Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Holy Spirit - the Comforter

By starting with 'Creativity' and moving on to 'the Comforter', perhaps I'm choosing the nice cushy areas first. Perhaps I should be getting my teeth into areas like 'baptism of the Spirit' and 'insulting the Spirit' with more gusto. All the same, I would like what I write here to reflect my personal journey through all these passages, and for me, I needed to hear what the Spirit is actually like before I could get into the "deep" stuff. To trust someone, you need to know them first. To let go of inhibitions and ask them to use you as they wish, you need to be sure they are going to be there for you. So here I am writing about the Spirit who is not just a friend and a comforter, but the Friend and the Comforter.

Here is the passage that really summed it up for me:

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favour
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion –
to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,

and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.
Isaiah 61:1-3

All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Counsellor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. John 14:25-27

Two of my favourite passages ever. I don't know where I'd got this idea but perhaps in the past the Spirit seemed frightening to me. I don't mean the fear of the Lord sort of way which is positive, but a way in which he was the one I expected to be always convicting and berating and stopping you from doing things you wanted to do. A negative power, a 'do not' power. But here, the Spirit is a bearer of good news, a comforter, an emancipator - someone who moves people to wholehearted praise. An entirely positive person, a do-er instead of a do-not-er. And from the second passage, the Spirit brings peace to us and we no longer have to fear, because he is like a parent to us:

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counsellor to be with you forever – the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. John 14:16-18
For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father”. The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Romans 8:15-16 (Another favourite passage!)

Another passage that made me quite relieved:

In the same way, the Spirit helps us with our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will. Romans 8:26-27

Through such passages of Scripture, I have finally learnt the niceness of God. I know I've been writing under that title for quite a while now, and to be honest with myself, it's probably wrong to say 'finally' which implies completeness, because I'm not sure if we could ever completely understand the niceness of God. My point is, the Spirit is close to us like a father if we let him be, and the result is he knows us, he understands us, and he allows us to be frail human beings who are not always sure if we want to pray or what. I no longer have to freak out that I'm not like one of those scary superhuman Christians who prays for five hours before breakfast, but I can take comfort in the fact that I am not alone in this world, bereft of Jesus like an orphan, even if I was the only Christian in New Zealand. It is from this starting point that I hope I can start allowing the Spirit much more space in my life.

A side note: this weekend after I wrote that angry last post, I had a big conversation with my brother-in-law and sister, who are also acquainted with the person I was writing about. I ended up bursting into tears in the kitchen with my brother-in-law and saying all the stuff that has been worrying/annoying/angering me about the issue of healing - namely, if lack of physical healing means lack of Christian-ness and lack of connectedness to the Holy Spirit, why did my mother die, who was probably the awesomest Christian I knew? And why do Christians make such a big deal of healing anyway? Why do we make death into such a big scary thing when everything we read in the Bible tells us it's not?

My brother told me about a conversation he once had with a guy who was very into the charismatic movement and who used to hold meetings where he would heal people. One time, a sick woman stood up, said "I feel better", went to the bathroom, and died. And his response to this was not to say - I've failed! God has failed! - but to ask the question, "What if her death was the most complete healing of all? What if that was the real miracle? Maybe by taking her away, God was healing her more completely than can be imagined while alive."

That question has been hanging around me ever since - and I have come to think it's the right question.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Holy Spirit - a digression

I was going to continue with what I had started in this post, a discussion of what I read in the Bible about the Holy Spirit, but today I looked up a "school" on the internet that some acquaintances follow - I'm not sure if follow is the right word, but for them, it's a substitute for church, and they take part in it over the internet. It's called the New Zealand School for Prophets and Intercessors. I did a little browsing, and started reading this article.

I don't want to condemn them entirely as they evidently mean so well and want to discover truth. I don't want to sound too damning and I don't want to be too negative about something that despite all my instincts may be true in its entirety. But what I read made me angry.

Rightly divided, Scripture sets out for each Seeker, the way of Salvation.
The Way is an inward spiritual journey for which sequential teaching
progressively casts light upon divinely ordered steps. His Word –
ministered as the Holy Spirit reveals and quickens it –comes in power to judge
and subsequently change the inward parts, thus bringing healing and restoration
to a damaged soul. This is Salvation.

It is an on going – not instant – process, bringing also physical healing
to the body as the soul prospers under restoration. The simple fact is
that when one does not properly minister the Word in this way, the Christian
religion becomes little more than a superficial palliative, only touching skin
deep, where people – if they are honest with themselves – are living in a state
of pretence. God calls that hypocrisy

I can cope with the idea that salvation is a healing of a damaged soul. What this man goes on to say, however - that physical healing is inevitable - is in my experience a lie. A grotesque lie. Made even more frightening to me by the fact that my acquaintance who follows these teachings is themselves at this moment gravely ill, well before their time. They have followed faithfully where the Spirit leads for a long time now and to teach that this person is a hypocrite, and their faith is superficial, is a libel. It is even frightening to me because if this person, undergoing the most difficult trial of their life over these last months, listens to these teachings, what are they to conclude? That everything they have believed and experienced so vividly is a lie? That they are not really accepted by God?

