We Need the Spirit

Recently I had a brief interaction with an individual because a mutual friend was celebrating his opportunity to study and posted a picture of a large stack of books. This friend is a pastor and the woman commented that what the Church needs is the Holy Spirit, implying that my friend was wasting his time studying because the Church will not grow through learning. My friend and I both think highly of education, but would readily admit that the Church only grows through God’s presence in the Holy Spirit. That said her comments are flat ignorant and actually stall the life of the Church. It is not that she thinks scholarly pursuits are a waste of time, that is a different discussion; the problem is that she has the wrong view of the work of the Holy Spirit.

The problem the woman had was the same problem Paul attempted to address in 1 Corinthians, focusing on the wrong elements of the Holy Spirit. She wanted “the power of the Spirit” to flow through the Church and by that she seemed to mean things like speaking in tongues, healings, miracles, and even tongues of fire. Humans love excitement and it can be very tempting for Christians to crave exciting outpourings of God’s power like speaking in new languages or impressive healings. These are wonderful gifts and the power and energy associated with them would have an impact on the witnesses, but this is not what is meant by the continue presence of the Holy Spirit. These are also the gifts the Corinthians were desperate to claim, they wanted to impress each other with how spiritual they were and how much God had blessed them. Paul’s response to that was to say [if I can sarcastically paraphrase him], “Good for you. Mess around in the shallow end of the spiritual swimming pool with your floaties on as long as you like. But when you are ready to actually experience God– try things like wisdom and when you want to really dive deep… LOVE.” So often people want the Holy Spirit to be a magical power that shows us to be truly supernatural, somehow mystically different.

Read Acts 2, when the Holy Spirit was first manifest in the Church, it is easy to get hung up on Peter’s sermon but that is not what Church looked like. While Acts tells us of the power of Peter’s sermons and the greatness of miracles the major blessing on the Church was that the community united itself together, held everything in common, and was dedicated to prayer.

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. Acts 2:42-47

The magnetism of the Spirit’s presence was not the flash of miracles, rather the Spirit’s presence was in the quiet of the daily routine. The mark of the Spirit in the early Church was a life transformed in such a way that a person desired the Christian community. It is not a coincidence that the church which has a difficult time living in community (Corinth) is the one Paul also criticizes for its views on the Spirit and Spiritual gifts. Paul goes further, to the second most rowdy church (Galatia) Paul writes:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23

Notice Paul does not speak of “tongues” or “healing”, he does not mention the “power” of the Spirit; Paul speaks of a life transformed into a life fit for prayer and community. Not only is it the witness of Scripture that life in the Spirit results in a quiet patience, but the pattern has repeated throughout Church history. Most of the spiritual masters I have read have accentuated the deep calm of the spirit, the blessings of peace in the Spirit.

I am not in any way trying to imply that gifts like tongues or healing are in some way wrong; I know many who have either possessed or witnessed such power and I do not think I can claim to be as full of the Spirit as some of them. However, when we seek power we are inherently running after a red herring. Benedict of Nursia talked of the three great sins the drives for money, sex, & power. I think when we drive too hard for power, even the power of God’s Spirit we are working toward the wrong end. The goal of the Spirit is humility and while charismatic gifts can be great for those getting started on their walk with Jesus, at some point we much each recognize the true gift of the Spirit is to live together quietly in love. So in the end I do agree with this woman that the Church desperately needs an outpouring of the Holy Spirit and I will know when it happens because more Christians will be dedicated to quiet prayer and Christians will stop being so loud and obnoxious [especially about our own in house disagreements].

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