Why Do these Experiences Happen?
I know I personally hesitate to treat manifestations as being the result of encountering the Spirit. Most people resist treating them that way because it may mean losing control and doing stupid things like shaking or growling or fainting. It's like saying, "God, I hope the McConnells from next door don't see me here, cause Martha'd tell everyone at the salon what kind of a wacko I've become". I'm not fazed at all by that. In an encounter with God, the only reaction worth having is one of breaking down and surrendering to God. In fact, it would be hard to picture how it would not happening. Given the rank of the One we're talking about here, who cares what they say at the office cooler?
My own hesitations come from experiencing a different kind of loss of control. I know of shaking, growling, speaking gibberish, sudden frenetic activity, cackling and spinning; I know them from the inside out. Those things that I went through as a child were not 'manifestations' of the Holy Spirit, not by a long shot. They were 'manifestations' of an emotional disturbance that was so strong that I was sometimes incapable of self control. As much as I felt the love of God in me, I felt just as deeply the absence of love in people. That's too much for many adults to take, so picture what it must have been for a young child. Getting un-disturbed was the result of a lot of hard work, a lot of God's work, and my finding people who actually cared and who knew how to manifest that caring. Tens of millions of us have some sort of disturbance (from neglect, beatings, rape, trauma, verbal abuse, chemical imbalance, brain damage, drugs, etc.) lurking just below the surface. When such people go to an event designed to stir and excite (like a death-metal show, a rave, or a tent revival), what may get manifested is a person's confusion and inner turmoil. It's not a pretty sight to see, especially for that person him/herself. In a revivalist event, ecstatic behavior is automatically interpreted as a good sign, that the Spirit's at work, or a demon's revealing himself (providing an opportunity to cast him out). The reality is that sometimes it is a very bad sign.
It should also be noted that the very same kinds of manifestations are also reported to accompany demonic possession, the loss of control to Satan. Possessed people, too, speak in strange tongues, spin, faint, jerk, bark, writhe on the floor, and cackle. They also foretell events, receive powerful visions, and contact the dead. Those too are not 'manifestations' of the Spirit, but 'manifestations' of the Great Fraud, the Sham Man, Ol' Scratch. The manifestations may be real, they may be a trick; the Devil is quite good at fraud but is plenty powerful enough to make some 'real' things happen. The whole purpose behind even his 'real' things, however, is fraud, so please look behind what you see into why it is being done.
Manifestations May Not Be From the Spirit
Strange physical manifestations themselves might not be a sign of the Holy Spirit. They may be just the body's natural reaction to the mind's loss of control over the body, whatever the cause. If so, then the body's circuitry may not only be overloaded, but perhaps also underloaded -- at least, underloaded of control signals from its natural source. All the more reason to look for the fruit of the Spirit, because no drug, no psychological or sociological force, no action of Satan, and no mere human fakery can bring forth the character that marks the Spirit's work. The Spirit's fruit are the ultimate sign for humans of today. And all the more reason not to agitate merely for the sake of agitating, for ungodly things come from it, and it pays no heed to Paul's concern for doing things in an orderly manner (1 Corinthians 14:40).
Strangely enough, one of the fruits of the Spirit listed by Paul is "self-control". It's strange because the event of conversion or reawakening is a loss of self-control. The way it is explained is that the Spirit gets rid of what was there, then gradually rebuilds your self-control as part of the making of the New You. Pentecostalists often report that manifestations become less frequent and less intense as one grows in the Lord; this may be one reason why.
Are Signs Definitive?
It is a given in most Pentecostalist churches that tongues (or any one other manifest gift) are the sure first evidence that the Holy Spirit is within that person. Yet, this view has led too often to Christians passing judgement on other Christians, treating them as unsaved or less-saved. Christ specifically told us not to judge each other. Jesus told us that we will be known by our fruits. The fruits he spoke of were acts of love and a Godly character, not specific manifestations. There are so many gifts, and so many ways to put them to use for the church and its mission, that no one gift, no one sign, and no one calling defines us. If you look at any one gift that way, you're putting a limit on the sovereign Spirit in a way that Scripture never does.
Caught Lying About Manifestations
If you find that someone is blatantly 'faking it' with tongues and other signs in your congregation, the first thing to do for them is to pray. They don't understand Who they're playing with -- even if they think they do. (Hanania and Sapphira thought they could, in a different way, fake out God -- with deadly results.) Pray for the Spirit to touch them for real, that they may come to know Jesus as Christ, hate their fakery and change their ways. If they are leaders, private confrontation might be in order. Gentle persuasion might be more your role with non-leaders. But the Lord may ask you to check yourself, and how real you are. So the first step, and the last, is always prayer. Rash actions will backfire, but prayerful ones have the divine gift of power behind them. The goal is not to drive someone out of the congregation, but to lead them back into the believing Body.
A Partial List of Specific Manifestations
There is no way to list all of the reported physical manifestations. There are so many of them and so many variants of each one that it defies full description in a short document like this one -- or even a full-sized book. Few of them are new; it's all been seen before. And I won't judge any of these manifestations as being manifested evil, since one can't know that outside of each situation. The terms below have different meanings to different churches, have changed over time, and are changing as you read this. They are often confused with (or mixed in with) a miracle, which may have value as a sign but can be more enduring than that. Even so, here's a quick list.
Please keep this in mind : what God wants most to be shown forth in you isn't manifestations of this kind, but manifested passion for God and for people and manifested spreading of the good news to all. Seek gifts, yes, but don't seek manifestations. Ever. If they are to really happen to you, they'll just happen, and they'll happen on God's timetable for God's reasons. If not, it's no big deal. You're not spiritually inferior or superior; you just weren't given that particular experience, that's all. The Spirit's at work in you anyway. Trust in that.
Some commonly-reported manifestations:
Most of these can take place as part of a 'shout', a moment when the person is so moved by the Spirit's presence that they can't hold it in any more, and something extreme bursts forth.Back
>> My question regards visions. How can you tell
>> that they are from God and not a simple figment
>> of your imagination?
Visions are meant to convey to you something meaningful. The Spirit doesn't give people visions of raking the lawn, or cleaning up a bedroom. That's just a dream. Your imagination often starts there briefly, then goes on to a fantasy vacation, or to that pack of wild dogs you can't escape, or falling through the sky. Nothing wrong with that, but it's not a vision from the Spirit, it's just a dream. And almost always, that's all it really is.... almost always.
Most spiritual visions are allegorical: one thing or action represents another, leading in a direction, posing a serious question, having a moral or a point. A vision is, in this sense, another form of story, told with mental images instead of words. Taking them literally will miss the point. There is, rarely, a prophetic vision, showing an act of God that is about to happen. But without a firm relationship with God, you'd have a poor understanding of what God actually wants you to do with it.
Don't be too quick to separate "Spirit" from "imagination". The imagination is the tool the Spirit uses to get us to envision the vision, to put picture to the story, to make us feel like we're living it, or sometimes just observing it. It gives it a 'test run' or 'movie showing' in the mind.
Charismatics often share their visions and dreams, in hopes that someone has the biblical gift of dream interpretation like Joseph and Daniel and Ezekiel had. Sometimes -- surprise! -- such sharing touches someone who somehow just knows what it says, or whom it was meant for. Most charismatics are too sappy and sloppy about it, but that doesn't stop its benefits, especially in a small-group setting.
The gathered Body has the responsibility to discern whether the vision is the Spirit trying to tell us something, or just a pointless dalliance.
more on spiritual discernment