Being slain in the Spirit is a term related to the Charismatic movement and Pentecostalism which describes a religious phenomenon in which a person enters a state with loss of all motor control over their body and falls to the floor during an event perceived as a personal encounter with God’s glory and power, usually associated with occasions of public prayer ministry when the laying on of hands is practised.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slain_in_the_Spirit)
In all my years of following Christ, it has happened to me twice. It has also happened to a number of folks I have prayed for. No, I didn’t push them or try to manufacture the experience in any way. I figured that if the Lord wants to do this, He can do it without any help from me. I must confess though that there was a time when ministering in churches that prized this phenomenon, I sometimes asked the Lord to “slay” a few to help establish my cred.
This phenomenon is not as controversial as it used to be but it is still seen in some quarters as a sign that the Spirit is present in exceptional power. I don’t agree. But I think the phenomenon itself is adiaphora — neither taught nor banned by Scripture.
John Stott reminds us that a human being is a “body-soul-in-a-community.” (Some would argue that there is a further division — the spirit.) What happens in one dimension of our humanity can affect the other aspects of our humanity. For example, I have found that when I am sick or tired (body), I am more vulnerable to temptation (soul/spirit). Therefore it is perfectly possible that when a person has a spiritual encounter with the Lord, his or her body could be affected as well. Therefore I have no problems if people “lose motor control of their body” when they are being prayed for.
However I do not see the present phenomenon of SITS as directly taught by Scripture. Some point to passages like Daniel 8:15-18.
While I, Daniel, was watching the vision and trying to understand it, there before me stood one who looked like a man. And I heard a man’s voice from the Ulai calling, “Gabriel, tell this man the meaning of the vision.” As he came near the place where I was standing, I was terrified and fell prostrate. “Son of man,” he said to me, “understand that the vision concerns the time of the end.” While he was speaking to me, I was in a deep sleep, with my face to the ground. Then he touched me and raised me to my feet. (TNIV)
I do not think Daniel had a typical modern SITS experience here, at least not of the “resting in the Lord” kind. Daniel was not resting peacefully in the Lord. He fell prostrate because he was terrified by his encounter with God and the angel Gabriel. And it would appear that Daniel had to be in a deep sleep as a prerequisite to receiving the special revelation that God wanted to give him. Similarly when Peter, James and John encountered the transfigured Jesus (Matthew 17:1-13), they fell to the ground terrified (v.6). They were not resting gently in the Lord. The scriptural accounts of people falling in their encounter with the Divine do not seem to be identical to much of the modern SITS phenomenon.
And the Bible definitely does not teach that the occurrence of the SITS phenomenon is a sign that the Spirit is present in extraordinary power. Indeed, as Elijah was taught, there are times when God shows up, not in dramatic phenomena, but in the “gentle whisper”(1 Kings 19:11-13). Of course we can’t tell the Lord what to do. He is free to do what He wants. He can show up by “slaying” a whole congregation if He wants to. What we cannot do is teach a doctrine where we directly equate the SITS phenomenon with an extraordinary appearance of the Lord. This is just plain unbiblical.
Therefore we also cannot judge the degree of a Christian leader’s unction by the number of people experiencing SITS under his or her ministry. The tests of a servant of God remain ethical, “by their fruit” (Matthew 7:15-20) and Scriptural (Acts 17:10-12). Indeed, sometimes the Lord is doing His most profound work when “nothing” seems to be happening, while meetings accompanied by exciting happenings may leave spiritual changes that are superficial and short lived. I can’t remember which charismatic leader it was that said that he didn’t care how many times a person fell when he or she was prayed for. He was more concerned as to what happened to them after they got up. In particular he was more concerned to see if they had progressed in their discipleship.
I can understand that in an increasingly lonely and secular world, many people hunger for the Lord (Psalm 42:1-2). We must help them not to confuse a hunger for the Lord, with a hunger for dramatic phenomena. Therefore we need to be wise in our analysis of the SITS phenomenon. As Luke 24:13-35 reminds us, the Lord walks with us whether we are aware of His presence or not, and that often, He comes to us through the community, through the Word, and through the Holy Communion.
I have good friends who serve as pastors in major charismatic churches. Once, a few wise ones offered to teach me how to help people be SITS when we pray for them. First, they said, we need to eat durian (a fruit popular in South East Asia which has an exquisite taste but an overpowering pungent odour). Next, when you pray for someone, breathe on them… Like I said, they are wise guys.