Encountering God & Manifestations of the Spirit

The world is hungry for an authentic encounter with God. When one encounters the living God, however, it is remarkable what may happen. The Bible records many such incidences of the Spirit of the Lord coming upon someone and the results. The ancient Hebrews believed that encountering God to be synonymous with receiving the answers to one’s prayers. This is also seen through the woman with the issue of blood believing that if she could just touch Jesus that she would be healed (Mt. 9:21). If encountering the Lord is so important for answered prayer, and ultimately simply for relationship, one of the biggest dangers would be to be unaware of His presence. Yet throughout the Bible not recognizing the Lord is a common response to His arrival (Gen. 28:16, Luke 24:31, John 20:15). There are obviously common ways that the Holy Spirit encounters people today that the most in the church recognize – tears, repentance, and so forth. And truly those can be or are responses to the Holy Spirit. However, there are a variety of “outside the box” manifestations of the Holy Spirit that are occurring in churches today that should be looked at – like shaking, falling, laughter, and drunkenness in the Spirit. Many do not accept them in church simply because they are not the manifestations of the Holy Spirit that they are used to or comfortable with seeing. However, if these manifestations are truly from the Lord, it would be a grave danger to have had God encounter people, but the churches’ rejection of it based on not perceiving or being comfortable with it. To test the validity of outside the box manifestations, both biblical and historical evidence is needed to come to an adequate conclusion.

Biblical Precedence for Manifestations

To find the authenticity of the manifestations that come through encountering God, trembling, falling, laughter, and drunkenness should be traced in the Bible along with sharing the dangers of requiring a biblical precedent or requiring man’s system of order on them. Trembling or shaking is a very common manifestation in the Bible. Buildings shook due to the Lord's presence (Isaiah 6 and Acts 4:31), every living creature trembles in Ez. 38:20, demons tremble (James 2:19), and the temple guards shook and fell in Mt. 28:4. The prophet Daniel was left trembling after encountering the Lord in Daniel 10:10. There are many other recorded instances of shaking or trembling including Exodus 19:16, Isaiah 64:2, Psalm 114:7, Psalm 99:1, Jeremiah 5:22, and so forth.

Falling is also a very biblical phenomenon. The Bible records that after John had his vision of Jesus he "fell… as though dead" in Revelation 1:17. Ezekiel also would often fall like he was dead and then later be picked up or carried away by the Spirit (Ez 1:28, 2:2, 3:12-14, 23-24, and others). When Paul was on his Damascus Road journey, he encountered the power of God and fell to the ground (Acts 9:4). When Jesus was being arrested (John 18:6) and was questioned as to his identity, he declared who he was which prompted the guards to fall over backwards. 1 Samuel 19:24 records that the Spirit of the Lord came on Saul and he laid on the ground for a substantial period of time.

The obvious biblical references to laughter would be where the word joy is used. It simply is not accurate to define joy as only an internal emotion that cannot be externally manifested. This runs the risk of redefining joy as peace. Therefore, to think that smiling and laughter could not occur when one has joy is utterly ridiculous! If His presence comes with fullness of joy (Psalm 16:11), there should be no surprise at extreme gladness and laughter being a manifestation of encounter.

Drunkenness by the Spirit is also seen in the Bible. In the Old Testament, Hannah was in a state of fervent prayer for a son. When the priest saw her praying, he thought she was drunk, but she assured him that she had not had wine or beer, but only was in a state of intense intercession (1 Sam. 1). It appears the most knowledgeable person in Hebrew society (the priest) thought this instance of intense intercession appeared exactly like drunkenness.

In the New Testament, Acts 2 records that the apostles appeared to be drunk to those who saw them speak in tongues. Common sense would indicate that just because someone speaks another language, this would not make them appear to be drunk. If someone saw another from a different part of the world speak their native language, they would not think they were drunk. They would think they spoke another language. Similarly, the apostles appeared drunk and this was something beyond speaking in tongues.

