What if nothing happens when we pray to receive the Holy Spirit?
A common explanation when nothing happens when we pray to receive the Holy Spirit is simply that the person has been too afraid to speak out loud or too shy to do so in front of others. I was like that myself. It can be that you, yourself, are the blockage. Perhaps the Holy Spirit is just waiting patiently for you to be willing to step out in faith and begin to speak.
So, if you have prayed to receive the Holy Spirit and nothing happens, i.e. there are no tongues, then consider what I have said above. Ask yourself whether you have actually tried to speak. You may not have. The answer could be as simple as that. You may have just sat there silently and passively waiting for something to happen. It won't. The Holy Spirit won't ever force you to speak. He will only enable you to do so. He always respects your free will (unlike how demons operate)
Therefore, go ahead and start to speak. Don't speak English. Just make a sound and continue. If you have received the gift of tongues, it will flow and you will be able to do it without effort or thinking of what to say. It is best if you do this together with another person who believes that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are for today and who has already received the Holy Spirit themselves and operates in the gifts. They can then encourage and assist you. But if there is no such person to help you, then you can still go ahead on your own.
Also, do not make the mistake of thinking that there must be strong feelings of emotional intensity. That does often happen when a person speaks in tongues but by no means always. So do not be put off or discouraged if you feel no different. That is quite normal.
If you have prayed to receive the Holy Spirit and have attempted to speak in tongues, but still nothing has happened, then there may be one or more other problems. Let's examine what those might be:
Other reasons why sometimes nothing may happen when we pray to receive the Holy Spirit
You need to remember that receiving the Holy Spirit is generally meant to be the fourth and final step in becoming a Christian. There have been some notable exceptions, such as Cornelius the Gentile. He received the Holy Spirit before he was baptised in water. However, I would argue that when that occurred in the New Testament, it was always for some exceptional reason. It's not meant to happen that way normally.
Therefore, if you have prayed to receive the Holy Spirit but nothing has happened, the next most obvious explanation could be that you may not have taken one or more of the three previous steps, which are meant to happen first. It would be wise therefore to examine yourself and ask yourself whether you have genuinely and properly:
a) repented, of your sins and turned from them
b) believed in Jesus Christ and put your whole faith and trust in Him, and in Him alone, to save you from your sins
c) been baptised in water, as the Bible clearly commands us to do. Remember that this is meant to be done when you are old enough to have repented and believed for yourself. Do not make the mistake which many make, and which I made myself, which is to assume that if you have been baptised as a baby that will count. I don't believe it will. (See chapter 16 - Step 3 - baptism in water)
If that offends you, I can only apologise, but I can't say anything different, because the Bible is so clear on this. So, if that is your position, then don't delay. Go now and be properly baptised in water. Take that third step and obey Jesus' command. Don't neglect or overlook it any further.
Likewise if, on reflection, you think that you have perhaps not genuinely repented, or are continuing in some known sin which you know is wrong, then repent properly now. Turn away from any sin or sinful situation which you are aware of. If you are unclear or confused, just ask God to reveal to you anything you need to repent of which may be a blockage. He will gladly answer that prayer. Also, reread chapter 14 on repentance. Ask God to make clear to you whether there is something specific in your behaviour or lifestyle that concerns Him.
Alternatively, it could be that you have not properly or genuinely believed in, or put your faith and trust in, the Lord Jesus. That's possible. It could be that you have some issues which you are confused or mistaken about. For example it could be to do with who and what Jesus Christ is. Or it could be about what His death on the cross was all about or why it was needed. Confusion, error and false teaching are extremely widespread, so this could easily be the problem. Pray and ask God to reveal to you any specific error, deception or significant doctrinal mistake you may be affected by.
Look also at chapter 15 (Step Two - Believe). Carefully go through the various points I have set out, which are the basic things a person needs to know, understand and believe. If any of these don't make sense to you, or you don't believe them, or you have been taught something different in the past which you still believe, then ask God to expose any error or deception which may be holding you back. Do this sincerely, with a genuine willingness to be corrected.
One common problem is with people who come out of cults such as the Jehovah's witnesses. They teach that Jesus Christ is not God, but just a man. Sometimes that error is so deeply ingrained that a person still holds onto it, even after leaving the cult. Or, even if you weren't in a cult, you may just have heard something like that, or been taught it, and it may have taken deep root in your mind. If so, it needs to be corrected.
