I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you…I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees… (Ezekiel 36:26-27).
I am sure that you have heard the comparable phrases “I go where the spirit moves me,” or “…I do as the spirit wills me…” Technically, neither has to be applied to divine references—but I associate them with the power of the Holy Spirit. I will tell you that I have, on more than one occasion, been blessed with the power and grace and love of the Spirit within me—I have felt the sensational burning, the eternal warmth radiating from my heart. Twice it has driven me, to some extent, to publicly profess my improving and ever-growing affection for the Christian religion.
The first occasion was this past fall. I was attending an evening worship service at a local Congregational Church, where the entire weekend led up to “Mission Sunday.” On this particular night, a time for individual worship was offered towards the end of the service, and any individual who felt they needed prayer could come up to the front and receive it. At first, I was a little dismayed. I held the previous (and wrong) belief that anyone who needed to go up might be seeking attention. However, as I stood listening to the peaceful and uplifting music, my body began to radiate. I felt the familiar burning in my chest, and I knew immediately what it was…the Holy Spirit.
My mistake in recognizing it? I tried to fight it. Why? Perhaps I thought that other members of the congregation would judge me or accuse me of something they thought I had done; that they would engage in the same false assumptions as I did. Perhaps I was just fearful. However, after a few minutes of arguing with the fire inside my chest, I knew it was time; I left and joined the others in the front who were receiving prayer. I knew that it was wrong of me to deny the power of God; to deny the power He had over me. As such, I “gave in;” I went where the Spirit moved me—to the front of the sanctuary, where I was able to receive a short, but very meaningful prayer from the minister.
That was the first time…and I learned from that experience not to deny the power of the Holy Spirit. I learned that if I am to feel its power working within me, that I need to go or do what it commands.
This past Sunday, I once again began to feel the same exuberating joy that I did a few months prior. I was, once again, attending a Congregational Church—one that is composed of 60% college students. It was baptismal Sunday, and thirteen people were ‘registered’ to climb into a horse trough and be christened. Performed during our usual time of worship, the baptisms were incredibly moving. The first was a young girl who was around the age of seven. Innocently clad in an off-white dress, we—as a congregation—cheered as her wet, blonde head emerged from the water. Twelve others followed her, including a new friend (M.) that I had met this semester in Italian class and attended life group (Bible study) with. The most moving baptism, however, had to be of a girl my age who climbed into the trough, sat down in the water, and continued to be baptized by her own father, his arms protectively and trustingly dipping her momentarily out of our view. When the girl stood up, she and her father held each other tightly, not caring what anyone thought—only moved by the religious and cleansing bond they had just created.
After the initial thirteen baptisms were finished, the lead pastor invited anyone who felt the need to be baptized to come forward. If someone had been baptized Catholic, they were invited to join in our celebration. If someone had been baptized as an infant, they could proclaim their love and faith in Jesus. If an individual had never been christened before, they were welcome to join our congregation that day.
As we continued to sing praise and worship songs, I watched as several individuals—including the leader from the life group I had attended—go up to the front. Ever so slightly, I began to notice the Spirit within me. I am not for sure if it was the happiness I felt from watching others openly join the Christian religion, the delight I experienced from singing, or the joy of being surrounded by people who were all there for the one thing that mattered that invited the Spirit into me. Not that it matters…I wouldn’t care what the reason was…only that I felt that everlasting fire within me…that indescribable joy.
After watching several others be re-baptized, the pastor sent out a “last call” for any others who wanted to be baptized. Once again, I hesitated. Though, not even five minutes previously, I had mentioned to my then boy-space-friend that it was incredibly tempting to go up, I held my place in the row until it became absolutely necessary that I needed to go. I stepped out my flats, took off my cardigan and raced down the aisle, squeezing between a few girls wrapped in thick, brown towels. I emerged between hugging, dripping bodies, looking at the pastor, who was beaming. “Me?” I mouthed to him, pantomiming my hands. He nodded, and I walked up the steps and climbed into the trough, not even bothered by the fact that I had just soaked my brown corduroy skirt and white shirt…and didn’t have a change of clothes.
“What’s your name?” the pastor asked as he helped me to sit down into the water.
“Dawn,” I said.
He then looked at my boy-space-friend, who had come with me to the front, and asked his name.
I remember looking at my legs in the water, my skirt fanning in the water around them. I crossed my arms across my chest as the pastor said to me, “Do you accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?”
“Yes,” I instantly responded, with a smile on my face. It was an answer I was sure about…there was no indecisiveness.
I felt the pastor’s arms reach around me. “I baptize you in the name of the Father,” he tilted me back, “the Son,” I was in the water, my eyes open, still listening for his words, “and of the Holy Spirit.” And then I was up, out of the water, blinking droplets out of my eyelashes and recognizing the bright lights of the stage.
I didn’t hear the crowd cheering. I didn’t think of the camera on me, projecting images of my second baptism onto a screen for the rest of the congregation to see. I didn’t think anything of being soaking wet. I was happy.
At that time, I do not remember any other feeling besides joy. My “man friend” was there, of course, and I remember—after hugging my newly baptized friend (M.) and life group leader—that I clung onto him, just wanting to be close. I wanted him to feel how happy I was, to have that same burn and glow that I did. However, even in my state of utter-happiness, I wondered if he would understand what had driven me to impulsively be re-baptized.
In fact, when I called my mother soon afterwards, I wasn’t sure if she would understand, either. However, once I explained the entire morning to her, she celebrated over the phone with me. “I’m so proud of you,” she said, “and I’m incredibly happy for you. That is wonderful.”
My happiness spread, and I quickly texted several of my friends and family about what I had done. The messages I received back were of encouragement and delight, and all were eager to hear more of my exhilarating morning. I can only hope that my re-telling of such a liberating, individualized moment suffices to what so many are unable to experience. The advice I can offer? Open your heart. Be ready to accept whatever the Spirit commands you to do, and you will be, to sound clichéd, set free.
Twice now, I have, after delaying it a bit, embraced that sensation within me and experienced indescribable happiness. I think it took that second time for me to realize that I need to stop doubting the power that burns within me—that I can trust it wholeheartedly, and, in doing so, I will receive my deepest desires.
For example, after publicly re-accepting Jesus as my Savior, I have had the two best days of this semester, and two days I will always remember. I sense that my life has already radically improved, and I cannot be anything but optimistic about it. I also know that, although my future plans are still ‘up in the air,’ that I will always be tied to my religious beliefs, and that those alone will be enough to guide me into making the right decisions. It doesn’t matter whether or not I received my first ‘B’ in college, if my clothes have holes, if I have someone to make me happy, or even if I believe I have lost my creative drive…I have the Spirit with me, and it will always be there to guide me, protect me, and give me all the comfort I need.
Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Lord's Spirit is, there is freedom (2 Corinthians 3:17).