... From the Goodnews archives: 40th Anniversary edition, March 2007
LIFE IN THE SPIRIT SEMINARS
Fr Chris Thomas, from the Emmaus Family of Prayer in Southport, reflects on how the Baptism in the Holy Spirit brought him into a new awareness of Gods love that transformed his life. He also underlines the effectiveness of the Life in the Spirit Seminars, in bringing people into this life changing work of the Holy Spirit.
The 25th January 1976 was a milestone in my life. It was the day that changed everything for me. I was a typical sullen Liverpool teenager locked into a world of fear and anxiety. My dads alcoholism and the effects of that had scarred me deeply. In order to protect myself I had built up huge barriers against the world and if there was a God against God too.
Without telling me what I was going to my mum asked me to go out with her and the miracle was I went. It was to a day of Renewal. A man got up and began to talk about Jesus and I heard him. Lots of people had spoken to me about Jesus, at Church when I went and in school but this day, I really heard. I knew that I wanted to know Jesus the way he did. My own Baptism in the Spirit happened that day in Warrington. I was standing with a desire in my heart to know Jesus and experienced a red hot flush of pins and needles and then began to cry. The experience lasted about ten minutes and I was left with one truth that God loved me and that truth changed my life.
Nothing can or will stop God loving us
Baptism in the spirit makes us aware of who God is and the intimate connection between the human and the divine. It liberates us from false images of God. It helps us know that nothing can or will stop God loving us.
Baptism in the spirit frees us from a false image of ourselves and invites us to reflect on the truth that we are loved, accepted, cherished and have dignity and worth. It opens us up to relationship with God where the word of God becomes alive and prayer becomes essential.
Baptism in the Spirit does not make us more religious. If anything Baptism in the spirit makes us less religious because it gives us the ability to cut through so much that does not matter and find what does. What it does is enable us to enter into life, which is dependent on how open we are to the reality of God. Somehow we have to preserve and promote the Baptism in the Spirit as a means by which God can call people into life and life in its fullness.
Put words onto the experience that I had had
The Friday after my experience found me at a Prayer meeting in the centre of Liverpool sitting with 150 other people. The group were just about to begin a life in the spirit seminar and those seminars helped me to put words on the experience that I had. I began to realise that Gods love had saved me from myself and enabled me to open up to new life.
As I listened to the speakers and the small group leader and others in my small group, I began to realise that God had much more in store for me. I was to become a new creation in Christ. The night when I was prayed with for Baptism in the Spirit, I simply wanted everything that God wanted for me and I soaked everything in like a sponge. I never had time to feel worried or afraid about the gifts or what God might do in my life. I just wanted as much of God as I could.
Tool of Evangelisation
Since the early days of the Charismatic Renewal, the Life in the spirit seminars have been the means by which the grace of the Baptism in the spirit has most commonly been experienced. The truth is that God can release people into new life at any time God chooses but many would say that the seminars have been a tool to enable this to happen. That is why for me it is vital that we dont lose the Life in the spirit seminars but use them as much as we can. The community that I have been part of for the last twenty-two years have consistently held Life in the Spirit seminars in the Southport area because we believe that God wants to awaken the spirit in the lives of Gods people. We use them primarily as a tool for evangelisation. If Im going to be honest, there are times when we think why bother? and then we remember the ways in which peoples lives have been changed by the power of God working through the seminar.
Process of transformation beginning in peoples hearts and minds
There has never been a year when we havent seen the process of transformation beginning in peoples hearts and minds. We have seen people healed deeply as they have experienced the power of Gods love. We have watched people develop a new sense of purpose and direction in life and we have found new life and new growth in our own community. Traditionally the life in the spirit seminar lasted seven weeks with the prayer for Baptism in the Spirit taking place in the fifth week. Teaching and witnessing are an integral part of any seminar. Small groups have been vital in the process as people have learned to share with one another and met the risen Christ in other people. Prayer and reflection on the Scriptures have been at the heart of the gathering.
Seminars can be run in a variety of ways
Providing those elements are present, the Life in the spirit seminars can be run in a variety of ways. John Vaughn Neils presentation Sons and Daughters of the living God has weekly meetings with a full day as part of the process. The traditional Ann Arbor seven week seminars have been updated and are available. A couple of years ago a DVD was produced, called This Promise is for you with teachings led by Charles Whitehead and Michelle Moran for groups who maybe find the teaching difficult to do. All around the country seminars have been developed. Some have lasted for a weekend, others for a day, some over a number of weeks. All have had at the heart the desire of God that people be awakened to love and to their own dignity and value. It doesnt matter if your group is getting smaller as increasingly seems to be the case these days, there is material available to help you put on a Life in the Spirit seminar. You can put it on in your home, in a church hall, or in a hotel. It doesnt matter if youve got the experience of organising a seminar or not simply take courage and go for it. God has entrusted to us this means by which we draw others into life-giving love. Lets be faithful to what God has given us and if only one person is touched by what is done thats one more than would have been.
Forty years of Gods grace through the Charismatic renewal is being celebrated this year. Why dont you celebrate that grace by putting on a seminar wherever you can do it and then look and see what God will do.