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ARTICLE: 'RESTING IN THE SPIRIT': QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
OUTLINE: Introduction
 
1. What is it? 7. Saul's experience 13. Not new!
2. 'Slaying'? 8. Biblical precedent? 14. Teresa, Wesley, S.A.
3. Scripture 9. Biblical pointer? 15. Learning from the past
4. Two deductions 10. God & experience 16. Experience unreliable
5. Two ways of falling 11. Scripture & experience 17. Danger of division
6. The 'Resting' fall 12. Judging experience 18. Avoiding division
    A Prayer



 
Introduction (back to top)
'RESTING in the SPIRIT?' or the Falling Phenomenon
This article is a summary of some points in my booklet 'Resting in the Spirit'. The booklet - over ten times the length of this - is regarded by many as a standard work on the subject and includes contributions from Don Double and Cardinal Suenens.
It is still available from Renewal Servicing - see our Books Page.

It should be consulted by any reader really wanting to study the subject.



 
1. What is 'Resting in the Spirit'? (back to top)
It is a modern term to describe people collapsing or falling to the ground when they are being prayed-over. This may happen in a service where such ministry is offered. It can be a regular and anticipated feature in the ministry of some.



 
2. I have heard the term 'Slaying in the Spirit', is that the same? (back to top)
Yes, it is another modern term, but because to be 'slain' suggests something violent, most folk opt for the term 'resting' since the experience is usually a gentle one, and this seems to describe it better.



 
3. What does Scripture say? (back to top)
There are eight incidents that might have a bearing on it. You may see the texts via the Bible buttons.
They are as follows -
  1. II Chronicles 5:14 - The priests cannot stand in God's presence. Show Bible reference(s)
     
  2. Ezekiel 1:28 - Ezekiel falls face down in God's presence. Show Bible reference(s)
     
  3. Daniel 10:9 - Daniel falls face down in his vision. Show Bible reference(s)
     
  4. Matthew 17:6 - The Disciples fall face down at the Transfiguration of Jesus. Show Bible reference(s)
     
  5. Mark 9:20 - The Epileptic demoniac is convulsed by an evil spirit and collapses. Show Bible reference(s)
     
  6. John 18:6 - The crowd fall back at Jesus' arrest. Show Bible reference(s)
     
  7. Acts 9:4 and 26:14 - Saul/Paul falls when he has a vision of Jesus. Show Bible reference(s)
     
  8. Revelation 1:17 - John falls at the feet of the Son of Man. Show Bible reference(s)
     



 
4. What can we deduce from these experiences? (back to top)
(a) There seem to be two causes of falling in Scripture -
  • Most falling is in response to the Presence of God.
  • Some falling is a clash between good and evil.
Of the eight accounts, falling at the Presence of God or his messenger was the experience of the Priests (i), Ezekiel (ii), Daniel (iii), the Disciples (iv), Saul/Paul (vii) and John (viii). [Note: the numbering refers to their earlier listing.]
Falling as a result of a clash between good and evil occurred with the epileptic demoniac (v). This might also be the cause of the crowd falling back at Jesus' arrest (vi). Show Bible reference(s)


(b) The second thing that Scripture shows is that there are two types of falling:
  • A voluntary or involuntary forward bowing or prostration
  • An involuntary or backward falling.
Either because it is mentioned or by implication it is clear that Ezekiel (ii) Daniel (iii) the Disciples (iv) and John (viii) fall forward. They are all believers who would naturally react in worship.
The crowd at Jesus' arrest are flung backward (vi).
The fallings of the Priests (i) and Saul (vii) are not clear.
The demoniac boy (v) was thrown down by an evil spirit.



 
5. Isn't it quibbling to make a distinction between falling forward or backward? (back to top)
I think not, because they are two very different things. To fall forward is, in certain situations, a voluntary and natural act. Bowing is a formalised expression of this. To fall backwards, on the other hand, is, for humans, unnatural and dangerous - because we cannot see where we are going!



 
6. Is not the falling of 'Resting in the Spirit' a forward falling? I have never actually seen it, but I always presumed it was. (back to top)
No. The phenomenon we are considering is almost invariably a backward falling, not the natural worshipping attitude we sometimes sing about - '...bow down before him', or '...prostrate fall'.



