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The Baptism of the Holy Spirit: What, Why and How

Baptism in the Holy Spirit photo

by Karen Reed

Editor’s note: This is an edited excerpt from the 2008 gift book Authentically Pentecostal: Here’s What We See – A Conversation. To order your copy, click here or call 905-542-7400 ext. 3223.


There is often a great degree of confusion surrounding the baptism of the Holy Spirit. To counter this in our congregations, a best practice is to teach WHAT it is, WHY it is desirable, and HOW one receives it.  I have found that when the need for the experience itself is emphasized without informing listeners about what it is and why it is desirable, many people end up being turned off by suggestions of how to receive it.

What is it?

Roger Stronstad discusses what the baptism of the Spirit is: an empowerment for Christian ministry, with special emphasis on proclamation. By the Spirit we are enabled to continue the ministry of Jesus as prophets who declare the Word of the Lord with boldness, with signs and wonders following. A distinction is made between the private use (which the Apostle Paul urges all to seek) and the public use (a form of prophecy with interpretation—not translation). Simply put, speaking in tongues is a form of prayer. We are able to simplify and demystify this gift when we show its practical purpose in our daily life. We believe in prayer. Speaking in tongues is prayer. It can be a known human language or a heavenly prayer language.  It is expressions of praise to God. It is prayer that edifies the believer. It is also the most powerful, effective and efficient praying that a Christian can do. Therefore, it is not gibberish or psychological release—it is prayer that the Spirit prays.

Why is it desirable? 

  • Our human vocabulary is limited—and when we seek to express our thanks and praise to God, we become aware of that. There is no limit to the prayers of the Spirit.
  • When we are under pressure or in a crisis and appropriate words to pray do not come easily, the gift of tongues enables us to pray powerfully—with prayers that encourage and strengthen us.
  • Praying in tongues helps us to pray for others and intercede for situations that we have little information about.
  • Praying in tongues edifies us—builds us up—just as reading the Word, receiving communion, and other spiritual disciplines do.
  • Understanding circumstances with our minds can make us feel more in control. When we pray in the Spirit, we bypass our minds—and we are reminded that we are in relationship with a supernatural being whose ways are beyond what our finite minds can understand.

How does one receive it?

Scripture reminds us there are no prescriptive ways or boxes that contain the work of the Spirit. Many people approach receiving the gift of the baptism of the Holy Spirit with negative baggage because a number of unattractive or unhelpful methods of persuasion have been used in the past to try to force this. I encourage a leaning toward a gentle approach, so it is obvious that any manifestations are the work of the Spirit only, and not overly zealous leadership. In avoiding language that is dogmatic, we remain respectful of individuals. Jesus was never aggressive, but made discipleship a clear invitation—without negotiation or apology for the cost. “If you want to be My disciple”… (Luke 14).  To invite winsomely, here are some practical ideas—but not a formula—that may be considered.

  • Prepare people for this time of prayer by letting them know at the beginning of the teaching time that there will be time given to pray afterward to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
  • Share how this gift is practised daily in your own life—and the impact of it.
  • Let people know they need to ASK.
  • Emphasize that God primarily wants them to experience His love, and not just know about it in their heads. To encounter “waves and waves of liquid love” (as described by Charles Finney in the 1800s). He invites us to seek and ask. He never forces, as true love is volitional.
  • It is helpful to highlight hindrances to receiving: doubt, fear, inadequacy and to provide space that if something comes to their mind that the Spirit puts His finger on, encourage them to confess it to God. Affirm their complete forgiveness and that God is eager to have them experience His love in deeper ways.
  • Acknowledge that manifestations are not the focus and can vary in nature. When we ask, we receive. We can be confident that God will speak in ways that each can understand.
  • When leading a group of people, provide an opportunity for them after a teaching session to join in singing in the Spirit, which is often the easiest way to receive this gift. Many get blocked as they risk uttering those first words, and singing together helps with self-consciousness.
  • One helpful and powerful way is to begin the prayer time with silence. Invite people to consider extending their hands in front of them as a posture to receive (body language says so much). Encourage them that this is a time to ASK boldly of God. Pray a simple prayer for them, that God will baptize them/fill them with His Spirit, and then wait in silence—while they ask. Our noise-filled world often allows little time for or comfort in silence. Avoid the temptation of background music. Silence enables the still, small voice to be heard more easily. It is often amazing what God does with five minutes or more of silent corporate prayer! Then offer for anyone who wants to receive the gift of tongues to join you in singing in the spirit. Lead a simple chorus (“I Love You, Lord,” etc.) one time, followed by quietly singing in the Spirit. Don’t have the leader dominate the sound—allow the beautiful harmony of the entire gathering to be heard.
  • Provide an opportunity for worship and individual prayer ministry immediately afterwards.
  • This is a work of the Spirit. Have a prayer team pray for the gathering before, during and after it.
  • Stay renewed in your own experience of this generous and powerful gift, and provide regular opportunities for others to learn and experience this too!

This is an edited excerpt from the 2008 gift book Authentically Pentecostal: Here’s What We See – A Conversation. To order your copy, click here or call 905-542-7400 ext. 3223.

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