One of the key influences on a student coming to faith in Jesus today is their experience of the Holy Spirit and the supernatural.*
Ok ok, the disclaimer here is that of course the Holy Spirit is at work in every factor that influences a student in coming to faith. God is drawing students to himself and inviting encounter, and that happens in friendships, church services, the bible, all the things this blog series has been and will be unpacking.
However I still have to make the Holy Spirit and supernatural encounters a distinct area to address separately too. Because truth is, the majority of students I interviewed testified to specific powerful spiritual experiences as being key moments of transformation, break through and revelation about the realness of the love of God and his closeness to them.
The person of the Holy Spirit is active and moving into student's hearts and lives today and making all the difference. This is a really encouraging thing to remember especially in those moments when we aren't sure a person will ever 'get there' and we certainly can't bring freedom and healing like Jesus can.
Now, how people are given the opportunity to encounter the Holy Spirit and embrace the supernatural life in God that is to be found, really depends on your church culture and the individual. However, it is undeniable that powerful, supernatural encounters with God and manifestations of the Holy Spirit both in public meetings and personal experiences whilst being prayed for or in worship, have been key for faith clicking in and Jesus being real to students.
Here's what some of them said:
“I felt a click in me, like a fire, I wanted to read my bible, I wanted to go to church, I wanted to get involved.”
“I started shaking uncontrollably. I didn’t know what was happening. I wasn’t crying because I was sad, I was crying because I was full of joy.”
“It was a strange experience but so totally amazing as well.”
“Once I felt God lift something off my heart that had been there for ages, I was like, I know this God is real. I held that pain for more than a decade.”
These accounts of experiencing the Holy Spirit were as varied as the students. Not all of them were dramatic or overtly out of the ordinary. Many just experienced a filling of peace, an empowering to forgive, some were healed physically, others saw family members get better as they tried praying for them for the first time.
It's amazing how creative and full of expression the presence of God is, and it is comforting to remember we are not in control. A much kinder, more knowledgeable, personal and committed God is, and his Holy Spirit may be out of this world, but he deeply loves and cares for us in this world as he works and minsters amongst us.
How much space and freedom to do we allow in our communities for the Holy Spirit to shake up the agenda and people’s lives? DO we actually want the messiness that comes with it not being timetabled and planned to a tee?
How confident are you to invite the Holy Spirit to come and encounter your mate who doesn’t know Jesus yet? What are you afraid of? What are you hoping will happen?
The supernatural is real and this was a relief and a confirmation for many of the students exploring faith. If this God thing was all intellectual and not a real, beyond-humanity person and power to be encountered, then what was all the fuss about with Jesus? And why does the Bible talk so much about this stuff? Let's not forget to introduce people to the third person of the Trinity, Holy Spirit... he actually loves students even more than we do.
*These statements are taken from research completed for my Masters degree in which I explored commonalities of students coming to faith in Jesus in England today. I gathered data from a spread of institutions, geographical locations, church expressions and interviewed an equal number of male and female students, with some diversity in background and ethnicity as well. Although my findings have limitations and my scope of data had to be small, I believe what I have discovered is still very useful for local churches seeking to share Jesus with students and so this blog series explores the top 12 commonalities discovered. Enjoy!