You can't meaningfully believe in Jesus Christ, if you don't believe that He is the Son of God. If the 'Jesus' that you believe in is just a man, not the God of the Bible, then you would be believing in a false god, instead of the real Jesus. He has to be seen as divine or you are not truly believing in Him in the way the Bible requires you to. You would only be believing in a false god, who is wrongly going by the name Jesus.
For example, I am reminded of a story Derek Prince told about a man with whom he shared the gospel in Sudan. This man was a Muslim. He wanted to become a Christian and Derek Prince led him in a prayer, but nothing happened. Later it occurred to Derek Prince to question the man closely as to exactly who it was that he was praying to. It emerged that the man was still praying to Allah, as was his lifelong habit. That was the problem, because Allah is not the real God of the Bible. Once this error was cleared up and the man spoke to the real God of the Bible and prayed in the name of Jesus, then he was heard by God and was unmistakably saved.
This problem also arises with people who have come out of a New Age background. The New Age movement presents many false and distorted versions of Jesus. So it's very possible you could be deceived or misinformed. If so, the Jesus you are following would be a false, distorted, unbiblical, counterfeit, rather than the real Lord Jesus Christ. However, if it is all you have ever been taught, it may seem true to you even though it isn't.
That type of error would cause a total blockage. How can the real Jesus baptise you in the Holy Spirit if you are, in fact, believing in some other false and inaccurate version of Jesus? Therefore carefully read and reread chapter 15 on believing. Pray about it and ask God to expose any error in your thinking or your knowledge, however small, which might be creating a blockage.
Once you have corrected any errors and taken or retaken any step that was missing or inadequate, then you may now be ready to pray again to receive the Holy Spirit. Hopefully the error or problem will have been removed and you can now receive the Holy Spirit. If not, and still nothing happens, then just continue to pray earnestly and sincerely. Ask God to reveal the problem, or whatever is missing. Keep asking and He will do so. God wants you to receive the Holy Spirit. He is on your side.
Persist therefore until you have found out what the blockage is. Keep on and on asking to receive the Holy Spirit. Do not give up. God is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. Therefore be diligent and carry on for as long as it takes. Many people give up even at the first or second obstacle and do not press on. That would be a tragic mistake. Never stop seeking and asking. Keep on until your prayer is answered:
7"Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8"For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Matthew 7:7-8 (NASB)
In these verses, Jesus Himself is speaking. He tells us to ask, to seek and to knock. However, the clear implication of His words is that we are to persist in doing so. He doesn't mean that we should knock once or twice. He means keep on knocking, persistently, until the door is opened.
Why don't we see more of the gifts of the Holy Spirit being used, if they are really from God?
We have to remember that God will not impose Himself or His gifts on us. Therefore, if we reject the gifts, or if we are wary and suspicious of them, we will not experience them. So much depends on what the leaders of a particular church say. If they teach that the gifts of the Holy Spirit have ceased, or are not from God at all, then there will be no gifts. You then end up with yet another church where the shutters have been firmly slammed down, keeping out anything of the Holy Spirit. This is very widespread.
At any rate, in Great Britain, we now have a situation where the gifts of the Holy Spirit can freely operate in one church, but in another church nearby there are no gifts, due to confusion and wrong teaching, Sadly, in such a church, where the gifts of the Holy Spirit are effectively "banned", (though they would never put it that way), even believers who have received the Holy Spirit and the gifts will be silenced.
The reality is that in such a church, even those individuals who have been baptised in the Holy Spirit will be pressured, or even intimidated, into not operating in the gifts. Thus, there will be no tongues, interpretation, prophecy, words of wisdom or words of knowledge within the church meetings, even if such things are occurring at an individual level outside of meetings.
This indicates the profound importance of the responsibility that church leaders have to interpret the Bible correctly. They must not reject or forbid genuine gifts which the Holy Spirit wants us to use. We must all be so careful, not only in what we accept and allow, but also in what we reject or forbid:
39Therefore, my brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak in tongues. 40But all things must be done properly and in an orderly manner. 1 Corinthians 14:39-40 (NASB)