“One day, I went to play the harmonium in the chapel. There, I found out that a Chinese couple was to lead the service. As soon as I saw them, I knew they had it. What “it” was I did not know- but even watching them praying, I sensed a vitality, a power. Immediately, I wanted to know what made them so different. After the service, I made a beeline for the couple. They spoke hardly any English, and I knew hardly any Chinese. Yet soon, it was clear what they were trying to convey.
‘You haven’t got the Holy Spirit.’
Of course I have the Spirit, I thought to myself. I couldn’t believe in Jesus if I didn’t. So what are we arguing about?”
Jackie Pullinger first arrived to the “Walled City” of Hong Kong back in 1966. She was a single, 20 year old musician who was completely ill-prepared for the mission field as far as “sending agency standards” go. I should know—we were in the midst of our 3 years of pre-field training when I read ‘Chasing the Dragon’ for the first time.
It was the spring of 2009 when my husband and I heard our own calling to the mission field in Uganda, Africa. I was a successful physician, making six-figures a year, and was six months pregnant with our second child. One boy, one girl—all we needed was the picket fence. We were both sold-out for Jesus, active in our local church, and we were quite content serving in the comforts of suburban America. We had just bought the bigger house, in the neighborhood with the better schools, and so His timing was, to say the least, untimely.
We knew we had really heard from Him, however, and so despite our human excuses and reservations, we agreed to a committed 6 months of intentional prayer and fasting. It was during these six months when it was confirmed—we were really supposed to do this.
I was introduced to Jackie Pullinger’s story when a dear friend recommended I read this book – an autobiography which traversed her first 10 years on the field. While her missional service took place in Asia and we were off to Africa, there was one powerful connection that Jackie and I shared and it was for this reason that my friend had encouraged me to read her amazing story.
“They (the Chinese couple mentioned above) called it having the Holy Spirit, and I wanted to call it something else… If God had anything more for me, I wanted to receive it. I would sort out the theological terms later. So I made an appointment to go to the young couple’s flat the next day.
My heart began to bump a bit, because I was not at all sure what to expect. Then I sat down, and the couple laid their hands on my head, saying over and over again in pidgin English, ‘Now you begin speaking, now you begin speaking, now you begin speaking.’
But nothing happened; they thought I was going to burst into ‘the gift of tongues,’ but it had not worked.” (p.61)
You see, in our 3 years of pre-field training, I had been seeking a deeper understanding of the “spiritual gifts.” The term was something I had thrown around a bit, but had a very shallow understanding of. In fact, my medical school admissions essay opened with these very verses as I was confident, at the naïve age of 20 years old myself, that they had something to do with His will for my life:
“We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.” Romans 12:6-8
Now, as history would have it, I had accepted Jesus in a church that believed that the gift of tongues was for a different dispensation and was therefore NOT something we should practice today. With this as my truth, I set my sights on the other spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12:8-10): wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miraculous powers, prophecy, and distinguishing between spirits. As an aspiring missionary physician, I was convinced that the gift of healing would be my gig, so that was where I set my spiritual aspirations.
“I was acutely embarrassed and began to get cross with them. I felt hotter and hotter and more and more uncomfortable. Here I was not speaking in tongues, and they were going to be so disappointed that nothing had happened. Eventually, I could not stand it any longer, so I opened my mouth to say, ‘Help me, God.’ And then it happened.” (p.62)
But almost as accidental as that of Jackie Pullinger’s story, I stumbled into the gift of tongues. I had been praying with a trusted friend from church for months, asking for His Spirit to descend upon me powerfully and tangibly. She would pray in the Spirit and we would ask and wait, but week after week, nothing happened. It was during the summer of 2011 at 0200 when I drove a new acquaintance home after a long day of packing for a mutual friend’s moving truck set to arrive at 0700. I had to get home and Natausha asked for a ride. Maybe it was my fatigue, maybe it was her relative unfamiliarity to me, but that night, in her driveway, in the most non-dramatic of ways, I opened my mouth to pray and then it happened.
This new friend then asked me to commit to praying daily in my new spiritual language. I thought her request was strange, and bold, but I did for a while, and then I stopped. Weeks turned into months and it was about this same time when I continued on in Jackie’s story, to chapter 5:
“’Do you pray in tongues, Jackie?’ I was shocked by Jean’s American forthrightness. No English person would be that direct.
‘Well, no actually,’ I replied. ‘I haven’t found it that useful. I don’t get anything out of it, so I’ve stopped.’ It was a relief to discuss it with someone.
But Jean would not be sympathetic. ‘That’s very rude of you,’ she said. ‘It’s not a gift of emotion – it’s a gift of the Spirit. You shouldn’t despise the gifts God has given you. The Bible says that he who prays in tongues will be built up spiritually, so never mind what you feel – do it.’ Then she and Rick made me promise to pray daily in my heavenly language. They insisted that the Holy Spirit was given in power to the Early Church to make them effective witnesses to the risen Christ.
Then, to my horror, they suggested we pray together in tongues… Every day I prayed in the language of the Spirit. Fifteen minutes by the clock. I still felt it to be an exercise. Before praying in the Spirit, I said, ‘Lord, I don’t know how to pray, or whom to pray for. Will You pray through me – and will You lead me to the people who want You?’ And I would begin my 15-minute stent.” (p.64-65)
It was soon after this that I resumed praying in the Spirit regularly and even started praying with others in my spiritual tongue. Even as I type these words today, I am convicted to get back into the DAILY exercise of praying in the Spirit. You all have my permission to hold me accountable.
Jackie’s testimony goes on to share some of the most unbelievable miracles I have ever heard of outside of the synoptic gospels. Stories of drug addicts, praying in the Spirit alone, withdrawing from heroin pain-free without so much as an aspirin. She also shares stories of her supernatural love for prostitutes, child molesters, gang members, and drug lords.
“It was as if God had given me a special love for [them] and that I was meant to show it, although it was not necessarily an emotion that should or could be returned. This love was for [their] good. I had never before loved somebody entirely for his benefit without caring what he felt for me.” (p.48-49)
I could identify with this special love as God has given that to me too. It seems that God has crafted me with a heart “too big for my chest.” I am able to quite naturally love anyone and everyone that comes across my path. It was reading this part of her testimony that stopped me once again in my tracks.
The love we have to give is a gift from the Author of Love Himself.
Then, just like that, the whole realm of “spiritual gifts” became practical, simple, and attainable. Scripture attests that EACH ONE of has been given a manifestation of the Spirit (1 Corn 12:7, Romans 12:6). I had been so busy making His Spirit complicated and mystical, I had lost sight of His Spirit’s presence already active and moving, in spite of my best efforts.
Not all gifts need to come in a Chinese couple’s flat or a random driveway at 0200.
Not all gifts will involve tongues or prophesy or healing.
And most certainly, no one is exempt from our inherent need for more of Him.
Jackie’s testimony reminded me that whether living in Asia, Africa, or the suburbs of America, His Spirit is alive and active and was, beyond a shadow of a doubt, available to each and every one of us.
And in response to this gift of the very Spirit of God within us, may we never grow weary of reflecting His everlasting love back to the world daily.
“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.”
1 John 4: 7