“Brown hat, and brown sweater in the bookstore” – “Big husky guy with black shoes and black jeans” – “Three black women walking together” – “Woman with extravagant jewelry a matching red purse and red shoes” – “Backache, broken heart, depression, migraine, common cold in the whole family” – and seven specific names and places – “Ross, Target, local bookstore, Chick fill A, Home Depot, and church.”
So, what is the connection between all of these descriptive words? These are some of the “clues” we get before we go out and try to evangelize people with “words of knowledge” prompted by the Holy Spirit. Small teams of 3 to 4 people in our Christian community regularly come together to pray and ask the Lord to guide them in speaking and praying with others about receiving the Lord Jesus and experiencing his power in their lives. They ask the Lord to give them “clues” about who they should speak with and what the Lord might want them to say or pray with them for. After a time of seeking the Lord together for any “clues” he might want to give them, they then write down any word or image that comes to their mind, or maybe a particular sensation they feel – like some sort of pain or heat in their arm or back. After they share with one another the different senses which they perceive as clues from the Holy Spirit, the team then goes off to find the people the Lord wants them to speak and pray with.
Here in our covenant community in Jacksonville we have been experimenting with the exercise of the spiritual gift of “words of knowledge” since last summer (2012). Since this kind of spiritual gift and ministry is new to us, we really do not exactly understand what we are doing in seeking “words of knowledge” from the Spirit, and we are all a bit on the cowardly side of stepping out in faith, but we are willing to learn through experimenting with the gift of “words of knowledge” as we seek the Holy Spirit’s prompting and direction.
The amazing thing is how successful our efforts have been rewarded by the Holy Spirit. I would say that seventy-five percent of the time when we step out after receiving a clue from the Holy Spirit, what we say as we speak or pray with individuals, really touches them.
What can be most uncanny for us are the times when we go up to a complete stranger and ask that person, “Is your name Melissa” or “Is your name Bob,” and then the person replies, “Yes, that is my name, how did you know my name?” When we respond by saying, “It came from the Lord” and then show the person their name written on a piece of paper they are really touched. So many of them say, “I never thought God knows me or would do anything for me.” The worst case scenario seems to be when some people we approach will politely say to us, “Thank you,” and then walk away. So far, none of us has experienced any overt hostility, and no shedding of blood for witnessing to Christ.
A recent experience
I recently received a “clue” from the Holy Spirit that a married couple was going to come to church on Sunday and sit right behind my wife and myself. I sensed that the Holy Spirit wanted me to tell this couple how much Jesus loved them, and then I would see where the conversation might go from there.
When the Sunday Mass started no one was sitting behind us. I was kind of relieved – and felt “off the hook.” But just then a couple in their thirties came and sat directly behind us. The coward in me turned to my wife Felicia who has a really kind touch with people and said, “Maybe you can talk to them.” She replied, “It was your word of knowledge, you do it.”
So, when mass ended, I turned around and told them what a nice couple they appeared to be and how much it appeared that they really like each other, and then I told them that God loved them very much. As the conversation moved along – the couple told us how they first met, and about their child, and what they do for work. I gave my personal testimony of God’s work in my personal life and talked about what God was doing in our Christian community. We ended the 10 minute conversation by exchanging phone numbers and email addresses. A week later this couple came to our community prayer meeting and they were touched by the Holy Spirit. They have continued to come weekly to our prayer meetings and have recently joined the Life in the Spirit seminars. I praise God for how he has been blessing this couple.
A Kairos venture
On the first of January, two young people from our community, Joel Laton and my blind daughter Christine and her guide dog Dina, went up a few days early to participate in the North American Kairos Conference, an evangelistic outreach to university aged people, which was being held in Lansing, Michigan. They spoke to a few young Kairos participants and set up two teams to go out into the city with specific “words of knowledge” they had sensed from the Holy Spirit. After the team had prayed and received some “clues,” they went to a local shopping mall. The results of their encounter with people were amazing. A number of the clues the groups came up with hit home. Both teams came back excited at how the Lord touched people who were perfect strangers through their stepping out and following the “words of knowledge” they sensed from the Spirit. When I heard the results of the Kairos venture in Lansing, I felt like the 72 disciples must have felt when they returned home from a mission trip (See Luke 10:17).
The two evangelism teams were really inspired by how the Lord worked with them as they spoke with people about the Lord. They were also able to share many stories of their experience with several of the people who were attending the Kairos conference. Many Kairos folk said they were encouraged and emboldened to step out in faith in sharing the gospel with others. We have found that even when some people do not want us to pray with them or tell us that their life is working fine, we are still encouraged to bring the Lord to the forefront of their minds and to help them draw closer to him.
