Rev Dr Edgar Mayer – Living Grace Lutheran Church, Toowoomba – Date: 6 March 2016

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On Baptism and Being Baptized with the Holy Spirit

 

John, the forerunner of Jesus, said to those that came to him: “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come … He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit …” (Luke 3:16). He (John) baptized with water but Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit. Then Jesus did come and towards the end of his life, as he was sending out his disciples into all the world, (at this strategic time) he first commanded them to keep baptizing people with water, saying: “Baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). And the Bible confirmed in other places that this baptism with water, commanded by Jesus, would be the one and only baptism of the Christian church: There is … one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all” (Ephesians 4:4-6). But then, after commissioning them, Jesus held the disciples back and told them not do anything – not go anywhere and baptize anyone – until he had finally baptized them with the Holy Spirit: “… Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:4-5).

This is confusing! Are you confused? John baptized with water. Jesus would baptize with the Spirit. But then Jesus commanded the disciples also to baptize with water and this would be theone baptismof the church. Where is the Spirit – the promised baptism with the Spirit? Is it included in the baptism with water?

If you are confused, then you are in good company because Christians and churches, throughout history, have been arguing much about the ins and outs of baptism in the Christian life. Denominations have become bitterly divided – Christians have been expelled from their churches – over these matters. But, acknowledging my own need for growth in understanding, I will try and bring clarity to the Bible teaching on baptism this morning.

 

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On Baptism and Being Baptized with the Spirit

 

One Baptism

 

There are no two baptisms. According to the Bible, there is onlyone baptism” (Ephesians 4:5) and, from ancient times, Christians have always confessed that there is onlyone baptism for the remission of sins” (Nicene Creed). Jesus commanded us to baptize with water and there is no other baptism which he commanded us to perform or enact. Hence, in all of Scripture, there is only one baptism which consists of an external rite, sprinkling or immersing someone with water.

Baptism is the means of grace which makes people a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17), a child of God (Gal. 3:26-27), born of the Spirit (John 3:5), and raised to live a new life (Rom. 6:4). In a nutshell, baptismsaves” (1 Peter 3:21) and belongs to one’s conversion. The question may be asked, “How can the external rite of baptism achieve such spiritual outcomes?” Martin Luther gave a compelling answer:

 

Martin Luther’s Small Catechism: How can water produce such great effects? Answer: It is not the water that produces these great effects, but the Word of God [Matthew 28:19] connected with the water, and our faith which relies on the Word of God connected with the water. For without the Word of God the water is merely water and no Baptism. But when connected with the Word of God it is a Baptism, that is, a gracious water of life and a washing of regeneration in the Holy Spirit [Titus 3:5-8]…

 

There is only one baptism for the remission of sins. This is the only baptism which we are commanded to perform and the only baptism which uses an external substance and rite, sprinkling or immersing someone with water.

 

 

Jesus’ Use of the Word

 

There is no dispute about the one baptism but the wordbaptismsimply meansimmersion” or “submersion[Slide] and Jesus could use the word, not in the sense of instituting another rite or sacrament, but to describe the immersion in another aspect of the Christian life. For instance, Jesus talked about thebaptismof suffering (Mark 10:38-39) and he announced to his disciples that they would soon bebaptizedwith the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4-8). Neither the baptism of suffering nor being baptized with the Holy Spirit constitute a new baptism but Jesus used the wordbaptism/immersionto describe the thoroughgoing nature of the experience.

 

 

A Source of Confusion

 

Not surprisingly, Jesus’ use of the wordbaptismhas become the source of confusion among Christians because, on the one hand, there is only one baptism but, on the other hand, there is also the experience of being baptized with suffering and being baptized with the Spirit. Especially, the language of baptism in connection with the Holy Spirit has generated much discussion. However, the Bible’s teaching on baptism may not be as complicated as it sounds.

 

Baptism and Being Baptized with the Spirit

 

When a person is baptized, he is baptizedin the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19) and, receiving the Spirit, isborn of water and the Spirit” (John 3:5). The Bible clearly states that everyone who believes and is baptized has the Spirit because “…no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:3). The Spirit is present for salvation.

However, when Jesus talked about being baptized with the Holy Spirit, he did not promise more of the Spirit for salvation but power. Jesus promised power for the Christian life and ministry:

 

Luke 24:49: … stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.

