Volume 21 Issue 2
One of the most horrible moments I have experienced in my work as a pastor happened nearly 40 years ago. Micki and I were making a late night hospital call. A beloved elderly member of our congregation was near death. I placed a chair beside the bed and began to chat with her. She was keenly aware of the dire diagnosis and her own pending death. Yet despite her physical frailty she was completely cognizant and still possessed full memory and awareness. She asked me to come close, and in a weak, weeping voice she confessed that she was absolutely sure that she had never received the baptism of the Holy Ghost. She had been a Pentecostal believer from her early twenties, a pillar of our congregation, a selfless giver, and a woman of faith.
But, here at this moment, she was whispering to us, “I must receive the Holy Spirit before I die.” We were shocked as on her deathbed in her final moments she told us her story. Years ago at a revival meeting she had been told that she had received the Holy Ghost. The preacher had expressed to her that he had heard her speak with tongues and challenged her to “claim it!” Fearful of being disobedient, not wanting to resist the Holy Spirit, and not wanting to contest the evangelist’s pronouncement to her and the audience she offered an embarrassed confession, “Yes, yes. I have received the Spirit.” She knew at once she had erred. She had not received the Holy Ghost and she knew that she had been intimidated. She was heartsick. This young college student, who had never been in such a church before and was enthralled at what she felt, had been tragically caught in a moment of manipulation and abuse.
My friend lived the whole remainder of her life pretending and embarrassed. Not wanting to offend anyone she kept her secret. She was moral, smart, giving, a lover of God’s people, and a student of the Word. This trusted, precious member of several Apostolic churches lived nearly seven decades shadowed under a dark, painful memory. Privately, she prayed and sought God, bearing her secret alone. I could barely handle the remorse I felt. I asked if she wanted to pray, she did. She was very weak. I trembled as I laid my hand on her head. She prayed, I prayed, Micki prayed, but after a couple hours of quiet intercession and many tears, she still had not received the Holy Ghost.
If anyone had a lived a life so devotedly or so faithfully that one could say they deserved to go to heaven based on character and goodness alone, this was that person. I don’t think before or since I ever felt so burdened, frustrated or helpless. I am embarrassed to admit that I was tempted to tell her not to worry about it, that she was a good woman and that God would surely be merciful to her. But in my heart I knew that such dishonest comfort would have betrayed her confidence in me. She had spent her entire adult life knowing something was missing and that she was not complete.
At this point, mere words were no solace. Exhausted, we all dozed off for a while. Near the break of morning she drew us near again and let us know that she understood all about mercy and such. “But, like you said,” she explained, “I know I need the Holy Spirit. I need to be in Him. That’s the only way.” She was referring to a Bible study I had taught about a year before concerning the impossibility of knowing God within the scope of reason. I had stated that all one might learn about God through the Bible, or philosophy, or human wisdom would not completely satisfy. It is only through the power of revelation that is unique to the baptism of the Holy Spirit that we have union with God. Without His divine revelation through the Holy Ghost we can never really know Him.
Her frail husband came in around mid-morning and after small talk we all began to pray again. She said nothing about the confession she had made to Micki and me. After a brief prayer the Holy Spirit came into the room like a rushing wind. We all started weeping; my friend’s husband grabbed me and screamed out, “I feel the Lord!” At that moment, we all began to speak in other tongues. Micki and I were overwhelmed as we witnessed our sweet sister boldly speaking in tongues and shouting, “This is it! Yes! Yes! This is it. This is it!” She died later that evening while in a restful sleep. Her husband went home to be with the Lord a short time after. I never discussed any aspect of the matter with him. I am not sure he ever knew.
I often wonder how many young people, children, old folks are out there, sitting in our pews desperately living this same secret? How many have been misled, used and defrauded of a real experience with the Holy Ghost? How many are trying to overcome sin and doubt without a real Pentecost in their lives? How many have been manipulated at our altars by someone caught up in a moment of thoughtless zealousness? What cost has this been to our families, our churches, our ministries, and ultimately to the mission of worldwide revival?