Meet my Holy Spirit cardboard cutout: He’s a he, because even though I’m a she I have a hard time calling him a her, regardless that the same ‘helper’ word in Hebrew that was spoken over Eve is the same ‘helper’ word in Greek spoken about him. He tells people their future through holy rollers. He’s inside people who speak in tongues and then those who interpret tongues. His words are introduced as, “Thus says the Lord … .“ He’s told me my future a few times, through – yes – fallible human beings; but still, he’s been wrong.
In my head, he’s super spiritual, sends down gold teeth (for some illogical reason), slays (why the violence?) people in his presence, and gives people superhuman powers if and when he wants to. He tells people who to vote for in elections and who to marry. He makes hearts beat faster when a person in a wheelchair rolls by, compelling the Christian to go pray for healing—whether the wheelchair user welcomes that prayer or not.
I signed up for the Awakenings Conference before I knew its theme. I’m not sure I would have gone otherwise. The Holy Spirit and I were not on good terms.
Apathetic & Confusing Spirit
Growing up in a nondenominational-yet-Pentecostal church, the Holy Spirit was someone we “experienced” a lot. Yet, being educated about my experiences with this piece of the Trinity was lacking. So when I went to college and started discussing academically moves of the Holy Spirit with fellow Campus Crusaders, I began to doubt my concept of the Holy Spirit. Unfortunately, I didn’t see the need to figure him out. Sure he was part of the Trinity, and certainly he was there when I prayed for guidance in life decisions, when I interceded on someone’s behalf, when I moaned in my prayers because life was tough and my desperation didn’t always have words. But beyond that, He still confused me, and I became apathetic with the confusion.
When I lived in Mexico, healing services were normal, especially when the traveling evangelists rolled into our local church. One pastor in particular prayed for people to lose weight, and then asked the congregation to tighten their belts after each ‘amen’ he shouted. Seemed like a stunt to me. Seemed like someone trying to manipulate the emotions and desires of others. Who was I to tell my friend he didn’t actually lose weight when he insisted he did? Those services left me even more confused about who the Holy Spirit is, what he’s capable of, and how he actually moves on the Earth.
Fast forward a bit when I began my graduate studies in International Development through Eastern University. It was an online program except for two summers of residency. Through that program, I met an international community of social justice seekers. We talked about the poor and wrestled with ideas of power, wealth, and privilege. Their lives looked like Jesus’ life. They taught me that the imprint of God is on every human being regardless of actions. Several worked for International Justice Mission, World Relief, and World Vision. We talked about our faith academically, challenged each other mentally, and sought practical answers for poverty. My favorite South African professor, now-friend Craig Stewart, said things my mind could not compute. He told me that globally Christianity looks more like this—Christians seeking the shalom of communities and the shalom of their personal lives.
Unconsciously, I had put Christians in two categories: those who sought Jesus and those who sought the Holy Spirit. They were never in the same boat. The Jesus freaks fought for the poor, challenged the empire, sought systematic reconciliation. The holy rollers sought physical healing, challenged the lusts of the flesh, fought for personal piety. The Jesus clan translated the word “righteousness” in the Bible as justice: community righteousness; while the Holy Spiriters saw it only as personal.
The Missio Alliance conference gave me a three-dimensional perception of the Holy Spirit. Ruth Padilla DeBorst said: “The value of life itself is lost when nature is exploited.” OK, I thought, she’s in the Jesus boat. Then she turned around and said “Spirit-filled Christians recognize they are a small part within the web of life.” She said that spirit-filled Christians care about exploitation. What? Wait, there’s a boat where Jesus and the Holy Spirit are both captains?The #Awakenings17 conference gave me a three-dimensional perception of the Holy Spirit. Click To Tweet
“We are immersed in the spirit of exploitation, the spirit of the empire,” Pastor Jim Kim said in one session. In another he said, “The primary demon of the USA is White Supremacy.” The Holy Spirit cares about racism? David Bailey seemed to agree. “The Spirit is what gives birth in the kingdom of God.” He said that the miracle of Pentecost was that they could speak their own language and understand each other. From a perspective of race in the United States, we could use a new Pentecost. “There’s a freedom that comes when you can have the barber shop conversations with people that don’t look like you,” he said.From a perspective of race in the United States, we could use a new Pentecost. Click To Tweet
Racial reconciliation is a Jesus thing and a Holy Spirit thing. In order to fight the spirit of exploitation, the idol of excellence, the tolerance of bigotry, we need the Holy Spirit.
