Joy in the Spirit {Book Club}

My first—and only—experience of a pentecostal prayer service occurred when I was 12 and went with my best friend to the Wednesday night service at her church. She ushered me into a large daylight basement room filled with several dozen people. Some of them were kneeling, some standing, some rocking back and forth with their hands raised, some lying face down on the floor. All of them were praying in various decibels of out loud, from murmurs to near shouts, and most of the words they were saying were not English.

My friend and I scooted into padded seats about halfway down the center aisle. I sat there trying to keep my wide eyes from staring too boldly, utterly uncertain what to do. When I looked to my friend for cues, she was no longer sitting beside me. I looked around, but I didn’t see her. Suddenly this room full of strangers speaking strange tongues seemed frightening, and the longer I sat there and the louder they prayed, the scareder I got. Finally, after what felt like an hour but was probably only five minutes, I fled from the room in something akin to panic.

I never went back. And in the nearly 30 years since, I’ve never again been to a pentecostal prayer service.

You see, I’m a cradle Presbyterian, and we believe that everything—and we do mean everything—is to be done decently and in order. This appeals to my control-loving, chaos-hating nature. It appeals to my preference to know what to expect and when and where. It appeals to my highly-sensitive and easily overwhelmed senses. For all these reasons and more besides, I prefer things decently and in order. And that prayer service was anything but.

I suppose that prayer service was my introduction to the Holy Spirit, so it’s hardly any wonder that the high holy day I most struggle to enter is Pentecost.

The feast of Pentecost was originally a Jewish feast called Shavuoth. Fifty days earlier, on Easter, the barley harvest began, celebrated with the feast of first fruits. Jesus, the first fruit of the new creation and of the resurrection from the dead, was raised to life on the feast of first fruits!

Fast forward fifty days to Shavuoth, which celebrated the beginning of the wheat harvest and also the giving of the law to Moses on Mt. Sinai. The gift of the law was the inaugural event of the nation of Israel. On this same day came the gift of the Holy Spirit, the inaugural event of the church. Pentecost.

Pentecost, the day the Father and the Son sent the Spirit to the disciples in the upper room, the day the church was born because of the coming of the Spirit. Pentecost, the day that tongues of flame settled on the heads of the disciples and loosened the tongues of their mouths to speak in languages they had never learned.

In His death and resurrection, Jesus reversed the curse that Adam had brought upon the human race, drawing all people to Himself because sin was no longer a barrier. In His descent on Pentecost, the Holy Spirit reversed the curse of Babel, drawing all people together because language was no longer a barrier. All the things that separate us from God and from one another are eradicated by the work of Jesus on the cross and the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts and minds and lives.

When I say it like that, the Holy Spirit doesn’t scare me so much. I see Him at work in my own life, and it’s not frightening at all. It’s transformative and joyful.

But there was that first impression, back when I was 12. It lingers still. Chaos. Noise. Confusion. Nothing decently and in order. I imagine the first Pentecost was probably a lot more like that prayer service than like the liturgical services I love. I still have a lot of growing to do before I become comfortable with the wild freedom of the Spirit that bloweth where it listeth. I may never become wholly comfortable. The wild freedom of the Spirit may always make control-freak me squirm a bit. Or a lot. Even that is a gift of the Spirit to keep me learning and growing and living.

The Spirit may be wild, but He is good. Like the Father and the Son, He is love. And as I live more concretely and consciously in that love, I enter more fully the kingdom of God, which is “righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.”

What helped form you and your early understandings of the Holy Spirit? How has living overseas challenged, informed, or added to what you know and experience of that part of our Triune God?

P.S. Reading plan for June


  1. Amy Young June 7, 2017

    Kimberlee, I love this post and section in “Circle of Seasons.” Like you, I grew up Presbyterian so some of the “louder” ways that other denominations interacted with the HS feel a bit uncomfortable to me. I know that is MY “problem” :).

    Your post and book helped me recall a few posts I have also written on this subject. Here I’ll quote from one of them and then share the link:

    “This reorienting of the soul [to the church year] is good for me because it it doesn’t happen without a bit of intentionality. If only I could wave a magic wand and just be different. Or wait in a room for the Spirit to SHOW UP and boom, be done with it.