 
7. What about Saul/Paul's falling? (back to top)
My guess is that as he was blinded, and as he did not know what the vision was, it was not a forward prostration of worship, but a backward recoil. But we don't know. Artists have sometimes depicted him being thrown from his horse!
However he fell, his experience provides no parallel, but rather the very opposite of today's experiences when being prayed-over. Today we would expect the falling to be accompanied by some fresh infilling of the Holy Spirit or a measure of healing.
Saul's experience was the opposite of this. After his falling Saul was neither Spirit-filled nor healed - in fact he was blinded and needed prayer!
The result of his falling required the ministry of Ananias: it was not Ananias's ministry that produced the falling.



 
8. Is there any real Biblical precedent for today's experience of 'Resting in the Spirit' when being prayed over? (back to top)
There is a Scriptural precedent for falling when experiencing God's presence - and that may sometimes be the case today. But there is no basis for collapsing when being prayed over. Indeed, in the Biblical accounts there is usually more emphasis on getting up than on collapsing! Thus, God enabled Ezekiel to stand Show Bible reference(s) ; Daniel had a divine hand raise him Show Bible reference(s) ; Jesus touches the disciples and tells them to get up Show Bible reference(s) ; the implication is that John gets up and writes Show Bible reference(s) .



 
9. Is there any sort of Biblical pointer towards 'Resting in the Spirit'? (back to top)
Many people were prayed-over in Scripture; but the absence of such falling in Scripture means that -
  • Scripture does not teach that it is an indication of Spirit-empowered ministry.
  • Scripture does not teach that it is a blessing to be sought.



 
10. That strikes me as a bit hard and rigid! (back to top)
My point is not to deny that present-day falling may be the result of Spirit-empowered ministry and a blessing to the person involved. My point (at this stage in this article) is simply to establish that there is no firm basis in Scripture for making such claims.
But God, of course, may work in people's lives today in ways that have no exact parallel in Scripture.



 
11. How does Scripture guide us in this matter? (back to top)
Simple: Seek God himself, and focus on him! Don't seek non-Scriptural experiences of him or particular outward manifestations. Get your priorities right. Be thirsty for God, and leave the choice of what he gives you to him. If he blesses you and that blessing was accompanied by an experience of 'Resting in the Spirit' Alleluia! If he blesses you and that blessing was not accompanied by an experience of 'Resting in the Spirit' - Alleluia also! It is not a reward given on merit; it is not a guarantee of blessing; it is not a mark of holiness; it is not a demonstration of God's favouritism.
Human nature being what it is, Christians can make 'Resting in the Spirit' a sign of spiritual one-upmanship, or a hallmark of sound belief, or a signal of group membership and so on. We need to watch out for these pressures that might lead us to seek it, but for the wrong reasons.



 
12. How is an experience judged to be 'Christian' if it is not described in Scripture? (back to top)
To answer that adequately would take another article! But, in brief, the following check-list might be applied -
  • That it is in harmony with Christ's revelation in Scripture.
  • That it is in harmony with the experience of Christ's church.
  • That it has Christ-like results in the person concerned.
  • That it builds-up rather than divides Christ's church.



 
13. Is this so-called 'Resting in the Spirit' a totally new thing? (back to top)
No. It is not just a Pentcostalist import. It has occurred at various times in both Catholic and Protestant spirituality. Both St.Teresa of Avila, John Wesley and the Salvation Army tradition encountered it.



 
14. What did they think about such things? (back to top)
John Wesley changed his mind about such things and in his later ministry neither expected nor encouraged any of these manifestations. St. Teresa knew mystical life better than anyone, and recognised that 'spiritual' trance states could be the result of weakness, silliness or sheer exhibitionism! Any of her Order who were prone to such things were told not to pray for too long and made to do plenty of hard work!

The Salvation Army termed it 'Having a Glory Fit', and the Quakers during Wesley's ministry supplied blankets and drinks for the prostrate, and let them be; commenting that in them the 'Spirit was warring with the flesh'.



 
15. What may we learn from the past? (back to top)
Christians have always played-down all such fringe items of the Christian life, and we should do the same.



