Catching Up With the Holy Spirit
Do you have a friend you don’t see or speak with all that often ~ perhaps one far away, or perhaps one close, although your schedules never seem to match up? Yet you know this friend will always drop everything for you if needed, and be there at a moment’s notice. When you pick up again with this friend, it’s like you never left off. We all have a friend like this: the Holy Spirit.
At the beginning of the Bible, the earth is formless and desolate, and the Spirit of God is moving over the face of the deep. The Holy Spirit leads King David to dance, and gives messages to the prophets. The Spirit enables Mary to conceive, and is seen in the form of a dove entering Jesus on the day of Transfiguration.
At the Last Supper, Jesus tells his disciples that he will give them all this priceless gift: the Advocate, the Comforter, the Teacher. But he needs them all in one place. After his resurrection, he tells them to meet him in Jerusalem. There’s danger involved in such a public gathering, but he asks for their trust, and it is rewarded. That day, the Holy Spirit descends on them in “tongues of fire,” now depicted in the flame of the United Methodist logo.
Visitors to the city hear the disciples speaking in their own languages. Perhaps even more important than the literal languages is the language of the Spirit: the language of love, joy and peace, which has the power to unite people across races and cultures. Some of these people were considered enemies; yet the new Christians spoke with gentleness, kindness and humility, utilizing the gifts of the Spirit.
The description of the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) can be read as the description of a Christian. When I look at this list (which also includes patience, goodness and self-control), I think, “that’s not me, but it could be me.” Sometimes I think being a Christian is like playing Whac-a-Mole. We get one part right, but another part wrong. We’re patient, but not hopeful. We’re loving, but not gentle. There’s always something to work on.
Today is a beautiful day. If asked, “What are you going to do today?” most people will respond with their physical plans: “I’m going to the beach. I’m going to a barbecue. I’m going to sit on the couch and watch Netflix.” But what if we responded with a spiritual plan, such as, “I’m going to try to be a good person?”
The gifts of the Holy Spirit are different from the fruits of the Spirit in that the fruits are available to all, but different people have different gifts (1 Corinthians 12). Some people are born with them, some develop them over time, and some receive them later in life. They include preaching, teaching, helping, hospitality, empathy, music, and wisdom ~ as well as “newer” gifts that are sorely in need right now: noticing, listening, time.
When we’re feeling anxious, stressed, depressed or guilty, we want the power of the Holy Spirit to flow in. But what if the way we activate the Holy Spirit is to allow the power to flow out? Studies show that the healthiest churches are the ones that give, and the healthiest people are the ones who volunteer.
When we’re tired, our tendency is to withdraw or quit. But the Spirit leads us to push forward: to keep trying to love the person we can’t stand, because maybe we’re the only one left who’s still trying. Or to keep being kind on the job, even if no one else is. Or to keep looking for the bright side.
Last week at one of our softball games, a player hit a long pop-up, threw the bat down, grunted and started to walk toward the bench. We were all yelling, “Run! Run! You don’t know! Anything can happen!” And as it turned out, the fielder dropped the ball and the batter almost didn’t make it to first base because he’d practically quit. In like fashion, we don’t know what God has in store for us if we run it out, even when we don’t see the point ~ if we keep running this course of faith, all the way to the finish line, the call to the life above.
At the beginning of the season, I can get winded even running to first base. By the middle of the season, I can run to second with no problem. I’m in great shape by the end of the summer, which is unfortunately six weeks after the end of the season! Every season I ask myself, “how did you get so out of shape?” (Possible answer: donuts.) The more I run, the faster I get. The same thing is true of my spiritual life. Sometimes I ask myself, “How did I get so out of spiritual shape?” But the more self-control I practice, the more disciplined I get. The more I love, the better I am at loving. When I want to quit, I push forward. I think of the fruits of the Spirit ~ the description of a Christian ~ and I want to be that person.
This season, may you be filled with the Spirit. May love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control abound in you and strengthen your inner being!
The Reverend Richard Allen