In the comments section of my previous post, Anonymous asked: "Having said all that about it being a gift and not something we can work for, how do you explain to these people why God didn't give it to them? Especially after having said that all the people in Corinth were given the gift, and they were great sinners. Can you see why people who ask for the Holy Spirit feel rejected if they don't receive it? I've never really thought about not being able to receive it, but I know if I hadn't received when I asked, I would have felt unworthy and ashamed, like I had done something to make God reject me."
I wrote a quick answer to Anonymous, but I wasn't satisfied with my response. However, with our internet down for day or so and other problems, I wasn't able to get back to this post.
My longer answer is this: I don't know why God chooses to move in certain ways and not others. God is God and He has His own timing. I can't explain why some people are filled instantly at conversion (like certain Biblical examples and others are filled later in their walk with the Lord. But no one else can explain it either; that is to say, no one has the right to "guilt" another Christian by implying that they would receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit if they were more "spiritual" or sinned less.
Consider Acts 19: 1-7:1While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples 2and asked them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when[a] you believed?" They answered, "No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit."
3So Paul asked, "Then what baptism did you receive?"
"John's baptism," they replied.
4Paul said, "John's baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus." 5On hearing this, they were baptized into[b] the name of the Lord Jesus. 6When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues[c] and prophesied. 7There were about twelve men in all.
I think this model gives us a clear picture of a non-judgmental way to handle the situation. Paul doesn't list all the possible reasons that these Ephesians hadn't so far received the Holy Spirit. He simply accepted the situation and took measures to change it.
My concern is that many churches emphasize our Pentecostal experiences ONLY to two groups of people: teenagers (in camp or retreat situations) and new believers (often in Sunday School or small group situations). If someone doesn't have the experience of speaking in tongues after this, they end up in a nebulous place where they feel foolish to admit they didn't get the gift (perhaps when everyone else did). They grow into more mature faith in other ways, and speaking in tongues isn't emphasized quite as much. They sometimes feel that they lost the opportunity, and it won't come around again, and they're better off just laying low about the whole matter.
I like how Paul handled it, by simply asking if the Ephesians had received the Holy Spirit since they believed. When I was a teenager, I had a "camp experience" with the Holy Spirit that was never repeated. In later years, I came to believe that it was probably more emotionalism and sincere zeal than anything else. By then, of course, I felt guilty that I had told people that I was baptized with the Holy Spirit, and I had been mistaken. How was I supposed to "untell" people? The more I thought about it, the worse I felt.
When I was in my first semester at college, we had assigned seating in the chapel auditorium; my roommate Beth was next to me, and two other friends, Dana and Pam, were seated on my other side. One day, just as chapel was ending, Beth asked me straight out, "Are you filled with Spirit? I've never heard you pray in tongues." I hung my head and explained the whole situation, including how terrible I felt about having been mistaken as a young teenager and how I was sure that I couldn't be filled now that I had even unintentionally lied to everyone about it. Beth's reaction was pretty much, "So what? Let's just pray about it now!" So she, Dana, and Pam all laid hands on me down at the altar area of the chapel and I was filled with the Spirit right there. I guess you could say "it took" because I've been filled with the Spirit ever since.
I'd like to see our fellowship continue it's emphasis on a Pentecostal experience, but without ignoring, excluding, or rejecting those who have not yet received the gift of the Spirit.
In other news . . . . I'm edging closer and closer to my budget goals. I'm at least 72% on paper and over 75% once everything comes in that's been promised to me. Each month I've been a little worried about the progress, but God consistently reminds me that He is my source! It's all in His hands.