A huge danger in the body of Christ is to require a biblical precedent for every manifestation of God. Throughout the Bible there is a history of “outside the box” encounters. When Mary encountered the Holy Spirit, she became pregnant. She would have had difficulty explaining biblical precedence for this! When Jacob encountered God, he found himself in a wrestling match that left him limping for life. Even 1 Corinthians 12 and 14, the chapters devoted to the gifts of the Spirit, are not written as a theological treatise on spiritual gifts, but are a part of a Gospel written to help bring correction to a church that was already operating in those gifts – even though some of them had no prior biblical precedent. The true danger as Bill Johnson notes, is not that we will add a few more manifestations to the list of what is acceptable, but that there still is a list. The danger of keeping God in a box and not accepting the signs that are manifestations that He may give that point to Him is problematic. If God is attempting to give signs to reveal Himself, it is very dangerous to simply not accept them because they are outside of traditional thought of how He works.

Another major concern in the body of Christ is related to order. Some would say different manifestations are acceptable as long as they are done in order. However, their idea of order may look differently than God’s! Decently and in order in the OT looked more like letting the Ark of the Covenant fall in mud in 2 Samuel 6 then protecting it from doing so when the oxen carrying it stumbled. In the same passage, dancing around wildly in one’s undergarment as David did was not considered out of order or in excess, while open disgust of this brought punishment from the Lord. In 2 Chron. 7, if priests were unable to be functional to do their jobs when the presence of the Lord was thick, then why should it be thought that decent and in order will be church without disruptions when the presence of the Lord is manifest in a place? Just as there is major concern in having the acceptable manifestation list be based on comfort of people and not God, so there is a major danger in defining order based on man’s concept and not the Lord’s.

Manifestations in History

Due to the scope of this topic, manifestations in history will be listed from the sixteen hundreds onward. In the 1600s, the Quakers and then a century later, the Shakers became movements in the church. Both groups received their name due to how they trembled in the presence of the Lord.

The 1700s are known for the Great Awakening and many of the heroes of faith were known for having a variety of Holy Spirit manifestations in their ministries. George Whitefield records when looking at one of the crowds that he preached to that “some were struck pale as dead, others wringing their hands, others lying on the ground…, and most lifting up their eyes to heaven and crying out to God.” Charles Chauncy records that in Whitefield’s meetings, multitudes “fell down, swooned away, …were like persons in fits, …[had] visions, …trances, …loud hearty laughing, …[and] screaming and shrieking to the greatest degree.”
John Wesley, also had Holy Spirit manifestations in his meetings as well. Wesley records that as his preaching began in one meeting that “immediately one, and another and another sunk to the earth. They dropped on every side as if thunderstruck.”

Jonathan Edwards, a contemporary of Whitefield and Wesley, records people in his meetings laying in trances having visions of heaven. Falling was so common in his meetings that he referred to it as fainting. He describes one of his meetings as being “full of nothing but outcries, faintings, and the like.”
The 1800s also had Holy Spirit manifestations. Kentucky’s Cane Ridge Revival, which was a part of the Second Great Awakening, in one meeting, had three thousand that were slain in the Spirit. Loud laughter was very common as were bodies shaking or jerking. Ecstatic laughter seizing the whole congregation occurred in some services. The unbelievers that came to the meetings were convinced that the origination of what they saw was God. By 1805, it was estimated that over half of the Christians in Kentucky had experienced these phenomenon personally. Since that day, Vincent Synan records that most major revivals have experienced Holy Spirit manifestations regardless of their denomination or doctrine.

The University of Georgia experienced revival in 1800-1801 as a part of the Second Great Awakening. Their revival also had people falling, in trances, and shaking.

Charles Finney was one of the greatest revivalists of the Second Great Awakening. He noted that in one of his meetings in Utica, New York that over four hundred people fell out of their chairs while he was preaching. On another occasion, he felt electricity flowing like waves through him and immediately after one of the serious elders could not stop a very deep laughter.

