Not everyone likes self-service. Some find it helpful to be served.

Self-service checkouts are the thing now, aren’t they? So when you go to pay, you deal with a machine, rather than a person. You find them these days not just in supermarkets but in all sorts of places, like B&Q. Before Christmas Sam and I were in B&Q and paying at one of these self-service checkouts. Something wasn’t right and so Sam reached into the bag to lift out one particular item that she’d scanned. As she did so the machine shouted at us: ‘put it back!!!’ We both jumped and Sam quickly placed the item back in the bag to appease the angry machine. It was both scary and amusing at the same time!

Not all self-service is like that, fortunately! And if you think about it we’ve actually had non-talking self-service in various areas of retail for some time. So at petrol stations, self-service has been the norm for a number of years and now at many outlets you can finalise the transaction and pay at the pump too. But when I was a boy, there was no self-service. You’d pull up in your car to a petrol station and instead of serving yourself, out would come the petrol pump attendant. The petrol pump attendant would come out with a smile and ask how they could help. There was no spilling of petrol on your hand. No choosing of the wrong kind of petrol (although back then there was little choice, only 4 Star, with an option for Diesel). Where have they gone, these petrol pump attendants? We discovered they still have them on the island of Jersey, but they certainly are rare these days!

I had a dream earlier in the week. And in this dream I was a petrol pump attendant. My job was to help people get filled up for the journey. When I awoke I asked the Lord for an interpretation. And I think it’s simple and straightforward. The life of discipleship is a journey. And we need fuel for the journey. And one of my roles is to fill people up. To help them receive fuel for the journey. But that’s not just for me. I think it’s actually pretty basic for all disciples. We’re here to help people be filled – not with petrol. But with the Spirit of God.

One way that happens is through prayer and especially through the laying on of hands.

The writer of Hebrews in chapter 6 has a small section where he talks about ‘elementary teachings’, one of which is ‘laying on of hands’. So the bible says that laying hands on people is ‘elementary’ – pretty basic to discipleship. So what is this ‘laying on of hands’? What’s it for? Because the Hebrew writer doesn’t expand, we have to draw our conclusions from the breadth of Scripture. As we do that, at least four things stand out.

Laying on of hands is about:
1. blessing people. This was the kind of thing that the Old Testament patriarchs did, such as Jacob in Genesis 28. Hands were placed on someone and words of blessing spoken over them in God’s name. We do that sometimes at The Belfrey. In fact some of us did that just last week at the first meeting over lunch of the York New Wine Leaders. We prayed for each other and spoke words of affirmation over each other as we laid on hands.

2. commissioning people. This is an extension of blessing people and there’s a good example in Acts 13:3, where members of the Antioch church lay hands on Paul and Barnabas are send them out on mission. We did something very similar at our 9am Congregation last Sunday as we laid hands on Kara Krikorian and sent her off to the USA.

3. releasing gifts in people. We read of this in places like 1 Timothy 4:14 as Paul tells Timothy to ‘not neglect your gift, which was given you through prophecy when the body of elders laid their hands on you’. Gifts of the Spirit can often be released in people through the laying on of hands. I suspect we don’t do that enough at The Belfrey, and it’s something we need to see happening more.

4. healing people. Jesus often healed this way and there are multiple examples in the bible (eg. Mark 8:25 where Jesus heals a blind man in Bethesda as he places hands on his eyes). We see this happen on a fairly regular basis at The Belfrey. So I placed my hand on one of my son’s painful ears last weekend, and spoke healing to the condition and after two prayers the pain had gone.

All this shows us that in the bible ‘laying on hands‘ took place for a number of purposes. What seems to link them all is the Holy Spirit. Because in every case there’s some kind of filling, blessing, anointing, imparting and passing on of God’s Spirit. It’s about being a channel through which the Spirit flows, so people get filled.

As we serve God and others, we should always be open to him using us to help people be filled with the Spirit. You don’t have to lay on hands for that. You can do that all the time. Any time. In all sorts of ways. However, something happens when you lay on hands. The dynamics change. Not only are you closer in proximity than normal to someone, there’s also a greater physical intimacy through touch. Of course we must take care with this. Obviously we mustn’t lay hands on inappropriate body parts! We also need to be aware that the bible says we should ‘not be hasty in the laying on of hands’ (1 Timothy 5:22) – although most scholars think that’s a more specific reference about not rushing to commission leaders (as the context is to do with elders). But given these considerations, we should be open to God using us in this way, as there seems to be a greater capacity (and expectancy?) for the Spirit present and in us, to flow when we lay on hands.

The Spirit often brings revelation as we lay in hands. I find this. Whilst sometimes God gives me words and pictures for people without me laying on hands, I get a lot more when do. On occasions I see things about them. Their joys or concerns. Sometimes I see them as God sees them. When sharing such things you have to be careful that you’re not just making things up, or projecting things you already know. So you must test your own motives too. But nevertheless I encourage people, as they lay on hands, to ask the Lord, ‘how should I pray?’ When I do this he often says to me, ‘what do you see?’ And then I take it from there. This often occurs as we lay on hands.

So the simple purpose of laying on hands is to be a channel for the Holy Spirit. Why? Because human beings need fuel for the journey. It’s a bit like being a petrol pump attendant.