What does the Holy Spirit feel like?

I’ve noticed that my articles on the Holy Spirit are getting some good traffic. It seems many people are curious about Him. And it’s no wonder. The Holy Spirit is a mysterious and powerful entity. When Jesus sent Him to the disciples at Pentecost, there was a sound like a rushing wind that brought half the city to the disciples’ doorstep. The disciples saw flames settle over their heads and spoke in foreign tongues. And that tradition continues in many churches. People under the power of the Spirit have seen visions, heard heavenly voices, prophesied, danced, spoken in tongues, received miraculous healing, and overcome addiction. Some have described the Holy Spirit as thus: In the Old Testament, God was above us. When Jesus came, he was God with us. The Holy Spirit, however, is God in us. That’s a pretty weighty thought to digest.

Many believers hesitate to receive the Holy Spirit because they’re not sure what to expect. The thought of prophesying, speaking in tongues or dancing in front of their church unnerves them. They don’t want to look foolish or make a mistake.

Well, good news! The Holy Spirit doesn’t force Himself on anyone. Some churches teach that the Holy Spirit takes control of believer’s bodies, but this is heresy. God does not violate our free will. One of the fruits of the Spirit is self-control. God does not intend for believers to lose control over themselves. He simply communicates His will to us; it’s up to the believer to obey. That’s true whether He is encouraging someone to prophesy or to speak in tongues. If it weren’t so, Paul would never have penned 1 Corinthians 14:27-33.

So if the Holy Spirit is not some overbearing puppet master, then what does His indwelling feel like? Well, I’ll tell you.

The Living Water

Many believers don’t realize that Jesus told us exactly what the Holy Spirit would feel like. The revelation occurs in John 7:38:

“Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”

This is not just some poetic imagery. Whenever I’m worshiping in the Spirit, it literally feels like a river is flowing out of my belly–a river flowing with life. Some people might find that description unsettling, but it’s really the most comforting and freeing sensation imaginable. The barrier between God and my flesh is temporarily removed, and I commune deeply with Him. Jesus said that anyone who drinks of this water shall never thirst again (John 4:14).

Pure Peace and Joy 

I’ve heard some preachers say, “Whenever God comes, He brings everything that He is with Him.” It may sound cliche, but it’s true, especially of the Holy Spirit. Recall the nine fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, meekness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. When the Holy Spirit is stirred inside of me, all of my anxieties and frustrations melt away. I feel excited about doing God’s work and want to humble myself in worship. He speaks His vision to my heart and gives me hope for the future. Sometimes, the joy I feel is so great that I want to dance. But even more than that, the Holy Spirit surrounds me with His gentleness and compassion. His words may challenge me to eschew sin, but He’s never harsh or manipulative.

Supernatural Boldness and Insight

Jesus told his disciples that the Holy Spirit would give them power to become his witnesses and do God’s work (Acts 1:8). This statement came shortly after the disciples had seen Jesus brutally crucified on the order of the Jewish authority. They feared for their lives. When Jesus appeared to them after his resurrection, he found them hiding in a locked house. However, when they received the Holy Spirit, they began to preach publicly. The Holy Spirit’s boldness inspired them to travel thousands of miles under the threat of death and persecution to spread the gospel.

I have experienced similar boldness when sharing the gospel with others. Sometimes, it’s like a warm, raging fire in my chest. The Bible describes God’s Spirit in this way as well in Hebrews 12:29 and Deuteronomy 4:24–the “consuming fire.”

The Holy Spirit can also give believers insight into the lives of others in order to minister to them more effectively. Several years ago, as a volunteer youth leader, I once felt the Holy Spirit leading me to offer prayer during service for any teen who wished to receive it. The youth pastor obliged, and several teens came forward. One of those teens was a young woman just a couple of years younger than me. Both she and her mother were active members of my church, so I was well acquainted with her. As I laid hands on her to pray, the Holy Spirit said, “Pray for her to receive healing from sexual abuse.” I stopped the words just before they exited my mouth.

“Lord, I can’t pray for that!” I said. “I don’t know if she’s experienced such abuse. What if I’m wrong?” (It was the only time I had ever prayed prophetically.) The Spirit replied, “I’m telling you that she has. Trust me.” So I prayed, though quietly enough that no one around us could hear.

A couple of years later, the woman and I talked after a Sunday morning service. I don’t know how the subject came up, but she revealed that she had been abused by someone in her family many years ago. She hadn’t even told her mother. But God knew, and He allowed me to see it so I could pray in the right way.

Absolute Freedom

I can’t emphasize enough the freeing power of the Holy Spirit. It was the Holy Spirit that healed me of the pain of abuse. Believers struggling to get free of addiction and evil desires usually find success only when they receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Alcoholism? Gone. The pain of school bullying? Wiped away. Enslavement to gossip? Kicked to the curb. And when the Holy Spirit breaks the chains of bondage, they stay broken–as long as the believer doesn’t pick them up again.

The Weight of Glory

Now for the really controversial bit: The Holy Spirit has moods. In this way, He’s almost like a flesh-and-blood person. He can be delighted. He can be provoked to righteous indignation. He can be offended and grieved. Believers can sense the mood of the Holy Spirit if they are attuned to Him. Such moods help believers determine God’s attitude toward certain thoughts, situations and behaviors. 

