In step with the Spirit
Posted on October 1, 2014 by Aaron Kauffman
“Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.”
– Galatians 5:25
On a warm January evening in Colombia, our church planting team gathered under a campground pavilion, with pastor Martín González leading us in worship and prayer as part of our retreat time.
While we were praying for each other in small groups, an image suddenly popped into my head. In my mind’s eye I saw a large hand reaching down, a small hand reaching up to grasp it, and the large hand giving the small hand a sharp tug. Somehow I sensed that this message was for the young man seated to my left, a recent high school graduate named Andrés.
Now getting pictures in my head from God is not a regular occurrence for me. But I felt an inner sense of urgency, so with my heart pounding, I told Andrés about the vision. “I think God is reaching out to you, Andrés, and he wants you to take his hand. But get ready. I think you’ll need to hold on tight.”
A week later, Andrés heard about a short-term mission opportunity in another city, over 400 miles away. He had never been away from home, and he had valuable musical gifts for our team. But his parents and the church were supportive, and the funding fell quickly into place. Within weeks, he left for a six-month assignment on the coast of Colombia. It turned out to be a life-changing experience for him, helping him grow up as a young man and as a disciple.
Are we attentive to the Holy Spirit? How do we tell what the Spirit of God is saying to us? Those are key questions, whether we’re discerning our personal vocation, making a major decision, or charting a course as a church.
The early Anabaptists wrestled with this question, too. Like Martin Luther, they saw the Scriptures as a firm foundation. But unlike him, they didn’t think the written Word alone was enough. They believed only Spirit-renewed disciples of Jesus could discern God’s will. Yet even that was insufficient. Charismatic leaders sometimes made crazy claims, leading to disaster.
So the Anabaptists learned to “test the spirits” more carefully. According to historian Arnold Snyder, a consensus eventually emerged among the Anabaptists about how to discern God’s will: the leading of the Spirit had to be tested with the Scriptures, weighed in the community of faith, and measured against the life and teaching of Jesus Christ (From Anabaptist Seed, pp. 12-14).
In practice, discerning the voice of the Holy Spirit may not look as neat and tidy as Snyder outlines, but I believe our Anabaptist forbears gave us a pattern worth emulating.
We can trust God’s Spirit to speak in all kinds of ways to the church, when genuine believers committed to the Scriptures seek the guidance of the living Lord Jesus. Are we listening?