 

Acts 1:4-8: … Do not leave Jerusalem … John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit … But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you

 

[Slide]

 

At the beginning of the Christian life, there seems to be a threefold process of repentance, baptism (with water) and receiving the Holy Spirit (being baptized with the Holy Spirit). In the Bible, this became the focus of attention early on because, after the disciples had preached their very first sermon, the people responded and asked them, “What shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). The disciples answered by encouraging the crowd to seize three distinct experiences that were available to everyone:

 

Acts 2:38: Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

 

The disciples asked the people 1) to repent, and 2) to be baptized (with water) for the forgiveness of their sins, so that 3) they would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (meaning here the experience of being baptized with the Spirit). These three experiences were part of the process of becoming a believer and they all belonged together in the whole package of starting out as a Christian.

On the same day that someone repented, he or she could be baptized and receive the Spirit. Yet, there could also be time delays between repentance, baptism, and receiving the Spirit. For instance, in response to an encounter with Jesus, Saul repented but was not baptized before three days (see Acts 9:3-19).

 

The Bible book of Acts expresses the experience of being “baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:5; 11:16) in various terms. Sometimes people simply “receive” the Spirit and, according to Acts, even people who are already Christians and baptized can “receive” the Holy Spirit in the sense of receiving more of him and being “baptized” with him: “When they arrived, they prayed for the new believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit” (Acts 8:15-17; cf. Acts 2:38; 10:47; 19:2).

Then, according to Acts, the Spirit can “fall upon” (Acts 8:16; 10:44; 11:15) or “come upon” people (Acts 1:8; 19:6) and “fill” (Acts 2:4; 4:8,31; 6:3,5; 7:55; 9:17; 11:24; 13:9,52) them. The Spirit is being “poured out” (Acts 2:17-18,33; 10:45) and “given” (Acts 5:32; 8:18-20; 11:17; 15:8). All of these terms describe the same experience which Jesus promised to his disciples: “…in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:5).

Lutherans are probably most comfortable with the word “fill” or “infilling” to describe the experience of being “baptized with the Holy Spirit” but all of these terms are biblical.

 

Baptism (with water) and receiving the Spirit in the sense of being baptized with the Spirit are meant to come together at the beginning of the Christian life, but – even in the Bible – this is not always the case. For instance, it took some time for the new Christians in Samaria to receive the Spirit after their baptism:

 

Acts 8:14-17: When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to Samaria. When they arrived, they prayed for the new believers there that they might receive the Holy Spirit, because the Holy Spirit had not yet come on any of them; they had simply been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.

 

In the case of the Samaritans, the delay between baptism and receiving the Spirit was unusual; therefore it was immediately rectified—but confirms the basic observation that baptism (with water) and the gift of the Spirit (being baptized with the Spirit) are not describing the same experience in the process of becoming a Christian. One is for salvation; the other is for power (faith assurance, victory over sin and mission – see Luke 3-4).

At one time, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the preaching of Jesus before anyone could baptize them with water (see Acts 10:44-48). And in Acts 19:5-6, Christian baptism (with water) came with the promise of the Holy Spirit (receiving the Holy Spirit in the sense of being baptized with the Spirit) but the baptism with the Spirit did not come at the baptism (with water) but – subsequently – through the laying on of hands:

 

Acts 19:5-6: On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied.

 

Jesus’ own baptism (with water) and receiving the Spirit (being baptized with the Spirit) foreshadowed our experiences as we follow him. He was also baptized with water first (John’s baptism for the forgiveness of sins foreshadowing the later baptism in Jesus’ name) and then was baptized with the Spirit. As other people repented and were baptized, Jesus himself was also baptized, and when he emerged from the water, he was immediately immersed in the Holy Spirit as the Holy Spirit descended on him:

 

Luke 3:21-22: When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

 

To this day, numerous people emerge from the water of their baptism with the same experience of being also immersed in the Holy Spirit. In fact, not disputing possible time delays, this is to be expected because these two experiences, with the experience of repentance, belong together at the beginning of the Christian life, but they are distinct from each other (see also Hebrews 6:1-2).

 

 

Clarification

 

It is worth mentioning that baptism (with water) always occurs as one decisive act as the rite of baptism is acted out according to Jesus’ command. But being baptized with the Holy Spirit seems to be more dynamic in nature. While numerous people in the Bible received the Spirit in one dramatic encounter (Acts 2:1-4; 10:44-46; 19:6), this has not been my experience. For me, the immersion with the Spirit seemed to happen over a few months, a season in my life, and the Bible further talks about a constant need for fresh immersions with the Holy Spirit (Acts 4:31; Ephesians 5:18). According to the Bible, there is always the invitation to grow and receive more of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:31; 2 Corinthians 3:18). Throughout our lives, we learn tokeep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25), “not quench the Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 5:19).