    “That, however, is not how this is playing out for my soul. Instead, it’s a bit more like getting braces for my soul. This first year, these holidays and readings are a bit, in the best sense, like visiting the orthodontist and having an adjustment. It feels a bit awkward and unnatural, but I can tell something is happening.”

  2. Amy Young June 7, 2017

    I hit reply thinking that another post where I reviewed a book about the Holy Spirit would be shared next :). but that post wasn’t as clearly written as I remembered (Hahaha, story of my life!!!). So, I’ll share from the same post I shared above ABOUT that book 🙂 If anyone is interested in a book I found helpful about the HS, I’d recommend the Wild Goose Chase by Mark Batterson. Now, from the post:

    Several years ago I wrote “Can you judge an author by his hair?” about the book the Wild Goose Chase: Reclaim the Adventure of Pursuing God by Mark Batterson.

    “Just as Aslan isn’t safe, but he’s good, the Holy Spirit isn’t tame, but he’s trustworthy. Borrowing from Celtic Christians who refer to An Geadh-Glas, the wild goose, Batterson shows how we tend to cage the Holy Spirit and need to be the kind of person who resists urges. Who hasn’t found false safety in one of these cages? Responsibility, routine, assumptions, guilt, failure, or fear? But we have been called to the wild by following The Wild Goose.”

    When the Holy Spirit is only referred to “the Comforter” (for good reasons!), it can make the Spirit smaller, tamer, the least interesting part of the trinity.

    1. Michele June 8, 2017

      I just like the TITLE of that book! 🙂 I came from a quiet, orderly, very tame church background and was quite uncomfortable with anything that didn’t fit that in worship. But then I was also really hungry for more of God, more intimacy- just aware that there was MORE and I wanted all He had for me whatever that looked like. And I came to a new country where I was so out of my comfort zone anyway, I guess it opened me up to seek the more in an uncomfortable worship service. Long story short, I found more and can’t turn back, though I still LOVE sweet liturgical services where I meet Him as well. Your comments stir wonderful memories of stepping out of my comfort zone on a wild goose chase, and stir the hunger that sent me on it back then, making me wonder how much more I can have. I think I will go through your list of cages and see which ones I’ve been finding safety in these days. And maybe get hold of that book! 🙂

  3. Elizabeth June 14, 2017

    I’m kind of late to this. I was out of town at a conference when this first published, but I want to share something from a prayer time during that conference. The worship leader was having us close our eyes and think back to who first told us about Jesus, and the day we decided to follow Him and get baptized, and who we first wanted to tell, etc etc. I had this memory I hadn’t thought of in a long time, and something I had never articulated out loud even when talking to my parents about getting baptized.

    Mostly I verbalized knowing I had sins I wanted to be forgiven and not wanting to go to hell. (Who doesn’t verbalize those things!?) I was in a church that preached AGAINST the Holy Spirit, but we were required to memorize Acts 2:38. And I had this distinct thought that I didn’t want to return to public school in the fall without the Holy Spirit living in me. Now, the church would have taught against that line of thinking, but the Word of God cannot be stopped by men’s preaching, and the Word of God was deep in my heart from all that memorizing! I knew the Holy Spirit was supposed to be given to me, and I wanted that gift.

    So when this worship leader had us think back to our decision-making times, it reframed my life in a way. I could see all the Holy Spirit awakening that happened 2 decades later through that Acts 2:38 seed. All the hunger to know God more, to encounter God more, to hear God’s voice, it seemed so new and exciting, but maybe it was just the flowering of a long-dormant seed.

    1. Kimberlee Conway Ireton June 16, 2017

      Oh my goodness, Elizabeth, what a beautiful story! I think the growth and desire for God was new and exciting AND also the flowering of that long buried seed. It makes me happy to think how God tended it patiently and lovingly through all those years waiting for the time when you were ready to receive the beauty of its growth. May the Spirit continue to work in us both, bringing new growth and new life.

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