The Filling of the Spirit: how to receive it

Cell Basics

By Joel Comiskey

Taken from the book The Spirit-filled Small Group: Leading Your Group to Experience the Spiritual Gifts (Chosen Books, 2005). Available hereor by calling 1-888-344-CELL.

I heard about a particular church whose electric organ stopped halfway through the hymn-singing during Sunday-morning worship. The organist was not quite sure what to do. Fortunately, the pastor was in control of the situation, and he asked the congregation to follow the Scripture reading, intending to lead them in prayer, as well. As he read the Scripture portion, an usher quietly approached the organist and handed her a note that read, The power will be on after the prayer.

The power comes on after prayer! The Scripture makes it crystal clear that God is exceedingly willing to fill us with His Holy Spirit. All we need to do is pray. Jesus taught His disciples that the heavenly Father would freely give the Holy Spirit to anyone who would simply ask (Luke 11:13). But Jesus wasn’t content to talk about the Holy Spirit on just one occasion. Over and over throughout the gospels, Jesus incited expectations among His disciples about the promised Holy Spirit. He would be a comfort, a guide and a teacher who would remind them of everything Jesus had spoken (John 14–16).

Some people who speak or write about the Holy Spirit unwittingly convey a burdensome message of human effort in order to obtain the Spirit’s fullness. Their message, whether intentional or not, drones on, emphasizing that “we have to depend,” “we have to be filled,” “we have to be sensitive.” Such focus stirs me to turn inward, rather than outward on the wonders of the Holy Spirit.

I believe 100 percent that God expects our clear-cut human response, yet the process should not be burdensome or heavy. I read one book on the Holy Spirit that made me feel as if the Holy Spirit would immediately depart if He were in any way “offended”—even in the slightest. After reading the book, I found myself fearful of making even the smallest mistake, thinking that the Holy Spirit was flighty and easily quenched. Once again, I felt that it all depended on me.

I now believe that the opposite is actually the truth. It’s my understanding from Scripture that the Holy Spirit is eager, willing and excited to work in us and flow through us—even as frail, weak human beings.

Ask and you shall receive! I don’t know a better, more effective way to be filled than simply asking for the Holy Spirit’s fullness. The power comes on after the prayer. I’m not aware of even one incident in the Bible in which God did not pour out His Spirit on those who sincerely asked.

God granted Elisha his request when he asked for a double portion of the Spirit (2 Kings 2:9). God answered Solomon’s request when he cried out for the Spirit’s wisdom to lead the nation of Israel (1 Kings 3:7). Jesus clearly said that our loving heavenly Father will freely give to His children the Holy Spirit (Luke 11:13). Jesus repeated over and over throughout the gospels the Father’s willingness to answer our prayers (John 14:13–14; 15:7; 16:23–24). The good news is that the Spirit longs to control our lives—and this is especially true when it comes to facilitating a small group. As you prepare for your own small group, ask Him to fill you and control you. And He will.

Some people set up long lists of dos and don’ts that must be completed before God will give His Holy Spirit. While some of those suggestions are commendatory (such as, the confession of sin and a commitment to obedience—see Acts 5:32), long lists often give the false appearance of an unwilling God who is playing hide and seek with His people.

I’m writing this book to small-group members and leaders who aspire to minister in the context of the small group, and thus I am assuming a longing for holiness and conformity to scriptural truth. But my point is that we’ll never be “good enough” to receive the Holy Spirit. As my old English paraphrase says, “There is none that doth not sin!” You fail, just like I fail. Do confess any known sin, and do eagerly desire obedience. But don’t stop there. Boldly ask Him to fill you, and He will. The Spirit knows that you’ll run out of gas without Him. Your small-group leadership, in fact, depends on the Spirit’s control and direction in your life. Pray that He would fill and control you. He will.

The Holy Spirit’s Willingness to Fill Us

After the Spirit descended at Pentecost, churches were formed throughout the Mediterranean region. Most of them received the Holy Spirit as a gift of grace and continued growing in Christ. Some, like the Galatians, slipped back into legalism. The apostle Paul rebuked the Galatians for not maintaining the simple faith—walking with the Holy Spirit. Paul wrote: “I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? “Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?” (Galatians 3:2–3).

The Spirit of God freely flowed among the Galatians as long as they related to the Holy Spirit on the basis of faith and freedom. In the beginning, the Galatians rejoiced in the Spirit’s fullness as a pure, free gift of faith. Yet, when the Galatians fell captive to the human tendency toward good works and legalism, the Spirit took a back seat and no longer freely moved among them. The Spirit moves through us on the basis of grace and faith.

