spiritual growth

6 Things That Block the Holy Spirit’s Power

Last weekend while I was preaching at a church in central California, a young man came to the altar to be baptized in the Holy Spirit. He was eager to go deeper spiritually. Someone prayed for him for a while, but nothing happened.

I walked over to the young man a few minutes later and told him I would pray for him some more after the meeting was dismissed. I’ve learned that sometimes there are blockages that can prevent people from receiving the fullness of the Spirit, so I always try to discern what must be moved out of the way.

In this guy’s case, his heart was in a great deal of pain because his father had abandoned his family. He wanted God to baptize him with the Spirit, but the pain of rejection was like a gaping wound that needed urgent attention. As soon as I began to address this problem, he began sobbing in my arms.

After we prayed about his father issues, and he got the healing he needed, he quickly received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. A fresh joy filled his heart. And a new heavenly language began pouring out of his mouth. I encouraged him to pray in tongues for a while as he received the Spirit’s anointing.

This next Sunday, May 24, is the official day of Pentecost—when Christians all over the world celebrate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the church. But Pentecost should also be a very personal experience for you. Have you, or someone you know, struggled to receive this supernatural infilling?

Here are some reasons why there might be a blockage:

1. Doubt or intellectual pride. In the 1960s a journalist named John Sherrill decided to write a book discrediting the phenomenon of speaking in tongues. But after he interviewed countless people about this experience, his doubts were shattered and he was baptized in the Holy Spirit himself. His book, They Speak With Other Tongues, became a Christian classic. Spiritual experiences cannot be figured out with the mind. To receive the Spirit’s infilling you must let go of your intellectual arguments and display childlike faith (see Matt. 18:2-4).

2. Religious tradition. I knew an Episcopal priest who was filled with the Holy Spirit in the 1970s in New York City. He was excited about the new vitality he felt in his faith—and thrilled that his wife had experienced a physical healing. But when he shared his testimony with his bishop, he was told he was crazy! And the bishop referred him to a psychiatrist! Religious people who are locked into “the way we’ve always done it” find it hard to receive the anointing of the Holy Spirit. You must be willing to break free from tradition.

3. Fear of the supernatural. Some Christians grew up in denominations that taught against the infilling of the Holy Spirit. They were told that Pentecostals are all fanatics who go into trances, speak mindless gibberish and swing from chandeliers. Actually, the first disciples in the New Testament spoke in tongues and experienced miracles—yet their faith was not strange. It should be the norm! People who are afraid of God’s supernatural power will struggle to receive it.

4. Unconfessed sin. The Bible tells us that the Holy Spirit can be “quenched” as well as “grieved” (1 Thess. 5:19; Eph. 4:30). Because He is so holy, our sinful habits and attitudes can cause Him to withdraw. This is why it’s so important for us to walk in constant communion with God, and to be willing to repent quickly when we know we have sinned. Some people “stuff” their secret sins in the closets of their hearts. If you want to be filled with the Spirit, you must be willing to open those closets and invite the light of God’s holiness into every dark corner of your life.

5. Emotional wounds. Like the young man I prayed for last weekend, some people are just too burdened with emotional baggage to be filled with the Spirit. Some have been abused, others weighted down by anxiety, others grieved or depressed. They need healing first. Like Lazarus on the day he was raised from the dead, they are bound by the grave clothes of the past, and they need to be unwrapped before they can experience God’s full anointing (see John 11:44). Healing is often needed before a person can receive the blessing of Holy Spirit baptism.

6. An unyielded spirit. You cannot be filled with the Holy Spirit if you are full of yourself. Some people are too willful. They have not surrendered their plans, finances, relationships or time to God. They have their lives planned out and they don’t want God interrupting their agendas. Yet God is looking to fill hearts that have been emptied and surrendered. Only the fully yielded can experience the fullness of His power.

If you have not received the baptism of the Holy Spirit, or if the flow of the Spirit has been blocked in your life, empty your heart today and prepare for your own personal Pentecost.

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8 Signs of a Legalistic Spirit

Do you truly enjoy the grace of God? Many Christians know the Bible, attend church and even do ministry work while they struggle to understand the core of the gospel. They can quote Scriptures about what Christ did for them, but they still feel they must work to earn His love—and often they end up feeling unworthy and separated from God.

