The One who would not be locked down: Reflections on a Stay-Home Pentecost
Elder Jimmy Tan // May 31, 2020, 12:26 pm
"How many of us are honestly (pardon the pun) at home with the Holy Spirit?" asks Elder Jimmy Tan as we celebrate Pentacost in Circuit Breaker conditions. Photo by Sunyu on Unsplash.
This Pentecost season, we are all at home. Yet that very first outpouring also happened behind closed doors.
It happened as the motley church-to-be of 120 was praying, their chief stay home activity after the Lord vanished from sight 10 days earlier.
They didn’t know when this season would end or how it would phase out. But the fruit of all that waiting-in-faith was the outpouring or drenching of the Holy Spirit.
That very first outpouring (of the Holy Spirit) also happened behind closed doors.
AW Tozer astutely observed that Pentecost had features no one ever witnessed again. It was the only time anyone could claim the entire church was 100% physically altogether. It was also the only time in church history that 17 different tongues (go count the language groups listed in Acts 2) were manifested at one sitting.
And it was the only time in the Bible we would read of the Holy Spirit appearing like tongues of fire. How apt, if you think of it. These unrepeatable circumstances were for an unmistakable page turn in history.
Yet the third member of the Trinity did not so much as enter the scene (He co-existed with the Father and the Son) as to take centerstage.
The Divine script had long been written. Now, it was His time to be revealed in greater measure.
And boy, how could we not be amazed at God’s stratagem par excellence as He unleashed His so called WMT or weapon of mass transformation?
He released His royal presence to henceforth live within undeserving mortals who call on Jesus. And He empowered foolish and feeble ones to become, believe it not, like His Son Jesus in walk, way and work.
How many of us are honestly (pardon the pun) at home with the Holy Spirit?
Yet how many of us are honestly (pardon the pun) at home with the Holy Spirit? Or if we were, how might we still misunderstand Him?
My background is a wee-bit Methodist (saved by the preaching of the late Pastor Chan Wah Teck) and a large part brethren.
In my young adulthood, I didn’t escape the crossfires of the charismatic wars in the 80’s. The result, as we know, was, on one hand, new churches, restored emphases, certainly numbers added to the Kingdom.
But on the other side, were many who were still deeply scarred, unable to square how the imperfect church is, well, always imperfect till she’s ready at His return.
While a lot of the dust has thankfully settled, in part due to just the mellowing of the movement and cross-denominational partnerships since, I still find some who are unfortunately misinformed on matters of the Holy Spirit.
My concern is that we end up not fulfilling our full potential as His saints, children and priests.
Here are three misunderstood aspects I’ve discovered in my own learning journey.
The Holy Spirit is a Force
No matter how Hollywood would have us wish it, the Force may not be with you.
The Holy Spirit is a Person, meaning He has personality. He has a mind (Romans 8:27), He speaks (Revelation 2:7), guides (John 16:33) and leads (Romans 8:14).
He has feelings with a capital F. In today’s terms, He seems more emo than we care to admit. Look, Scripture tells us He can be grieved (Isaiah 63:10). That means we can make Him cry, even weep buckets, when we sin or when we are sad.
We also know that when He finds a willing soul like King David, who wanted to praise God with his entire being, He certainly approved when David, filled with the Holy Spirit, pranced about at risk of being thought a lunatic to the watching world. (Didn’t Michal become barren for being judgmental?).
Finally, we know that, when quenched (1 Thessalonians 5:19), He simply refrains from acting or forcing His way through. (Hmm, is He being respectful or reluctant or both?). To think of it, aren’t these the same things we read of about God the Father and Jesus the Son in the Bible? All three of them are the same … one and only God.
When we delve into His Word, which He wrote, we don’t just hear His voice but we also feel His heart.
At this point many of us are stuck at: Is the Trinity a 3-in-1 or 1+1+1 = 1? I would suggest we get past that. For even if we never fully wrap our heads around the mystery of the Trinity (we can’t anyway), we must decide not to make the Holy Spirit out to be just a “mysterious” force. A force is cold and impersonal and, yet actually, one we could possibly manipulate.
Not the Holy Spirit. He is not some genie we can whip up at will or whim, even with our desperate prayers.
Yes, He helps us pray (Romans 8:26). But He is also Sovereign. Yes, He is ultimate Strength (He and the Father were both credited as having raised Jesus from the dead). He’s been likened to fire (Isaiah 4:4) and to wind (John 3:8), elements or forces of nature.
But these are just metaphors describing His aspects or qualities and not the reality. (Some plucky colleague you call a “real chilli padi” is not a chilli padi, right?).
This seems almost obvious to point out but, as mere force, we would have reason to be wary of, and thus remain aloof to, the Holy Spirit.
I found it helpful to remember the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:20). The character traits of God that we desire can only come from the Holy Spirit who personifies them completely.
So becoming like Jesus is impossible without the Holy Spirit. Not surprisingly, when we delve into His Word, which He wrote, we don’t just hear His voice but we also feel His heart.
