Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Walking Around with the Holy Spirit

I want God to be pleased with my life in Christ, don't you?  In 1 Thess 2:12 we read "live your lives in a way that God would consider worthy. For he called you to share in his Kingdom and glory."  Continuing on our series on the Holy Spirit's work
in our lives, let's look at our day-to-day lives, and how the Holy Spirit can lead us, bearing fruit through us to make our lives "worthy of our calling."  Since, as Jesus said, the Holy Spirit is living within us (John 14:17), we should be able to hear his voice and obey.

Let's see what we can learn about paying attention to the Holy Spirit, by using prayer as a parallel idea.  In 1 Thessalonians 5:17, Paul instructs us to "never stop praying."  As we've heard recently, the word for "never stop" ("without ceasing," in some translations) is used in Greek literature to describe a hacking cough; not that you're always coughing, but the tickle in your throat is always there.  So this command instructs us to "have a heart of prayer" as one translation puts it, rather than to react to life's trials in ways that are less "worthy of our calling."   

So, how would we "pay attention to the Holy Spirit without ceasing"?  First of all, since we are "in Christ" we should expect God to speak to us and we should ask him for direction.  Each of us, according to our own spiritual giftedness and individual makeup, will hear him in a slightly different way, but we will hear the same message because God is not divided.  One way to hear him is to soak ourselves in Scripture, as the Holy Spirit speaks through the words of the Bible (Hebrews 3:7-11) not only "in Bible times" but today too.  Bible students hear from God as they study the Scripture, and often the Spirit brings a verse to our minds when we need it.  Someone with the gift of compassion may hear the Spirit better through the prayers of another person, or through hearing of that person's need.  Another may sense the Spirit speaking through the words of a worship song, or in a group discussion, and some may see a picture depicting something they should do, like Paul saw the Macedonian man in a vision in Acts 16:9-10.  Specifically taking time to turn off all the distractions and seek God's voice is also very helpful.  

There are cautions, of course.  God the Holy Spirit will never speak contrary to the Scripture that he himself inspired.  He will never tell us to do something for selfish reasons, and he rarely tells us that someone else should be doing something.  He expects us to use wisdom as we decide how to obey him, and often we need the discernment of the church he has put us into, to choose the wisest course.   

If we want to hear, we need to listen, and listen with the desire to follow what we're told.  But we should expect to hear the Holy Spirit more and more as we mature in Christ.  There are lots of other resources available if you want to study this topic more, so don't hesitate to ask. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Holy Spirit of Love

I've been writing the last month or so on the Holy Spirit, and how he works to draw us to God and to help us understand the mind of God.  Today we're looking at how the Holy Spirit creates God's love in us.

It is the heart of God himself, who has loved us since before the creation (Eph. 1:3-8), that gives us life.  God pulls us closer to himself through the Holy Spirit: "For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love" (Rom. 5:5).  God's love in us lets us live in confidence, not in fear. Jesus guarantees us, in the Sermon on the Mount, that the Father will take care of us:  “So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?' These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs" (Mat. 6:31-32).  John the Apostle said it more flatly in his first epistle:  "Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love" (1 John 4:18).

When we understand the Father's love more deeply, we will respond to others with that same love:  "Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God...But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us" (1 John 4:7, 12).  It is the Holy Spirit who gives us the love of God (Romans 5:5) and reminds us what our Father wants us to know (John 14:26).  So this morning, when I was thinking of writing something sarcastic in this column, it was the Holy Spirit who reminded me that wouldn't be loving, even though it felt like fun at the time. 

So the question is, are we properly hearing and following that loving voice of the Holy Spirit?  Typically, one of two things gets in the way:  distraction, or our own selfish desires being stronger at the moment.  I've been writing  lately about how we can reduce distractions to listen better, and learn to surrender more.  When we do, we will be able to think, speak and act in that God's love, and we will find our relationships work a lot better.  How's that working for you?

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Hearing the Voice of the Holy Spirit

Even though The Lovely Joanne and I live in the same house, sometimes we have trouble communicating.  Then she and I have to stop and focus on
listening to each other -- words, non-verbal cues, and the meanings behind the words.  It would be easier if she could simply grasp what I mean, rather than...but this is about God, not about me.

God communicates with us through the Holy Spirit (his own mind) living in us as Jesus promised:  "the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth" (John 14:17).  Jesus told us "Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me" (John 15:4).  To re-phrase what Jesus said, we do not produce spiritual fruit on our own, but only by being fully connected with Jesus, and allowing him to act in us.  

To bear spiritual fruit, we must surrender to the voice of the Holy Spirit.  Sounds simple.  Hard to do.  Sometimes we drive full-speed-ahead through life, playing the theme from "Rocky" at 100 decibels, trying to create 99% of our spiritual success ourselves and only asking God to help with that last 1%.  Sometimes we worry ourselves into a corner, afraid that God won't take care of us like he has so many times in the past

But it is God who is in charge, and God who has the power to create good fruit in us.  So the only rational spiritual life is to surrender our choices to him by taking all our decisions and our words to him for approval -- PRIOR approval.  We're taught to listen before acting, both with God and humans:  "You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.  Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires" (James 1:19-21).  Rather than just passively waiting for God to tell us something, we can actively work with God by asking for direction, and surrendering to whatever he answers.  

What's on your to-do list for today?  I think the question should begin one step earlier -- what is on God's list for you?  How about taking him a blank sheet of paper, before it gets clogged up with your own list, and getting his priorities?  And asking him how to produce that spiritual fruit he wants, in your life?  That's the only way I can have a fruitful day.  Give it a try for about a year, and let me know how it goes. 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Mind and Voice of the Holy Spirit

The Lovely Joanne was trying to tell me something this morning, but I was in the other room and had noise coming in the window.  Guess what?  She didn't get through -- but it wasn't because she didn't do her part! 

Lately I've been writing about the Holy Spirit, who lives in us and who teaches us the mind of Jesus Christ because he is the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16).  As we see in scripture, the goal of God from before creation is to draw us into a relationship of mutual love.  Despite our continual detours and sins, God has continued to pursue us, even sending the Son to be a human along with us and create the way back to him, and sending the Spirit to draw us toward the Father (even when we don't believe in him yet), creating and deepening that bond of love.

How does the Spirit draw us to God and build the relationship?  Jesus said in John 16:8-9, the Spirit "will convict the world of its sin, and of God’s righteousness, and of the coming judgment. The world’s sin is that it refuses to believe in me." So the Spirit is "the advance man" so to speak, chipping away at our refusal to believe in God.  Once we believe the Spirit's message of our acceptance with the Father, we can gain a stronger bond with God by deliberately living, every day, within the Spirit's influence.  Jesus said the Spirit will "guide you into all truth...tell you about the future...bring me glory by telling you whatever he receives from me."  So when we can hear the Spirit, look how much God gives us! 

This morning, in order to hear Joanne, I had to go in the other room where she was standing.  So how can we hear the mind and voice of the Spirit?  By getting more serious about listening.  Sometimes, to hear the Spirit, we have to shut off the noise --turning off the TV or the XM satellite radio or the music or the video games, or the cellphone and text messages and Facebook.  Sometimes we have to stop the continual march of food and drink into our mouths, because fasting from the physical helps us focus on the spiritual, which is the only real thing anyway.  Sometimes we have to change locations, getting away from all the ordinary in order to hear God in a fresh way.  

What one thing could you do today, in the routine busyness of your life, to stop and hear the Spirit better?  What's stopping you from doing that?  Will you make the decision to change it, so you can receive all God has for you?