I wonder whether you can think back to when you were in your late teens (this will be more recent for some of us than others)?
What dreams did you have for your life? How did you picture your future? What sort of things did you hope to do? And have you done them? Have things worked out the way you’d hoped at all?
Have any of you seen a televisions series called 7-Up? It’s a documentary that tracks the lives of about ten people in seven year intervals. It’s fascinating to watch this snap-shot of people aging and to see how each major life-decision affects the rest.
Actually, it’s a little bit depressing. Because in every case, the people interviewed say that life has been a lot harder than they thought it would be when they were in their teens. And the study shows that there are two major life decisions in particular, that seem to limit, the potential for other opportunities: and those are marriage and children.
There’s a song that says ‘love changes everything’, and it’s true. The decision to love someone profoundly affects how we go about making other decisions about study, travel, work and how we spend our time and money.
When I was a teenager my dream for my life was to be a highly successful, highly paid barrister. I wanted to travel, to be financially independent, and to never get married.
You could say that that hasn’t exactly worked out the way I planned … and the reason for that is because at a young age I formed a relationship with Jesus and I gave my life to him … and then that meant that the Holy Spirit came into my life … and his love for me changed everything (and later he brought Adam into my life). This meant that I had to start listening to what the Holy Spirit had to say about my life choices. In other words, it wasn’t just about me anymore.
Some Biblical Examples:
And we see this right through the New Testament – examples of the Holy Spirit guiding the believers to go and do things they otherwise would never have done, and know things they otherwise could never have known – here are some examples from the book of Acts:
- ch9 – the Lord tells Ananias to go to Paul and pray for him to regain his sight
- ch10 – an angel tells Cornelius to collect Peter from Joppa and Peter has a vision in which God tells him to eat unclean animals
- ch13 – the Holy Spirit instructs the church at Antioch to set aside Barnabas and Saul to be sent out as apostles
- ch16 – the Holy Spirit forbids Timothy, Paul and Silas to speak the word in Asia, prevent them from going to Bithynia and gives Paul a vision to go to Macedonia
- Acts 20 – the Holy Spirit testifies to Paul that he will be put in prison
And there are many more examples of the Holy Spirit speaking specific guidance to people.
What About Today?
Now, you might be thinking that, these examples aren’t the norm. That the Holy Spirit doesn’t usually speak to people directly. But that’s not what the bible says.
John 16.13-14 – Jesus says:
“When the Spirit of truth comes … he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.”
That is, the Holy Spirit will speak what Jesus gives him to speak, to us, and this includes revealing things about the future.
And we knew this from the words of the prophet Joel:
“In the last days [that’s now] it will be, God declares,
That I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
And your sons and your daughters will prophesy,
And your young men shall see visions,
And your old men shall dream dreams.” (Acts 2:17)
The Holy Spirit will communicate with us through words, dreams and visions, and Peter goes on to say in Acts 2:38, that this isn’t just for some people, but for all believers. Paul also tells us that the Holy Spirit gives “manifestations” to every believer for the common good, and that these include wisdom, discernment, prophecy and words of knowledge (1 Cor 12:4-11)
I suspect, that if we were to survey every Christian around the world and ask them, ‘Has the Holy Spirit ever spoken to you?’ the vast majority would say ‘yes’.
But you see we are in the minority, because we are in the west … and our stomachs are full, and we are surrounded by noise and distractions … and a general skepticism towards anything supernatural … and this can lead to a kind of pathetic, uninspiring image of God.
A number of years ago now, I was at my girlfriend’s house, I was about 18, and two young men from the Mormon Church, knocked on her door. They had come to evangelise us. Well, we invited them in for a cuppa and a chat. Because back then, I used to talk to absolutely everyone and anyone: the people selling communist newspapers at uni, the schizophrenic man on the bus, the lady who lived down the street … just about anyone who would listen to me. It’s not a bad way to be actually (as a Christian) …
Anyway, on this particular day I had two thoughts:
First, let’s invite these very good looking young men in for a chat (what’s the harm).
And second, maybe I can tell them why I’m a Christian.
Well, they started to teach us about the Mormon beliefs and in the course of this conversation they showed us this diagram of the Trinity (three stick-figures). By this stage of the conversation I was beginning to feel concerned about the danger of fundamentalist religion. Because you see these young men had already shown us pictures of a blue-eyed Jesus visiting Joseph Smith in America as if it was a real-life depiction and now this diagram of the Trinity.
Now, something about this bothered me. Does it bother you? I wanted to explore why it bothered me, so I humoured the conversation … and I said, “I notice that the Holy Spirit is drawn with broken lines. Why is that?’
And one of the young men said to me, ‘that’s a very good observation. Well done on picking that up. The reason is because the Holy Spirit is a spirit and doesn’t have a body.’
And it was shortly after that comment that we ended the conversation, and they left. Now, I’m not sharing this story with you to make fun of Mormons. I’m sharing it because, what scares me, is that I really think this is the kind of image that many Christians have of the Holy Spirit (show broken stick figure).
This picture says that the Holy Spirit is somehow less God than the other two persons. He is almost an ‘it’ more than a ‘he’. You can’t have a relationship with an ‘it’ …
And because of this ‘it’, stick-figure, empty image of the Holy Spirit that is so prevalent today … we’ve seen a range of unhelpful models develop in our churches about how God guides us ..