Even though Jesus died on the cross so we wouldn’t have to be judged according to the law, many Christians are still living in the Old Testament. They have never embraced the reality of New Testament faith. They are slaves to performance-based religion.

The apostle Paul wrote the epistle of Galatians to challenge us to make sure we remain in the grace of God. Do you struggle with legalism? Here are the most common signs of a legalistic spirit:

1. Lack of true joy. Jesus didn’t forgive us of our sins so we could be sour-faced and sad. Yet I’ve met hundreds of Christians who looked like they were attending a funeral when they came to a church service. Why? Legalism kills joy. When someone has an encounter with God’s mercy, their hearts always overflow with praise and gratitude. The apostle Paul wrote: “The kingdom of God is … righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17). There’s no such thing as Christianity without joy.

2. No real victory over sin. All Christians struggle with temptations. But a person with a legalistic mindset finds it difficult to receive the grace of God to overcome sinful habits. Are you striving to break free from a particular sin in your own strength? You cannot do this on your own! We must admit our weakness and to invite the Holy Spirit to give us supernatural power to live a holy life. It is the indwelling Spirit of Christ who gives us victory—not your straining and sweating. Relax and let Him live His life in you!

3. Unhealthy performance orientation. God is a loving Father, and He wants us to lavish us with His affirmation and encouragement. Yet many Christians don’t have a revelation of God’s unconditional love. They feel they must earn His love by reading the Bible, praying and performing other religious tasks. Do you ever feel God is mad at you because you overslept and missed your morning devotions? He wants you to spend time with Him, but not to fulfill a duty. Chill out and just enjoy His love!

4. A critical, unloving attitude toward others. People who don’t understand God’s grace cannot extend grace to anyone else. This is why some Christians are hateful toward unbelievers. When you understand how much mercy God extended to forgive you, it’s easy to show mercy to other people who don’t deserve it! When you hear Christians using harsh language to condemn Muslims, atheists, liberals or gay people, you have just identified a legalistic spirit.

5. Obsessive focus on outward standards of dress or behavior. Some Christian denominations have taught that God demands strict conformity to dress codes. Some churches in the past have condemned makeup, jewelry, pants and short hair for women. Others taught it was wrong for Christians to play sports, play cards, dance, wear wedding rings, go to movies, wear jeans in church or even own a television! Yet God emphasizes inner holiness rather than outward conformity. When you walk in grace, the Spirit will lead you to dress and act in a way that honors Him, but this will not conform to a man-made religious code.

6. Bondage to religious tradition. The Pharisees rejected Jesus because they couldn’t leave Old Covenant religion behind. A legalistic spirit says, “This is the way we’ve always done it.” Some people rejected a new move of the Holy Spirit because they didn’t like a new style of music. Some churches today are in danger of missing God because they want to live like it is still 1973. Legalistic people tend to fight any new move of God. Remember: God is unchangeable in His nature, but He does new things. We must stay in step with Him.

7. A sectarian attitude toward other Christians. People who don’t understand God’s grace believe they have a corner on truth, so they cannot accept the fact that the Holy Spirit might be moving in other denominations. Some churches even teach that they are the only people going to heaven. If your church believes they are the only true Christians, exit quickly. Legalism is toxic! Find a church that embraces the whole body of Christ.

8. Little or no assurance of salvation. People with a legalistic mindset often doubt their salvation because they trust their own obedience instead of Christ. When you receive the grace of God, the Bible says your heart will cry out, “Abba! Father!” (Rom. 8:15). One true encounter with Jesus will cause you to know that God has adopted you—and that He will never abandon you.

The apostle Paul wrote: “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” (2 Cor. 3:17). If you haven’t experienced this freedom, ask the Holy Spirit to fill every area where legalism has distorted your understanding of God.

Don’t fall for a graceless Christianity. If you see any of these warning signs in your life, invite the Holy Spirit to set you free from legalism. Stop striving, repent of pride and ask God to open your eyes to the reality of His amazing grace.

