A pastor teaching a communicant’s class asked the children to describe the Trinity. One boy gave this response:
“Father—an old man with a white beard. Sits on a big, golden chair.
“Son—a younger man with a brown beard. Likes to play with sheep.
“God the Holy Ghost—a white sheet.”
Unfortunately, that remains the depth of many adults’ understanding of the Holy Spirit. For centuries, the church has talked little about Him. In the Apostles’ Creed, there is just one line on the Holy Spirit. But He is just as important as the Father and Son. He is the person of God that is inside of us.
In the book of Acts, the disciples were ready to go out into the world, but Jesus said wait. Don’t go without the Spirit. He was there, but they weren’t aware of Him. They thought it was just Jesus alone. They did not understand that Jesus had done miracles by the power of the Holy Spirit.
“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.” There are two words for power in Greek. One--exousia--means “authority.” It is the power of the courts or the power of the law to order an action or to forbid it. But (as every parent knows) the power to order or forbid is not enough. You have to be able to enforce it.
The word used here is dynamis, as in “dynamic”, “dynamo,” and “dynamite.” It is actual power to make things happen. We may make rules and pass laws, but we need dynamite to make them happen.
We don’t have that dynamite, but God does in the power of the Holy Spirit. He runs us, we don’t run Him. He is not some superpower we control—we are under His control. This is one of the unique claims of Christianity among world religions. God not only gives us laws to obey and tasks to do, but then He gives us the power through His indwelling Spirit to accomplish what He commands.
Before Pentecost, the entire church was a hundred and twenty people huddled together in an upper room, hiding from the people who had just crucified their leader. After Pentecost, they were so bold and powerful that they made three thousand converts in a single day. Before Pentecost, they were scared rabbits. After Pentecost, they were lions. Before the coming of the Spirit, they could not even stand up to the ridicule of ordinary people. After Pentecost, they could stand before kings with confidence. Everything changed with the coming of the Holy Spirit. There were no professional speakers among them--just fishermen, tax collectors, ex-prostitutes, slaves, and even terrorists. Even so, when the Holy Spirit came upon them they shook the foundations of the world.
Christians today often feel defeated in our personal lives. We want victory over sin, freedom from addictions, depression, guilt and despair, but we don’t get it. Many doubt they will amount to anything, because we fail to understand that it is not “our” witness that counts. It’s the Holy Spirit working through us that really makes the difference.
Jesus said the disciples should stay in until they are baptized—that is, engulfed--by the Holy Spirit. Imagine standing on the beach when a tidal wave hits you. That’s what the Spirit does. When He comes, He engulfs you in His power.
Lately, I have been talking a lot about how God wants us to imitate Jesus in everything. This seems impossible, and so it is, unless the power of the Holy Spirit makes it possible. You can’t form yourself into Christ’s image, but the Spirit can. We just cooperate with the process. The Spirit does the work.
In Joel 2: 28 God says, “I will pour out My Spirit upon all flesh.” He didn’t say that God will pour out His Spirit on priests, scribes, prophets, or professional churchmen. He pours out His spirit on housewives, truck drivers, accountants, secretaries, children of anyone else who is willing to jump in front of the wave. He gives power to preach and witness, to love our enemies, and forgive those who hurt us, persevere in the face of temptation and overcome our shyness. He doesn’t just change the world--He changes you.
How are we engulfed in the Holy Spirit? Before we answer, let’s get rid of an old and incorrect notion. That notion is this--you have to feel the Spirit for Him to fill you. There is no place in the Bible that says that we have to necessarily feel the Holy Spirit filling us. The Holy Spirit is inside of all Christians at all times, yet they don’t always feel Him.
Think about it like riding on an airplane. When the plane is in the air, you don’t feel the motion, yet you are flying hundreds of miles an hour whether you feel it or not. The issue isn’t whether we feel the Spirit, but whether we are on board. Christians don’t experience the Spirit not because they aren’t “feeling” it, but because they are afraid to get on the plane.
So how do we receive the Holy Spirit? We can’t rush Him. He comes in his own way and time. Meanwhile, there are some things we can do to prepare. They are the same things the disciples did between the ascension and Pentecost.
