Have you ever sensed the Holy Spirit being quenched in a corporate gathering?
Answering that question might be tricky because people feel various parameters such as the length of a service, the style of music, or even the type of building you meet in can quench the Holy Spirit. What does it actually mean to quench the Spirit? Once I attended a service where several thousand people had gathered. During this service, hundreds, even a thousand or more people, began gathering around the front to seek God, to repent, and to pray. As a result, there was a palpable shift in the atmosphere. The weighty presence of God had moved upon us to the point that it was difficult even to breathe; most of us were on our faces weeping, broken, and repenting. As I lifted my head, I observed that the leadership of this particular event had joined those seeking God and honoring His presence.
What should you do when that kind of shift happens? My answer is to obey and follow the leadership of God. During that service, the presence of the Lord intensified and it was obvious that He had an agenda, so in those moments we should buckle our seatbelt and enjoy the journey. This was more than an emotional moment in the service. In fact, there was no sensationalism occurring, but there was a saturation of brokenness and repentance. The spiritual outcome naturally was redemption, deliverance, healing, and restoration. The attention and focus was on the presence of God and not any one person leading this event. Like Isaiah experienced when the presence of God came into the temple, most of us were undone (see Isa. 6:1-5). The last thing anyone of us wanted to do was to bridle or manage the Holy Spirit. He obviously moved in and manifested Himself on those He loved (see John 14:21).
When the Spirit fell on the day of Pentecost, the recipients of that outpouring didn’t attempt to control the Spirit; the Spirit controlled those He fell upon. A few years later, the early church received yet another massive outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the place where they were meeting was shaken. And yet again they were all filled (Acts 4:31). There is no indication that the early church put stipulations upon the Spirit. He fell on His church and the hungry constituency received Him without reservations. Paul wrote, “Do not quench the Spirit” (1 Thess. 5:19). The verb quench (sbennumi) means to extinguish a fire. It refers to placing a blanket over a flame to suffocate or stifle it. One expositor said this word means to prevent the Holy Spirit from exerting His full influence upon people or on an event. Quenching the Spirit, then, is a willful intention on our part to choose to exert our will over the will of the Holy Spirit. Quenching the Spirit is often an indicator that people have become accustomed to grieving the Spirit (see Eph. 4:30). In fact, if we privately grieve the Holy Spirit we will publicly quench the Holy Spirit. The habit of inserting our will over the subtle promptings of the Spirit on a day by day basis fosters insensitivity and callousness to His voice. Over time, we not only become deafened to His tender leadership, but our agendas, good intentions, and well-constructed ministry events will seem more essential in our mind than an apparent interruption from God.
To be honest, those moments when the Holy Spirit redirects a service or pours Himself upon a body of believers can be messy. It requires us to alter our plans or perhaps, rewrite our schedules. We may have to “punt” so to speak. Sometimes services will last longer than planned or an event will extend beyond the allocated dates. Sometimes different songs are sung and sometimes no songs are needed. The point is when the Holy Spirit sovereignly decides to interrupt an event or gathering, our responsibility, and privilege, is to follow Him. We should lean into His agenda and trust His guidance. We should follow His lead, go where He is taking us, and when we do, we will never suffocate Him or stifle His influence.
Someone once asked me, “How do you know if the Holy Spirit is sovereignly moving?” Asking that question implies that we’ve grown distant from His presence. Most of us, if we’re intimate with Jesus and walking in the Spirit, will know when He is redirecting an event. This doesn’t mean that we avoid planning ministry events, putting together schedules, and organizing service formats. The Holy Spirit can be just as involved in the planning as He can be in the overriding of an event. We should, however, hold all plans loosely. As Pastor Jim Cymbala, Pastor of Brooklyn Tabernacle, once said, “Don’t invite the Holy Spirit to come if you’re not willing to let Him do what He wants if He does come.”
These days I’m learning to live in the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit. But I also desire to be aware of those moments when the Spirit wrecks my plans. I love to teach, but if He chooses to speak without my voice I should be pleased to let that happen. Our worship team prepares every week for an hour of intense worship, but if He chooses to speak without music we should be pleased to let that happen. I schedule many three and four night meetings throughout the year in churches, but if He chooses to move in one night or in seven nights I should be pleased to follow. It’s all about Him and what He desires. I never want to place a blanket over the manifest presence of God.
May we allow His presence to burn hotter and brighter!
Spirit of the living God, we invite you to come into our lives, churches, and events in the way you choose. Our plans are held loosely. We trust you, and we will follow your leadership, amen.