A Light+Life Podcast

With guest Ivan Filby

Hosted by Brett Heintzman

Jeff Finley

Jeff Finley

Light + Life Executive Editor

Jeff Finley is this magazine’s executive editor. He joined the Light+Life team in 2011 after a dozen years of reporting and editing for Sun-Times Media. He is a member of John Wesley Free Methodist Church where his wife, Jen, serves as the lead pastor.

by Jeff Finley

As thousands of Christians gathered in September at a Tennessee megachurch or watched the New Room Conference online, Free Methodist participants heard from one of their own who’s well-known on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. The enthusiasm quickly spread to social media as people celebrated that New Room featured Ivan Filby as the author of the new book “Livestream: Learning to Minister in the Power of the Holy Spirit.”

A conference isn’t the only way to hear Filby discuss his insights about listening to the Holy Spirit and God’s continuing work through miracles. Weeks before New Room, a new episode of “The Light + Life Podcast” captured a compelling conversation between Light + Life’s Brett Heintzman and Filby, who served Greenville University in Illinois as president from 2013 to 2020 and as management department chair and professor from 2005 to 2012. Filby, a native of England, now lives in Northern Ireland and serves at the Free Methodist Church UK’s Towerview Church where his wife, Kathie, was installed in January as the pastor.

Filby has taught about the Holy Spirit on five continents, and he hopes to help more people operate in the Spirit’s power through his book that was released in September by Seedbed.

Gifts of the Spirit

“What I’m just really trying to say in the book ‘Livestream’ is gifts of the Holy Spirit are not for the super spiritual,” said Filby, who added that gifts are not like ranks in the military. “It’s got nothing even to do with your Christian maturity. They’re gifts. It’s like when you give a gift to your kid, it’s not because they’ve been good or bad, or got A’s or F’s. It’s because you love them. That’s the only condition.”

“Livestream” features stories of the Holy Spirit working in people’s lives.

“All of the stories are true. I know. I was at nearly all of them,” said Filby, who noted that the book interweaves the stories “with teaching to demystify the gifts of the Holy Spirit.”

Although pastors will benefit from the book, Filby said he wants “to reach the other 99% of the people who often think, ‘I’m not a professional Christian. I’m just the ordinary pew seeker.’ … It’s a book written for the 99 percent to say, ‘You’re included. This is how you can start. Come and have some fun, and see the bigness of God.’”

While writing the book during a sabbatical at the end of his time as Greenville’s president, Filby read a Seedbed Daily Text devotional by J.D. Walt.

“In that Daily Text, J.D. differentiated between what he called ‘downloads from the Spirit’ and ‘livestreams from the Spirit,’ and I thought, ‘Oh, I love this,’” said Filby, who explained that both types of direction from the Holy Spirit are important, and downloads include sermons and experiences where we are expecting a message from the Spirit. “Whereas, a livestream is spontaneous. It’s unexpected. It’s just the Holy Spirit saying, ‘Hey, come on. I’ve got something for you. Join me in ministry.’ … Imagine the most holy God inviting us to join Him on stuff He wants to do. It’s His agenda.”

Walt didn’t mind Filby borrowing the word livestream and using it for the book’s title. In fact, Walt wrote the book’s foreword. Along with the intended meaning, Filby likes the title for another reason.

“With COVID, so many people are googling livestream, and I thought, ‘Some people might find this book who have no expectation of finding a book on the Holy Spirit,’” said Filby, who added that the book is accessible. “It’s an easy read. I’ve written it for anyone above 14. While I’m an academic, you would never know I’m an academic by reading it.”

Filby has a doctorate and multiple master’s degrees, but he wants to connect with people of all backgrounds and help them listen to the Holy Spirit and serve in His power.

“I don’t think it’s so much tuning in. I think it’s often we’ve tuned out. I honestly think for so many people, the Holy Spirit is already speaking to them, but He’s not speaking in a way that they’re used to hearing. We want God to come next to us and say, ‘hey,’ and talk like you and I are talking,” said Filby, who provided a biblical example from 1 Samuel 3. “Even when he called Samuel, it sounded so ordinary Samuel thought it was Eli speaking.”

