How the Holy Spirit works in our lives
Our culture is preoccupied with the supernatural. From the TV series of the same name to Ghost Whisperer to Most Haunted, a growing number of shows include elements of the supernatural or the paranormal. That’s not to mention all the movies about phantoms or demons, which had their start with The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby in the 1970s.
People believe in ghosts and visit tarot card readers, psychics, and fortune tellers, but not the Holy Ghost. We assume the supernatural exists, but we’re naive about the source of power – good or bad. Even self-named Christ-followers will seek out spiritual power that’s not of God, yet have trouble believing in the Holy Spirit.
Who is the Holy Spirit?
There seems to be a great deal of confusion regarding the person and role of the Holy Spirit. As Mennonite Brethren, we have a good intellectual grasp of the Holy Spirit but it seems we have a poor practical theology of the Spirit. Our confession of faith gives little direction regarding the Spirit and, perhaps quite tellingly, the Herald has rarely written about him.
The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity. He isn’t some vague or mystical force that we can’t understand or know. The Holy Spirit is both the interior expression of God’s personality and the visible manifestation of God’s activity in the world through his followers.
The work of God in our lives is solely the function of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit draws us to God (1 Thessalonians 2:13–14). He drives home the reality of what Jesus did on the cross and through his resurrection (1 Thessalonians 1:5–7). The Holy Spirit comes into our lives to direct and guide us when we accept Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13). We are baptized into Christ and, by the power of the Spirit, become one with him, never to be separated. The Holy Spirit also gives us gifts to share with the people of God and to bear witness to Jesus (1 Corinthians 14:12; John 15:26–27).
Paul tells us to actively engage the work of the Spirit in our lives. “Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, let the Holy Spirit fill and control you” (Ephesians 5:18, NLT). As Christ-followers, we need to continually open ourselves up to the Holy Spirit.
We need to choose to walk in the transforming work of God and listen to the Spirit’s voice. If the Holy Spirit tugs on your heart to receive prayer after a Sunday morning service, will you go or refuse? If the Holy Spirit asks you to fast and pray, will you obey? If the Holy Spirit asks you to share the good news of Jesus with one of your colleagues, will you be a witness?
D.L. Moody, the notable American evangelist of the last century, was asked why he kept speaking of and seeking the filling of the Holy Spirit. He reflected for a moment and replied, “I suppose I leak.” We all leak.
It’s due to this weakness in our faith, individually and collectively, that we need repeated fillings from God’s Spirit. We leak, we forget, we get distracted, we get stubborn. We can’t lose the Spirit like we lose our car keys, but we can leak the Spirit like tires that aren’t cared for. Over time they’ll be low on air.
When we live a Holy Spirit-filled and led life, we can move ahead with confidence, just as Jesus’ first followers did. Paul chose to return to Jerusalem, even though he was told he’d be imprisoned if he went (Acts 20:22–23). The apostles were told not to worry what to say when they were arrested and called to defend their beliefs, because the Holy
Spirit would give them the words to speak (Mark 13:11). The disciples were guided by the Spirit in their ministry, knowing who to heal, where to go, and what to say – all for the sake of the kingdom.
As believers, we can live the same way. We can ask the Holy Spirit, our counsellor and helper, to guide us through our workday, through parenting, relationships, conflict, moral and ethical issues, countercultural decisions, and much more.
When my wife Gwen and I were considering going to seminary in Fresno, Cal., we decided to visit for a weekend to see what it would be like to live there. Fresno had a terrible reputation as a very rough town, particularly in the area where our seminary is located.
Having heard all the infamous Fresno stories, we were a little nervous. I was edgy after driving past barred windows and gated communities, and was convinced we weren’t safe. My fear for our physical safety grew to the point where it was quite irrational. I felt that if I went to sleep, something bad would happen.
Suddenly, thanks to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, Gwen and I realized how foolish our fears were and how we were listening to the enemy’s suggestions – to the point of not wanting to attend seminary at all. We knew this was a spiritual battle,
not a physical one. We prayed, stood in our authority as children of God, and the fear left us.
We eventually moved to Fresno and became quite accustomed to hearing gun shots and still sleeping soundly. We realized that when Christ-followers feel powerless over our lives, we’ve bought into a lie and have forgotten who the Holy Spirit is and that he lives in us.
Signs and wonders
The Holy Spirit not only dwells in us, but also comes upon us in power. The first chapter of Acts describes how the Spirit fills believers, which results in explosive activity and church growth (Acts 1:8). The kingdom of God was made manifest via healings, miracles, prophecy, and tongues. The potential for everyone to receive this anointing of power was poured out on Pentecost.
Among the Mennonite Brethren, there is a variety of thought about the Holy Spirit. All groups agree that the Holy Spirit indwells Christ-followers, but there is disagreement about how he works in our lives, especially related to more charismatic gifts such as prophecy, healing, and tongues.
Some say that if you don’t speak in tongues, you don’t have the Holy Spirit. Others say that if you do speak in tongues, you don’t have the Holy Spirit and you’re either mentally ill or demon possessed. Some expressive people pray, sing in
tongues, or shake under the power of God. Some are physically knocked over, some weep.
We must be gracious towards each other, even if people are behaving in ways we don’t understand. Instead of judging, we need to ask them what they’re experiencing and how it’s impacting them. And just because one person is given the gift of healing by the Spirit, that doesn’t make them a better Christian. There are no classes within the body of Christ.
When we don’t understand the Holy Spirit and how he works, we often let our discomfort rule our actions and we miss out on what God wants to do in and through us: to live a life that reflects the reality of the kingdom of God both in us and to the world around us.
The Holy Spirit desires to participate in every aspect of our lives with his guidance, power, and presence. To shun or minimize the Holy Spirit is to minimize God himself and to relegate our faith to an anemic state that weakens the lifeblood of transformation.
Many Christ-followers wonder why their lives seem empty and Jesus seems distant and powerless. The answer rests on whether we open ourselves to true supernatural power – the person and work of the Holy Spirit. We cannot merely be “open” to the Spirit, we need to intentionally pursue the Holy Spirit through intimacy with the Father, just as
Jesus modelled. When we do, he’ll unite our community and fill us with power and courage, making the church an unstoppable force in our world!
—Willy Reimer is lead pastor of SunWest Christian Fellowship, Calgary.