This week’s readings lead us into a focus we will have over the next 3 weeks on the person and work of the Holy Spirit, the 3rd person of the Trinity. It’s perhaps not an overstatement to say that the Holy Spirit is a “missing person” for many of us. If you’re new to Christian faith or still exploring, the Holy Spirit is a strange name to start with, and perhaps gives no indication of who He even is or why it matters.
But even for those who have been following Jesus for some time, or who grew up in a Christian faith tradition, there are issues with the Holy Spirit. For some, the Trinity we were taught to believe in was Father, Son and Holy Bible. We were told that the foundation of our faith is a book – the Bible – and that we trust in the Bible, follow the Bible and live our life based on the Bible. But that’s not what Jesus said to do. He said that the Holy Spirit would lead us, show us how to live. Later New Testament writers would say things like “keep in step with the Spirit”.
Others of us came from traditions where the Holy Spirit was like a “force” that we feel, the mysterious “holy ghost” that works its power in and around us.
But the passage we looked at this past Sunday (ICYMI) gives many helpful descriptors – from the mouth of Jesus himself – of who the Holy Spirit is, how he works and how he is truly God, our helper.
Day 1 – Spirit of Truth
Read: John 16:13-15
(try reading both the NIV, NLT and Message versions)
Jesus promised his friends, his disciples, the church, that the Holy Spirit would be the one to lead us into all truth. But what does that mean? What is truth? We live in a post-modern world that some philosophers have defined as a “post-truth” culture; where there is no such thing as absolute truth. Sayings like “live your truth” or “be true to yourself” define truth as something that each person discovers and defines for themselves, that is different for each person, and definitely cannot be imposed on others or determined from the outside (from someone or something else). But the Biblical idea of Truth simply doesn’t allow for that meaning given that the word actually means “reality”. To put it bluntly, if you stand in the middle of the road, reality says the truck will hit you, no matter what you “believe” about it or what “Truck” or “pavement” or “hospital” mean to you personally. Reality is simply the way things actually are.
By that definition, we all want the Holy Spirit to do His thing in us; we all want to see things the way they really are (“deluded” or “blind” are not words anyone would consider as positive descriptions of themselves or others). So how does the Holy Spirit help us see reality?
There’s a clue in this passage. Jesus says the Holy Spirit will “take from me and deliver it to you” (MSG version). In other words, the Holy Spirit helps us understand the words and the ways of Jesus. Earlier in this conversation Jesus had called himself “the truth” (John 14:6). The Spirit ultimately helps turn the lights on for us so we can “See” Jesus better, and understand his words better. Jesus also says in this passage that the Holy Spirit will help them “make sense” of the world around them – reality. On Sunday I mentioned that the Holy Spirit does this by being an “inner witness”, or “inside preacher”. He speaks to our hearts and minds directly. He helps our minds understand. And he helps our hearts to actually BELIEVE and LIVE what our minds UNDERSTAND.
So let’s ask for his help.
Think about a situation, circumstance or relationship that you find confusing, difficult or heavy right now.
- What about this is particularly confusing (things you can’t see or understand)?
- What about this is difficult or heavy (taking an emotional toll, causing anxiety or worry)?
Take time to slowly pray the following, waiting and listening for any response:
- Holy Spirit, what am I not seeing or understanding about myself in this situation? Help me see.
- Holy Spirit, what am I not seeing or understanding about the other person in this situation? Help me see.
- Holy Spirit, what am I not seeing or understanding about Jesus in this situation? Help me see.
Close your time asking for the Spirit to continue to show you what’s really going on with you and around you, and where God is at work in this.
Day 2 – Conviction
Read: John 16:4-11
My father once said – either in a sermon or one of those teachable moments of childhood…(just pause here parents to consider that the things you say which you’re sure your kids are not listening to, might actually be entering their consciousness. Stunning!!)
Okay, back to what my father said. The Spirit does not work by bringing waves of vague guilt into our lives. All that produces is defeat, despair and paralysis. That’s not how the Spirit works to help us grow. Instead, he brings Conviction. Something specific, putting his finger on what needs to grow, change, be corrected, understood or dealt with in our lives.
