With so much talk about the Toronto Blessing, how are we to understand spiritual experience? GLENN KAISER, senior pastor at Chicago's Jesus People USA and founder member of the Resurrection Band, explores the need to "balance Toronto".

Glenn Kaiser
Glenn Kaiser

Teachings and experiences: as a Christian I have enjoyed (sometimes not!) many. But the longer I live, the more I am convinced that nothing comes close to the revelation of the love of God and genuine fellowship with him. The results are that I begin to reflect on him, and finally, reflect (hopefully) more of his character. And am subsequently used by him in influencing the same spiritual growth in those I touch.

Consider this: Satan, the scribes, various ungodly religious leaders mentioned in Scripture... is it not true that biblical relationship to God and others eventually took a back seat to something else? Perhaps their "knowledge", position, or wealth? How is it possible that in the last days "the elect fall away" as the word predicts?

On what, or rather whom, is your focus? In the end, not even Bible knowledge (remember the Devil on this point!) equals right relationship to God, or true holiness. So, even though one has "all knowledge" they still may sadly lack in genuine love for God and others. Teaching, no matter how encouraging, can't replace intimate fellowship with God.

But what about spiritual experience? How can a Christian have intimate relationship to God through the Son without fellowship with the Holy Spirit? It can't happen. But let us remember the Holy Spirit's first characteristic is that of... holiness.

Some focus not on God, but on experiences where they "feel" God. I must say, I have certainly experienced a LOT of the presence of the Spirit of God over the years I have served Him. Countless prayer meetings, church services, conventions, intimate times in the woods alone or in small and large assemblies of Spirit-filled believers. Missionary trips. Incredible times! I have been moved to laugh, cry, rejoice, repent and commit repeatedly. But I have learned long ago to be cautious on this point: the Holy Spirit will never violate his own word. What I, and all believers, need to continually ask is how does my experience line up with Scripture?

Though I support all and move in a number of the gifts of the Spirit, I am not big on spiritual fads. There are those who run from one "experience" to the next, just as others do one teaching to the next. In time, some hit the "been there, done that" wall. They wonder why they have gotten spiritually burnt out when they should be maturing according to all the teaching and experiences they've had. Do some of us focus on the pleasure of knowing, or experiencing things, more than on God himself? Bad idea!

It's a bit like a honeymoon. Great stuff, but I must say that after 23 years of marriage, the relationship and depth of love and expression of communion that Wendi and I share make the "honeymoon high" we experienced look a tad shallow. I'm well aware that newlyweds are blessed in those times, and am happy to say we were too. Enjoy, but take care your focus is where the Spirit clearly says it must be according to his word!

The Bible clearly lists between 25 and 27 actual gifts of the Spirit, depending on your reading of the Greek. It mentions various manifestations of the Spirit's gifts and fruits. Could it be that some believers accent "manifestations" that have little biblical backing? The Bible speaks of "times of refreshing" in the Holy Spirit as well as outright apostasy.

We know that when the Spirit of God is doing something, he always points to Jesus, who points to the Father. The result of a true move of God is clear in the changed character and actions of the believers (consider the Welsh revival).

The Spirit gives us power to witness, moves us to disciple, to care for widows and orphans, to keep ourselves "unspotted from the rest of the world". May the holy laughter result in holy action. As we see such results, there will be little question of God's involvement in our gatherings.

I suggest we take the latest teachings and experiences with a bit of tea and a little passage of time. Let us yield to the Spirit of Truth in truth, the result of which will certainly be greater evangelism, missions, discipleship, service and sacrifice. Where these things do not accompany the "blessing", perhaps the Holy Spirit has been more of a spectator than a participant.

As always, the Lord has the last word: "See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you listen to the commandments of the Lord your God, which I am commanding you today; and the curse, if you do not listen to the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn aside from the way which I am commanding you today, by following other gods which you have not known." (Deut 11:26-28) CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.