One of the greatest hindrances to small-group leadership is the forgetfulness that the Holy Spirit wants to fill us, bless us, produce His fruit in us and operate His gifts through us. Our chief work is to allow Him to do so. First Corinthians 2:12 should be universally memorized: “We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us” [italics mine]. One of the principal ministries of the Holy Spirit is to reveal to His children those things that the heavenly Father wants to freely give us.

This is especially true for small-group leaders who are faced with the extra challenges of pastoring and caring for God’s flock. The demonic realm works overtime to discourage small-group leaders—because of the importance of their work.

The need is greater for small-group facilitators to receive refreshment and bask in His love and grace. Small group leaders need to take time to listen to God’s wonderful plans for the gifts and blessings He wants to pour out on them and through them.

Our Need to Receive His Fullness

Once we realize how much the Holy Spirit wants to bless and fill us, we need to spend time in His presence in order to receive His fullness again and again. I believe in this so strongly that I wrote an entire book on quiet time spent in His presence (note 1). I strongly urge each cell leader and member to spend quality time each day for devotional prayer, worship and meditation on God’s Word. I believe the daily quiet time is the most important discipline of the Christian life.

In addition to daily devotions, small-group leaders should spend time with God before the small group starts. Before the small-group meeting, allow God’s fullness to thoroughly drench you, until you sense His fullness of joy and exceedingly great riches. Allow Him to infiltrate your mind, your attitude and your emotions. Psalm 16:11 declares: “You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.” The natural result of spending time in God’s presence is joy and peace.

More than lesson preparation, small-group success depends on the leader’s personal spiritual preparation. A statistical investigation of 3,000 small-group leaders demonstrated that the leader’s personal spiritual preparation was far more important than time spent in preparing the lesson material (note 2). It’s a mistake, in fact, to think that anything is more important than the leader’s spiritual preparation before the group starts (such as, refreshments, lessons, a vacuumed rug, etc.). Remember the story of Mary and Martha— Christ’s positive response to Mary demonstrated that the most important item on our agendas is time spent with Him. Basking in God’s presence will fill you with the power, insight and confidence necessary to successfully lead your group to new heights.

During this alone time, be sure to read the Word of God. Meditate on a passage that stands out to you. In the process, you’ll feed yourself, and others will notice the difference (1 Timothy 4:16). Listen to God’s voice, and He’ll show you how to pray for each member of the group. Above all, seek God’s face, and He’ll fill you with His Holy Spirit. Ask the Spirit to control you both at that moment and during the meeting. Begin to experience His joy. You need the Spirit’s overflow in your life to be able to bless those in the group. They’ll see God’s presence in your gaze, your love and your new anointed authority.

If you can, do yourself the favor of spending one or two hours in His presence before the small group starts. Even if time is scarce, make the time to spend thirty minutes in soul preparation. Your group will be glad you did. For those leaders who work fifty to seventy hours per week and find it difficult to spend time in Christ’s presence before the small group meeting, understand that the Holy Spirit knows the intention and desire of your heart. He’s willing to take you where you are and fill you on the spot. Just ask Him. Don’t fall prey to guilt or condemnation.

Satan, the accuser of the brethren, is only too quick to unload deadly darts. But God’s grace is always sufficient, and He will take you where you are. Remember Psalm 32:1: “Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him.” And then later on in verses 7 and 8: “You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance. I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you.”

The Real Power Source

In 1972, NASA launched the exploratory space probe Pioneer 10. The satellite’s primary mission was to reach Jupiter, photograph it and its moons and then beam data to Earth about the planet’s magnetic field, radiation belts and atmosphere. Scientists regarded this as a bold plan, because until that time, no satellite had gone beyond Mars. Pioneer 10 far exceeded the expectations of its designers, not only zooming past Mars, but also Jupiter, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto. By 1997, twenty-five years after its launch, Pioneer 10 was more than six-billion miles from the sun. And despite the immense distance, the satellite continues to beam back radio signals to scientists on Earth. How does Pioneer 10 continue to emanate signals? The eight-watt transmitter. The key to the continual success of Pioneer 10 is its power source.

The power of Pentecost is available for all believers today, including you, and especially you! Your job of leading a small group is very significant because you are pastoring the Church of Jesus Christ. You’re intimately involved in transforming the lives of those for whom Christ died. And your group is God’s instrument to help lost people find their way to God.

Your Spirit-filled participation will add life to Christ’s body. The Holy Spirit is available to fill, guide and pour out His grace. Just ask.


  1. My book An Appointment with the King ( Grand Rapids, Mich.: Chosen Books, 2002) can be purchased at or by calling 1-888-344-CELL.
  2. Jim Egli’s Ph.D. from Regent University (completed in 2003) involved surveying small-group-based churches to determine factors in their growth or decline. In October 2003, Egli shared these observations at the Touch Field Forum in Houston, Texas.