Jesus, in describing what the Helper would do, tells his disciples this very thing: “he will convict the world of its sin” (John 16:8, NLT).
We actually see this very thing happen when the Holy Spirit came to a group of Jesus followers for the first time, in Acts 2. You can read it if you want, but in short, Peter is telling a group of people that they have done something terrible by actively (or by their silence) participating in the killing of Jesus, the one who was both “Lord & Messiah”. Instead of them arguing with him, defending themselves or trying to kill him, it says “they were cut to the heart”.
They suddenly realized what they had done was sin, and they needed forgiveness and change.
That’s the work of the Spirit, not the work of a clever orator (we know this because other times in the book of Acts, powerful preaching is met with hostility and death).
The beautiful thing about the conviction, by the Holy Spirit, is that it does not lead to shame, paralysis or despair; it leads to repentance, change, and new life. It’s just another way that the Holy Spirit proves himself to be a true friend.
So, let’s bravely go there today.
- Ask the Holy Spirit if there is any sin in your life that He wants you to repent of, so he can bring cleansing and new life to you in that area? (note: don’t struggle to think or search; trust the Holy Spirit to put his finger on one thing, one relationship or one situation).
- If something comes to mind, ask for forgiveness and ask the Spirit for the power to make this right (talk to someone, ask for help, etc). If nothing comes to mind, ask the Spirit to keep you open to his work of conviction throughout the day.
- Think about someone in your life who’s choices, decisions or patterns of behavior are sinful or destructive (to them and others). Instead of judging them or being angry or worried, simply ask the Holy Spirit to convict them of their sin. Ask Him to lead the into truth, repentance, healing and new life.
Day 3 – Spirit of Wisdom
Read Acts 15:1-14, 19-29
We have been reflecting on how the Holy Spirit helps us to grow. One of the very beautiful and practical ways this happens is through the gift of Wisdom, which the Spirit shares with us. The biblical idea of wisdom is not about intellect but more about “goodness”; i.e. someone who makes a wise decision isn’t just doing something that makes sense but something that results in goodness, ultimately something that represents the mind and heart of God.
This passage in Acts describes a very complex but important situation that the early church was facing, one which needed wisdom. It was a decision about whether the church was going to expect new Gentile (“non jewish”) believers to, in addition to believing and following Jesus, follow the three main aspects of Old Testament Jewish law (Circumcision, Food laws, holy days). This decision would set the tone for what it meant for anyone to follow Jesus from here on in. Thankfully, they made a wise decision. But you’ll note how they came to such a good decision: “it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us” (v.28). This is a beautiful description of how the Holy Spirit worked through their circumstance, their discussion and debate, and through a few key leaders, to guide their decision. It’s not the like the Holy Spirit came and possessed each person’s mind so that they started talking in slow robotic tones, word by word saying what was on God’s heart. The work of the Spirit isn’t one of possession but divine infection. The Spirit influenced them in the direction of what was good and wise.
So let’s ground this in our own lives, and in the truth that the Holy Spirit is God’s source of wisdom for each of us, in the daily decisions we have to make.
Think about a decision you need to make – it might be regarding a relationship, a purchase or financial investment, a school or work decision, or any choice to need to make.
- Pray a short prayer asking for the Holy Spirit to give you wisdom
- Ask the Spirit which other believer(s) you need to listen to for input – either someone who has already given you input, or someone you need to ask for input (NOTE: The Holy Spirit worked through the believers together as they dialogued and listened to one another)
- Ask the Spirit to help you understand which option, or how this decision, will bring glory to God, blessing to others, and joy to your heart.
- Spend 3 minutes in silence, asking the Spirit to say anything else to you that you need to understand about this decision
- If applicable, make a commitment about who you will seek for input and by when, or whether you will wait until a certain date to make the decision, to give the Spirit more time to speak to you
Day 4 – The love of “God”
Read Romans 5:1-5
As we said in this last week’s teaching, when it comes to God the Holy Spirit, there is often confusion, mystery or a great deal of ignorance (as in many of our Christian traditions have simply ignored the person and work of the Holy Spirit). One of the most beautiful and profound descriptions of the Spirit, however, is that He is the Love that flows from God. John Piper, in a blog on desiringgod.org puts it like this:
“…the Holy Spirit is the eternal love that flows between the Father and the Son as they delight in each other.
