Francis Chan Talks About the Holy Spirit

Posted by


Leigh DeVore


In his
latest DVD release,
Holy Spirit, part of the BASIC series, Francis Chan challenges
the church to allow the Holy Spirit to lead. Here he discusses this oftentimes misunderstood and sometimes dividing topic.

Q: You
wrote a book in 2009 on the Holy Spirit called The Forgotten God.
  Now you
have a film from the BASIC series on the Holy Spirit.  Why all of this emphasis on the Holy Spirit?  

A: I received a lot
of questions about why I titled the book The Forgotten God.  Some thought it was is a bit extreme. I
don’t think so. From my perspective, the Holy Spirit is tragically neglected
and, for all practical purposes, forgotten. That’s why I have a book and a film
on the subject.  While no evangelical would
deny His existence, I’m willing to bet there are millions of churchgoers across
America who cannot confidently say they have experienced His presence or action
in their lives over the past year. And many of them do not believe they can.          

Perhaps we’re
too familiar and comfortable with the current state of the church to feel the
weight of the problem. But what if you grew up on a desert island with nothing
but the Bible to read? Imagine being rescued after 20 years and then attending
a typical evangelical church. Chances are you’d be shocked (for a whole lot of
reasons, but that is another story). Having read the Scriptures outside the
context of contemporary church culture, you would be convinced that the Holy
Spirit is as essential to a believer’s existence as air is to staying alive.
You would know that the Spirit led the first Christians to do unexplainable
things, to live lives that didn’t make sense to the culture around them, and
ultimately to spread the story of God’s grace around the world.

There is a big
gap between what we read in Scripture about the Holy Spirit and how most
believers and churches operate today. In many modern churches, you would be
stunned by the apparent absence of the Spirit in any manifest way. And this, I
believe, is the crux of the problem.

Q: Don’t most Christians already know about
the Holy Spirit?

 A: Whole
denominations have been built around specific beliefs about the Holy Spirit. I
know people who have lost jobs at churches and Christian colleges because of
their beliefs about the Holy Spirit. I even had a girl break up with me while I
was in seminary because we believed differently about Him! It is not one of
those issues that is easy to float over. This is especially true if you belong
to a particular “camp” with a specific belief or bent.

Which is why I
ask this question: Are you willing to pursue truth in your journey to know and
be known by the Holy Spirit? Do you have enough humility to be open to the
possibility that you have been wrong in your understanding of the Spirit? It’s
easy to get into “defensive mode,” where you quickly disagree and turn to proof
texts and learned arguments to defend what you’ve always believed. Rather than
guarding your perspective, consider taking a fresh look at familiar passages to
make sure you haven’t missed something. You may end up with the same theology
you’ve always had, but maybe you won’t. Don’t let your views be determined by a
particular denomination or by what you’ve always been told. Within the context
of relationship with other believers, seek out what God has said about His
Spirit. Open up your mind and your life to the leading of the Spirit,
regardless of what others may think or assume about you.

Q: What does it mean to “quench” the Spirit?

 A: You’re
probably familiar with God’s command in 1 Thessalonians 5:19, “Do not quench
the Spirit.” Do you know what it means? For years I never gave it much thought.
I didn’t take the time to explore what this meant and how I could be guilty of
this sin.

I look back now and realize I not only quenched the
Spirit, but I also violated the next verse: “Do not treat prophecies with
contempt” (1 Thess. 5:20, NIV). I had contempt
toward anyone who claimed to have “a word from the Lord.” I felt it was a
righteous contempt because I’d seen people use the phrase “I have a word from
the Lord” to manipulate others for personal gain. Cult leaders use the phrase
to secure followers and increase their own authority. How can you disagree or
even have a discussion with someone who claims they heard directly from God?

So I was against all of it. I was disturbed by any
claim of prophetic speech. Looking back, I believe my concerns were valid but
my actions were not. The biblical response would have been to “test everything.
Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil” (1 Thess. 5:21-22). Rather than
rejecting the possibility of God supernaturally speaking through people, I
should have tested what I was hearing in the context of faithful community.