How personal and intimate and authentic is that!
The Holy Spirit is to be Feared
Let’s face it, some of us are still charis-phobic. We may have been scarred by early excesses or abuses, with a sore wound unhealed by painful memories of church turf wars over this very doctrine.
On the other end, some of us are guilty of charis-maniac behaviour and teaching, the proverbial “seeing a demon in every corner”.
As His children who are marked out and lovingly sealed by the Holy Spirit as His, why should we fear the Holy Spirit?
One of my fellow elders wisely remarked some years back that, instead of just avoiding being in the corner of the charis-phobic or the charis-maniac, we all ought to take our rightful place as being labelled “charismatic”, in the original Biblical sense.
It is sad if the term ends up hijacked by some of us or merely associated with certain manifestations. As His children who are marked out and lovingly sealed by the Holy Spirit as His (Ephesians 1:13), why should we fear the Holy Spirit? He is the Spirit of Christ!
That Son of Man from Galilee launched into ministry only after the Holy Spirit, in the form of a gentle dove, rested on him. This is congruent with Jesus as our strong and kind Great Shepherd (Psalm 23).
The Spirit is “ruach“, or breath in Hebrew, yet in Genesis 1:2 we have the first picture of Him hovering over the face of the deep. The same word “hovering” is used to describe how “an eagle stirs up its nest, [and] hovers over its young” (Deuteronomy 32:11) like a protective mother eagle.
The Holy Spirit is a template breaker, for sure. Just watch Jesus at work and you shouldn’t expect any less.
Oh yes, the Holy Spirit can be “fierce” as He is as much identified by His purity as the Father and the Son are, but to fear Him in the wrong way leaves us 33.33% shortchanged, as it were.
I suspect He is also feared (in the wrong sense) because He is strongly associated in many quarters of the church with signs and wonders rather than also with the equally correct image of the “still small voice”, which quieter traditions prefer (1 Kings 19:12).
The Holy Spirit is a template breaker, for sure. Just watch Jesus at work in the Gospels and you shouldn’t expect any less.
As Jesus sprung another surprise on the 12 by walking on water, the same Holy Spirit teleported Philip to and from the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:26-40!
But an unwise handling of any renewed emphasis on the gifts or charismata of the Holy Spirit will continue to add unhelpful fuel to the fire of confusion.
The Holy Spirit is Forceful
The Holy Spirit comes to clothe us with “power from on high” (Luke 24:49). And Jesus promised that we “shall receive power” when the Holy Spirit comes upon us (Acts 1:8). The Greek word for power is “dunamis” which simply means “the ability to do”.
We must not typecast this power to power encounters, or the physically spectacular, though that would be partly correct. The same Holy Spirit that parted the Red Sea to deliver the Israelites is the same one who concretely convicts us of pride and all other hidden sins.
Like Jesus, the Holy Spirit comes to comfort the disturbed and also disturb the comfortable.
The same Holy Spirit that casts out demons (thank God for that!) is the same one who gifts some in the Body to bring orderliness through administration (thank God for that too!).
The same Holy Spirit who anoints Reinhard Bonnke to, as it were, reel in the millions into the Kingdom, is the same One who helps us comfort the grieving, feed those in quarantine or be a friend to a special child.
He dishes out God’s grace (grace also means “enabling strength”) to all who humbly depend on Him, or, to use Jesus’ phrasing, who “abide in Him” (John 15:4).
In all the above scenarios, we know the right thing to say is: “It’s all from Him and for Him!” The trouble is we humans, by fleshly default, find security in our ability to control stuff. And that disturbs a deeply entrenched nerve in the Singaporean psyche.
Didn’t CS Lewis put it this way in The Chronicles of Narnia: “Course he isn’t safe. But he is good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
Like Jesus, the Holy Spirit comes to comfort the disturbed and also disturb the comfortable. He can be assuring as he is “troublesome”.
Despite COVID-19 and beyond it, there’s unfinished business He has assigned for each one of us.
Gordon Fee wisely titled his massive volume on the Holy Spirit as “God’s Empowering Presence”. I find it helpful. The Holy Spirit is God – no less in rank, no less in Holy substance.
The Holy Spirit empowers, for apart from Him we can do nothing.
The Holy Spirit is a Presence, for only a Person with personality exudes that.
The Holy Spirit, by virtue of His role, multiplies the work inaugurated by Jesus, who in turn glorifies only His Father. And the multi-mutual admiration and bond is ever unbreakable and thick.
But make no mistake. God, through the Holy Spirit, is still on the move, until God the Son returns.
So, dear brothers and sisters (aka brethren or Greek “adelphoi“), despite COVID-19 and beyond it, there’s unfinished business He has assigned for each one of us – whatever our stage of spiritual maturity or range of spiritual gifting.
Believe it or not, the Holy Spirit’s preferred agents of change are still us, fumbling as we come.
Would we, by faith, heed Paul’s injunction to keep in step with this same Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:25)? Or would we still quench or grieve Him with our pride and prejudices? The Holy Spirit still calls that a sin.