I often tell the church I serve that we wouldn’t be around today if the Holy Spirit hadn’t shown up in the incredible supernatural ways He did in John Wesley’s ministry. As Free Methodists, we come out of the Methodist stream which Wesley kickstarted and his ministry was full of the supernatural.
It took John Wesley some hardship to get to revival. He tried pastoring in Georgia for a short time before returning to England beat and broken. But then, while attending a service where a message that Martin Luther had written was being read aloud, Wesley famously remarked that,
About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation: and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death. (Wesley, John. The Works of the Rev. John Wesley, A.M. Vol. 1. p. 97.)
A few months later, he shared another experience.
The love of God was shed abroad in my heart, and a flame kindled there, so that my body was almost torn asunder. I loved. The Spirit cried strong in my heart. I trembled: I sung: I joined my voice with those that excel in strength. (Ibid. p. 159.)
And then, by the end of the year, things got crazy. Wesley and his friends got together to pray and as New Years Eve became New Years Day, God showed up tangibly. There in his journals he writes, “About three in the morning, as we were continuing instant in prayer, the power of God came mightily upon us, insomuch that many cried out for exceeding joy, and many fell to the ground.” (Ibid. pp. 160-161.)
Revival was pouring out and the Methodist movement came into existence. People got saved, knocked to the ground, delivered from demons, healed, raised from the dead, and more. God continued to pour out His love on Wesley, empowering him for the ministry he was doing and reminding him of the love he needed to do it with.
Unfortunately, Methodism is remembered by most today (including those in the Methodist stream themselves) as a simple pursuit of holiness and reason. But as I said, I believe Methodism would not be around today if it wasn’t for the supernatural presence and love of God being shed on Europe. There’s no way people were flocking to fields simply to hear pastors preach rational sermons about living the right life—no, there was a presence they were looking for. Word had gotten around about people falling to the ground and convulsing under the power of the Holy Spirit and outsiders wanted to know what these crazy people at these crazy meetings were all about. Was their God real or were they fabricating the experiences?
We in the Methodist stream have watered down and normalized the voice of Methodism. If John Wesley walked into our churches today, there’s a good possibility that many of us would kick him out and ridicule him in the same way that the people of his time did.
Of course, if the original disciples, apostles, and church leaders walked into many of our churches today, they very well might be appalled at our ignorance of their own teaching: “Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything” (1 Thess 5:19-21). So in the end, we all have the supernatural in our background because we are the continuation of the church in Acts and they had no problem with this stuff. Well, that’s not entirely true—actually they had a problem with practicing this stuff too much—or at least in a disorderly way (see 1 Corinthians 14).
It’s time we learn to believe again, because Jesus lamented about the people of His time, saying, “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you?” (Mk 9:19). Now if the people at that time were faithless, what does that make the 21st century western church that often refuses to legitimize any experience that can’t be understood by reason, logic, psychology or science? If Jesus accuses His generation of being faithless because His disciples can’t cast a demon out of a kid, what does that make those of us who don’t even believe in demons?
The early church received the promised Holy Spirit. They knew the task at hand to reach the nations was far too large for them and that only the Holy Spirit could bring this goal to fruition. So they waited for the Holy Spirit, just as Jesus asked. And then the Spirit showed up on Pentecost and history was made.