On the flip side, if churches that practice prophetic
utterances were quicker to reject the false prophets and prophecies by calling
them out on their biblical inconsistencies (“avoiding evil”), then maybe the
conservative world would be less skeptical about prophecy.  Some conservatives may quench the Spirit by
ignoring His working, but surely putting unbiblical words into the mouth of God
is a form of quenching the Spirit as well. We need the Spirit in order to live
faithfully. But we also need each other as we work out our faith.

Q: How can you tell if a Christian gathering
is empowered by the Holy Spirit?

 A: Sometimes
I leave Christian events wondering if we resemble the prophets of Baal in 1
Kings 18 more than Elijah. The prophets of Baal had a loud, passionate worship
gathering that lasted from morning till evening. When they were done, they had
a great time of fellowship (I think you can call it that). But “no one
answered; no one paid attention” (1 Kin. 18:29). After all of that, Elijah
prayed. God heard his prayer, and fire came down from heaven.

My favorite part of that story
comes when it is all over and the prophets of Baal are saying, “The Lord—he is God! The Lord—he is God!” (1 Kin. 18:39, NIV). They didn’t say, “Elijah is a great speaker” or “Elijah
sure knows how to connect with God!” They were stunned by God. They were in awe of His power. They knew that what they
experienced could not have been manipulated by Elijah. They experienced the
power of God.

Is that what happens at the
Christian gatherings you attend? Or does it feel more like what the prophets of
Baal experienced before Elijah prayed? We can have a great time singing and
dancing ourselves into a frenzy. But at the end of it, fire doesn’t come down
from heaven. People leave talking about the people who led rather than the
power of God.

Q: What if the Holy Spirit calls me to radical, bold living?  My Christian friends will think I’m crazy!

A: My hope
and prayer for you is that church people don’t try to normalize you. What I
mean is that in American churches we often try to calm people down who are just
too passionate or too sacrificial and radical. I know at times I have done this
to other people. And I’ve had it done to me.

Two years ago at a dinner I sat next to a man who runs
a human-trafficking awareness organization. He described how these children,
most of whom were sold or abducted into the sex trade, are raped and abused
every single night, again and again, how they have no one to advocate for them,
and how there is no way out.

That night I lay awake in my bed for hours—literally
hours—and I imagined my own children in this situation. Maybe that was a stupid
thing to do, but suddenly, vividly, I was sobbing and I couldn’t get the images
out of my mind. I started thinking about what I would do if this really happened
to my little girl. I know that I wouldn’t stop until I had saved her. I would
mobilize everyone I know through whatever means possible to get them to help.
Lying there in my bed that night I got more and more passionate about
everything I would do to save my little girl.

Then something happened. I am not one of those people
who often hears God’s distinct, clear voice (though I know some people do), but
on this night, the Spirit of God said to me: I want you to love them as your
own children.
This was overwhelming to me. After all, if I treated these
kids as though they were my own, I wouldn’t stop praying for them. I also
wouldn’t stop passionately begging people to figure out ways to seek them out
and rescue them. I literally wept for hours. The thought of these precious
children of mine being taken advantage of was unbearable. I was now on a
mission. A mission from God.   

I remember getting back to Cornerstone Church and
“rallying the troops.” I was so fired up, and I got others fired up. But, over
the course of several months I got distracted. People around me started calming
me down about sex trafficking. They said, “Francis, you can’t save the world”
and “You’re already doing so much. Don’t be so hard on yourself.”

Things like this happen all the time. As a church, we
tend to do this to people who are passionate and bold. We mellow them out.
Institutionalize them. Deaden them to the work that the Spirit is doing in
them. Instead of encouraging people who are doing courageous things for God and
joining them in their discernment process of how to be faithful to what God is
calling them to, we tell them to slow down and back off.

Don’t let other churchgoers dissuade you from your
call.  May you stand strong as you move
toward passionate love and sacrifice!

Q: How has the Holy Spirit called your family
to live more boldly?

 A: My wife
and I recently decided to give all of the royalties from my previous book, Crazy Love, to a fund called the Isaiah
58 Fund. All of the money goes to the needy in the world—the starving, sick,
impoverished, and to those in the sex slave trade. We reasoned that if we kept
all this money, we would end up spending it on things we didn’t need. We knew
that in the long run (80 years from now), there would be no regrets. But if we
bought things that wouldn’t last beyond our time on earth, we would end up
disappointed and regretful. I was a bit shocked and discouraged by some of the
responses we received.         

to purchase this DVD.

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