Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Beauty of Witness

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

                        Acts 1.8

Keep the Fire Burning

It’s been a tough, funky week. I pulled my back out and have stumbled around in a fog of limited function and muscle relaxers. Ordinary tasks like brushing my teeth and typing have become Olympic events, while challenges I work hard to conceal—lousy time perception, for example—have become looming hurdles. I’ve frustrated a lot of people, myself more than anyone, which has strapped me with mounting concern friends and colleagues may think I’m indifferent about letting them down. This has added emotional anguish to my physical discomfort. But, on the upside, it also reminded me we’re at our most human when we’re at our worst. It’s a scary place to be, too, because that’s when we feel most impotent and incapable. The mundane turns monumental; the incidental seems insurmountable. 

After 33 years in mortal flesh, Jesus is about to leave the world fully acquainted with how readily human frailty spawns resignation to defeat. As He charges His followers to carry on His work, He’s keenly aware they won’t succeed without divine help. A couple setbacks and they’ll quit, presuming they’re not cut out for the job. If their fervor wanes, His message will fade, His mission will fail, and He’ll reside only in the annals of historical prophets, rather than live in the hearts of humanity. Thus, Jesus spends His last few visible minutes with the disciples reinforcing their need for the Holy Spirit. “The Spirit will give you power to be my witnesses,” He promises, shoring their confidence they can keep the fire burning.

Living Proof

We are living proof that Jesus lives. We testify to His sacrifice and resurrection in how our lives bear out His purpose—reconciliation with God and one another through faith. In Romans 5.1 we hear, “Since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” By disavowing compulsions to please ourselves and turning our hearts toward pleasing our Maker, we evidence renewed peace with Him. We fulfill Christ’s law to love God entirely—with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. In the same way, our determination to love our neighbors as ourselves manifests the living Christ. In Ephesians 2.4-7, Paul teaches: “God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when were dead in transgressions… in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace.” Not only are we crucified with Christ, as Paul says in Galatians 2.20, we’re resurrected with Him. And we validate His existence, “showing the incomparable riches of his grace,” by loving others as He loves us—unconditionally and sacrificially. “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another,” Jesus says in John 13.35.

Witnessing Christ’s life and love is a daunting responsibility that asks more than we can accomplish on our own. Thus, the Holy Spirit strengthens and inspires us to overcome our weaknesses and fears. That’s Its main objective and, as we’ve hopefully seen in the past week’s posts, It’s fully equipped to provide what we lack to present the living, loving Savior to the world. The Spirit empowers us, activates our faith, generates our joy, seals our inheritance by adoption, secures our access to God, and teaches us what to say. We’re given the Spirit as a single, comprehensive resource we can draw from to make Christ visible to those around us. Our love attests to His love. Our forgiveness exemplifies His grace. Our tolerance reflects His acceptance. And our faith ratifies His truth. Since the Spirit makes this (and much more) possible, the beauty of witness rests in obedience, not ability.

Bullhorns and Doorbells

If today finds you in New York City’s Times Square or on Chicago’s State Street or strolling down Market in San Francisco, I guarantee you’ll meet someone in hand-painted “repent-or-else” sandwich boards, clutching a bullhorn. If you’re at home, two strangers may very well ring your doorbell, hoping for a few minutes with you to share their beliefs. If you ask these earnest, well-intentioned people what they’re doing, I also guarantee the answer will be “I’m witnessing.” And they’re not wrong. They’re following a precedent Peter and the apostles inaugurated immediately after the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Nearly every chapter in The Acts of the Apostles finds an Early Church leader publicly preaching the Gospel or entering homes to speak about Jesus. But there’s more to witnessing Christ’s life and love than bullhorns and doorbells.

“After the Holy Spirit comes upon you, you will be my witnesses,” Jesus tells us. Our witness surpasses talking and doing. It’s being, which means it’s continuous and unintentional. How well we reflect Christ is measured in passing more often and effectively than any focused gesture or effort. Indeed, we say more about Jesus when we’re not talking about Him than when we do. This is why He instructs us in Matthew 5.16: “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” We’re “on” 24/7. People watch us closely to see if our lives square with our witness. Trying to sustain Christ’s reflection without the Holy Spirit’s assistance is folly. It ends in our witness being perceived as a ruse. Long before Jesus tells us the Spirit will empower our witness, God speaks in Ezekiel 36.27: “I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” The Spirit in us makes sure what comes from us proves that Jesus lives and loves.

