Keep in Step with the Spirit

December 23rd, 2007

I recently started reading Keep in Step with the Spirit by J. I. Packer, author of Knowing God. The first edition came out in 1984, and it was recently updated for a second edition. It’s a study of the new covenant ministry of the Holy Spirit, dealing with questions that affect the life of every Christian as we seek to “walk in the Spirit”–to live the Christ-centered, God-honoring life for which we were created and saved.

Taking a few excerpts from the Amazon description, it is “not merely a theological study, but a rousing call to encourage believers to implement the Spirit’s directives in their lives.” It is a “radical call to personal and corporate revival”, in which Packer “restates the Christ-centeredness of the Spirit’s ministry, reaffirms the biblical call to holiness, and even-handily assesses the charismatic movement.”

The last part is of particular interest to me. I purchased this book as part of my own extended study into charismatic issues. My personal background is lacking in charismatic-type manifestations. (This is not to say that God has not worked powerfully in my life, or that I’ve had no experiences. But I don’t remember anything that I thought of at the time in charismatic terms.) When it comes to stories of manifestations, my natural inner tendency is to be somewhat skeptical. And since I joined an independent charismatic church last January, I am forced to consider these matters carefully. (To clarify, Hope Chapel does not engage in the sort of chaotic practices that Paul critiqued in 1 Cor. 14. In the main meeting, our charismaticism is mainly manifested in a joyful, energetic worship style. Those who attend are from a variety of backgrounds, with a variety of views about spiritual gifts & prophecy. And the teaching is strongly biblical, and centered on Christ.) (On another side note, I value the fact that Hope is more charismatic than I’m used to, regardless of what conclusions I end up coming to. I think it’s beneficial to be at a church that’s a little more something than you’re used to, within limits–it’s a way of challenging you to learn, to consider, to practice discernment, and to get outside the traditions you hold to just because it’s your background.)

So, I’ve been wrestling with questions related to the Holy Spirit and spiritual gifts, such as: How we are to expect the Spirit to work in our lives and in the church, what it means to hear the voice of God, how we are to discern the will of God, and how we are to exercise discernment while maintaining an open and humble spirit and an expectation of the power of God. I’ve already read Four Views: Are Miraculous Gifts For Today?, Decision-Making and the Will of God, and God Talk: Cautions for Those Who Hear God’s Voice. To read next, I have copies of Dallas Willard’s Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship With God, and John MacArthur’s Charismatic Chaos. I plan to purchase copies of Jack Deere’s Surprised by the Voice of God, Chuck Smith’s Charisma versus Charismania, Hank Hanegraaff’s Counterfeit Revival, J.P. Moreland’s Kingdom Triangle. I’ve listened to various audio materials on the subject (such as an interview with Moreland with seemingly credible testimony of significant healings), and read a number of blogs (including The Rise of the Intellectual Charismatics). I’ve also had–and will continue to have–some edifying, challenging conversations with charismatic friends.

I pray that God will enable me to study and to learn with humility, discernment, grace, and a heart that longs to understand these things with wisdom–not as a mere intellectual exercise, but as a vital aid to living a Spirit-filled life in a community of believers, shining with the light of Christ to a world that desperately needs His grace and mercy.

At the moment I’m about half-way through Packer’s book, and there are a number of quotes and reflections I’d like to share. For now I leave you with these words from Packer on prayer in the Spirit:

[…] I hold that praying in the Spirit includes four elements. First it is a matter of seeking, claiming, and making use of access to God through Christ (Eph. 2:18). Then the Christian adores and thanks God for his acceptance through Christ and for the knowledge that through Christ his prayers are heard. Third, he asks for the Spirit’s help to see and do what brings glory to Christ, knowing that both the Spirit and Christ himself intercede for him as he struggles to pray for rightness in his own life (Rom. 8:26-27, 34). Finally, the Spirit leads the believer to concentrate on God and his glory in Christ with a sustained single-minded simplicity of attention and intensity of desire that no one ever knows save as it is supernaturally wrought.

Prayer in the Spirit is prayer from the heart, springing from awareness of God, of self, of others, of needs, and of Christ. Whether it comes forth verbalized, as in the prayers and praises recorded in Scripture, or unverbalized, as when the contemplative gazes Godward in love or the charismatic slips into glossolalia, is immaterial. He (or she) whose heart seeks God through Christ prays in the Spirit.

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2 Responses to “Keep in Step with the Spirit”

  1. wendy broyles says:

    Well, Tim. This is a first for me; hope I don’t mess up! I liked some of the stuff I read. I was concerned about your blog because as missionaries in Brazil we run into this a lot.(Charismatic) You mentioned tradition in a tone that might be negative and I immediately remembered II Thes. 2:15 and cross-referenced to IIThes. 3:6. Tradition isn’t necessarily wrong. A great way to stay on course is through tradition.(check out II Tim. 1:5 and my husband just reminded me about the Rechabites-Jer. 35, esp. vs. 18,19. Just be careful (I say that to my kids and it really means “I love you and want the best for you.”)

  2. Tim says:

    Hi Wendy,

    [Comment updated and moved here.]