Deeper, Higher, More: A Search for Pragmatic Implications of the Gifts of the Spirit

By: Antipas Harris
Thursday, June 10th, 2010

“What is this that makes me feel so good right now? What is this that makes folks say I am acting strange? Whatever it is, it won’t let me hold my peace.” -Unknown Songwriter from the African American tradition-

A further question– “What does this mean?”– is the question that observers pose at the first Pentecost account of the earliest church (Acts 2:12). I suggest that we continue to ask this question today!

Pentecostal, Charismatic or Renewal Christians place emphasis on the physical manifestations of spiritual experiences. As a second generation Renewal minister and scholar I would like to explore spiritual experiences throughout history, digging for practical meaning in everyday life. Perhaps, a reflection would lend insight for us today. For example, the stigmata in St. Francis, elevation in Teresa of Avila and uncontrollable  speaking-in-tongues of which William Seymour speaks were all examples of miraculous experiences of the Spirit, gifts with deeper implications than the event themselves. Without the need for empirical evidence to prove that these experiences were authentic, I take for granted my presupposition that physical Gifts of the Spirit are as real as any other human experience and continue today.

It seems, however, that there might be a temptation among many Spirit-filled believers to relish in the spontaneous Gifts of the Spirit without equally valuing the enduring Fruit of the Spirit. The purpose here, moreover, is to explain that Spiritual gifts are physical reactions to a deeper spiritual experience that signifies a union with God, producing practical fruit for everyday living. The goal is to provoke within those who are zealous of Charismatic spirituality a longing for much more than a physical reaction to the moving of the Spirit, a longing for union with God. Pentecostals, Charismatics or Renewalists must yearn for the deep experience of the Spirit that impresses the character and presence of practical spirituality.

St. Francis of Assisi
Francis took seriously the voice of Christ. He heard the command of God for him to repair the broken down house of God.[1] He set out to renovate churches, physically.[2] Therefore, St Francis aimed to show Christ’s love for the sickly, broken, and marginalized people.[3]

In 1224, St Francis, furthermore, set out to Verna for solitude and further contemplation. Paul Sabatier points out that Francis had read how Paul “entered so perfectly into the Master’s thought in this respect.”[4] Paul states, “I have been crucified with Christ, yet I live… or rather, it is not I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). St. Francis recognized that the purpose of Jesus’ physical suffering was for the love of humankind. He saw how Paul allied with Christ in the pangs that true love embodies. He did not want to die without the confidence that he had absorbed this love of Jesus through suffering for Him and with him for others.[5] “To be more like Jesus” was Francis constant prayer. [6]

It was September 13th, the night before the Day of the Elevation of the Holy Cross, Francis prayed until the breaking of day. In the morning, after the chill of night came to revive his body, he suddenly had an earth-shaking experience. He looked and noticed that he had mysteriously received the physical gift of the wounds of Christ. Francis was surprised; he had not prayed for the physical manifestation of the sufferings of Christ in this way. He wanted to be assured, however, that he had truly absorbed Jesus’ love and compassion before he died.

God confirmed in Francis body a physical sign of his spiritual identification with Christ, as he had requested so fervently. Miraculously, his hands and feet were pierced in the center-nail type punctures. He even noticed that he had a sacred wound in his side. Yet, we are told that Francis did not flaunt his gift. Michael de la Bedoyére reports,“He (Francis) always did everything he could to hide this prodigy from strangers and kept it as quiet as he possibly could even from his friends. The result was that even the most intimate and fervent of his brothers knew nothing about it for a long time.”[7]

His life proved his non-conventionality. Stigmata were gifts of spiritual impressions that witnessed in his body a deeper revelation of the practical gifts of extreme humility, love, and compassion with which God empowered the Christ-like lifestyle that St. Francis had lived until his death. [8]

St. Teresa of Avila
In her autobiography Life, Teresa testifies to having had mystical experiences, also. Towards the end of her degrees of prayer, she records an experience of a miraculous rapture and elevation of some sort. The experience is ambiguous, thus subject to creative interpretation.