There’s more to witnessing than bullhorns and doorbells. We’re “on” 24/7.

(Tomorrow: Together in One Place)

Friday, May 29, 2009

The Power of Speech

The Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.

                        Luke 12.12


Of the three Persons in the Godhead, the Holy Spirit is most often and uniquely tied to speech. Among the “signs accompanying believers” that Jesus instructs his disciples to watch for in the future (i.e., under the dispensation of the Spirit) is speaking with new tongues. (Mark 16.17) Luke’s account of the Pentecostal outpouring says, “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” (Acts 2.4) Paul’s roster of ministerial gifts received from the Spirit includes “speaking in different kinds of tongues” and “the interpretation of tongues.” (1 Corinthians 12.10) He goes on in chapter 14 to discuss “speaking in a tongue”—or “another language”—at length, saying in the second verse, “anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God.” And in verse 18, he writes, “I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you.”

That Paul devotes so much space to the matter in his letter to the Corinthians—far and away his most learned readers—plainly suggests the practice, its meaning, and its purpose were as mysterious and controversial to them as it is us. Being a product of Pentecostalism, I can vouchsafe, personally and scripturally, for the glossalalia phenomenon, i.e., the utterance of unknown languages as a sign and ministry of the Holy Spirit’s presence. Yet speaking in tongues mustn’t become a wedge issue, any more than baptismal modes, veneration of saints, transubstantiation, and other doctrinal disparities should divide us. We are, and must always remain, one body joined together in Christ. Thus, whatever our differences about how the Holy Spirit manifests itself through speech, I hope we all agree on this: its indwelling changes our conversation on a very profound level. When the Spirit comes, new talk comes with It.

Harm-Free Speech

In democratic societies, we’re duty-bound to protect free speech at all costs. Denying anyone’s right to speak his/her mind—to castigate, jeer, and even lie—can’t be justified simply because limiting the freedom of one limits the freedom of all. As a result, we’re taught to minimize intolerable speech, to ignore insults and slander as inconsequential. “Consider the source,” we say flippantly, while beneath our bravado, we’re all too aware words can be dangerous weapons that break our spirits and bruise our beings. The flipside of dismissing cruel words, unfortunately, encourages us to trivialize what we say. What’s said is done, however, and pleas for forgiveness can’t undo the blows that hastily and angrily spoken words wield. If we meant it or not, we said it and speaking harmfully without thought is no better than speaking harmfully with intent.

Controlling our speech becomes especially difficult when we’re wrongfully challenged or falsely accused. For the sake of the truth, we’re urged to defend ourselves, and sooner or later our defensiveness escalates into offensiveness. In Luke 12.12, Jesus says when we find we’re edging closer to proving our point (usually by disproving another’s), we shut down our personal impulses and yield to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. To grasp the full gist of His comment, it’s best to back up one verse, where He instructs us, “When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.” Stepping off so the Spirit can quicken our hearts with the right words is how we defeat harmful talk with harm-free speech.

New and Other

Regardless if a believer speaks in other tongues, desires to, or even puts credence in the practice, all Christians should seek the Holy Spirit’s power to speak with new tongues. The nature of our conversations, our manner of speaking, and our caution in what we say are telltale signs of the Spirit’s presence in our lives. And lest we settle for a vague idea of what that means, we must recognize by dwelling in us, the Holy Spirit occupies us—our thoughts, our words, and our deeds. In promising to ask the Father to send the Holy Spirit, Jesus tells the disciples, “The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for lives with you and will be in you.” (John 14.17)

Repeatedly, Paul stresses the importance of the Spirit’s influence over what we say. In 1 Corinthians 2.13, he writes, “This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words.” Further along, in the twelfth chapter, he insists our witness to Jesus’s love and power comes only through the Spirit: “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.” Christ could not have been more clear about His expectations that we monitor our conversations to avoid harming or misleading others. In Matthew 15.11, He says, “What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him ‘unclean,’ but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him ‘unclean.’” What we say reflects not only on us, but also on Him. The power of speech is so mighty, God in His infinite wisdom ordained the Holy Spirit to enable us to speak with new tongues. He will teach us what to say. We need only be willing to learn.