In the late 1800s, Maria Woodworth-Etter, a major revivalist, recorded people falling in her meetings on many occasions as well as a whole host of other manifestations. Regarding the manifestations of her ministry, the historian Roberts Liardon noted, “Listen, have you ever put your finger in a light socket and remained still? How much more when you touch God! When God touches you, you will react. If you say, ‘Well, what about the extremes?’ I say, ‘Why are we so concerned about the ditch when we should be looking at the highway.’”

Throughout the 1900s, manifestations of the Holy Spirit have also been common. The Azusa Street Revival of the early part of the century recorded many instances of people falling under the power. Oswald Chambers, the Baptist from Scotland, records praying for someone and having holy laughter. A.B. Simpson, the healing revivalist who founded the Christian and Missionary Alliance, records in his journal of having had holy laughter where he did not stop laughing for more than an hour straight. The Shantung Revival of China in the 1920s, considered the greatest Baptist revival, also had a variety of Holy Spirit manifestations even though some have sought to rewrite history to remove them. Oral Roberts and many of the other healing evangelists of the century were known for falling and other manifestations in their ministries.

In the latter part of the century, Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship, the Vineyard in general, as well as many others have been known for manifestations as well. Since the new millennium has come, the International House of Prayer and Bethel Church of Redding, California have been known for manifestations of the Spirit.

After studying manifestations of the Holy Spirit both biblically and historically, it is obvious that this has been a common way that God has encountered his people. The largest problem with the rejection of manifestations is that one may miss out on encountering God or perceive that what He is doing in an encounter may not truly be Him. While it is possible for someone to have a demonic or fleshly manifestation along these lines, the real danger is missing an aspect of the relationship that He created for His people. If broad spectrums of denominations believe that the essence of the Christian walk is a relationship with the Lord, there is a grave danger if the Believer attempts to limit how God is allowed to have relationship with them due to what they are comfortable with. In regards to church history, there is also a grave danger of rewriting history to believe that manifestations are simply a current phenomenon. If the heroes of the Christian faith had ministries that involved manifestations, than ministries that do today should not be treated without honor simply due to the ways God encounters his people in their ministries.

Note: it appears that my footnote numbers didn't copy into here. If you want to know which endnote goes where, let me know.

John McKendrics. Lecture notes for Christian Theology III (2010).
Wesley Campbell. Welcoming a Visitation of the Holy Spirit(Lake Mary, FL: Creation House, 1996), 92.
Kevin Dedmon. Lecture for Southern California School of the Supernatural (September 24-25, 2010).
Bill Johnson. When Heaven Invades Earth (Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image, 2003), 141-143.
Kevin Dedmon. Unlocking Heaven(Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image Publishers, 2009), 87-88.
John Crowder. The Ecstasy of Loving God(Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image Publishers, 2009), 140.
Eddie Hyatt. 2000 Years of Charismatic Christianity(Lake Mary, FL: Charisma House, 2002), 110.
Guy Chevreau. Catch the Fire(Toronto: HarperCollins Publishers, 1995), 97-98.
Eddie Hyatt. 2000 Years of Charismatic Christianity(Lake Mary, FL: Charisma House, 2002), 102.
Eddie Hyatt. 2000 Years of Charismatic Christianity(Lake Mary, FL: Charisma House, 2002), 111.
Vinson Synan. The Holiness-Pentecostal Tradition(Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1997), 12-14.
Vinson Synan. The Holiness-Pentecostal Tradition(Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, 1997), 13.
John Crowder. The Ecstasy of Loving God(Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image Publishers, 2009), 140.
Robert Liardon. God’s Generals(New Kensington, PA: Whitaker House, 1996), 51-54.
Robert Liardon. God’s Generals(New Kensington, PA: Whitaker House, 1996), 147.
John Crowder. The Ecstasy of Loving God(Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image Publishers, 2009), 141.
Crowder, Loving, 150.
Mary Crawford and Randy Clark. The Shantung Revival(Mechanicsburg, PA: Global Awakening, 2005), 147.