To start us off, can you please explain who the Holy Spirit is?
Well, he’s God. Sometimes we don’t realise that the Holy Spirit is just as much of a person as the Father and the Son and he’s not an ‘it;’ he’s a ‘he’. He’s God, he’s a person, and he has personality. The Holy Spirit has been described as the ‘go between’ - between God the Father and us. He comes to fill us, to give us revelation of who Jesus and the Father are, and empower us for witness and all sorts of things like that. So the short answer is, he’s God, just as much as Jesus is and the Father is.
As Christians, what sort of place should the Holy Spirit be taking in our daily lives?
We want to be so full of the Holy Spirit because the Holy Spirit reveals Jesus. The amazing thing about the Holy Spirit is that he never points to himself. So he doesn’t want to glorify himself, he always wants to give glory to Jesus and the Father to reveal them. So we want to have a close relationship with the Holy Spirit because he draws us closer to Jesus and the Father.
How can we outwork this, both individually and corporately?
Paul says to the Ephesians at one point, “Do not get drunk with wine... but be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18). And that phrase “be filled with the Spirit” is a continuous present tense so the best translation is keep on being filled with the Holy Spirit. The reason we need to keep on being filled is because we leak. The more we’re filled with the Holy Spirit, the more we’ll love Jesus and the Father, the more we’ll understand the Bible as the word of God, and the more we will be equipped to serve God in this world. So in a sense we need to constantly be filled with the Holy Spirit. Paul says that "we are temples of the Holy Spirit" and that’s a lovely description - the Holy Spirit makes his home in us.
What would you say are the biggest misconceptions about the Holy Spirit?
One misconception some people have is that only a few are filled with the Holy Spirit in the church. The prophet Joel, who Peter quotes on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2, says, “In the last days... I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh.” On everyone. If you’re a Christian then you have the Holy Spirit. He’s for all of us, not just for a select few. That’s number one. The second misconception is we sometimes talk about wanting to have ‘more’ of the Holy Spirit so that we can use him for our ends. The truth is, the Holy Spirit wants to have more of us so that he can use us for his will, so it’s actually the other way around. And once again, I never want to disconnect the Holy Spirit from the Father and the Son, so it’s all those things.
Does the Holy Spirit seem to move more in spontaneous situations or do you think he visits just as strongly through plans and structures?
Absolutely both! It’s not one or the other. The Holy Spirit is not ‘anti-planning’ and he’s not ‘anti-preparation’. There was one time when I decided that instead of planning my sermon, years ago, I would not plan it and I would just trust the Holy Spirit to give me the words and I would get up and just preach the most wonderful Spirit-led sermon I’ve ever preached. It was a total disaster. I think we plan and we ask for the Holy Spirit’s help in our working and in our preparing and in our planning. Then sometimes he might want to do something spontaneous and we go with that. But sometimes we can say “Oh, we won’t prepare because we’ll just go with the Spirit.” Well, that can just be an excuse for laziness.
What thought process do you go through when writing a sermon and how do you leave room for prompting from the Holy Spirit?
Well, I hope that the Holy Spirit is helping me in all my preparation. When I read the Bible I ask the Holy Spirit “Would you show me what you want to show me? Would you open my eyes? Would you give me revelation?” Then often I’ll read stuff and I’ll try and work out what it is that the Bible is saying and I’ll meditate on that and I’ll think “Gosh, what’s that speaking to me for? What’s that saying? What’s the Scripture teaching me? Holy Spirit will you help me to understand it?” But I’ll also read commentaries, I’ll read what other people have written, and listen to other people’s talks and the Holy Spirit is in all that. Then gradually I’ll let it gestate and then I’ll put it together and I always hope that the Holy Spirit is there helping and guiding me. It’s never all the Holy Spirit, my thoughts are never that good! But I hope the Holy Spirit is helping in some ways.
Allowing space for the Holy Spirit in big gatherings can cause some crazy things to happen. How do you keep leading during those times when God comes in a powerful way?