 

 

Receiving the Spirit through Baptism

 

Earlier, I affirmed that when a person is baptized, he is baptizedin the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19) and, receiving the Spirit, isborn of water and the Spirit” (John 3:5). The Spirit is present for salvation because “…no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:3).

However, there is a further connection between baptism and the Holy Spirit which underlines the importance and uniqueness of baptism. According to the Bible, receiving the Spirit (in the sense of being baptized with the Spirit) is usually subsequent and dependent on baptism.

When Paul encountered Christians that had not beenbaptized/immersedwith the Spirit, he immediately questioned the validity of their baptism (with water):

 

Acts 19:2-6: …They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?” “John’s baptism,” they replied. Paul 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.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied.

 

It was only when Paul set the right foundation of baptism in Jesus’ name for these disciples, that they immediately qualified for receiving the Spirit and being immersed with him. Baptism was first and only then Paul placed his hands on the disciples. Receiving the Spirit in whatever form or measure is dependent on the one foundational baptism which Jesus commanded us to enact with water (see also Acts 2:38).

On occasion, God could immerse people with the Holy Spirit before they were baptized, but this was unusual and led to the logical conclusion of baptizing them without further ado. Receiving the Holy Spirit proved their readiness for baptism because of the fundamental connection between baptism and the Spirit: “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” (Acts 10:47).

 

 

Conclusion

 

There is only one baptism for the remission of sins. This is the only baptism which we are commanded to perform and the only baptism which uses an external substance and rite, sprinkling or immersing someone with water. But the wordbaptismsimply meansimmersionorsubmersionand Jesus could use the word, not in the sense of instituting another rite or sacrament, but to describe the immersion in another aspect of the Christian life, such as his promise to the disciples of baptizing them with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4-8). While we receive the Spirit in baptism for salvation and this happens in the decisive act of performing the baptism in the rite of baptism, the experience of being baptized/immersedwith the Spirit is more dynamic in nature and fluctuates throughout the Christian’s life.

 

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So far the theory (and it was heavy going this morning to build sound foundations) but what about the practice? Once you repent and are baptized (with water), when and how can you receive the Spirit (experience being baptized with the Spirit)?

Friends invited an Australian woman from the Plymouth Brethren to come with them to their church and this is how she came to experience more of the Holy Spirit:

 

Royree Jensen: Plymouth & Pentecost, Printed by El Shaddai Marketing, Brisbane, Australia, 1988, p100-101: … I had never darkened the doors of a charismatic church and had never read a book supporting the charismatic viewpoint, but I had a fair idea what this church would be like. I knew in advance I would not like it! I had met some of those charismatic people – very superficial, of course! Always saying, “Praise God,” and smiling a lot. I had heard that some of them even raised their hands in church! How embarrassing!! That was definitely taking the Psalms too far altogether. There was sure to be a lot of noise and show. What about all the speaking in tongues? How would I possible cope with that? And the emotional outbursts that would be going on … I was prepared to make allowances for the sub-standard teaching, because they probably weren’t well taught in the Scriptures.

I would go. Yes. I would go and have a look … to see things first hand would undoubtedly support my sceptical viewpoint. On the other hand, the secret realization that my own Christian life was not satisfying was easily suppressed. I had practiced this art over many years … There was nothing left to give, and still no answer to this hungering void for reality in God …

 

Royree Jensen: Plymouth & Pentecost, Printed by El Shaddai Marketing, Brisbane, Australia, 1988, p102-106: … Slowly, I began to observe what was happening … These people were truly worshipping God. I could see that much … absolutely no one, was rolling on the floor … We drove home in silence. My friends very wisely said nothing. I had received a stern and long overdue rebuke just by attending this church. Judgements formed on second-hand opinions deserve a rebuke. Obviously, I needed to at least look at this whole thing and yes, I would return to church again next week.

I spent all that week reading the Scriptures. Questions long buried resurfaced. I prayed. Reassessed where I was heading in God. Prayed again. I recognized then, even as I had done many years ago, that there was too much Scriptural evidence in support of an experience of the Holy Spirit. Had I missed a very important aspect of the Christian life? Worse still, I had dissuaded others from seeking God in this way.