Filby said another person introduced the idea to him that when a thought comes to us while praying, we may assume it is “a stupid, crazy thought, but some of those stupid, crazy thoughts are these invitations from the Holy Spirit where He is wanting to do something for the good of others, to encourage you, and for God’s glory. And if you start to test those, you’re going to start to become more accurate in hearing which of those really are from the Holy Spirit and which are not.”

Filby emphasized the “Learning to Minister” portion of the book’s title because “really we’re all learners.” He said we expect preachers to be trained and hone their craft while listening to feedback from others, and the same principle applies to spiritual gifts: “We can develop them as the Lord leads, and we get better at them by practicing and finding safe places to do that.”

According to Filby, the Lord speaks in multiple ways. When sharing what he has received from the Holy Spirit, Filby said he doesn’t “like the approach of ‘God told me to say.’ I think that can so often be used for manipulation and control. It’s very difficult for the person to say, ‘Actually, I don’t think so.’ We have to give people permission and grace to say, ‘Nah, that doesn’t mean anything to me at the moment.’”

People may not accurately discern when God is speaking, but we should still listen for the Holy Spirit. Filby said, “I get it wrong, but I’m learning to get it right more and more, because I just keep trying.”

Sometimes God speaks through a voice inside a person’s head. Filby explained, “Sometimes I’ll hear things. I’ll be praying, and I’ll just hear in my head. It’s not an audible voice. It’s almost like a thought goes through my head. Maybe it’s a condition that God wants me to pray for.”

He added that the Spirit’s message may be in “the softest voice” that we can miss or ignore if we’re not paying attention: “I learned to listen to the Holy Spirit in the shower, because that’s where I was just relaxed, and I was not uptight, and I was not thinking of anything else. I was just saying, ‘While I’m here, Holy Spirit, if you want to speak anything to me, help train me to hear.’”

The Spirit may speak through a person during prayer. Filby said, “I’m praying for someone, and I’ll find myself praying for things I had not thought about.”

Sometimes God causes a person to experience the pain of another person. Filby said, “I don’t feel it, but some people can feel other people’s pain. It’s almost like God says, ‘I want to heal someone with this pain, and I’m going to help you to describe it.’”

At other times, God may reveal something visually.

“I’ll look at someone, and I’ll just see a faint picture superimposed on their head,” he said.

Shortly after the fall of European communism, Filby ministered in a church plant in Latvia when he experienced a visual message. He recalled, “In the Spirit, I saw this picture of a banana on this woman’s head.” He sensed that God wanted him to talk to the woman.

“All I had was ‘I don’t know what this means, but God sees you like a banana.’ As soon as I had said ‘banana,’ the rest of it came out: ‘And today God is going to peel the heart skin away from your heart so you can know Him.’ The translator translated it; she burst into tears, and we led her to Jesus.”

Filby said he doesn’t know if a banana had special significance for the woman, but “something about that won her heart. … I don’t understand how that works, but I’ve learned to say, ‘Holy Spirit, yes.’”

Miracles and Mystery

Unlike cessationists who believe miracles ended when the apostles died, Filby believes that God still performs miracles. His book shares about miraculous healings although he notes that physical healing does not always happen.

“I’ve prayed for so many people who have not been healed, so I don’t have a gift of healing, but the Holy Spirit uses me sometimes,” he said. “He uses me sometimes as His channel — as His hands and feet to touch the people He’s already trying to work in.”

The Spirit does not always operate in consistent ways.

“I’m confronted with the mystery of God. I don’t know why God does it for one person and not another. I struggle with the mystery, but I worship in awe when I see what God does do,” Filby said. “The more we press into that, the more we listen to the Holy Spirit, we do see more. I’m seeing more now than I ever have before, and it’s reproducible.”

Click here to purchase “Livestream” from Seedbed in print or electronic formats.+


Jeff Finley

Jeff Finley

Light + Life Executive Editor

Jeff Finley is this magazine’s executive editor. He joined the Light+Life team in 2011 after a dozen years of reporting and editing for Sun-Times Media. He is a member of John Wesley Free Methodist Church where his wife, Jen, serves as the lead pastor.