Leading up to Pentecost, many people fast and pray, seeking a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Why such earnest hunger for God’s gift? May I present one possible answer? We are a broken people. We leak and run dry. (Or at least, I do.) People of all ages and creeds desire a refreshing experience of God both within and upon them, bringing wisdom, revelation, and power.
In the desiring comes a waiting — a waiting in His Presence for more of His Presence.
Something significant occurs while waiting, both for the disciples and for us. These men and women pressed through three years of personal sacrifice and transition, public expectation and humiliation, and finally Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. Jesus knew they needed rest in their waiting. By comparison, the past days and years paled to what loomed ahead.
“On one occasion, while (Jesus) was eating with them, he gave them this command: ‘Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.”
I love giving gifts! Often the smallest gift brings the greatest joy. Someone else goes through the effort and pays the price for gifts given. Someone else considers carefully the most appropriate gift.
As much as I appreciate gifts, I often find it difficult to receive gifts well. Perhaps these strong-minded disciples shared my handicap. There in the upper room, they gathered in preparation to receive. Others assembled with them.
“They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.”
Years ago, I painted a landscape picture for someone I deeply cared for. It was my first attempt at oil painting, created with love. Initially, the recipient gladly welcomed my gift, but later returned it. They found something newer and better, which probably wasn’t difficult. My gift, now shunned and rejected, stayed hidden in a closet.
Have you given something, perhaps a piece of yourself, only to have it rejected? At some time, we all share the experience. When Jesus offered the gift of the Holy Spirit to these men and women, He ultimately offered the gift of Himself. No gift compares to the valuable treasure of the Holy Spirit. Yet like my painting, it too often becomes pushed aside, shunned and rejected.
In order to receive the Holy Spirit well, we must understand what makes this Gift the best, most appropriate, and needed gift.
A Powerful Gift
For over three years, Jesus cared for and supplied everything His followers needed. But now they struggled to adapt without Him. Jesus knew they needed something, or rather Someone, more.
“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.”
For the duration of time they were with Jesus, they operated under His mantle of authority and power. God performed amazing miracles through them. They travelled into the surrounding towns and villages sharing the good news, casting out demons, and healing all kinds of diseases.
That was yesterday! Today called for a difference only the Holy Spirit could make. The most beneficial gifts match the season we live in.
Too easily, the disciples might have dashed into the world ill prepared for the new season ahead. Too easily, self-effort and self-sufficiency may have dominated their strategies. Old season thinking needed to give way to new season momentum.
The gift of the Holy Spirit comes with power — power to share Jesus at home and abroad and power for a few men and women to face a world against impossible odds. Sometimes people move out in ministry before the Gift. Then later, they joyfully experience what a difference the Gift of the Holy Spirit makes in missionary endeavors.
A Needed Gift
Paul traveled to Ephesus. His first recorded question reveals much about his priorities in ministry.
“. . . There he found some disciples and asked them, ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?'”
When Paul learned they hadn’t even heard about the Holy Spirit, he immediately baptized them and prayed. “The Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied” (Acts 19:5,6). With that, the needed gift of the Holy Spirit arrived in Ephesus. Yet years later, Paul continued to pray for this mature, thriving church to experience the Holy Spirit in ever-increasing ways. Why?
“I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.”
The Holy Spirit enables us to know God better — to know Him more deeply, intimately, and fully. To begin to comprehend the vastness of “the glorious Father” requires Holy Spirit’s help, “wisdom, and revelation.”
May the hunger and desire to “know Him better” be the propelling force, preparing us to receive the Gift available to all who will receive.
The Gift that Gives
Paul’s second prayer for the Ephesian church reveals another reason.
“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge — that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”
Paul packs punch into his prayer, asking the Holy Spirit to root and establish his listeners in God’s love. He desires the Holy Spirit to help them “grasp how wide and long and high and deep” the love of Christ is. Who can deny that God’s overwhelming love “surpasses” human knowledge and yet the Gift provides the way? Paul longed for the second generation of Christians to be “filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” It’s a longing straight from the Father’s heart.
The Holy Spirit doesn’t stop there. In the rooting, establishing, and grasping of God’s love, the Holy Spirit gives the ability to offer the same love to others. Isn’t this the greatest expression and evidence of the Holy Spirit’s Presence among us? The remainder of Paul’s letter speaks of loving and living through the Gift of the Spirit.
When I first encountered Jesus Christ, my prayer was, “Lord, teach me to love.” Over four decades later, my heart’s cry remains. To love as the Father loves is beyond personal ability. Only the Holy Spirit enables and empowers such love — even in the smallest form.
The Holy Spirit in You
I apologize as I struggle for words to articulate in a few paragraphs the expanse of the Holy Spirit within us. The Gift turned red-necked fishermen into fishers of men and transformed the uneducated into teachers of the learned. Their lives, and the lives of multitudes since, speak louder than letters and words formed into sentences.
Peter spoke far better than I,
“Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him as you yourselves know.”
Peter saw and knew Jesus as a man sent by God. We might easily forget He came to earth fully human. Yet this one Man, Jesus, through the Spirit, performed miracles, wonders, and signs. Let Peter’s words sink in. “Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs.”
Any limitations rest not in our humanity. We are no more or less human than Jesus was. Limitations originate in our responsiveness (or lack thereof) to the Holy Spirit. That’s good news! What God gave to the disciples on the first Pentecost, He fully and freely offers to us. His Presence overcomes any and all human weakness, bringing hope for everyone.
We don’t need to wait for a certain day of the year like Pentecost Sunday to receive this gift. Every day, the Father extends His Gift to us. May faith reach to ask and trust welcome to receive the Holy Spirit in you.