My own experience of receiving the Holy Spirit
I repented and believed at 2:30pm on 8 June 1981. That is the point at which I began the biblical process of becoming a Christian. At that moment, though I had not yet been baptised in water, I believe I was justified (made righteous in God's sight) and my sins were forgiven.
Thankfully, I had heard about the gospel from people who believed that the need to receive the Holy Spirit, and to operate in the gifts of the Holy Spirit, still applied. So, I was prayed for. They laid their hands on me in the biblical manner, asking God to baptise me in the Holy Spirit. I wanted that to happen and I was praying for it myself.
However, so far as I could tell at the time, nothing supernatural appeared to happen to me. Indeed, nothing seemed to happen at all. I did not speak in tongues, or feel anything strange in any way. I felt disappointed, and confused. Therefore I just continued to pray to receive the Holy Spirit and to receive spiritual gifts, in particular the gift of tongues. Weeks and months passed and I persisted in praying and asking others to pray for me too. Still nothing happened, so far as I could tell.
What I did do, however, was to eagerly read the Bible, study it, memorise it and tell others about the gospel. God used me in some surprising ways and I was effective in evangelism, telling many people about Jesus and seeing some come to faith as a result. All this occurred without me ever having spoken in tongues. Yet, rather strangely, one of the new converts whom I had led to faith was baptised in the Holy Spirit at the very outset. He had a very powerful and life changing experience and began to speak in tongues long before I did.
I believe that throughout this time of waiting, which lasted nearly two years, I was already a real Christian. I believe I had started out on "the Way". (See chapter 21 - Assurance of Salvation) I had been forgiven and justified in God's sight because of my repentance and my faith in Jesus Christ. But, I had not yet been baptised in water. And, in my view, I had not yet been baptised in the Holy Spirit.
Then, quite out of the blue, there came a day of dramatic breakthrough. It was early on the morning of my 21st birthday in 1983, nearly two years after I had first repented and believed. I was sitting on my bed in my student room and I suddenly felt a release whereby I felt free to speak in tongues. It was not forced upon me. Yet, somehow, I felt able to do it and I began to speak. However, I had perfect liberty to stop if I had wanted to.
The point was that I suddenly felt prompted to begin to speak out loud, but not in English. As I opened my mouth, and began to speak, words flowed easily and quickly. Moreover, I felt a powerful emotional release too. I had felt so buttoned up and reserved beforehand. I had felt shy of showing any emotion.
In particular, I had been very sensitive about anybody hearing me attempt to speak in tongues. That had been a real stumbling block for me and was probably the main thing that kept me bound up during those two years. However, I didn't realise that then.
At any rate, I found myself suddenly able (but not compelled) to speak in tongues. It came out in a torrent and I didn't want it to stop. I just kept on and on for about 2 hours! What made it stranger, and more memorable, was that it was accompanied by weeping. As soon as I began to speak in tongues I also began to cry, which was something I had never done before then.
I had always been, and still am, particularly reserved, even for a person from England, which is a country that specialises in being reserved. I wasn't sad. It was a joyfu experience and was a release of a lot of pent up emotion. I think God was also doing some deep work inside me, putting some things right that needed to be dealt with.
So two breakthroughs were made simultaneously. God enabled me to speak in tongues, and He also enabled me to cry. That too was an ability, or a freedom, that I needed but had lacked. I believe that God touched me powerfully in my spirit that day. Some things were also being dealt with at an emotional level.
That is one of the many other purposes of the baptism in the Holy Spirit. When He comes into a person's life it seems to me that He begins to "re-wire" us and to "rewrite our software". He changes us from the inside. (That is not how the Bible puts it. That is just my own personal view and has no scriptural authority).
I remember that as this weeping and praying in tongues continued, I did not want it to stop. I was concerned that if I stopped I might not be able to start again. I had spent two years feeling paralysed in this area of speaking in tongues and didn't want to risk going back to that. However, eventually, I stopped. Then after a moment, I resumed, feeling unsure as to whether it would be possible to start again.
Happily, there was no difficulty at all in starting again. From that day onwards, I have been able to speak in tongues whenever I choose to. The gift is entirely in my hands. It has been left to me to decide whether and when to use it.
So, why did it take me two years to be baptised in the Holy Spirit and speak in tongues while others experienced it immediately? What held me back? I have reflected on this and I believe the following factors all combined to prevent me from receiving the Holy Spirit, or at least from operating in the spiritual gifts:
a) I was tense and keyed up. I felt shy and awkward about speaking in tongues out loud in front of others, or even by myself. I was afraid that I would begin to attempt it, but fail, and be embarrassed.
b) I had wrongly thought that it would be something God would do to me, or impose on me. I assumed it would come down on me from above without me needing to be active or do anything. So, I kept waiting for God to do something, but I think He was waiting for me to just speak and get started.
c) I had never been baptised in water. Oddly, for a group of believers whose Bible knowledge was otherwise so good, the people who had led me to faith never told me that I needed to be baptised in water. Perhaps they felt shy about saying it, given that so many people take offence at being told that. I don't know. They either never told me, or I never heard them. At any rate, I didn't get baptised in water. I assumed that the baptism in water I had had as a baby, in the Catholic church, was sufficient. I did not know then that it wasn't and that I was being disobedient to what the Bible clearly teaches about baptism in water.
I feel that these three factors, combined together, held me back. In the end God, in His mercy, intervened and rescued me. If not, I could have gone on like that for decades, as many people do. So, God made an exception with me, as He did with Cornelius, in Acts chapter 10. He allowed me to receive the Holy Spirit before I was baptised in water, whereas the New Testament clearly shows that baptism in water should happen first.
I don't recommend what I did. I should have got baptised in water straight away when I first repented and believed. Had I done so, I feel that being baptised in water would probably have produced the breakthrough I needed. I would then have received the Holy Spirit either immediately or very soon after being baptised in water. Still, despite all my errors, ignorance and hang-ups, God moved in and helped me to break through.
God also helped me to overcome the silly, but to me very real, barrier of my own shyness and self-consciousness. God is a very kind and tender parent. He knows each of His children individually and is aware of all their different ways and hang-ups. Therefore, He wisely and sensitively dealt with my specific problems so that I could be free to break through.