HOLY SPIRIT, OUR FAITHFUL GUIDE -John 16:5-15
There's a story from the old sailing ship days of a vessel en route to Rio de Janeiro, which lay becalmed for many days and started to run dangerously low on fresh drinking water. Then, one morning they sighted a steamer approaching and signalled their plight, but all they received was the reply: 'dip your buckets.'
They couldn’t believe that fellow seamen could be so callous. Until one sailor, crazed with thirst, did as they said and declared that the water was fresh. Then others did the same. The truth finally dawned on the captain when he fixed their position and realised they’d drifted into the mouth of the mighty Amazon where billions of gallons of fresh water were being pushed out into the Atlantic, forming a lake of water that was fit to drink.
Those seamen who were dying of thirst had literally been floating in a sea of life but were unaware of it.
This story for many is a parable of our spiritual lives. We proclaim that our faith in Christ brings us a life full of blessing. We quote Jesus’ words, "I have come that you might have life and have it more abundantly." We talk about "that joy that is unspeakable and full of glory." Yet the reality for us is often quite different.Life is not filled with spiritual joy, we find the church boring and we ask ourselves why?
For many people the Christian faith is all about believing the right things and not doing bad things. Yet, important though this is, most of us want something more. We don't just want to know about God, we want to experience God.
Well, today is Pentecost Sunday; the day when we celebrate that occasion, 50 days after Jesus rose from the dead, when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the first group of believers, transforming them into a people of power.
Pentecost was already a significant day for the Jews. It signified the giving of the Law to Moses and it was also a harvest festival; its great theme was thanksgiving. But on that day of Pentecost thanksgiving took on a new and greater meaning.
What happened was this: there were 120 disciples gathered together in a room when suddenly they heard, saw and felt the most astonishing things. First, there came a sound from heaven like a mighty rushing wind. Thenthey sawwhat looked like tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. Finally, they were all filled with the Holy Spiritand began to proclaim the wonders of God in various languages.
The effect was electrifying. Jerusalem was full of pilgrims from all over the Mediterranean world, there for the Feast of Pentecost. They witnessed these uneducated believers proclaiming the wonders of God in languages which they, the hearers spoke, but which the speakers could not have known.
This led to the Apostle Peter preaching history's first recorded Gospel sermon and 3000 people being converted.
But let me take a moment here to tell you what the Bible means when it talks about the Holy Spirit.In the Old Testamentthe Spirit was seen as themighty power of Godthat brought Creation into being and sometimescame upon the servants of God to empower them for certain tasks.
But for those first Christians the Holy Spirit wasthe power of God that had come into alltheir lives to empower them continuouslyfor everything God called them to do.
Gradually, as the New Testament books were written, their understanding developed to the point where the Holy Spirit was seen asmore than a mere force, but a person and a manifestation of God. This eventually led to the doctrine of the Holy Trinity which says that God, though one, exists in three persons or three forms called Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
I don’t want to get caught up in the complexities of that doctrine today; what I want to do is talk about the essential meaningof Pentecost – that the very life of God had come among them.
This remarkable event signified the birth of the Christian Church. It was a fulfilment of what Jesus had promised shortly before his death, that after he had left them the Holy Spirit would be given to themand would bring the very life and presence of God into their lives.
The Holy Spirit would be to them, and to all believers a comforter,a counsellor,a teacher, aguideand a source of divine powerin all their life for God.
A few years later, the Apostle Paul taught that Christians had been sealed with the Holy Spirit, marking them off as God's people. He taught that they should not grievethe Holy Spirit by attitudes and behaviour that were less than what they should be; and he urged them to "be filledwith the Holy Spirit."
On that Day of Pentecost, a new age was inaugurated in which God would henceforth relate in a new way to His people; no longer from outside of them, but now from within them. The Holy Spirit was given to be with them and in them always. And not only them, but also to all who would follow them.
For us, the tangible experience of this gift of the Spirit may not be as dramatic as it was to those first disciples, because they were present on the day when a new age was inaugurated. But the truth of the indwelling Spirit is meant to be as real to us.
That being so, it raises the question of why it is that many of us feel so empty of spiritual vitality. Like the sailors in that story, we are parched souls sailing in a sea of life because we don't know what’s there, around us, within us, available to us.
There have always been preachers who assert that what we need is our own personal Pentecostal type experience. Sometimes they refer to it as receiving 'the baptism of the Spirit' or the 'second blessing' or just being 'filled with the Spirit.'
Whatever term is used the implication is that there has to be some sort of mystical experience that is a tangible evidence of having received the Spirit: like 'speaking in tongues', which is often described as a sort of ecstatic prayer language and is often likened to what happened on that first Day of Pentecost..
The attraction of this is, of course, very strong. Who doesn't want to feel the power and blessing of God in some special way; especially in an age like ours that is so materialistic, and in a church environment that is often boring and mundane?
The question is whether such things are really evidences of God’s Spirit are, or just manifestations of an emotionally charged atmosphere. I think they can be both.
But, regardless of this, what I do believe is that it isGod’s will that our lives should be filled with His Spirit.
Jesus said "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened…If you know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"
Without wanting to deny the reality of special experiences that God may grant to some people, the thing I want to stress is what the Bible constantly says is the means to God's blessing; and that is faith. We ask and we believe that have what God promises. It's not about experiences, it's about trusting faith.
One of the great obstacles to spiritual maturity is that we are so wedded to the idea that we have to feel somethingfor it to be real. The fact is that our feelings come from our emotions; and emotions are notoriously fickleand subject to all sorts of influences as diverse as whether or not the sun is shining.
It’s not the excitement of our emotions that proves the presence of God’s Spirit, it’s the reality of God’s promise and our faith in that promise.
We enter the Christian life through faith, and we walk the Christian life through faith. The Bible says: 'we are saved by faith'and 'we walk by faith.'We are also renewed by faith.
And so we accept the fact that God’s Spirit is in us, guiding, strengthening, teaching, empowering, whether we feel anything or not, simply because the Bible says that that’s the way it is.
Let me illustrate it this way. When the sky is full of clouds we don’t have to see or feel the warm rays of the sun in order to accept that the sun is there doing whatever it does to sustain life. We just accept it as a fact and get on with life.
Well that’s what living by faith means. You don’t have to pray for the Holy Spirit to be given to you. You don’t even have to pray for more of the Holy Spirit to be given to you. The message of Pentecost is that the Holy Spirit has been poured out on God’s people, whoever they are and wherever they are.
But it does raise the question of personal discipline.The Apostle Paul warns us not to ‘grieve the Holy Spirit.’I don’t need to explain what that means; your own conscience will be telling you right now if you are.
On the positive side it means practising what the Church has always called the means of Grace – those things that nurture our inner life of faith: giving yourself time to read and meditate on the Scriptures, giving yourself time to talk to God in prayer, giving yourself time for quietness and reflection. And making corporate worship and fellowship a priority of life.
So, if you are feeling spiritually empty, it's time to dip your bucket into that sea of spiritual life that is already part of you. You don't have to wait for some kind of formula experience, just accept by faith what the Bible says has already been given youat your own spiritual rebirth; nurture itin your own times of quietness and in your fellowship with others.
And just as you accept that the sun is there even on days when you don’t feel it, accept the fact that the Holy Spirit is there too.
And remember this, it’s not so much that you need more of God’s Spirit, but rather that God’s Spirit is wanting more of you.