 
16. Why did they 'play-down' such things? (back to top)
  1. Because of the tendency to distort and divide the church by an over-emphasis on fringe items at the expense of centralities.
  2. Because of peoples' over-attraction to the unusual.
  3. Because such phenomena may find their source in us, not God.
  4. Because the devil can so easily lead us astray by apparently 'spiritual' experiences. St. John of the Cross summarised it neatly -
    '...though all these may happen to the bodily senses... we must never rely on them, nor encourage them; yea, rather we must fly from them, without examining whether they be good or evil... He who makes much of them mistakes his way, and exposes himself to great danger and delusion; and, at least, places a great obstacle on his road to true spirituality.'
Modern Christians tend to make the mistake of assuming that 'anti-Christ' is the opposite of Christ; black in contrast to white. But that which is anti-Christ is that which mimics Christ but is not authentic. The work of the devil is therefore to counterfeit Christian experiences. See e.g. Show Bible reference(s)



 
17. Your four criteria for judging Christian experience (question 12) mentioned not dividing the church.
Does 'Resting in the Spirit' do so?
(back to top)
It can, which is why I have written about it. That happens when Christians think they know better than those who have gone before, and allow themselves to 'go-overboard' on the latest thing.
Men and women are sacramental by nature; they need 'outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace'. If their Christian tradition is not sacramental about things, (water, bread, wine, oil), they will tend to behave in a sacramental way about experiences instead.
The trouble with this is that our experience and feelings are so complex and unreliable that Christian 'reality' gets based more on us and our feelings than on God and his faithfulness.



 
18. What would you recommend? (back to top)
For your convenience I have, up to this point, used the phrase 'Resting in the Spirit'. This is, of course, a religious and Christian interpretation. The snag of using such a phrase is that it presupposes what is happening before it takes place. It gives a high-profile spiritual interpretation to an event long before anyone has had time to assess whether it had any real spiritual content at all!
My advice is simple and common sense.
  • Use just physical terms to describe the physical.
  • Keep spiritual terms to describe the spiritual content if/when it becomes known.
Thus when a body collapses we say -
'He/she collapsed
swooned
sank down
fell back
flaked out
went semi-conscious, etc.'

When, later, the person concerned and local Christians begin to understand what had been going on, having seen its results, they can begin to interpret the event and any spiritual significance it might have had.
We are then in a position to begin to use spiritual language about it - 'His life was so changed when he was prayed over, that when he collapsed it seems to have been a 'resting in the Holy Spirit'.'
Or
'When she got up she realised that she had been healed, and that God had used that time when unconscious to heal her!'
It is quite possible that nothing of religious significance happened at all. So a person might admit -
'I collapsed when prayed over a long time ago. While it was quite restful, it doesn't really seem to have made the slightest difference to me, then or since.' It would be misleading to describe that instance of the falling phenomenon as 'Resting in the Spirit'.

'Resting in the Spirit' is a good term to describe the fairly rare authentic experience.
But to call every collapse in a Christian setting a 'Resting in the Spirit' is misleading, confusing, and should be avoided. Such collapsing occurs, after all, in non-Christian circles.
Let's not prejudge such physical events by giving them spiritual labels long before we know if there was any spiritual blessing accompanying it.
It is no criticism of those involved simply to say of a person initially that they 'collapsed' or 'fell'. This is, after all, what the Biblical writers tend to do, i.e. they separate the physical action from the spiritual. Thus the Wise Men bowed down and worshipped him, and Christ at Gethsemane fell to the ground and prayed. Saul fell to the ground and heard a voice. Show Bible reference(s)
In the 1980's when I suggested that spiritual language be not immediately used to describe the physical falling phenomenon, it was immediately acted on positively by Protestant and Catholic leaders both in America and Europe.
Cardinal Suenens wrote (1987):
'An Anglican minister, J. Richards, suggests that, to begin with, we should adopt a neutral term that remains purely descriptive and does not make its spiritual content and interpretation a foregone conclusion. He proposes that we call it the 'falling phenomenon', and not speak too hastily of 'resting in the Spirit'...
I too endorse his suggestion. In short I shall speak more frequently of 'falling' than of 'resting'. Show further information



 
A Prayer (back to top)
  Lord God,
Help me to focus on you and to thirst for you.
Give me what you think is best
in the way and at the time of your choosing.
Keep my heart and life open to you,
so that your gifts and graces may find no hindrance in me.
Free me from wrong human pressures
and from any tendency to
tell you what you may and may not do!
I ask this so that the Presence and Power of Jesus
may shine and work through me. Amen.





Copyright John Richards 2002, but waived for users of www.helpforchristians.co.uk



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