When we don't know what say, the Holy Spirit gives us the right words. 

(Tomorrow: The Beauty of Witness)

Postscript: Weekend Gospel

Holy, Holy, Holy – The Kurt Carr Singers

This is a must! I know I’ve already featured Kurt and his singers in a previous gospel selection, but given this is Pentecost weekend, this selection just seemed apropos. Can these kids sing or what?

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Comfort of Counsel

I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever—the Spirit of truth.

                        John 14.16-17

Unwelcome Transitions

I was starting third grade, about a year before my parents entered the ministry, when a terrible thing happened. Our pastor and his family were assigned to another congregation. It’s hard to describe how much I loved my pastor. He led me to Christ and despite my age, any time I came to the altar—a little pipsqueak lost in a sea of adults—he treated me as one of them, kneeling quietly beside me to ask God’s guidance in my life. His wife was no less tender. I loved her equally as the first Sunday school teacher to impart God’s Word to me in terms I could grasp. Near their moving date, the pastor pulled me aside to assure me I’d love the new minister just as much, probably more. “He’s younger, smarter, funnier, and he’s got some great ideas. He’s going to need your help,” he said. But I didn’t want another pastor. I wanted the one I knew and loved.

This was my first experience with unwelcome transitions. I felt as though things were happening with no consideration of my feelings and needs. It’s likely the disciples underwent a similar wash of emotions as the reality of Jesus’s departure sank in. No one had affected them more profoundly than Jesus. They had never relied on anyone as much as He. His love and concern for them had no rivals. And it’s fair to imagine their response to His promise of the Holy Spirit—“another Counselor to be with you forever”—produced reactions like mine. They didn’t want another; they wanted Him.

The Power Behind the Throne

The King James Version and several others underscore the disciples’ dejection by translating Christ’s description of the Holy Spirit as a “Comforter” rather than “Counselor.” While their choice isn’t wrong per se, its emphasis on what Jesus’s listeners needed to hear, perhaps hoping to show His sensitivity to their feelings, also minimizes the scope of His promise. We presently think of a counselor as either an advisor or advocate. In ancient times, though, the term combined the two as dual functions of royal ministers who constituted the power behind the throne. Counselors consulted with rulers, advising them prior to decisions while pressing for policies to remedy situations across the realm. The best counselors spoke like kings yet thought like commoners, serving as vital conduits that kept the lines of communication flowing between the monarch and his people. Therefore, Jesus's use of "Counselor" goes beyond suggesting the Spirit will soothe our anxieties. It speaks to a specific function which brings comfort.

In defining the Holy Spirit as a Counselor, Jesus promises to ask God the Father for an open line whereby we can reach Him, an ever-present power behind the throne conveying our needs and influencing decisions on our behalf. So the we understand this Counselor can be trusted (not all earthly ones can), Jesus adds a descriptor: “the Spirit of truth.” Via the Spirit, communications to and from God remain pure—impervious to garbled translation, secure from spiritual interference, and invulnerable to human error. Most important, the gift of the Holy Spirit mitigates a possibility that poses our biggest threat—thinking for ourselves. With the Holy Spirit actively among us, we're free to set aside our own notions and rely on our Counselor to lead us as God directs.

Counselor and Comforter

Eventually we learn we can’t avoid unwelcome transitions that seem to occur without regarding our feelings and needs. And, to be honest, many times our perceptions are spot-on. Changes stemming from reasons beyond us often impact our lives in serious ways. Though forces behind them neglect to account for that, we take comfort in knowing we have a Counselor, a power behind the throne to guarantee our petitions will be presented to God and plead His remedy for our case. According to Romans 8.26, the Holy Spirit not only connects us to God and provides open access to Him, It compensates for our shortcomings and lack of insight: “The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us.” With the Holy Spirit dwelling among us, God gives us a Counselor Who sees all and tells all—not only what we can’t detect or articulate, but also the what we refuse to recognize and confess. Our Counselor is the Spirit of truth Whose integrity and accuracy can’t be challenged. Confidence in this ends in knowing the Holy Spirit as our Counselor and Comforter.

As our Counselor, the Holy Spirit serves as an invaluable conduit, a secure line between God and us. This gives us great comfort in knowing our prayers and situations are accurately relayed.

