Formation

The Spirit Is Not Optional: Embracing the Danger and the Comfort of the Third Person of God

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In my denomination the Spirit is the weird part of God. Anytime someone does something awkward, manipulative, overly emotional or theologically questionable it seems to be the Spirit’s doing. So we’ll opt out of that, thank you very much.

But a year ago I felt something rattling my ribcage, longing for a hearing and for the first time, I stopped to listen. The voice was small but it wasn’t still. And the more I listened, the more I wondered if it only seemed small because I’d tuned it out.

Dabbling with the Spirit

I’m not yet good at listening but as I try, here’s what I’m learning:

The Spirit sounds surprisingly like my childlike self. It begins sentences with “I hope” and “I wonder.” And if I follow its curiosity, it will lead to joy which will lead to God.

But there is a dangerous adventuresomeness to this hoping and wondering that goes beyond chasing butterflies. Just as children are oblivious to social expectations, the promptings of this Spirit may call us to do counter-cultural things, even things which fly in the face of self-preservation. It may lead us into hoping and wondering for the sake of others. It may drive us towards something for which we are willing to sacrifice physical, emotional, social and material comfort. So what began as small, safe curiosity leads us into real longing, real revolution, real cost, real pain.

This Spirit-listening is not for the faint of heart. And yet I can’t stop. Click To Tweet

Because for the first time in my faith, there’s something real, happening right now, right here, in real time and space. Up until now a relationship with God has been about distant past or distant future, recorded in closed stories of an old book—a creator God who made the earth eons ago, a savior God who visited the middle east 2000 years ago, an eternal God who will call us to heaven someday in the future.

But that’s a distant Gospel—distant past, distant future. So it rarely feels like good news. But I’m seeing how often that Middle Eastern Savior God promised a third piece to the story which isn’t distant past or future—a Spirit to be with us now, deep communion with God, now. Truly good, recent news. We envy the experience of the followers of Jesus who literally walked with Him. But that same Spirit that was in Him, we are promised now, not to walk beside us but to fill us. And we look forward to some future time with God in heaven. But that same spirit we’ll enjoy then, He has given us, not to sit beside on a cloud but to fill us. We are one with Him already. And while the brokenness of the world continues around us and longs to be made new, we see it in new ways when we choose to believe that it no longer separates us from our Father. When we see the world through the eyes of His Spirit within us, we learn His hungers, His hope.

That same Spirit that was in Him, we are promised now, not to walk beside us but to fill us. Click To Tweet

The Spirit’s Tangible Impact

So I’m choosing to ask, “If I really believed the Spirit of the Living God had his home in me, how would I live, right here, right now?” Each day it makes a difference. Here’s what difference it made today:

Tomorrow I have to say good-bye to my aging parents. I’ve spent just ten days with them in the past three years and now I’m saying good-bye again. I have no idea when I’ll next see them but whenever it is, I know they’ll be older and I’ll feel even more inadequate to care for them from the other side of the world and even more grieved that I haven’t been there to watch each wrinkle grow.

Tonight, as I brushed my teeth, anticipating the farewell in the morning, I reminded the Father, “I wouldn’t be in this painful situation if I hadn’t followed your Spirit’s prompting twenty-seven years ago, to pursue education and ministry far from home.” As I remembered those long ago prompts to leave, twenty-seven years of the pain of distance surged through my body. Twenty-seven years of Christmases without family, births and birthdays without family, weddings and funerals without family. Twenty-seven years of too-brief visits and tearful goodbyes. As the pain filled me, a strange mix of toothpaste and tears splashed the bathroom sink. It seemed there was no place in my body that was not in anguish. My skin threatened to burst open. So I talked to the Son on a distant cross and the Father in a distant heaven. Then that Spirit, which had been the source of twenty-seven years of promptings, reminded me where it lived. So I chose to believe that the same body which seemed a sponge, entirely soaked with pain was also soaked with that Spirit. I told him, “If the pain is filling me and you are also filing me, you can absorb this pain.” If the pain and I were one and the Spirit and I were one, then we were pain together. The suffering was not removed but borne by something other than myself, something which knew and was stronger than pain. In that moment, I had solidarity with the suffering Son and comfort from the Creator Father. And it didn’t feel like memories of distant past crucifixion or a hope for a heavenly future but it was union between my spirit and His, right now, in my body. Somehow that meeting of selves helped me spit and rinse and go to bed. And to rise in the morning with both my spirit’s shakiness and His Spirit’s courage.

The Spirit isn’t optional. Thank God! Click To Tweet
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