Books, purple flower, spine
books, tan cap
butterfly, Samantha, sore throat
A spiritual gift
I believe that every disciple of Christ who wants to be led by the Holy Spirit can experience the spiritual gift of “words of knowledge.” I think it’s more a matter of actively being alert and open to what the Holy Spirit wants to say to us. I suspect many of us are used to having a variety of thoughts and images come into our minds from time to time. We know from experience that some of the thoughts that go through our minds are not good, especially thoughts that are temptations to sin. Other thoughts are simply normal or natural things that just happen to come to our own mind. At the same time, as incredible as it may sound, thoughts that come into our minds might also be inspired of the Holy Spirit. I think that this is especially true when a group of earnest Christians who want to evangelize others will come together specifically to sit and pray for an hour or more to receive “words of knowledge,” or “clues” as we call them.
Being alert to the promptings of the Holy Spirit and believing that the Spirit wants to give us clues in our evangelistic work is only half the battle. Stepping out in faith is the other half. So, what have we learned so far about finding clues? I think that there are a number of ways that the Spirit can give us clues. A key way we have experienced receiving “clues” from the Spirit is when we pray together as a team, and then individuals within the team begin to experience some kind of tangible sensation, such as a feeling of heat, tingling, or pain somewhere they normally do not have – say in their foot, arm, neck, or back. Through practice we have come to see that there is a good chance that this momentary sensation is a sign from the Holy Spirit. Another key way we receive “clues” from the Holy Spirit is when particular words or images come to our minds while we are praying – clues like “brown hat, red dress, Home Depot,” and, in my story above, when I sensed a “clue” that I would meet some specific people during Sunday Mass, in this case a couple who were sitting right behind my wife and myself.
I try to encourage people in our
community to trust that we can regularly receive “thoughts” or “clues”
from the Holy Spirit, and these thoughts can come to our minds whenever
the Holy Spirit wishes to give them to us. For instance, the Lord might
want to give you a “clue” or sense that you should talk to someone who
just happens to be passing by you – maybe someone at work or at church.
The Spirit may want you to say something to them to encourage or help them.
We can pass up the opportunity or we can step out in faith and see the
Lord work through us as we take the “word” or “clue” he gives us for the
other person. If we want to be led by the Spirit, then the more we are
open to his promptings, the more opportunities he will give us to step
out in faith even if it might be simply an opportunity to speak with someone
walking past us.
Philip the Evangelist was led by the Spirit to speak with a man in a chariot
In Acts of the Apostles, chapter 8, verses 26-39, we see a remarkable account of the evangelist Philip receiving two words from the Lord. The first word tells him to follow the desert road from Jerusalem to Gaza. And the second word is to go up and join the chariot which he sees in front of him. Philip obeys the leading of the Holy Spirit and begins to speak with the Ethiopian official in his chariot. The Ethiopian has been reading a passage from scripture and Philip offers to explain the meaning of the passage to him. Philip then explains the good news of Jesus Christ and the Ethiopian asks to be baptized so he can become a disciple of Jesus.
Here in Jacksonville, we are committed to seeking the spiritual gifts and to experimenting with them. Of course we believe God wants strong and mature Christian communities and we are trying our best to build a strong community. To date, after seven years, we are weak, disorganized, and need to mature more as a community. At the same time we think God wants us to go out – and not be overly inward focused. We have decided to direct significant time and energy to evangelization. We are asking the Holy Spirit to bless our efforts with demonstrations of spiritual power and miracles even though we are beginners and do not have the experience and understanding for how to exercise the gifts of the Spirit and be led in evangelizing with spiritual gifts of power.
Creating a culture of divine power is exciting. People are coming to our weekly prayer meetings expecting God to work. We expect some healing or some small miracle. We expect ingrown toenails to be remedied, painful backs healed, headaches to disappear, and inner hurts soothed or even removed—and often they are initiated through the gift of prophecy or a “word of knowledge.”
Of course, not everyone is healed when we pray with them. Not every ”word of knowledge” hits home. But, we do believe that the only thing stopping us from exercising more of God’s power is our own lack of expectant faith. Our God is not stingy.
We sincerely believe that we are called to be bright lights – by our deep love for Jesus, by our genuine love for one another, by our desire to live a radical life as disciples on mission and being covenanted together, and by our being led by the Spirit and exercising the spiritual gifts as a regular part of our life as charismatic Christians.
In our day and age of spiritual apathy and unbelief the task is overwhelming. That’s why I think the spiritual gifts are so valuable and so needed in today’s world. People need to see signs and the power of God working in and through his people. These gifts produce fruit and the Lord wants us to take hold of them and use them in bringing his love, mercy, and the good news of salvation to others.
If you want to enter into an exciting realm in the exercise of spiritual gifts, where you “sense” what the Holy Spirit wants to say to you, and if you are willing to “step out in faith” then there is no question that you can receive “words of knowledge” from the Holy Spirit.
[Joe Difato, PhD Theology, is the Senior Coordinator of the Jacksonville Community, located in Jacksonville, Florida, USA. He is the Founder/Writer of The Word Among Us Catholic Monthly Magazine.]