(Tomorrow: The Power of Words)

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Right of Inheritance

For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”

                        Romans 8.15

A Little S, The Big S

Though I’ve yet to bump into any scholarship confirming it, Paul’s preferred construct for breaking down spiritual principles seems to be “Not that, but this.” Steering his readers from old habits and ideas into new light certainly reflects his own experience as a captive of legalistic bigotry set free by Christ’s laws of love and tolerance. Maybe that’s why the approach gains such prominence and power with his pen. Take his finest literary moment, for example. Nearly two-thirds of 1 Corinthians 13, the Bible’s most celebrated ode to love, lists behaviors and attitudes lacking or contradicting love. After establishing what it isn’t, Paul sails through what real love is. He uses the same structure to explain the Holy Spirit’s function in securing the right of inheritance to God’s grace. “You didn’t receive a spirit revoking your freedom from fear,” he says. “You received the Spirit of adoption entitling you to call God your Father.” Not that, but this.

The contrast is blatantly visible in print. Re-enslavement to fear is the work of a spirit—indefinite modifier, little S—while the Spirit—definitive singular, big S—seals our adoption by God. Even without deeper consideration, Paul’s premise speaks volumes. Doctrines or messages aimed at reviving anxieties about God’s acceptance take shape under a devious influence, one spirit among many in opposition to Christ’s truth. The lowercase S strips away all pretense of divine authority, while the uppercase S legitimizes any advocate of God’s unconditional will to welcome everyone into His household of faith. The Holy Spirit stands alone as the sole Agent of our adoption, making It the single Source of confidence in God’s embrace and provision

Commissioned to Speak

In John 16.12, Jesus identifies the Holy Spirit as One commissioned to speak the mind of God. Numerous epistles advance this concept, most notably 1 John 5.6, which casts the Spirit as primary witness of Jesus’s Lordship. Paul reaches the same conclusion in reverse, teaching what’s said on God’s behalf proves the validity of its source. If it contests our status as God’s children and rightful heirs, Paul says it’s an imposter misrepresenting Christ’s gospel of love as a ministry of fear. But if it supports our legitimacy via divine adoption, it’s the Holy Spirit speaking for God. His Word is final and immune to courts of human opinion. The Spirit steels our assurance in Who God is, who we are, and establishes the nature of our relationship to Him. He’s our Father. We’re His children. He sent the Holy Spirit to grant us full access and rights to Calvary’s legacy. Paul does such a fine job of documenting this in black-and-white that any believer who continues to struggle with doubts about his/her acceptance does so voluntarily and needlessly.

Being Led

Notice how Paul describes what we haven’t received—“a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear.” The reference to slavery is more than a dramatic flourish. It conveys two walloping nuances. First, it alerts us to discount any negative manipulation out-of-hand and second, it reorients us to prize freedom as part of our godly inheritance. When a former pastor preached against permitting anyone or anything to steal our liberty in Christ, he boiled his message down to this: “So you want to go back to Egypt?” That’s Paul’s message in a nutshell. Ungodly influences enslave us to fear. They push us as far back toward Egypt as we’re willing to go, often ending up worse than where we started. The Holy Spirit never resorts to pushy manipulation. It leads. Jesus promises, “He will guide you into all truth.” (John 16.13) And Galatians 5.18 says the Spirit is sent to lead us to freedom, not return us to lives held hostage to terror and doom: “If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.” Indeed, liberty is Its hallmark; 2 Corinthians 3.17 unequivocally states, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” We may think going back to Egypt—enslaving ourselves to fear-based values and beliefs—will please God when, in fact, turning back is how we part company with the Holy Spirit.

Being led by the Spirit removes us from spiritual degradation and poverty to live freely and openly as God’s children. In the verse just above his comparison of enslavement and adoption, Paul writes, “Those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” Following the Spirit’s lead, listening and believing only what It says, finalizes our adoption. It affords us the privilege of addressing God in a most pleasing manner to Him and us. “By the Spirit,” Paul says, “we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’” He couples the Aramaic and (originally) Greek words for “Father” on purpose. In Aramaic, Abba denoted an intimately trusting, mutually respectful relationship between father and child. It was spoken with tenderness and pride, acknowledging the wealth of love and security the child receives from the father. “Father” balances this with paternal responsibility for the child’s growth and wellbeing, guaranteed for life. God sent the Holy Spirit to unite us with Him, opening a two-way channel to express our shared love and happiness. God’s will for us is just that, a testament of care and concern for His children. Since He’s eternal, our adoption and inheritance transpire simultaneously. When we say, “Abba, Father” we execute His will—in every sense of the word.

