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If the Holy Spirit truly showed up in our churches, would we be able to discern the difference between the real and the counterfeit?

John the Baptist was told how to recognize the Messiah: “‘I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him. I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, “Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit”’” (John 1:32-33, NKJV).

The dove is a shy, sensitive bird. Doves and pigeons are in the same family but are different in temperament. You might feed the pigeons in London’s Trafalgar Square—but never doves! I doubt a dove comes near Trafalgar Square. But pigeons are as common as our preoccupation with approval.

Only days before I was to submit my manuscript The Sensitivity of the Spirit, I was mercifully handed an ingenious illustration on the differences between pigeons and doves. My friend Pete Cantrell has raised pigeons and doves for 50 years, and I happened to be his guest when finishing my book.

Pete explained that doves are peaceful, pigeons are belligerent; doves never fight, pigeons fight all the time; doves can’t stand people, pigeons don’t mind noise and activity; doves are not territorial, pigeons are territorial; doves can’t be trained, pigeons can be trained.

I don’t want to be unfair, but I suspect some don’t know the difference between what appears to be the presence of the Holy Spirit and the authentic manifestation of the Spirit. Some preachers may boast, “The Holy Ghost came on our service,” but often when investigated it was pigeon religion!

I am referring to the forgotten anointing—an exceedingly rare moment when the true, real, genuine presence of the Holy Spirit is manifest in our ministries. Why? Because He, being like a dove, is exceedingly sensitive and easily grieved.

It is impossible to exaggerate how easy it is to grieve the Holy Spirit. Paul said, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (Eph. 4:30). Paul used a Greek word for “grieve” that means to get one’s feelings hurt.

The Holy Spirit is a sensitive person who can get His feelings hurt. What is sobering is this: The easiest thing in the world to do is to grieve the Holy Spirit. To be called hypersensitive is not a compliment, but, like it or not, that’s the way the Holy Spirit is.

How do you grieve the Holy Spirit? Chiefly by anger, holding a grudge, pointing the finger, speaking unlovingly to or about another, even bragging. Having warned about grieving the Spirit, Paul follows this with “let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice” (Eph. 4:31). How might the Dove come down and remain? “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph.4:32).

What does this have to do with theology and preaching? Everything. If I want fresh insights into God’s Word and real power in ministry, it is required that I do not grieve the same Holy Spirit (who wrote the Bible) in my private life—with my wife, children, relatives, in-laws, elders, deacons, critics, colleagues, friends and enemies. God, being no respecter of persons, will not bend the rules for any of us. Thankfully we do not lose our salvation when we grieve the Spirit because the same Spirit sealed us “for the day of redemption,” but sadly we forfeit the anointing of intimacy with God in our private lives—including our ministries. Is this why we are powerless? I am not sure we should expect the fire to fall when we ignore the sensitivity of the Spirit.

When the Dove comes down it is unspeakably wonderful. The peace, the joy, the clear thinking, the feeling of having nothing to prove; no bitterness toward anybody. But I’m afraid I know what it is for the Dove to fly away—when I speak sharply to my wife, when I lose my temper in traffic, when I speak an unkind word (even if it is true).

The Dove stays at bay until I discover how I grieved Him—and then repent. With Jesus, the Dove “remained.” Jesus never grieved the Holy Spirit—ever. But I do, I am sorry to say. When I do I struggle in relationships, in preparing a sermon, in preaching.

Pigeon religion is the counterfeit for the Dove. God grant us sensitivity to the Spirit to recognize the difference!


R.T. Kendall was the pastor of Westminster Chapel in London for 25 years. He is the author of numerous books, including Total Forgiveness, The Anointing and The Word and the Spirit. His Web site is www.rtkendallministries.com.

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