Sometimes when the Holy Spirit is stirred within me, I feel ecstatic–like I could float right up through the ceiling. At other times, I sense a sober and weighty formality. That formality, I believe, comes from God’s glory. God’s presence is a very humbling thing. When it comes, you realize just who He is and who you are in comparison. And the truth is, there is no comparison. God is holy and supreme. Sometimes, you just want to sink into the floor at His feet. But in a good way. Usually, His formality signals to me that He’s about to do a work in my life, in my church, or in someone nearby.

And that’s what the Holy Spirit feels like. He is a river of living water. He is a consuming fire. He is gentle, patient and loving. He brings insight, healing, freedom, boldness and joy. He reveals the glory of God. It’s not so much that the Holy Spirit is unpredictable, just our reaction to Him. I honestly don’t know how believers can choose to live without the full indwelling of the Spirit. He’s done so much in my life!

If you’re reading this and wish to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit, just pray and ask God. Maybe you’ll speak in tongues. Maybe you’ll feel like dancing. Maybe you won’t. But no matter what happens, your life and faith will be greatly enriched–for sure.

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8 responses to “What does the Holy Spirit feel like?

  1. Of course, as a Trinitarian believer I realize that when you *get* one Person of the Trinity you get them all; but I have always been drawn to the Holy Spirit.

    The Holy Spirit can be “grieved” or “quenched”; but nowhere in Scripture is the Holy Spirit said to have been angered.

    Discerning the will of God has never been easy for even the most sincere believer. We always hear two voices, the voi

    Even for the most sincere believer, discerning the will of God is never easy. We are always present, subconsciously as well as consciously, in our dialogue with God and self-interest and disordered desires tend to deafen and blind us to the Word of God.

    Until we become wholly transformed, probably not until we have entered into the fullness of Eternity, we will always hear two voices. Perhaps anger, when it is directed at people rather than circumstances, may be a sign that the “promptings” we are receiving may very well be mixed.

    Be humble for you are made of Earth. Be noble for you are made of stars. ~Serbian proverb

    When treading through areas where hatred and greed and depravity are running amuck, it is more important to watch our hearts, than it is to watch our backs. For if we rage at the rageful, grab from the greedy, or assault those we deem immoral out of self-righteousness, then we become them. And what goodness we had in us, is cut away by the swords we hold in our own hands. ~Sandra Kring

    • I see what you are saying, and I agree in a large part that we often do hear two voices: our own and the Spirit’s. And distinguishing between the two *can* be a challenge, especially for new believers who aren’t very knowledgeable about scripture or experienced in hearing God’s voice.

      However, I stand by my claim that the Holy Spirit can be angered. the Bible may not explicitly state that He can be, but scripture tells us many times that God experiences anger (or righteous indignation), and we certainly know that Jesus did (driving out the money changers in the temple comes to mind). If you view God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit as aspects of a One, it doesn’t make sense to claim that the Holy Spirit doesn’t have emotions that the other two clearly have–especially when they share all of the others. The Holy Spirit is the spirit of God Himself, after all.

      But as you expressed in the Sandra King quote, we can’t then use that anger to justify violent responses to other who don’t share our faith or values, because that would clearly be wrong. I see the anger of the Spirit as God saying, “I find this situation despicable,” not “Go over there and punch them!” I’m sorry I didn’t address that in more detail.

      I checked out that link to Frank Viola’s blog. From his initial post, it sounds like we agree on our beliefs about the Holy Spirit. I’ll read more of his series…and of course, post more here! Thanks for reading and commenting.

      • I think that there is a reason why the bible does not explicitly state that the Holy Spirit can be angered in the same way as it describes the anger of God in the OT or Jesus at the corruption of religious belief and practice.

        God and even Jesus are external to the believer. It is the Spirit of God/Jesus that *internalizes* God’s Loving/Mercy so that God “is closer to us than our own hearts.” As the Eastern Church teaches, “becoming a Christian is not so much inviting Christ into one’s life as getting oneself into Christ’s life.”

        Human anger is never completely free of corruption and, even when justified by circumstances, lacks the transformational power of Divine anger. Divine anger desires repentance; not the destruction of the sinner. I doubt that human anger, even when justified can ever be entirely purged of a desire for retributive justice/vengeance.

        Both my own spiritual experience and observation of others confirms for me the truth of Flannery O’Connor’s statement, ” Ideal Christianity doesn’t exist because anything the human being touches, even Christian truth, he deforms slightly in his own image. Even the saints do this.”

        Failing to become perfect sacraments of Divine Love leads to sins of omission. Can you imagine where failing to become perfect sacraments of Divine anger could lead? Oh, we don’t have to imagine it, the history of Inquisitions, Crusades, witch hunts and the psychological abuse of non-conformists to the cultural norms of the ecclesiastical sub-culture in contemporary churches provides all the insight we need on that subject!

        The Institutional Church (ecclesia) has killed only two kinds of people: Those who do not believe in the teachings of Jesus Christ, and those who do. — Will Durant

    • It’s such a shame that so many Christians don’t accept the Holy Spirit anymore. I’m hoping that my series on the subject will change some minds.

      • Google “perichoresis” + Holy Spirit for some really great articles on the Holy Spirit from the Patristic perspective.

        Early church theologians used the word perichoresis (Greek for “dance”) to describe
        the interconnectedness that characterizes the life and work of the three persons of the Trinity.
        ~Adam S. McHugh, Introverts in the Church