I think we need to distinguish between the Holy Spirit moving upon people and people’s response to the Holy Spirit. You see we’re all built differently. Some of us respond more emotionally, others might respond more physically and some of us are built more rationally and might respond intellectually so we will respond with our minds more. One is not more or less spiritual than the others and are any of them the Holy Spirit? No they’re not! They’re our response to the Holy Spirit so we all respond in a different way. I try to explain to people that if someone starts to laugh or to cry (occasionally that happens) then that’s not the Holy Spirit, that’s just that person responding to the Holy Spirit. We don’t all have to do that. Some people that are filled with the Holy Spirit respond emotionally or physically the least. We don’t want to prescribe that you’re more spiritual when you fall down or if you shake; it’s not about that. What my job is, in a meeting like that where stuff’s happening, is to keep trying to reassure people and pastor people. Often when the Holy Spirit shows someone more of Jesus’ love for them, pain will start coming up because it’s a safe place. We carry pain and when we know it’s safe, and Jesus is here, his love is here, it’s like “Oh my goodness, I can let go of the pain or the un-forgiveness that I’ve been carrying.” Then there might be an emotional response. That’s okay, we don’t want to be afraid of emotion but we also don’t want to hype up emotionalism and that’s the balance.
In these meetings ‘hype’ can sometimes become a factor. Is it easy to mistake that for God’s moving?
What I often say in meetings like that is, “Is all this God or our response to God?” No, probably not. Human beings are involved. Some of it will be us. What we’ve done in the church is we’ve so wanted everything to be ‘pure’ and ‘perfect’ so we’ve never allowed a bit of mess. Sometimes I’d rather allow the mess so that people get blessed. Sometimes I might see that there are one or two people who are responding, who just so want to meet God that they see other people are falling down and so they fall down. Well, if they want to fall down, it’s a free country. I’m not going to stop them. It’s just if they do it, after a while they’ll get bored and that’s why I say no-one has to do anything; no-one has to fall down, no-one has to cry, no-one has to laugh, no-one has to shake. Be yourself. John Wimber once explained how it's messy in the nursery, but it’s neat and tidy in the graveyard. I’d rather choose the mess of the nursery, where there’s new life, than the neatness and tidiness of the graveyard where everything is in its correct place and it feels dead. So I don’t mind living with a bit of mess. We just want to have integrity so we don’t have to pretend that the hype is God, that’s all.
For people who haven’t ever encountered the Holy Spirit before and some of the things that are happening are really out there, how do you help those people?
First of all, you can’t be a Christian unless you’ve encountered the Holy Spirit. So to say yes to Jesus and to start a relationship with Jesus happens because the Holy Spirit has somehow opened your eyes. So every Christian has encountered the Holy Spirit. We don’t want to give the impression that there are first and second class Christian citizens. Someone once said to me “Have you got the Holy Spirit? Or do you only have Jesus?” Even then I thought, “What a silly thing to say! Do you only have Jesus? What more do you want than Jesus? When you have Jesus you have the Holy Spirit!" They come together. Also, in meetings I just want to say to people that if you’re not feeling what other people are feeling then that’s okay. To encounter the Holy Spirit isn’t to have a feeling, it’s to know Jesus. It’s to come closer to Jesus. So I try to help people not to feel left out or to feel like there’s something wrong with them. Often I will say in meetings, if you’re not feeling anything, neither am I. It’s okay. I’m trying to demystify it if you like.
Have there been any times where you yourself have actually started to wonder what’s going on? And what do you do in such a situation?
Fairly regularly. What I say is “Lord, I’m not quite sure about everything that’s happening here but we asked you to meet with us and you say in your Word that if ordinary children ask their fathers for a fish, their fathers aren’t going to give them a stone. That’s what you said. And you say you’re the ‘how much more’ Father: 'how much more will your Father in heaven give good things [or the Holy Spirit] to those who ask him?' (Matthew 7:11) So seeing as we asked you, I’m going to trust that it’s you and you know what you’re doing.” I don’t have to know everything immediately. But I will try and use my discernment and if something is going on that isn’t good and isn’t helpful and is destructive, that’s why we’re there to pastor it and we want to make sure that we do our bit well.
Interview: Mike Pilavachi is founder and leader of Soul Survivor, an organisation seeking to disciple, equip, and empower young people to make a difference in their generation. Caleb Slaney is 19 and in his second year at AUT studying a Bachelor of Communications. Meeting and learning from Mike Pilavachi was definitely a highlight of Easter Camp for Caleb.
- Who did you understand the Holy Spirit to be?
- Has this article expanded your understanding of who he is to you personally?
- Meditate on the list of names used for the Holy Spirit in John 14: 16-17. What do these names show you about who he is?
- Do these different aspects of his character encourage you to involve him more in your life?
Photo Credit: benjhaisch/lightstock.com
Scripture: Unless otherwise specified, Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.