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The Gift of the Holy Spirit Today (Chapter 7)

It should be pointed out that the disciples had no idea as to exactly when the Holy Spirit would be poured out. They were not told by Jesus to wait for a given number of days, nor did they set aside so many days for prayer after which they would turn to something else. No, they simply gave themselves to prayer unlimited—prayer doubtless in connection with the promised gift of the Holy Spirit—and God at the proper time23 sent forth His Spirit.

Thus if one brings together Luke 11 and Acts 1 (both written by the same author), it is apparent that much stress is laid on the need for prayer in the reception of the Holy Spirit. Even though the promise of the gift is clearly there in both cases, there is a call for continuing, persisting prayer. Just as truly as this was the case for the disciples prior to Pentecost in Jerusalem (Acts 1), so it is for other of God’s children who know their need (Luke 11). God delights to give His Spirit to those who earnestly ask Him.24

The importance of prayer in the reception of the Holy Spirit is, second, to be found in the account of Saul’s being filled with the Holy Spirit. After his encounter with the risen Lord, Saul was led by the hand into Damascus and “for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank” (Acts 9:9). That this time of fasting was also a time of praying seems evident from the fact that when Ananias was told in a vision to go and minister to Saul, the Lord said of Saul, “. . . behold he is praying” (9:11). This expression bespeaks a continuing in prayer, a waiting on the Lord during which time, as the Scripture records, Saul likewise had a vision, namely, of Ananias coming and laying hands upon him. There were visions on both sides, prayer, fasting, waiting—and in that context God gave the Holy Spirit.

Third, and similarly, much prayer was the environment and background for the corning of the Holy Spirit upon the Gentiles at Caesarea. Cornelius, at the outset, is described as “a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms liberally to the people, and prayed constantly to God” (10:2). In that atmosphere Cornelius had a vision wherein he was told that his prayers and alms had “ascended as a memorial before God” (10:4), and he was instructed to send for Simon Peter in the town of Joppa. Peter thereafter also in prayer—he “went up on the housetop to pray” (10:9)—likewise had a vision which resulted in his willingness to go to a Gentile home and proclaim the gospel. Then the Holy Spirit fell upon Cornelius and his household. The whole situation, much like that at Damascus, was one of continuing prayer, vision and waiting on the Lord.

Finally, in the narratives concerning the Samaritans and Ephesians (unlike the previous instances) there is no mention of those receiving the Holy Spirit being in prayer. However, the Scripture does record that prior to the Samaritans’ reception of the Holy Spirit, Peter and John prayed for them: they “came down [from Jerusalem] and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit” (Acts 8:15-17). After such intercession, the apostles laid their hands upon the Samaritans for the reception of the Spirit.25 While it may be surmised that the Samaritans were in an attitude of prayer also, the emphasis rests on the prayers of Peter and John. In any event, it was against the background and in the context of believing prayer that the Holy Spirit was received.

Now looking back at these several accounts, it is apparent that prayer lies close to the gift of the Holy Spirit. Such prayer was shown variously to be: earnest, asking, even importunate (Luke 11), a matter of steadfastness and devotion (Acts 2), of day by day continuation (Acts 9), of intercession (Acts 8) and of constancy (Acts 10). There is no suggestion of prayer as a condition for securing the Holy Spirit, but over and over prayer is shown to be the background, the context, the atmosphere wherein God delights to grant His Holy Spirit to those who believe.26

In the contemporary situation this proves to be the case wherever the spiritual renewal is occurring. The testimonies vary—some had been praying for some time, some only for a short period, some were prayed for by others, some had expressed little overt prayer—but it was in a prayerful atmos­phere of waiting before God that the Holy Spirit was poured out.27

This leads us next to a brief consideration of expectancy as context for the gift of the Holy Spirit. Though the word is not used in any of the Acts accounts, there is unquestionably an atmosphere of expectancy that can be sensed. People looking for something to happen are particularly candidates for the recep­tion of the Holy Spirit.

This was obviously true in the case of the disciples waiting before Pentecost. We have remarked on their obedience and their steadfastness in prayer; now we are noting the further important matter that they were all expecting something to happen. They had not only received a command to wait; they had also received a promise that the Spirit would be given. Thus their praying was expectant praying, looking toward the coming outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

The atmosphere of expectancy may be sensed in other ac­counts. Peter and John prayed for the Samaritans to receive the Holy Spirit and doubtless built up expectation before the laying on of hands occurred; Ananias as he was laying hands on Saul spoke about his being filled with the Holy Spirit and thus cre­ated anticipation; and Paul’s question to the Ephesians, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” may well have brought about an expectation for what later was to happen.

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Category: Pneuma Review, Spirit, Winter 2004

About the Author: J. Rodman Williams (1918-2008), Ph.D., is considered to be the father of renewal theology. He served as a chaplain in the Second World War, he was a church pastor, college professor, and key figure in the charismatic movement of the 1960s. Beginning in 1982, he taught theology at Regent University School of Divinity in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and became Professor of Renewal Theology Emeritus there in 2002. Author of numerous books, he is perhaps best known for his three volume Renewal Theology (Zondervan, 1996).

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