Before the conference there was a question mark at the end of this statement for me: The Holy Spirit and Jesus are on the same mission. Somehow I had let my experiences define a dichotomous character of God. N.T. Wright talked about sharing and bearing the pain of the world. He said, “We shouldn’t be surprised if the Spirit leads us to places of birth pangs and groanings. The Church is called to stand in the place where the world is in pain.”
I ended up going to the prophetic guidance and words of knowledge session with Todd Hunter and Greg Brewer. I assure you this was lack of planning on my part. I wanted to go to the one on the Spirit of Sabbath or Contemplative Charismatics. Were they going to try to tell me my future? Were they going to make me tell my friend her future?
When Todd said that prophecy is about edification and revelation not foretelling someone’s future, my tense muscles started to relax. “Prophecy highlights what’s already in the Word of God, never contrary to the Word,” he said. He said it’s a symbiotic relationship between a personal formation of Christlikeness and the community’s Christ-like formation. They said it was OK if we thought we had a word of knowledge for someone and it didn’t resonate with that person. “Just say, ‘Ok, well let’s pray anyway.’ Discernment is really an art, not a technique,” Todd said. Both he and Greg taught from a humble posture and reminded us that no true prophecy would ever violate the spirit of Christ.
As simple as that sounds, it’s quite revolutionary for someone who had Christ in one box and the Holy Spirit in another. Growing up, it seemed like the works of the Spirit had little to do with the work of Christ. At least partially that was due to the non-existent boundary lines for giving a word of knowledge.
Not long after discovering some of those boundaries, I was able to pray for a woman I barely knew. We were both in the prayer room waiting to pray with a prayer leader. I felt pulled to go over and pray for her. As I did, in my mind’s eye, I saw a person swinging a machete in the jungle carving out a path for people to follow. The vision was clear. I wasn’t conjuring it up. I wasn’t telling it to come. I told her what I saw and used the phrase I had just learned, “Does that resonate with you?” I was less afraid of being wrong and felt more free to speak what I saw. She said it did resonate with her; she felt like that was why she came in the prayer room. She left without seeing a prayer leader. I stayed, and someone asked me if what they saw resonated with me. It did.
Fear almost kept me from those experiences.
At one of the most spiritually confusing stages of my life, recently leaving a church my family was part of for nine years, and currently still searching for a local community of believers, this conference felt like a long embrace from a sweet Father correcting my long-lived assumptions that there was disunity amidst the Trinity.There is no disunity in the Trinity Click To Tweet
Justice is a word that has been carved on my heart, but I didn’t realize the Holy Spirit took part in the carving. Biblical justice is broken down into two Hebrew words: Tzedakah (a life of right relationship) and Mishpat (giving someone what he/she is due). How did I not see this before? The Trinity exemplifies that life of right relationship: perfect harmony between Father, Mother, Son.
“When we partner to do justice, it is the greatest expression of the Holy Spirit,” Howard-John Wesley said. When we see the Trinity correctly, we see how they partner to do justice, and we mimic them.'When we partner to do justice, it is the greatest expression of the Holy Spirit.' @PastorHJW Click To Tweet
I said goodbye to my Holy Spirit cardboard cutout, and hello to the 3D version. I know my sight is still foggy; I know I have much yet to learn. I look forward to embracing new dimensions of the Holy Breath that births newness, justice, and grace with every move She is a part of.