Holy Spirit, Activate
Many people on social media have been talking about the viral clip of Chynna Phillips of the pop group Wilson Phillips famously chanting, “Holy Spirit Activate!” Phillips appeared on Celebrity Family Feud back in September and has since become a part of an increasingly popular clip circulating on social media.
I don’t know about you, but Family Feud is one of the only TV shows that my wife and I consistently watch. The episode with the Phillips family brought me both light-hearted enjoyment and deeply rooted contemplation. The scene got me thinking about my spiritual journey and my newly found understanding of and dependence on The Holy Spirit.
I recently sat down with one of my counseling clients who informed me that she had read a copy of my new book, Save the Day. I was surprised to find out that multiple copies of my book were in circulation at the facility.
She stated, “I thought your book was really good, well except for one place”. “What part didn’t you like?” I immediately regretted asking the question. I was a bit caught off guard and wondered if I could handle the constructive criticism, but I had already opened the can of worms. The question was out there, so I took a breath and braced for impact.
“The part where you talked about having your life changed by the Holy Spirit. I thought it was corny to be honest. I’m sorry to be mean, but the thought that the Holy Spirit transformed you just seemed like a bit much. I liked the book overall though.”
Understood. I smiled a bit knowing that could have gone much worse! If I’m being honest, just a few years ago I would have felt the same way. I remember hearing people speak about having their lives transformed by their interactions with God and His Spirit. I would often shake my head, roll my eyes, or give out a big sigh at the very least. I hated when people tried to be “overly deep” and “overly spiritual” when talking about life accomplishments.
Now, here I was at the other side of the conversation. I had credited an invisible spirit as being the catalyst for my life transformation. I could see how it sounded, Pius, dramatic, and yes, “extra”. I could have credited my intense work ethic, my dedication to change, my years invested in therapy, or the self-care routine that I adopted to evolve. Instead, I credited something invisible for a visible transformation that I now have written about. I could see how difficult it might be to “swallow”.
As I continued speaking to the client, I thanked her for her honest assessment and moved forward in the conversation. For the days that have since passed, I’ve found myself thinking more and more about society’s belief in and understanding of the Holy Spirit.
My client, like many people that I encounter in my duties as a coach and counselor, classified herself as a Christian. I’ve learned that many people who pray to God think of prayer as a “one-way street”.
I speak, God listens, then maybe magic happens. The thought that God could speak back to them through a Spirit that could lead them, guide them, and help them transform their lives sounds like “too much”.
It used to sound like too much for me too. I, like many of them, went to church on and off as a kid. Whether it was Sundays at church with my Grandmother or learning memory verses at the private elementary school that I attended, I had encountered bits and pieces of the Bible over the years. At 17, I even went as far as taking Jesus as my savior and to being baptized at People’s Baptist Church in Ashtabula, Ohio.
If I’m being honest, the experience wasn’t all that life-changing. The cold hard truth is that I sometimes felt awkward in the church. I couldn’t really understand all of the rituals, reactions, or pleasantries expressed by members of the church. I didn’t feel like I fit in, and by the time I went to college a short time later, I fell out of touch with the church altogether.
Through my 20’s I wished for a connection to “something greater”, but I wasn’t sure where I would find it. I often met Christians who seemed judgemental, forceful, and insincere in their attempts to bring me “back to Christ”. In response, I often respectfully shared that I wasn’t sure how much my time with God or Jesus had done for me. It hadn’t really changed me. I never “heard God” or “felt the spirit”. The music was good, I enjoyed some of the messages, but that was as far as it went for me.
As I continued in my 20s, I found myself still praying to God from time to time. Nowadays, I often refer to those prayers as my “Justin Case Prayers. Just in case
The world is about to end, I want to pray and make sure that I’m on the right side of “The Big Guy'' if He is really up there. If I was asked if I was a Christian, I said yes, but that was as far as the discussion went.
To make matters worse, my college sweetheart was a “devout Christian” who used to speak about having a “powerful relationship” with God. She said God used to speak to her and that The Holy Spirit was a teacher for her. For holidays, she would sometimes give me books about fostering a relationship with God. I thought it was a kind gesture, but the books went unopened.
The end of our relationship was mired by a web of lies and deception that emotionally crippled me in many ways. I failed all of my classes, lost scholarships, and eventually left college 12 hours shy of the degree I had worked so hard for.
The bit of curiosity about God that she had aroused within me was quickly squelched when her lies all but destroyed my life. Did God tell you to play me like that? The Holy Spirit maybe? I rolled my eyes, shook my head, gave a big sigh, cussed a lot, and then proceeded as a broken shell of a man for the next decade.
Oh, My Bad
Over the next 10 years of my life, I experienced some high highs and many low lows. After leaving school, I increased my focus on a career in music and my band was signed to two independent record labels. We accomplished some amazing feats including opening for various National recording artists, licensing agreements with MTV, VH-1, Nascar, and The Discovery Networks. We recorded with Grammy Winners, filmed with Emmy winners, and even worked with Rock and Roll Hall of Famers.