Concerning her experiences, St Teresa says, “One sees one’s body being lifted up from the ground…. One does not lose consciousness-at least, I myself have had sufficient to enable me to realize that I was being lifted up.”[9] The experience of which she testifies is not in and of itself the power of her spiritual life. It is yet an extraordinary gift. The experience succeeds, first, a deepening of her prayer experience that brings her into union with God. Then, her entire self would rapture into oneness with God that affects and advantages the soul. In Pentecostal jargon one would say, “She got caught up in the Holy Ghost (Spirit).” “Sometimes,” she says, “my whole body has been affected, to the point of being raised up from the ground.”[10]

It is clear that her physical elevations were uncontrollable, bodily reactions. The gift, however, is a reaction to internal rapturing of the soul. The God granted bodily gestures were manifestations of a deeper experience that changed her everyday life, her vision of life and that strengthened her soul.

For St. Teresa there is a connection between the spiritual experiences and the gifts of extraordinary manifestations of the mystical.[11] By gifts, Teresa means the divine dispersion of practical gifts of God’s presence,[12] love,[13] forgiveness, joy,[14] and the empowerment to reach goals in life.[15] Teresa, however, is “most satisfied and excited in the fruition of its bliss.”[16]

I believe that Teresa is most interested in the profound spiritual experience that governs her relationship with God and others. “The outward joy experienced is great and clearly recognized”[17] in physical reactions to the overwhelming out-pouring of the Holy Spirit.

William Seymour
William Seymour was afflicted with smallpox that left him with the ability to see by only one of his eyes. Yet, he was committed to pleasing God in all of his ways and preaching the gospel of Christ. Seymour professes to have received this gift with the accompanying gift of speaking-in-tongues (glossolalia).

William Seymour is the founder of the American Pentecostal movement. His openness to all peoples enabled him to advance his message in a way that Charles Parham, a white racist Pentecostal minister, could not. The movement started as a revival that Seymour initiated at 312 Azusa Street in Los Angeles in 1906 that was multicultural, multiethnic, and inclusive of “the entire multitude.”[18] The basis of the Pentecostal movement was testimonies of Spiritual gifts and/or experiences that included what was understood as the baptism of the Spirit, mainly uncontrollable utterances of languages. Seymour struggled with the notion that people, who claim to have spoken in tongues but were segregationists, backbiters, evil speakers, etc. Could they, he questioned, have had an authentic baptism in the Spirit? Seymour was interested in the ramifications of Spirit baptism in racial, cultural, and social reconciliation. He combined this theology of the Spirit and the ethical dimensions of Spirit baptism with the proclamation of the Pentecostal experience of glossolalia. For Seymour, the mystical has everything to do with practical living, for him. The issues ranged from social, physical, and psychological to spiritual issues. The movement was inclusive of all people and offered liberation to the oppressed.

Iain MacRobert points out, “Spirit baptism was, for Seymour, more than a glossolalic episode. It was the power to draw all people into one Church”,[19] irrespective of racial, ethnic or social diversity. In essence, Seymour advanced the theology of the movement beyond the ecstatic utterances or Acts 2:4 to include the passages concerning “they all were together in one place” (2:1), having “all things in common” (2:44). For Seymour, the Pentecostal experience of baptism in the Spirit is about immersion in love. Douglass Nelson records a quotation from Rev. William J. Seymour’s “Apostolic Faith” in his biography of him: “Speaking in tongues is one of the signs that goes with a baptized person, but it is not the real evidence of the baptism in everyday life. If you get angry, or speak evil, or backbite, I care not how many tongues you may have; you have lost your salvation….”[20] In Seymour’s theology, there is an extraordinary explosion of love that brings meaning to his life at the moment of the Baptism of the Spirit.

Conclusion with a challenge
The Gifts of the Spirit in Acts 2 are signs (not the evidence) that believers have been empowered with the practical qualities of the Spirit—Fruit of the Spirit. I think this is a driving theme of interpretation that leaps from the illustrations of the Spiritual experiences of stigmata in St. Francis, elevation in St. Teresa and glossolalia in Seymour.
Concerning gifts of tongues, Paul states, “Though I speak with tongues of men and angels and have not love, I am a sounding brass and a clanging gong” (I Corinthians 13:1). Paul wants to value the practical dimensions of a spiritual gift with a genuine heart of love rather than a focus on the ecstatic, bodily reactions to spiritual experiences.