How can this love be a person in his own right? Words fail. But can we not say that the love between the Father and the Son is so perfect, so constant, and carries so completely all that they are in themselves that this love stands forth itself as a person in its own right?
C.S. Lewis tries to get this into a conceivable analogy:
You know that among human beings, when they get together in a family, or a club or a trades union, people talk about the “spirit” of that family, club or trades union. They talk about its spirit because the individual members, when they’re together, do really develop particular ways of talking and behaving which they wouldn’t have if they were apart. It is as if a sort of communal personality came into existence. Of course it isn’t a real person: it is only rather like a person. But that’s just one of the differences between God and us. What grows out of the joint life of the Father and Son is a real Person, is in fact the Third of the three Persons who are God. (Beyond Personality, New York: Macmillan Co., 1948, pp. 21f.)”
The passage we read in Romans takes this truth to an even more powerful reality in that this love, which is shared between Father and Son, is poured into our hearts because we have received the Holy Spirit into our hearts.
But this isn’t just a feel-good, warm and fuzzy kind of truth. This particular passage mentions the love of God poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit as THE reason we can endure hard times, not just getting through something hard but becoming someone new (see our “Resilience” teaching series from a few months back).
The love of God, which the Holy Spirit “preaches to our hearts” helps us to remember that God has not abandoned us during hard times, that hard times are not because he doesn’t love us, and that the hard times are actually producing something beautiful. Said another way, we can TRUST God because we know he LOVES us. The Holy Spirit continues to remind us of that, and allows us to experience that, from the inside out.
Think about something hard or painful that you went through in the past. As you look back, what are some of the ways God showed you his love through that experience or season? Spend a moment thanking Him for anything that comes to mind.
Now take a moment to pray for a friend or family member that is going through a painful/difficult season or circumstance. Pray verses 3-5 above for them. That somehow, through the power of the Holy Spirit, they would grasp the love of God for them, they would find hope to persevere, and even one day look back on this experience realizing God’s love and power and presence in a whole new way.
Day 5 – Power
Read Acts 4:1-14
This passage shows the incredible power – the power of God – given to “unschooled, ordinary men” (v 13) to do two things:
- Heal with power
- Speak with boldness
In the story of healing that precedes this chapter, Peter and John are asked by a lame man for money. They respond by saying that they don’t have money, but they will give the man what they do have – and they heal him in the power of Jesus name.
What did they have? They had the power of Jesus, their healer, through the Holy Spirit.
Later on, in this chapter, this same Holy Spirit in a sense “speaks” through them with power and boldness in the presence of the same people who crucified Jesus and were now threatening them.
Think about that for a moment. A few months earlier, this same Peter was too afraid to even be seen with Jesus by these same religious leaders. Now he’s standing in front of them, calling them out for killing Jesus, and refusing to stop talking about the death and resurrection of Jesus. What changed??
He learned some stuff? Figured out how to write a good sermon? Had a stern talking to from Jesus about being a better friend next time?
He had the power of the Holy Spirit in Him.
The same power that enabled Christ to stand before these same religious leaders, as they sentenced him to die. The same power that raised their dead Christ to life, 3 days later.
My dear friends, we need that power.
The power to bring healing to hearts, minds and bodies, in the name of Jesus and for the glory of Jesus (NOTE: most of the healing miracles in the book of Acts were for the purpose of bringing glory to Jesus, and convincing unbelievers to follow – do we pray for healing for those purposes?).
We need the power to courageously point others to Jesus, give credit to Jesus for the work He has done in our lives, to stand up, in Jesus name, to the injustice which others are perpetuating.
Think about a friend, family member or colleague who needs healing – in mind, body or soul. Pray for their healing, and pray that this healing would point them to Jesus, either for the first time or simply more.
Pray for boldness for yourself, to be able to simply tell others what Jesus has done for you. Pray for the Spirit to give you the words to say and the courage to follow through.
Close your time with 2 minutes of silence, resting in the knowledge that you don’t need to fear any earthly power, because of the power of Christ.