‘While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”
They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”
So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?”
“John’s baptism,” they replied.
Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. There were about twelve men in all.
Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God. But some of them became obstinate; they refused to believe and publicly maligned the Way. So Paul left them. He took the disciples with him and had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord.’
If you were to experience God for the first time, would you prefer: An out-of-the-box encounter that was so different from anything you’ve experienced before, that it left you saying “Wow!”? Or would you want that first experience to be more ordinary (not in a bad way) – the result of a longer process of asking questions, discerning, and maybe, at last, receiving a strong, unshakeable sense of God’s presence?
God is working in both ways, in our passage from Acts 19. First, Paul lays hands on the twelve members of the John the Baptist crew, and they speak in tongues and prophesy – the Holy Spirit arrives in power! Next, in the Synagogue, Paul speaks, argues persuasively, and spends a lot of time going back and forth with his interlocutors. And then things move to the hall of Tyrannus, for more discussion – more back and forth – for two years!
Both ways of experiencing God for the first time, have their benefits: If it’s a powerful encounter, then you usually have a great story (a “testimony”) to share. If your first encounter is the fruit of a season of debate and discussion, then you can look back and see – in all that wrestling – God’s hand. God often gives these two, different kinds of experiences to fit the people who receive them: If you’re into big experiences, God often comes at you in that way; if you’re a thinker, debater, internal processor, God may come to you in that journey of discussion and reflection.
Whichever kind of person you are, this is also true: It is good to seek out the kind of experience that is not most natural to you. If you are big into powerful encounters, then it’s essential to get grounded in some study, discussion, and even debate: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” (1 Peter 3:15) If you’re a person who loves the life of the mind, then what Paul says to the church at Ephesus, is also for you: “be filled with the Spirit.” (Ephesians 5:18) – in other words, seek to experience the Spirit so much that not just your mind, but your whole “you” is filled with Him.
God often meets us where we are, and sometimes even in who we are. But he also transforms us to become people who grow through being stretched by ways of knowing and learning about him that do not feel ‘natural’ to us. Wherever you are – whoever you are – when you experience Him for the first time, get ready for the next part of the journey: a deeper, stronger walk made possible in the Spirit.
Prayer: Lord, I think I know who I am – I think I know what kind of person you made me to be. But I am also ready to be stretched by you, to become stronger spiritually. Come, Holy Spirit, and begin that work in me. Amen.