The experiences were a dream come true in many ways, but for some reason, I was never happy. Below the surface, I was a wreck. If it wasn’t the depression that I fell into for months at a time, it was the crippling anxiety that took its place.
I kept believing that if I could just “make something of myself” then happiness would find me. I managed my band, booked shows, designed websites, even was hired to work for one of the labels we signed to. I fought like hell to break out of the misery, but somehow I still ended up feeling like hell on the inside.
When advancing my career couldn’t fill the void, I tried everything from women to drinking and even to throwing myself into jobs outside of music hoping it would help me feel better about myself. I didn’t like the man that stared back at me in the mirror. I soon accepted that no accomplishment or conquest could fix that.
By July of 2016, 10 years after my collegiate life meltdown, my life was in shambles. My music career had slowed to a halt, my finances were in the gutter, and I was searching for meaning in life. I was angry, hurt, and embarrassed by the way my life had seemingly unraveled. It became increasingly difficult to live through a day sober. Sobriety meant feeling, and feelings were way more than I could handle. Guilt. Shame. Grief from losing people close to me.
I wondered if there was really anymore worth living for in this life. Don’t get me wrong, I was connected to some beautiful people, but what did I bring to the table anymore?
One morning I woke up to drive to work. I got in my car to drive and remember feeling overwhelmed with emotion. Why had this become my life? Why was I so miserable? Why was I such a failure? God, if you’re up there, how did you let this happen to me?! Before I knew it, my thought filled drive to work had turned into a shouting match between me and God as I drove down the highway.
Are you really there? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why am I always screwed over? Why was my childhood the way that it was? Why am I constantly in shambles? People keep telling me that they are praying for me, but their prayers haven’t helped me one bit. Are you real or not??? Speak!
I guess this is where the story gets “extra” because it happened. God spoke. I’ve often described the moment as the most real moment I’ve ever had in life. It felt like Neo being awakened in The Matrix.
A vision flashed in front of my eyes and I saw myself standing in front of a crowd, but this was not the type of experience I was used to. I wasn’t singing. I was preaching the word of God. “Me? How could I ever do that?” I wondered as tears began to stream down my face. At that moment, I heard the Spirit of God speak to me about why I had gone through so many hard times, about what He was calling me to in this life, and how it was time for me to wake up and become everything He had put me on this earth to become.
It wasn’t Iyanla who fixed my life that day. Oprah hadn’t given me my deepest soul session. My life-changing talk wasn’t affiliated with Ted. It didn’t happen in a therapist’s office, an AA meeting, or even while reading powerful words in a book. I didn’t find my hallelujah in a sanctuary with eloquent preaching, powerful singing, or sitting on a pew. That moment was just me and The Holy Spirit. Oh, so you were real? My bad!
Holy Spirit, Activate
I wish that I had a way to prove what I’m saying to you, but all that I can tell you is that my life transformation started on Highway 76 outside of Akron. There were no witnesses, no camera, no crowds. The only proof that I have is my life.
During these last few years, I’ve returned to school to finish my degree, gotten married, started a beautiful family, become a counselor, a certified life coach, published author and TV show host. I have also began preaching and teaching people like what I saw in that vision on the highway. Let’s be honest though, none of that would matter if I was still miserable. Instead, I have grown, healed, and transformed inwardly in amazing ways that I have started sharing with others.
My faith has been built time and time again as I’ve seen God show up over and over for clients who are desperate to take their life back. Like Chynna Phillips, I’ve called on Holy Spirit to activate during some moments where I knew it would take a move of God to get real results. Every time he has come through. It hasn’t resulted in public victories, but instead in private sessions where I’ve watched people begin to take their lives back from what felt like hopeless situations.
Many people have thanked me over the last few years for “knowing what to say to give me hope” or “saying what I needed to help me change my life”. I get asked weekly if I am a psychic or a clairvoyant because of my uncanny ability to know about people in profound and transcendent ways. No, I’m not a psychic, The Holy Spirit simply continues to show up and make all the difference.
I’m Not Special
Listen, I didn’t write this article to let you know how special I think I am. Let me be the first to tell you that I’ve failed more than I’ve succeeded, I’ve burned bridges, I’ve hurt people, and I’ve made my fair share of mistakes. Maybe you’re like me and you’ve been a less than perfect individual in your life. I just want you to know that if you are searching for something more in this life, I truly believe that more is also searching for you.
My introduction to God came because he was gracious enough to speak to me in one broken state. I encourage you, as broken as you may be, to simply reach out to Him with a belief that He can reach back. Speak to Him with a belief He can answer. Find the courage to give Him the truth and you’ll find that your brokenness does not disqualify you experiencing His love, His presence, or His grace. God has shown up for me time and time again in ways that continue to blow my mind and I believe He can do the same for you.