The writer of this article talks about how the modern "so-called" Church is no longer led by God but is generally made up of hypocrites. But he fails to see what is in evidence every day in your average community church, the living out of Jesus' command: "By this shall all men know you are my disciples, if you show love one for another." (John 13:35) It is not love for your fellow Christian to attack their faith when they are most in need of it. It is just not, and I will never accept that. Granted, the "modern Church" is in many ways stumbling off track, myself included - just as the early Church or the medieval Church or the Renaissance Church or the Reformation Church (etc) did. But it is the age-old Church's capacity to love and encourage and nourish believers and non-believers alike, and to help them through dark times, that is in my opinion the greatest proof of God's hand. It is when we fail in that respect that we most tellingly demonstrate to the world our hypocrisy. And to my mind, this writer has just failed his suffering brother/sister, who is a faithful servant of the God we all try our best to serve.

There was a lot of other things in the article that annoyed me, and some things that were okay, but you can read it for yourself if you really want to. It is this issue that I find the most objectionable of all.

Friday, October 19, 2007


[A little interlude in my series on the Holy Spirit:] Since I came to Perth, it's taken me a while to sort of get settled into a church or home group. Finally I've started going to this thing called small church through my sister's church, but I've only been a couple of times because sometimes I've been out of town or I haven't heard when it was on - whatever. So on Tuesday I went along and it was only my second time, but nobody was there except the woman - let's call her "Liz" - who has it at her house. We decided to go ahead with the evening anyway, just the two of us, and we read through Philippians 4 and talked about it and drifted into a lot of other areas as well. It was great. Especially as I've really missed that sort of small group/one-on-one environment where you can share what's really bothering you or making you happy.

Well, a few days later, I got an email from Liz, suggesting we keep in touch about the things that are going on for us spiritually, so we know that someone else is praying for us, and is there to discuss things that are going on.

Firstly, it has been a long time now that I have been wanting this to happen. I've been put in leadership roles in my Christian group at uni and at my church, but this has always felt weird to me, as I've known for a while now that I need someone older than me to splurge to. Liz is in her late thirties, I think; she really knows her stuff regarding the Bible; I can keep up with her in that but I can't keep up with her in spiritual maturity, and I really need someone like that to talk to. It's not like I have been praying for this every single day but whenever I've thought about it I have tossed it up to God, hoping he might send someone suitable. I thought maybe I'd just have to approach someone myself, the idea of which freaked me out, especially as I just didn't know anyone I would feel happy putting myself into this position with, and also because I feel terrible asking people who are already busy to help out silly wee me.

So - I am stoked. And moved that God has answered my very casual prayers. It's always everyone else that seems to have their needs exactly fulfilled by God, and I won't pretend I haven't been a little bitter about that. I think I've avoided praying almost because I'm worried that that horrible Christian inanity "Sometimes God answers prayer with a no" will come true. Now I am just so amazed that this has happened for me - it's nothing miraculous, but exactly what I needed. Thanks, God.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

introduction to the Spirit

A while ago I went to my home group and we split off into even smaller groups just to talk about "where we are with God". I said (honestly) that I'm really bad at reading my Bible and praying, and I was getting very very confused about the Holy Spirit. You may remember a few months ago I wrote a post on this blog about how I was finally getting to know the Spirit for myself and how I had resented Pentecostalism a little for making the Spirit seem so foreign to me. That was all true, but I have still been totally confused. Perhaps the fact of trying to be closer to the Holy Spirit has done this, because I've had to question my earlier perspectives a lot. Perhaps the Spirit has taught me that I haven't been quite fair to Pentecostal ideas, although I think I had to go through that step to get to the next one. On the other hand I still have serious problems with extreme Pentecostal ideology. Basically - I've been getting very twisted up with different points of view. But in this home group another girl suggested I take the subject of the Holy Spirit, look him up in a concordance, and just go through the Bible methodically - thus solving two problems at once. This seemed such a simple idea that at first I was a little taken aback, but slowly it grew on me, and I decided to do it. (Why didn't I think of it myself?!)

So for the last few weeks I've been going through every Bible reference that mentions the Spirit of God or the Counsellor etc etc. This has been fantastic for me, to see what the Bible says about who the Holy Spirit really is and what he does, and to try to draw my own conclusions from it, without the baggage that denominational interpretations inevitably bring. I think the methodical approach suits me, because so far I've organised all the verses I copied down into subgroups, and I'd like to write a few posts sharing what I discovered. I still haven't figured out all of it - I'd like to study a few of the subgroups a bit more carefully, such as "Baptism of the Spirit" or "Difficult Bits", and check out what a few commentators have written about them. But there are also sections I found really helpful without having to read other people's opinions on them, and here's the first subgroup I'd like to share:


Exodus 31:3 regarding Bezalel: I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts...

1 Samuel 16:14 The Spirit of the LORD had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD tormented him. v.23 Whenever the spirit from God came upon Saul, David would take his harp and play. Then relief would come to Saul; he would feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him.

2 Samuel 23:1-2 In his last words, David refers to himself as Israel’s singer of songs, and says The Spirit of the LORD spoke through me; his word was on my tongue.

Ephesians 5:18-20 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

It was a huge encouragement to me to learn that music or creativity in general is an agent of the Holy Spirit. I love and rely so much on music that it has sometimes concerned me a little; what if that's wrong? But now I feel like my feeling for music is a big bonus in my quest to understand in some way the character of the Spirit of God and how he works and what he gives people. I mean, if the Holy Spirit is a lover of music and he shows us things through music, he must really like us.

I also love that God is a God who shares his best gifts with everyone. Some of his gifts can be destroyed or mutilated, like the gift of family. But you don't have to do what God says to enjoy music although I have a theory that perhaps it's not until you know him yourself that you can enjoy things like music to their full extent. God is a truly generous God.