The Holy Spirit finalizes our adoption and inheritance simultaneously.

(Tomorrow: The Comfort of Counsel)

Monday, May 25, 2009

The Gift of Joy

In spite of suffering, you welcomed the message with the joy given by the Holy Spirit.

                        1 Thessalonians 1.6

In Spite of Everything

So far our discussions leading to Pentecost looked at how the Holy Spirit clothes us in power and floods us with hope, making faith possible. We discover another ministry of Its office in 1 Thessalonians 1.6, which says the Spirit gives us joy. Every believer possesses the Holy Spirit’s gift of joy, regardless of her/his immediate emotional state. Faith produces joy, inuring it to natural conditions. Per Galatians 5.22, it’s a fruit of the Spirit, which 1 Peter 1.8 confirms: “Even though you do not see [Jesus] now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy.” Through the unction of the Holy Spirit, faith changes joy from feeling to fact. Believers can’t explain why they remain joyful regardless what they encounter, or how their joy exists independently of sorrow. Yet in spite of everything we carry from our past and face presently and in our future, we still have joy. Peter nailed it. The joy given by the Holy Spirit can’t be adequately expressed in human terms because it defies earthbound logic. It’s supernatural, which makes it altogether glorious.

The Message and Two Mysteries

Think back to when you welcomed the message of Christ—not when you first heard it, but when you consciously embraced it and redirected your life to follow His path. Whether by a momentary “come-to-Jesus” epiphany or gradual awakening to His purpose, do you remember the joy accompanying it? I’ve yet to meet a genuine believer who didn’t experience an inexplicable commingling of happiness, peace, and optimism after accepting Jesus as Lord of his/her life. Paul describes this profound sense of confidence and contentment as “the joy given by the Holy Spirit.” It’s like falling in love, only better, since its purpose exceeds emotional bliss. The Spirit’s gift of joy erases all doubts about a lifetime commitment to Christ. The initial joy inspiring us to welcome His message stays with us, continuing to grow and solidify, as we walk with Him.

Faith made possible by the Spirit and the joy It gives are two mysteries we’ll never comprehend in this life. They operate symbiotically, constantly proving and sustaining one another. According to 1 John 5.5-6, joy in rising above life’s trials springs from confidence in Christ. And, once again, the Spirit plays a crucial, if mysterious, role in facilitating this. “Who is it that overcomes the world?” John asks, answering, “Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God… And it is the Spirit who testifies [of Christ], because the Spirit is truth.” Spirit-given joy fuels Spirit-driven faith in Christ’s power to overcome our problems, which in turn refuels our joy by rewarding our faith. The cycle is never-ending and self-perpetuating.

In the Asking

It’s the Holy Spirit’s task to give us inexpressible, glorious joy. Once we accept it, however, responsibility falls on us to nurture it by faith. Like every other aspect of following Christ, successfully maintaining our joy relies entirely on our reliance on Him. In John 16.24, Jesus tells us: “Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.” If our joy’s running on empty, it’s because we’re handling too much on our own and depending too little on Him. The more we include Him in our daily living and decisions, the more joy we’ll find in our days and choices. It’s just that simple.

It pleases Christ to be involved in our lives. Tying the joy we possess to the degree we look to Him creates an extraordinary incentive we can’t ignore. Everything about us—our needs and challenges, hopes and dreams—is significant to Him. Being God, He knows all about us; having lived among us, as one of us, He’s intimately aware of our physical and emotional concerns. Hebrews 4.15-16 encourages us to bring our problems to Christ, saying, “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Not turning to Jesus with lowly problems lowers our joy by tacitly expressing doubt in His care. The Holy Spirit gives us joy to increase our faith to ask for anything. Receiving what we need increases our joy. We can’t explain why, but that’s how it works.

The Holy Spirit gives us joy to welcome Christ's message. After we accept it, we maintain joy's fullness by faith in His promise we can ask and receive what we need from Him.