The next week, the service was equally beautiful and I longed to really join in the praise and worship. I decided to put everything on ice until I had the opportunity to talk to someone. That opportunity came immediatley after the service. I spoke at length to the pastor … I expressed my desire to serve God, but honestly stated that I was very tired of playing church.

“Are you asking for the baptism of the Holy Spirit?” “Oh, no! I don’t want anything but God. No falling on the floor; no goose bumps or other funny feelings; and definitely, absolutely definitely, I do not want tongues.” “When you come to God, you do not dictate the terms. He does! If the Holy Spirit chooses to manifest His presence, then there is nothing to fear. He will only exalt Jesus Christ. If you would like, I will pray for you.”

I was fairly desperate. Could it possibly be that the “baptism of the Spirit” was what I needed? Reminding myself that a loving Father does not give his children scorpions instead of fish, or a stone instead of a loaf, I said: “Yes, please pray. I will take whatever God has for me.” Much to my relief, God had nothing of the scary variety for me that day. I just knew somehow that God had heard my heart’s cry and it was in His hands.

The following days were terrible. The deep, convicting power of the Holy Spirit moved over me. I recognized that over the years I had become like a Pharisee … arrogant … had failed to walk humbly … I had criticized … I had assumed superiority … I was proud and legalistic, and had covered up my unbelief by calling it “discernment”.

I did not sleep well. Late into the nights I read the Scriptures. Thank God for verses which tell us, “Repent you therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord.” – Acts 3:19 … Late one night, long after everyone else in the household was asleep, I knelt before God. “Oh God, forgive me. I have been so wrong. I need the breath of your Spirit to bring life to me and to the Scriptures. I want to worship you. I am so tired of stuffy religion.” I began to worship God and as I did so, the presence of God became very real. In fact, I had an encounter with the Almighty such as I will never forget.

I dared not to open my eyes. God is so holy. God is awesome. God is light. How does one describe God? What a beautiful presence filled that small room! I was overcome. Bathed in the reality of God’s love, I began to speak to God in a new language whelming up from deep within. A beautiful release. I talked with God for a long, long time. His presence was so real. So alive. God’s presence is cleansing and healing, liberating and beautiful.

The joy of the Lord flooded my soul so much that I began to laugh. Praise! Real, spontaneous, heartfelt praise flowed from a deep well within me, like rivers of living water. Yes! Hallelujah – there they were, the rivers …

A whole new dimension was open before me. My eyes had been tightly shut up until this point. Why had I been afraid of the presence of the beautiful Holy Spirit? I stayed awake for the rest of the night … As daylight came, I went out into the streets of Christchurch to shout for joy. I walked for a long time, excited that this same God of Peter and Paul wants to reveal himself to his people today …

Oh, the grace of God that He should give me the gift of tongues after I had been so critical of  others who claimed this experience. He knew the deep desire I had to meet with him, even though my inhibitions and unbelief had prevented me from doing so …

 

 

This woman had already been a Christian. She believed in Jesus as her Saviour. She was baptized. She had the Spirit of God for salvation because “…no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:3). But she had not yet been baptized/immersed with the Holy Spirit. Why not? She should have been because the infilling (to use another Bible word) with the Holy Spirit was meant to come at the very beginning of the Christian life.

 

Acts 2:38: Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

 

The disciples asked the people 1) to repent, and 2) to be baptized (with water) for the forgiveness of their sins, so that 3) they would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (meaning here the experience of being baptized with the Spirit). These three experiences were part of the process of becoming a believer and they all belonged together in the whole package of starting out as a Christian.

 

Why was the woman a Christian but deficient of the fullness of the Spirit? She was proud of her own Christian superiority over any other Christians – her superior theology and worship practice, etc. – which made it really hard for her to learn anything from anyone else. In her pride, she was not looking for more of God. She had no faith expectation to receive more from God and the Bible says that we receive from God by faith.

 

Hebrews 11:6: And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

 

Matthew 17:20: … if you have faith as small as a mustard seed … Nothing will be impossible for you.

 

Mark 6:5-6: He could not do any miracles… and he was amazed at their lack of faith.

 

Martin Luther: Large Catechism, Explanation of the Lord’s Prayer’s, Last Petition: Where this faith is missing, there can be no proper prayer … they get nothing.