(Jamin and John to help with demonstration)
Some Unhelpful Models
1. Signs and Wonders (Jamin sends text messages, John looks at his phone)
- this person believes that God will always tell them exactly what to do
- so their job is just to wait for supernatural directions to be given to them
- send a text – specific words, visions, dreams from the Holy Spirit are the only reliable source of guidance
Problem: this person is like a robot, they have no thoughts of their own – and the Holy Spirit won’t have an opinion on every decision we make
Gen 3:19 – The Lord brought the animals to the man to see what he would call them (we were made to make decisions for ourselves and God waits with interest to see what we will choose)
2. Multi-Vitamin Faith (Jamin throws John a vitamins, and John drinks with water)
- this person knows and believes that the Holy Spirit is in them and will never leave them (which is true) (Acts 2:38)
- but they don’t understand that the Holy Spirit does communicate with us, and so they think of him, as a multi-vitamin that has gone into their bodies to sanctify/cleanse them (make them holy/healthy), but they never need to think about him or do anything to cooperate with him (he doesn’t guide)
- Problem: this person never prays to the Holy Spirit or seeks to exercise spiritual gifts
- 1 Cor 14: 1 – Paul says to strive for the spiritual gifts, which means we actually have to do something to cooperate with the Holy Spirit (especially prophecy)
- 1 Thess 5:19 – Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of the prophets. Test everything.
- This means that when someone says “God told me” we don’t automatically assume it to be true … nor do we automatically assume it to not be true – we seek to hear the Holy Spirit in our lives – we test everything against scripture, and we try to read the signs of the times.
3. If it Feels Good Do It (John holds his heart, Jamin scratches his head)
- this person associates the ‘peace of God’ with feeling happy and contented – they assume all choices that feel good and bring contentment are the right choices – they use language like ‘it just feels right’, which often means, ‘it just feels good’
- Problem: this person is potentially obsessed with themselves and can’t distinguish between their own thoughts and feelings and the Holy Spirit’s prompting
- Romans 8: 16 – The Spirit testifies with our Spirit
- Romans 9:1 – Paul says “I am speaking the truth in Christ – I am not lying; my conscience confirms it by the Holy Spirit” – we can see there that the Holy Spirit confirms things in our spirit sometimes without words (and this may affect our feelings, but it is not our feelings alone that guide us)
- The Holy Spirit sometimes guides us to do things that don’t feel good – e.g. Jesus to the desert to be tested, and to the cross
4. Blessings (Jamin starts throwing chocolates at John)
- this person believes that the sign they are on the right track is that God is blessing their life with good things
- Problem: this person will never suffer/die for the gospel
- Rom 8 – God has subjected the world to futility and suffering – not everything that happens is a direct sign to us as individuals
5. Bible + Common Sense (Jamin throws a bible at John who studies it)
- this person believes that the only way the Holy Spirit really speaks to us today is through the written word
- of course this is the first way the Holy Spirit speaks, but not the only way
- Problem: this person has a relationship with a book, not God
- John 14:17 - The ‘Advocate’ is a person, not a thing – “You know him because he abides in you and will be with you.”
- the problem with all of these models, is the gap we see, between the person and the Holy Spirit (there is no relationship, they don’t know each other, there’s no interaction)
- and it’s strange that this would happen because it’s this gap between us and God that Jesus came to close … and yet we can become distant from the Holy Spirit who he sent to us, to lead us to him
- this is how it’s means to look (John and Jamin hug)
The Relational Model
It’s strange isn’t it, that we so freely use the language of having a personal relationship with Jesus ... but we almost never speak of having a personal relationship with the Holy Spirit.
We might look to him for guidance … but he can’t guide us if we don’t have a relationship with him. Because he’s not an ‘it’. He’s a person who wants to be known and loved. He can even be grieved (Eph 4:30)
And he knows he can’t make us love him. The Holy Spirit is always patient, kind, gentle, loving. He won’t force himself on you … he respects you … he won’t communicate with you any more than to the extent that you allow.
Which is the very reason why I can’t give you a simple answer to the question: how does the Holy Spirit guide? Because he will communicate with you differently to me, and in a way that’s personal to you … and he will only reveal things to you to the extent that you invite him to do so and to the extent that you’re ready …
So, the most I can say is that there are some general modes of communication that he uses with different people at different times:
- words of knowledge
- spiritual gifts (e.g. teaching, wisdom, discernment of spirits)
- sometimes the Holy Spirit will use the gifts of another believer to communicate to us
- and sometimes he testifies to our spirit in a way that is beyond words, but confirms that our desires are in line with Jesus’ desires
- but this is something deeper than feelings
Paul gives an example of this when he compares being a believer to being an athlete:
“Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one. So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air; but I punish my body and enslave it …” (1 Cor 9:25-26)
The Holy Spirit drives us to achieve the higher aim of glorifying Jesus, even when it costs us, even when it hurts us. [That’s why his relationship with us can be a lot like a coach with an athlete – in fact he’s a lot like Usher in this video clip – check it out]
So, here’s my take-home question for you today (in the words of Usher): Do you really want more?
Do you want to know more about yourself, about what’s in your heart, about the future, about the people around you, about how the Holy Spirit wants you to serve?
Do you really want more of the Holy Spirit?
God says - Prov 8:17 – “I love those who love me and those who seek me diligently find me.”
In Matt 7:7 he says, “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you.”
The way to have a relationship is not to sit around and wait. We have to live our lives. We have to make decisions for ourselves. We bring who we are to a relationship, and the Holy Spirit brings who he is.
So, if you really want more …
Ask – talk to the Holy Spirit
Search – read the scripture, be an active Christian, seek to exercise spiritual gifts
Knock – start exercising and developing your spiritual gifts, and spending time with believers who are experienced in using those gifts
Ask, search, knock … and if you really want more, he will draw nearer to you.
(time for panel questions)