You’re sitting in a Bible study or Sunday-school class when the leader asks for prayer requests. Someone mentions her son who has cancer. Someone else is unemployed but will be going to an interview. Yet another has an important decision to make. The leader calls on you to pray.

You wish there was someone there who would pray with the confidence of the apostles, the first followers endowed by the Spirit with special gifts of healing, knowledge, and wisdom. But not expecting a visit from Saint Peter, you clear your throat and begin, “Our Father …”

What will you say in your prayer? Will you ask God to heal the boy? To do it if it is “in his will”? Will you pray for special intervention on behalf of the man looking for work?

Do you think your prayers will do any good?

In faith, of course you do. Few Christians would think of asking God simply to let things run their course. We expect God to do something because we believe he is all powerful. And yet, earnest followers of Christ approach this notion of power differently. Some would boldly ask God to remove tumors, create new jobs, or give clear words of knowledge. Others give God a little more room and live with lower expectations, praying more for power that gives us grace and peace to endure suffering and unpleasant conditions.

Does it take more power to remove a tumor than it does to heal the fear and anger of a young man dying?

These are not easy questions, and for too long their difficulty has contributed to the forming of factions within the body of Christ.

Differences over our understanding of the Holy Spirit and power will most likely continue until our Lord’s return, but that should not excuse us from finding common ground and, perhaps, learning from each other. It was in that spirit that we invited seven Christian leaders to join us for a discussion of the Holy Spirit’s power:

Charles Ryrie taught for 26 years at Dallas Theological Seminary and developed the popular Ryrie Study Bible.

James I. Packer teaches theology at Regent College and is a senior editor of CHRISTIANITY TODAY.

Stuart Briscoe, pastor of the Elmbrook Church in Waukesha, Wisconsin, is the author of several books, including Everyday Discipleship for Ordinary People.

Timothy Warner teaches missiology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and has served as a missionary to Africa.

Russell P. Spittler teaches New Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary, where he directs the David du Plessis Center for Christian Spirituality.

John Wimber pastors the Vineyard Christian Fellowship in Anaheim, California, and has coauthored (with Kevin Springer) Power Evangelism and Power Healing.

Kenneth S. Kantzer is the dean of the Christianity Today Institute and serves as chancellor at Trinity College.

We also asked Timothy Smith, professor of history at Johns Hopkins University, to trace some of the ways our forebears thought about the Holy Spirit.

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