(Tomorrow: The Right of Inheritance)

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The God of Hope

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

                        Romans 15.13 

Gospel Truth Clichés

My Pentecostal upbringing—which I treasure with all my heart—was rich in phraseology due to its high-octane emphasis on spoken word, joyful music, and evangelistic fervor. Our best preachers were wizards at transposing scriptural principles into colorful sound bytes that quickly filtered into our song lyrics and testimony. For example, Paul’s statement that transformation in Christ does away with old things and makes everything new (2 Corinthians 5.17) was often expressed as, “He changed my walk; He changed my talk.” Faith in God’s healing and protection inspired us to say, “He’s a doctor in the sickroom and a lawyer in the courtroom.” Of course, overuse weakened their substance—so much so a great friend (like me, a preacher’s kid) often kidded our heavy reliance on “gospel clichés.” As one who cherished our vivid expressions, I took issue with his cynical view, reminding him they conveyed universal truth. While he continued to tease their usage, he avoided my challenges by referring to them as “gospel truth clichés”—always with a fond wink my way.

“He’s a Friend to the friendless and Hope for the hopeless” remains my favorite gospel truth cliché because it captures the foundation on which the whole of our faith rests. If stamina flags or rational thought triggers unanswerable questions, we stand on God’s unfailing love and ability to do more than we ask or imagine. When every sign indicates our prayers have got lost, probability appears nil that our trials will end in triumph, and patience feels pointless, we ground ourselves in confidence God is our Friend and Hope. We don’t accomplish this by force of will, however. According to Romans 15.13, the Holy Spirit comes to our rescue by flooding us with hope.

When the Spirit Comes

In His final week as a natural man, Jesus consumes nearly every waking moment on last-minute details, the most important being intensive preparation of the disciples for His death, resurrection, and ascension. The Holy Spirit figures prominently in His discussions, as He informs His followers a Force unlimited by time and space will fill the void left by His absence. In John 16, He eases their apprehension of being left alone. “It is for your good that I am going away,” He says in verse 7. “Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.” As He explains the Holy Spirit’s role Jesus tells them, “He will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will tell you what is yet to come.” (v13) Because the Spirit speaks for the God of hope Paul mentions, It guides us to look forward, steering our attention away from present problems to believe wholeheartedly in what’s to come—deliverance from trouble, healing from suffering, peace and joy to relieve anxiety and sorrow, and so forth.

Making Faith Possible

Hebrews 11.1 defines faith as “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see,” i.e., trusting the God of hope. Yet expectancy short of natural reason and confidence without tangible proof fall beyond our capacity, which means authentically trusting the God of hope is humanly impossible. Merely on a biological level, we’re hard-wired to respond to our immediate environment relying solely on our senses. Intellectually, we base decisions on what we can plausibly predict. Thus, the Holy Spirit’s primary purpose is making faith possible in the absence of instinctive reasoning. Once the Spirit makes our faith possible, any and everything else becomes possible. Jesus clearly emphasizes this in Mark 9.23: “Everything is possible for him who believes.”

The power of the Holy Spirit causes our hope to overflow. It gives us more faith than we need. We run afoul by thinking of faith as something constructed out of our personal resources. We settle for less than we can have because hoping for more demands trust we can’t summon on our own. “I wish I had that kind of faith,” we say with sad resignation. But faith doesn’t originate with us; it’s given to us by the Holy Spirit. In Galatians 5.5 we learn, “By faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope.” Faith comes through the Spirit. Without faith, extolling God as a Friend to the friendless and Hope for the hopeless retains its lovely sentiment while losing its veracity; it’s a hollow cliché. Once we appeal to the Spirit’s guidance to stir our belief and hope overflows us, it—and every other expression of faith—rings with vibrant, unassailable truth.

The Holy Spirit makes faith possible, causing our hope to overflow.

(Tomorrow: The Gift of Joy)

Postscript: A Gentle Reminder

If you’re interested in a monthly online Bible study but haven’t yet indicated your scheduling preference, please take a moment to respond to the poll in the upper right column or fire off a quick email. Currently we have 11 responses—seven in the poll and four emails—and the results are virtually tied. The poll will close at the end of the month and your input will be greatly appreciated.