First, we submit to Him. Shut up and sit down. Be still. Jesus calls this “waiting.” Waiting on the Lord is more than just sitting back. It is realizing who is in control, and waiting for orders. The biggest reason we fail to obtain the power of the Holy Spirit is because we are too anxious that we are not doing enough, when in reality we are already doing too much.
We have this idea that we should be doing “something.” But what we do doesn’t matter, unless the Holy Spirit is already working through us. The Bible says, “Be still, and know that I am God.” When we are busy with our own plans, we lose our focus, and make a god out of our own activities. Our impatient, fleshly approach to the work of God constantly calls us to say, “But we have to be doing something.” But this isn’t guidance, its panic. Our relationship to God must begin in stillness and silence.
Think about what lifeguards are taught. They are told to be careful approaching a drowning person, because they are usually panicked and reaching out in every direction for something to hold onto. In this state they are dangerous to themselves and anyone near them. They must wait until they stop thrashing around, until their energy is exhausted. Only then can he get close enough to save them.
The same is true of the Spirit. A person who is overly desperate, who thinks that he must do anything and everything next isn’t being still. A person who is screaming can’t also be listening. Only when we learn to sit in stillness, waiting before the Lord, can we be led by Him. Sit still so He can move us. Don’t do anything, don’t even make plans to do anything, until you have mastered the art of holy listening.
Second, we seek the Holy Spirit. While we sit still, we pray. After Jesus left, the first thing the disciples did was to go into the upper room and pray for the Spirit. They asked for the Spirit, and they got Him. We don’t get the Spirit by reading another book, going to another revival, or watching a television program. We don’t get Him by good intentions. We must ask until we receive. Luke 11:13 says, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Before you pray for your loved ones, your church, the world, or anything else, ask for the Holy Spirit. Let Him lead you, and He will. If you have the Holy Spirit, you will be able to ask for all the rest with greater effectiveness. Paul says that we don’t even know how we should pray, but that the Holy Spirit will pray through us. That’s more effective than our prayers.
Third, we release the past. Releasing the past means we release our sins, our hurts, and our ideas. Think of the Spirit as a wave, and ourselves as a boat. The past is like an anchor that keeps us in place. The wave may rock us, but unless we release the anchor it will not move us.
Releasing our old sins is really the same as forsaking our false gods. Addictions are basically idols. We form habits of conformity to some behavior or substance, as a way of coping with problems. For a drug addict, every needle is a prayer to a false god, pleading for temporary relief from their loneliness. Repentance is recognizing that God is the one who can solve our problems, and seeking to look to Him, instead of our abilities, or someone else. We turn from our old gods and turn to the real One.
Releasing our old hurts means forgiving those who have hurt us. Forgiveness is a conscious decision not to seek retribution or to allow their hurts to govern our actions. It isn’t feeling—it’s a choice to let go.
Releasing old ideas means being willing to change our traditions and approaches. We learn a lot from tradition, but when our old ways of thinking become more important than the move of the Spirit, we become prisoners of the past. Someone once remarked that the last seven words of the church are, “We never did it this way before.” That’s the last seven words of our spiritual growth too. Jesus said we can’t put new wine in old wineskins. When the Spirit comes, He creates new paths. Traditions are helpful and constructive, unless we treat them as an idol, then they keep us from following the Spirit.
Fourth, we rely on the Spirit to move. Think of our lives as a ship. But we aren’t a rowboat, we are a sailing ship, and the Spirit is the wind. The Spirit is what pushes us where we need to go. When we ignore the Spirit, we are rowing when we need to sail. Again, think of the Christian life as surfing. The surfer swims against the tide to get out where the waves are, but then power of the wave carries him home. We must put effort into submission, seeking, and releasing, but then we must seize the wave of the Spirit when we see it. At first, this seems strange. But in time, we increasingly become aware that the Spirit is leading us. Sometimes, His leading comes with a bang, and sometimes with a whisper. But the Spirit comes and God’s power moves.
Don’t seek emotional fulfillment. Don’t seek results. Don’t seek great insights into how things happen. All these things will come to us if we just seek the Holy Spirit. The Spirit will lead us into all things if we get still, seek Him, release our past and rely on His power.