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4 Ways to Hear God’s Voice Clearly

When I was in my 20s I was praying about whether I should enroll in graduate school. Then one morning in my devotional time I came to Psalm 32:8 and it seemed to be flashing like a neon sign. It said: “I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go.”

The Holy Spirit was emphasizing to me that God would teach me and that I didn’t need additional schooling. That’s not to say graduate school is wrong for everyone else; it was just not God’s plan for me at that time. And God used a Scripture to clearly show me what path I should take.

The Bible promises that God will guide us. But many Christians find it difficult to hear God’s voice. And in some charismatic churches we complicate things when we try to make guidance mystical or weird—as if you have to hear an audible voice from heaven about what color shirt to wear.

Years ago I learned from author Henry Blackaby that there are four distinct ways we receive divine guidance:

1. You can hear God’s voice by reading the Bible. Friends have sometimes complained to me: “I just never hear God speaking.” Yet when I ask if they read the Bible regularly, they say they’re too busy.

God supernaturally inspired 40 authors over a period of 1,600 years to compile His love letter to us. After the Bible was written in Hebrew and Greek, many people were martyred because they translated it in a modern language. God went to a lot of trouble to compile the Bible. Yet today Bibles are collecting dust in the homes of people who are too busy to read God’s most direct message to Planet Earth!

When you read Scripture with a prayerful heart, God can cause a verse to jump off the page as a direct message to you. British preacher Charles Spurgeon recognized this years ago when he wrote: “When I have been in trouble, I have read the Bible until a text has seemed to stand out of the Book, and salute me, saying, ‘I was written specially for you.'” Expect God to speak directly to you from Scripture.

2. You can hear God’s voice through the supernatural inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is not an eerie presence that just hangs around. He lives in every born-again Christian, and He comforts us and actively speaks to us. He can do this in many ways: through dreams, visions, warnings, a sense of conviction, or—most often—through what we know as the “still, small voice” (1 Kings 19:12) of the Spirit.

I have had prophetic dreams and visions over the years, but the most common way the Spirit speaks to me is through a deep sense of inward knowing. I will never forget a time in 1985 when God spoke to me while I was driving my car in Florida. A message came to me, not audibly but in my spirit: “You will move to Washington, D.C.” It seemed to come out of the blue, and I knew it did not originate with me. Four years later I was offered a job in the Washington, D.C., area and I worked there for three years.

The ability to hear the Spirit’s voice is developed over years as we grow in Christ. If you really want to hear Him, you should ask God to fill you with His Spirit. As you allow more of the Spirit’s presence and power in your life, you will set aside your selfish agendas and sinful habits so God can communicate without any hindrance.

3. You can hear God’s voice through people. God never intended for us to live in isolation. We are members of His body, the church, and you will hear God better when you are in fellowship with His people. God can speak to you through a pastor’s sermon, a friend’s wise counsel, a mother’s rebuke, a mentor’s phone call or a prophetic word given to you by one of God’s Spirit-filled servants.

God uses the gift of prophecy, but you should never chase after prophecies. I know Christians who will travel across the country to attend a prophetic conference to get a word from God, yet they have not read the Bible in months or sat still long enough to hear from God on their own. Never treat the holy gift of prophecy like fortune telling. When God needs to speak to you in an unusual way, He has faithful messengers who will deliver it to you at the exact time you need it.

4. You can hear God’s voice through circumstances. Not everything that happens to you is God’s will. But God is sovereign, and He has power over nature, over government leaders and over all the details of your life. He opens doors that no man can shut. If you have been praying about getting a job at one company, and suddenly you get an offer at a different company, this may be God’s sign that He has a better place for you to work.

My oldest daughter wanted to attend a college in Tennessee, and we were praying about her decision. Right after we prayed I got a call from the president of a college in Georgia. He was inviting me to speak at the school, but in our conversation I learned that this school was willing to offer my daughter a scholarship. She ended up enrolling in that school, meeting her future husband there and graduating four years later. God was totally involved in that phone call from Georgia!

As you begin this New Year, ask God to tune your ears to His voice in a fresh way. Guidance is not complicated when you sincerely want to hear Him speak.

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