The way the Holy Spirit works may be a mystery, but the effects of His work are manifest. Jesus said, "The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit" (John3-.8,NIV).
The Greater New York Conference is one of the fastest-growing conferences in the North American Division. When ever I ask its president, Merlin Kretschmar, how he accomplishes some thing, I get the same answer: "I just pray a lot."
Now, I know that is an oversimplification, but I also know that it is true. So when I am asked the question "How can we lay hold upon the promise of the gift of the Holy Spirit?" my answer is, "Start by praying a lot!" Several years ago, in an attempt to refocus the energies of the leaders and members in our territory upon the Word of God, the Atlantic Union Conference office family decided to start the year by reading the entire Bible through. We invited people from the community to join us, beginning on New Year's Eve, as we took turns reading out loud every word of God's Holy Book. We also invited our churches and members to telephone us during those hours, sharing prayer re quests and participating in reading the Scriptures. This experience set the tone for a year of emphasis upon personal and group devotional life.
We began the next year with a slightly different Scripture reading plan, and launched a year of praying for God's power to "return to the East." We re called Ellen White's statement that, although the focal point of the church's work had moved from New England to New York to Michigan and later to California, God plans for His work to return in power to the East. 1 Throughout the year we invited our people to pray earnestly for the fulfillment of this promise.
At the beginning of 1989, union leaders suggested that we encourage our office families to unite in prayer several times daily in behalf of God's work, appealing for the outpouring of His Spirit. The Greater New York Conference office family had been following the practice of gathering prayer requests, then holding a brief prayer session in behalf of those requests at noon and near the close of the day, in addition to their regular morning worship services. As a variation to this plan, the Northern New England Conference office invites each worker to pause for individual prayer at noon and evening.
We have sought to extend the experience of praying for the Holy Spirit by designating the first Sabbath of each quarter as a special day of prayer in our churches. We invite each congregation to plan its own way of expressing this day of prayer. Some use the Sabbath school classes as prayer bands; others take time during the worship service for prayer groups or follow some other plan. We want to allow flexibility for the Spirit to work in each situation, while still urging some united experience of prayer.
Some of our staff and members have been blessed by joining the New York van ministry staffs 10-day prayer time in January. They spend each morning of the first 10 days of the year in prayer, Bible study, and seeking God's direction and blessing. And they have witnessed marvelous answers to prayer. In 1989 an Italian Catholic bishop joined the prayer group as a personal learning experience. Before the end of the 10 days he had decided to be baptized.
The wind in the trees
I am not suggesting that these experiences are unique in our field or that our people are more earnest in seeking God's blessings than are other believers. But I am gratified to witness the working of God in marvelous ways throughout our territory in some events that I believe give evidence that the Holy Spirit is working in special ways to prepare people for Christ's coming.
The pastor of a small church in central Maine reports that his congregation has been praying that if there are individuals in their area whom the Spirit is working to reach, God will send them to their church. In such a small town it is unusual to see a visitor in church who has not come with a church member. But each Sabbath for several months, guests have found their way into the church, often without having been invited. Some of these visitors are eagerly studying the Bible to learn what Seventh-day Adventists teach. At the close of my sermon in a large Northeastern Conference church in New York City, I invited those who were interested in baptism to come forward. A young man responded.
As we visited, he told me that he hadn't been inside an Adventist church since he had attended church school for one year more than a decade ago. His grandmother, an Adventist living in an other country, had paid his tuition.
"Not long ago I moved to a basement apartment in upper Manhattan," my youthful friend explained. "I noticed that an elderly couple left their upstairs apartment in the same building every Saturday morning, Bibles under their arms.
"I had this feeling that they were Adventists, and God began to speak to me. Every time I saw this couple, I felt convicted to go to church.
"At last, I worked up the courage to talk to them and invite myself to attend church with them. This is my first day here, and I know God has spoken to me." A week later in a Haitian church in Boston, at the conclusion of my English sermon, translated into French, a lady who spoke only English responded to my invitation to prepare for baptism.
"Although I understand only English," she explained, "I know God led me to attend this French-speaking church." She too had known Adventists early in her life, but had never united with the church.
That past week she felt compelled to seek out an Adventist church. Unable to locate an English congregation, she came to the French-speaking church.
"I'm so glad there was an English sermon today so that I could understand and respond," she exclaimed.
A few weeks later I visited a church in upstate New York. There a lay couple from another state was conducting a Revelation Seminar and training other laypeople to witness.
One of the first interests the couple visited after arriving in the area was a man who had begun attending church only two weeks earlier. He told them that he had been studying the Bible, that he had concluded that God wanted him to keep the Sabbath, and that he had begun searching for a Sabbathkeeping congregation.
At his encouragement, they arranged to begin a Revelation Seminar, and more than 20 non-Adventists attended regularly. At least a dozen have been baptized already.
Near Cape Cod, Massachusetts, a pas tor and his entire congregation have voted to change from keeping Sunday to observing the Sabbath of the Lord. That pastor is now studying the Bible with our pastor.
A lay leader of a Maine Sundaykeeping congregation, now between pastoral assignments, has begun keeping the Sabbath and is seeking to persuade his fellow members to join him.
Are these experiences evidence that God is pouring out His Spirit upon His church, eager to complete His work here and send His Son back in power and glory? You be the judge! We know only that "the great work of the gospel is not to close with less manifestation of the power of God than marked its opening. "2 And we are promised that "morning by morning, as the heralds of the gospel kneel before the Lord and renew their vows of consecration to Him, He will grant them the presence of His Spirit. "3
1. Testimonies, vol. 9, p. 98.
2. The Great Controversy, p. 611.
3. The Acts of the Apostles, p. 56.