And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, "Come over to Macedonia and help us." And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them. The Lord opened (Lydia's) heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.
-- Acts 16:6-10, 14
Here we have it, a Holy Spirit sighting! As rare as Sasquatch but more real, the Spirit is spotted in this story. We are not given a description of sight or sound, but He makes His presence known by forbidding on one hand, not allowing on another, casting a vision for direction, and entering someone's heart.
The Holy Spirit, our silent partner, guides existing Christians. The Spirit is also the power behind the making of new ones. He does so by speaking in three tongues: prophecy, providence, and prompting.
The clearest and best way to hear the Holy Spirit is to read the prophetic words of the Holy Bible, for they are literally Spirit-breathed. Prophecy also includes accurate sermons and lessons that are "rightly dividing the word of truth" from godly preachers to godly people. I cannot explain all the ways the Holy Spirit speaks, but I can tell you confidently that He will never say anything to you that contradicts the plain teachings of the Bible, which He wrote in conjunction with 40 or so prophetic personalities.
Since the Holy Spirit was, is, and always will be God, He exerts His will by providence, which provides hard and fast directions for decision-making. If you think it is God's will for you to marry a certain lady, but the lady says "no," then be assured it is not God's will, for providence has turned you away, and perhaps another lady awaits. If the missionaries thought it was God's will for them to go further into Asia, God the Holy Spirit said, "no," perhaps through persecution or some other roadblock, but "yes" to traveling into Europe for the first time and minister in Macedonia. Trusting providence requires patiently learning to take "no" for an answer.
Then there is the most perplexing way to hear the Holy Spirit, prompting. Prompting is a feeling, an inward voice, or "vision" in Paul's case here of "a man of Macedonia." I think the Holy Spirit speaks to every believer, with some sort of prompting, with a voice almost audible.
But herein lies the tricky part. God the Holy Spirit is infallible; we, the Christians, are not. We can misread prophecy. We can misinterpret providence. We can mistake promptings, mixing up a desire for happiness with the holiness God, the Holy Spirit, reflects and requires. Make sure you've got a serious faith before diving in according to your inner feelings.
Let's take a step back now. Lydia's experience more directly and dramatically captures the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in salvation. Her body and mind were alive, but her heart and soul were dead without Christ, the Christian gospel, and the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is mysterious, but there is no mystery about how He works to save the soul. Jesus explained in John 16:8, "And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment." Lydia, living in the European world, encountered the gospel through Paul's preaching. The Spirit convicted her of her sin and separation from God. The Spirit convinced her of her need for forgiveness and the imputed righteousness of Christ. The Spirit converted her to Christianity, the only way one can escape the coming judgment of God. Sin, righteousness, and judgment, all put into perfect perspective by the perfect, silent partner, the Holy Spirit.
Has the Holy Spirit opened up your heart to believe the Gospel? Were you convicted of your sin, convinced of your need for Christ, and converted into a fully devoted follower of Christ? Are you following through in baptism, church membership, and putting forth a proper witness for Christ? If so, you have a silent partner in the whole process, the Holy Spirit!
Chuck DeVane is the pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church. Call him at 501-525-8339 or email [email protected]