 

What else was holding her back? Fear! Maybe she was going to lose former friends who would not appreciate her becoming one of thehappy-clappies”. But most of all she thought that the Holy Spirit – the Holy Ghost – could be scary, overwhelming her somehow – her emotions, her body. Who knows what will happen? Is it going to be safe? She had to remind herself that God was a loving Father who would not give you a scorpion when you are asking for a fish, or a stone instead of a loaf of bread (see Luke 11). [The advice was to look to Jesus and allow him to do what he deems best.]

What made this woman overcome all of her obstacles? The correct answer isGod”. He opened a door for her of discovery. He showed her that there was more, if she only wanted to have more. And this is the key. Nothing will happen, if there is no hunger or desire to go beyond what you have now. Don’t ask Christians to change if they are happy with the status quo. It’s a waste of energy. We rather do mission work. But this woman (and God know her condition) did live a Christian life that was not satisfying to her. In her own words, she had no answer to this hungering void within her for reality in God. She told the pastor that she wasvery tired of playing churchand she told God that she wasso tired of stuffy religion”. This woman was hungry for God and God intensified her hunger by exposing the wrongful pride which covered up her real need. She was not better than others but hungry and tired of stuffy religion.

How did this woman receive the baptism or infilling with the Holy Spirit? I think that it is worthwhile to point out that, instead of an instantaneous infilling with the Holy Spirit, God took this woman through a process of receiving over a number of days. He broke her down step by step, with numerous visits in this other church and whole nights spent in repentance and inquiry. Then, she took a leap of faith. She took a risk and had someone pray for her for the baptism with the Spirit which is a common Biblical practice.

 

Acts 8:17-18: Then Peter and John placed their hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit … the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands …

 

Acts 19:6: When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them …

 

2 Timothy 1:6: Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands.

 

God answered the prayer(s) and, over a few days, this woman came into new experiences of the Holy Spirit:

 

… the presence of God became very real. In fact, I had an encounter with the Almighty such as I will never forget.

I dared not to open my eyes. God is so holy. God is awesome. God is light. How does one describe God? What a beautiful presence filled that small room! I was overcome. Bathed in the reality of God’s love, I began to speak to God in a new language whelming up from deep within. A beautiful release. I talked with God for a long, long time. His presence was so real. So alive. God’s presence is cleansing and healing, liberating and beautiful.

The joy of the Lord flooded my soul so much that I began to laugh. Praise! Real, spontaneous, heartfelt praise flowed from a deep well within me, like rivers of living water. Yes! Hallelujah – there they were, the rivers …

A whole new dimension was open before me.

 

The Bible does not prescribe the experiences a person has to have at the infilling with the Holy Spirit. It varies even in the Bible. But, like being born again at the point of conversion, it is an experience of God which is experienced. We know when it happens. For me, many times the Holy Spirit is present in power but I don’t feel much in my emotions. I can even lie on the carpet or someone is struck downviolentlywhen I lay hands on him but I am not feeling all that much. Yet, God is there and, like John Wesley who was feeling his heart being “strangely warmed”, I do sense his presence in a less ecstatic way. The Bible talks about the fruit of the Spirit and mentions love, peace and joy (Galatians 5:22).

However, since we are not just once being filled with the Holy Spirit but keep being filled up and experience many refillings throughout our lives, I keep praying for more and keep praying for the immersion with the Holy Spirit that completely satisfies all of me – body, mind, will and emotions, and spirit.

This morning, we have tried to bring clarity to the Bible’s teaching on baptism. There are no two baptisms. There is only one baptism for the remission of sins. This is the only baptism which we are commanded to perform and the only baptism which uses an external substance and rite, sprinkling or immersing someone with water. But the wordbaptismsimply meansimmersionorsubmersionand Jesus could use the word, not in the sense of instituting another rite or sacrament, but to describe the immersion in another aspect of the Christian life. He announced to his disciples that they would soon bebaptized with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:4-8). And when this happened for them, they announced to all people that, from now on, three distinct experiences were available to all that want to become believers and put their faith in Jesus Christ:

 

Acts 2:38: 1) Repent and 2) be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. 3) And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

 

These three experiences (to repent, to be baptized, to receive the Spirit) are part of the process of becoming a believer. They belong together in the whole package of starting out as a Christian. And we are meant to enjoy them all. If you haven’t yet received the baptism with the Holy Spirit because you have been worried and confused about the language ofbaptismand therefore stayed away from anything that suggested two baptisms when the Bible only teaches one. In your confusion, you have never asked for prayer or never allowed yourself to desire and hunger for more, then this morning could be your morning. If you are tired with what you have, come and ask for more. Amen.