Peter and John simply wanted them to “power-up.” They saw their salvation and empowerment as connected and yet distinct. (See Acts 10:47; 11:15-17). If Peter and John came to your church would they make a similar observation?
In the next chapter of Acts, we are told of Saul’s/Paul’s road to Damascus experience. The Lord Jesus orchestrates a disciple, Ananias, not to share the gospel with Saul, but to do something else.
(Jesus to Ananias) “In a vision he (Saul) has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.” (vs. 12)
(Ananias to Saul) Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord – Jesus … has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” (vs. 17)
Another example is in Ephesus. In Acts 19 we read how Paul found some disciples who had only received the baptism of John. Look at the two actions that Paul takes:
…they were baptized (water baptism) in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul placed his hands on them [emphasis mine] the Holy Spirit came on them (Spirit baptism), and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. Acts 19:5-7
It seems apparent in scripture that the laying on of hands became the physical representation for the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. Whether that was the initial baptism or filling of the Spirit or for blessing (Mark 10:15-16) gifts (1 Timothy 4:14) and healing (Acts 28:8).
THE CHURCH TODAY
As a community of faith, we carefully (1 Timothy 4:2) and intentionally follow Jesus’ power plan. We teach this regularly and provide regular opportunities to “power-up.” Paul implied an ongoing experience of empowerment in Ephesians 5:18:
Do not get drunk on wine…. Instead, be filled with the Spirit…
The Greek present passive imperative gives the idea of continuance, i.e. keep on being filled.
As Christ-followers, we pursue this ancient practice with one another, inviting his presence and power to equip us for life and ministry. We do this on a regular basis in homes, encouraging our congregation to pray for one another on all occasions (James 5:16). On retreats and in evening courses we teach, model and invite people to experience the presence and power of the Spirit.
We have discovered that Sunday mornings are also an important time to incorporate the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit. Just as communion is a rhythm of our shared life and faith, so also the anointing with oil and the laying on of hands has become a part of our regular rhythm of worship.
My prayer is for our churches to rediscover Jesus’ plan of empowerment, to power-up in ever-increasing measure. The Father’s heart is not for his children to remain powerless, but to receive (and continue to receive) His power for life and ministry.
 “Prayer language” is a name frequently given to the gift of tongues mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12. It is normally used to differentiate this charism from the glossolalia of Acts 2.