It has taken me a long time to begin to understand the Holy Spirit. At one time I misinterpreted the Holy Spirit as a feeling. It can be a feeling, but that’s not all it is, and there are times when the Holy Spirit doesn’t move in expected ways, or ways we feel. So if it isn’t a feeling, what is it?
Here’s some of what we know about the Holy Spirit. In John’s gospel, chapter 14, Jesus introduces us the Holy Spirit by explaining it to the first believers:
“I will ask the Father, and he will send another Companion, who will be with you forever. This companion is the Spirit of Truth whom the world can’t receive because it neither sees him nor recognizes him. You know him, because he lives with you and will be with you… The Companion, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and will remind you of everything I have told you.” – John 14:15-17, 25-26 CEB
What do we know about the Holy Spirit from this verse?
- The Holy Spirit, or the Companion, is from God, in the name of Jesus.
- The Holy Spirit doesn’t go away – it is present forever.
- The Holy Spirit is for people that are disciples of Christ. It isn’t a “club perk,” but in the way of a relationship, a gift of faith and knowing.
The Holy Spirit is often characterized as a comforter, advocate and a Spirit of guidance, partly because of particular translations past. I really like the CEB’s word here, Companion, because it hints at the deeper relationship, which is more than comforter, advocate or guidance counselor. It is all of those things, and it is life long, a companion for good times and bad.
Here’s some things I’ve learned about the relationship we have as disciples with the Holy Spirit.
“The Companion… will teach you everything…”
The last one of these statements from Jesus is quite remarkable. It may be a scary statement for those fearful of anti-intellectualism. I don’t believe it means we are to shut down our minds, but I do believe that there’s a difference between knowledge and wisdom. Knowledge puffs up. Jesus’ words tell us that the Holy Spirit is the source of wisdom, which is knowledge in light of the kingdom. More than just the kind of knowledge we get from general study, Holy Spirit-infused knowledge is truly Wisdom. Wisdom is knowledge mixed with humility, which is a state of mind that is not thinking less of ourselves, but thinking of ourselves less. It is knowledge filtered by an awareness of our own brokenness and limitations, confident in faith and flavored with the mind of Christ.
The Holy Spirit guides us in all truth
Another place we hear about the nature of the Holy Spirit is in John chapter 16. A little later on in Jesus’ final teaching session with the disciples, we have this:
“I have much more to say to you, but you can’t handle it now. However, when the Spirit of Truth comes, he will guide you in all truth. He won’t speak on his own, but will say whatever he hears, and proclaim to you what is to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and proclaim it to you. Everything that the father has is mine. That’s why I said the Spirit takes what is min and will proclaim it to you.” – John 16:12-15
When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you in all truth. God is truth. All truth. All love. Every good and perfect thing. God exists apart from us – wholly Other. Yet as disciples of Christ, through the Holy Spirit, we have access to this holy, and wholly Other, God.
Do you realize how amazing that is? It is the answer to every issue, every problem on our heart. In the Holy Spirit, there is all truth.
The Holy Spirit transforms us, if we allow.
I’ve been going through a big life transition. I am changing jobs and states; I’ve been away from my wife and kids for 5 months. That may sound like a party, but it’s not. Seems like at age 40, I am hitting a very big reset button. Have you ever had a time in your life that is unsettled and raises a lot of questions? Saturday night before last, I got some bad news. The news goes up and down, as you may know in these types of situations. I went to bed that night bummed out and kinda angry at God. I said to God, “What the heck am I supposed to do? Tell me. I am sick of waiting.” No lightning bolt appeared.
The next day, Sunday, I woke up with a verse on my mind. That doesn’t normally happen. But that day, it did, and here was the verse: “Seek ye first.” Here’s the CEB version:
Desire first and foremost God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well.
That’s good. But what was in my mind was, seek first.
So I prayed for that, then I got ready for church. At church, I heard Romans 12:1-2. Let’s listen to this passage from Paul to the church in Rome:
So, brothers and sisters, because of God’s mercies, I encourage you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice that is holy and pleasing to God. This is your appropriate priestly service. Don’t be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds so that you can figure out what God’s will is—what is good and pleasing and mature. – Romans 12:1-2
One thing I love about this text is that it hints at the work of the Holy Spirit. Notice how the verbs are passive:
Be conformed…. Be transformed…
That implies a certain inability to control. Being conformed is what happens to us, not just by choosing the ways of the world, but by not choosing the way of God. Control is an illusion. The only choice we make is whether we allow the world to shape us, or the Holy Spirit.
God gave me these two verses – seek God first, and let the Holy Spirit transform my mind – and led me to a conclusion, a single word, a word that may be surprising: Useful.
The Holy Spirit makes faith useful, in the classic inside-out way of Jesus. This is the unseen power of Jesus. When we seek God, rather than seeking answers for our problems, then what we get God, and in relationship with God, we find answers. When we help others, rather than worry about our own problems, then what we get is help.
There’s a reason for that. It may seem mystical and magical, and maybe it is, but it’s also because when we seek God, our mind is renewed by the work of the Holy Spirit, and in that renewed mind, we find clarity for the problems and issues of our lives, and help for the lives of others. The Holy Spirit reveals Truth, and by truth I mean both the relatively little answers of our situations, and the big answer, the personification of Truth.
The Holy Spirit works through people.
The last thing, and this comes from my reading last week of Adam Hamilton’s Why? The answers that are revealed come not through magic, for the most part, but through people. There’s occasionally something spooky that happens, and that stuff doesn’t freak me out anymore, but for the most part the Holy Spirit is a highly practical spirit. A companion. A helpmate.
Our main job is to keep watch. So one thing I have been doing, on weekends when I stay here in Tennessee rather than go back to Texas, is that I don’t sit at home and wait to get zapped. I don’t watch a lot of tv and gripe at God. I get out and interact with people. I wait and watch.
Seek God, and let the Holy Spirit’s power blow in your life and in your community.