A couple of weekends ago, I led the music at a weekend long conference led by Jackie Pullinger in Tauranga. If you haven’t heard of Jackie, like I hadn’t, she has spent the last 47 years working with the drug addicts and prostitutes in Hong Kong, helping them to live the life of a beloved child of God. It’s a powerful story. She wrote a book called, ‘Chasing the Dragon’ if you want to learn more.
Part of that story has been the way Jackie and her team have used the charismatic spiritual gifts in their ministry among the destitute and desperate. It is quite normal for newly converted drug addicts to start speaking in tongues or prophesying in their community. It isn’t normal where I come from. I don’t think I know any drug addicts either.
In fact, I was quite nervous about this whole conference. I had been a teenager through the late 90’s, when the charismatic movement seemed to have lost a bit of shape. I remember a few meetings where I had to stand up if I didn’t have the gift of tongues. I remember one particularly well (or badly) when I was prayed for until I received it. I didn’t receive it, so I pretended too, so everyone would leave me alone. That’s been my attitude ever since really; leave me alone. And here I was, about to lead the sung worship at a conference devoted to uncovering and developing these gifts. Sigh. Shudder. Spew.
So I was out of my depth, which from recent experience has proven to be a good place to encounter God.
The thing that I have really struggled with, and where the charismatic movement seems to have lost its way is when the gifts are held up as merit badges, or marks of a Christian elite. ‘You may be saved, but have you been baptised in the Holy Spirit?’ they ask. And I would think to myself, ‘Jesus didn’t come to set up a new hierarchy.’
Which was why Jackie disarmed me, and not in a Harry Potter type way. You see, I had expected all this ‘Mark II’ Christian nonsense that I had come to expect from people within this movement. Yet she told me about how day-old converts were receiving these gifts even before they knew they were gifts. In my experience, these gifts have been kept on the inside, for the elect, the elite, while we outsiders wondered what we had to do to get in, or what we had done to get left out. But in Jackie’s experience, she saw these gifts being given to the least and the lost, at the very moment of their birth into God’s world.
I couldn’t help but think of communion, and how that is the most sacred moment that we share as Christians in our worshiping lives. Yet Jesus took that thing which we keep on the inside for the elect and the elite and opened it to anyone who was hungry, anyone who was keen to be near him, anyone at all. He would turn a dinner with the unclean into a sacred moment of transformation, barren wilderness’ into massive-scale picnics. I saw, in what Jackie was talking about, a similar shape, a Jesus-shaped movement, where the centre is opened up to the outsiders, turning all thought of rank and status on its head. I confess, I still don’t ‘get’ the spiritual gifts, but I also confess with joy and wonder, that I saw the signature of Jesus all over the stories Jackie told. It was familiar and bewildering all at the same time, which is a pretty handy way to describe our God I reckon.
[I’m aware that some of you reading this may have some of the same questions that I have about spiritual gifts. If anyone knows any useful resources, blogs or books – just leave a comment and then we can all be a little wiser.]