My challenge in this blog is that Spirit-filled Christians go deeper, reach for more than a Gift of the Spirit or a spiritual experience. Reach for more of God’s righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Growing up in an African American Pentecostal (Sanctified Church), I would frequently hear the mothers say, “pray for me that I gain higher heights and deeper depths in Christ Jesus.” Let’s pray in similar manner for practical meaning in light of our religious experiences and Gifts of the Spirit. The practical gifts that are manifested in the way one lives ones’ life are the measure by which one is able to adjudicate the value and/or meaning of an ecstatic, Spiritual gifts and experiences.

[1] Michael de la Bedoyére, Francis: A Biography of the Saint of Assisi (St. James’ Place, London: Collins, 1962), 59.

[2] Ibid, 159, 160.

[3] Ibid, 56, 148

[4] Paul Sabatier, Life of St. Francis of Assisi (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1922) 295.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Michael de la Bedoyére, Francis: A Biography of the Saint of Assisi (St. James’ Place, London: Collins, 1962) 243.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Teresa of Avila, The Life of Teresa of Jesus: The Autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila (Garden City, New York: Image Books, 1960) 191.

[10] Ibid, 190.

[11] Ibid, 196.

[12] Ibid, 179.

[13] Ibid, 192-194.

[14] Ibid, 194.

[15] Ibid, 187.

[16] Ibid, 191.

[17] Ibid, 177.

[18] The Apostolic Faith, op.cit, 3, col 2.

[19] Iain MacRobert, “The Black Roots of Pentecostalism,” Pentecost, Mission and Ecumenism Essays on Intercultural Theology 75 (Frankfurt am Main: Verlag Peter Lang Gmbh, 1992) 79.

[20] See, D. J. Nelson, For Such a Time as This: The Story of William Seymour (London: Macmillan, 1988) 202-295. Also quoted in the lecture by Roswith Gerloff, “Prepare for Pentecost: An Evening of Prayer and Worship for ‘Spirit in the City,’” (given at Harehills New Testament Church of God, Easterly Road, Leeds 8, 1 April, 2001, unpublished) 2.

Works Cited

Bedoyére, Michael de la, Francis: A Biography of the Saint of Assisi (St. James’ Place,

London: Collins, 1962)

Bloch-Hoell, Nils, Pentecostal Movement: Its Origin, Development, and Distinctive

Character (Oslo: Universitetsforlaget, 1964)

Bruner, Fredrick D., A Theology of the Holy Spirit: The Pentecostal Experience and the

New Testament Witness (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1970)

MacRobert, Iain, “The Black Roots of Pentecostalism,” Pentecost, Mission and

Ecumenism Essays on Intercultural Theology 75 (Frankfurt am Main: Verlag

Peter Lang Gmbh, 1992)

McLoughlin, W. G. Jr., Modern Revivalism: Charles Grandison Finney to Billy Graham

(New York: The Ronald Press, 1959

Nelson, Douglass J., For Such a Time as This: The Story of William Seymour (London:

Macmillan, 1988)

Sabatier, Paul, Life of St. Francis of Assisi (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1922)

Teresa of Avila, The Life of Teresa of Jesus: The Autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila

(Garden City, New York: Image Books, 1960)

The Apostolic Faith, op.cit, 3, col 2.

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Antipas Harris
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4 Responses to “Deeper, Higher, More: A Search for Pragmatic Implications of the Gifts of the Spirit”

  1. Jamie says:

    LOVED it! “pray for me that I gain higher heights and deeper depths in Christ Jesus.” Great teaching on the modern day manifestation of the Holy Spirit and why He is so important to our lives.

  2. Jeff Doles says:

    In my book, Miracles and Manifestations of the Holy Spirit in the History of the Church (, I have compiled a lot of historical materials relating to spiritual gifts and signs in the Church down through the centuries. There is no evidence that these gifts and signs were sought for the sake of gifts and signs, or that they were practiced in isolation or disregard of the fruit of the Spirit. They were a byproduct of the Gospel and signs that pointed to it. But they were not the main focus.

    • Jeff, I look forward to reading your book! This is an important subject to continue to consider. While we appreciate the gifts, we must not see them as an ends in and of themselves. They point to Jesus and the everyday life that Jesus gives.

      Many blessings my brother!

  3. Chris Hayes says:

    This is a great article. I particularly like the section on St. Teresa of Avila Keep publishing these kind of articles focussed on the mystical and powerful gifts of the Holy Spirit.