Holy Spirit

Failing to Acquire the Fire We Desire

A few times a year I hear some variation of being on fire. Someone might say, “I was on fire for God after that experience.” Or perhaps giving voice to an aspiration one might say, “I want to be on fire for God.” Of course there is the idea that the church is too lame/boring/irrelevant and if only it were “on fire” then all would be right with the church. We talk about being on fire in all sorts of ways with the understanding that there is something overwhelmingly positive and admirable about being on fire.

However much we might long to be on fire, it seems that too many of us are not. How is it that we can desire something so deeply, so often, and so intensely but rarely acquire this fire we desire?

Photo by  Siim Lukka  on  Unsplash

Photo by Siim Lukka on Unsplash

Amma Syncletica is one of the few desert mothers that we have some writings of. She puts her finger on perhaps why we are not on fire as often as we might desire:

“In the beginning there are a great many battles and a good deal of suffering for those who are advancing towards God and afterwards, ineffable joy. It is like those who wish to life a fire; at first they are choked by the smoke and cry, and by this means obtain what they seek (as it is said, Our God is a consuming fire - Hebrews 12:24). So we also must kindle the divine fire in ourselves through tears and heard work.” - Becoming Fire, Edited by Tim Vivian.

This saying has multivariate meanings to be sure but one of those is the pain, tears and work that is required on our parts to help foster the ignition of fire. Some of the smoke of practicing the disciplines is that they do not “produce” anything or that we might even feel silly doing them. Praying to God does not seem to make anything happen and we might even feel like it is magic thinking to talk to an ineffable and immeasurable God. So just as we begin to step away from the work of kindling the fire.

in our efforts to fully immerse ourselves in the waters of life, we might overlook that if we want to be on fire for God, that it is very difficult (if not impossible) for water-soaked wood to catch fire. Jesus had to go to the desert. The disciplines are often practices that draw us into emptiness (fasting, sabbath, giving, serving, etc.). The spiritual life might be thought of trying to dry us out so to catch fire. No wonder we are unable to acquire the fire we desire. Immersed in waters of business and novelty we are unable to dry out and catch the flame.

Suffocating the Holy Spirit

Jesus was taking to Nicodemus when he said, "The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.’ (John 3:8). 

It is not very scientific to talk about Spirits, I get that. However little you believe in actual ethereal Spirits in creation, I find the metaphor helpful. I find that I am often surrounded by a spirit of frustration or the spirit of discomfort. I have seen people ensnared by a spirit of anger while others the spirit of despair. Whatever you want to call it is fine with me, I am comfortable with Spirit language. 

In my life I have discovered that there are some Spirits that need you to hold onto them in order to live. For instance, the longer I hold onto my anger the angrier I become. The spirit of anger needs someone to hold it in order to live, because the spirit of anger is too weak to survive on it's own. To be frank, most spirits are too fragile and weak to live on their own, they require a host to live in so to survive (see Mark 5 for a time when spirits desired to live in pigs rather than be with a host).

It is this that makes the Holy Spirit "Holy". It is set apart in this way: the Holy Spirit can live without a host. The Holy Spirit can move and exist like the wind and can be autonomous. It is strong enough to live without and yet gentle enough to live within creation. It is a good thing we can't capture the Holy Spirit that would mean it is too weak to live on it's own.

Of course the irony is that if we attempt to hold on and capture the Holy Spirit, we suffocate it.

Is Focus Leading Us Astray?

Odeo was a tech company that created a platform for people to create podcasts quickly and easily. At the time, right in the middle of the "dot com" boom, tech companies were getting a lot of funding but not all tech companies were surviving. Odeo was floundering. 

The company's leadership decided to refund all the investors and shared that they were ditching their podcasting platform. Additionally, the leadership shared that the company was going to take a little side project one of their employees was working on and try to make that product work. Odeo changed it's name to Twitter and, well you know what might have happened next. 

In the part of the Church that I work in, there is a emphasis on being focused. My conference has a focus "empower and equip local congregations to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world". My denomination has four areas of focus. Local congregations are encouraged to have a mission and vision statement in order to bring focus to the missional goals of the local church. And while this emphasis on being focused may be a reaction to the multi-tasking and distracting world we live in, focus can lead us astray. 

Jesus said the Spirit blows like the wind. We neither know where it comes from or where it is going. The Spirit came down at Pentecost and opened mouths not so that one focused language could be heard but that every language was heard. The work of Paul was like that of Jesus; moving from community to community on a constant search for the next thing that the Spirit is doing. The Spirit moved in the hearts of reformers and the Church is now expressed in thousands of denominations around the world. The Spirit cannot be contained, it cannot be focused.

Might it be possible that with our efforts to try to be more focused we are missing what the Spirit is trying to do in our midst? 

If Odeo was focused on podcasting and their software, they would have missed out on the wild-eyed idea that one of their people had to create a micro-blogging website which others did not see the value of. Odeo chased down an unfocused idea in order to discover a new and wonderful tool of connection and sharing. 

It was not what they thought they were going to create, but it was where the spirit of inspiration took them. 

The question for the local church is are we so bound to being focused that we are unwilling (or unable) to go to a new place that the Spirit may be taking us?

Spiritual Gifts and Perfectionism

The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.
— Isaiah 11:2-3

Traditionally the Scripture in Isaiah is used to talk about the gifts of the Holy Spirit. There are seven: Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Might (Fortitude), Knowledge, Piety, and the Fear of the Lord (humility)

Some of our Christian brothers and sisters believe that the gifts of the Holy Spirit were perfected in Jesus Christ but these gifts are also present in the lives of anyone receiving God’s sanctifying grace.

I would submit that all these gifts are not present in anyone but all these gifts are present in everyone. These gifts not in one person (sans Jesus) but in a group of people - not an individual but a community. 

What would it look like if you gave your friend a gift and as soon as they opened the gift your friend said, this is great, but when and how can I get another gift? Would we see gratitude in our friend? Would we see greed in our friend? Would we think our friend is caught up in materialism? Is there a way you could tell your friend how much more important it is to want what you have rather than to have what you want?

Are we not doing the same thing when we look at the gift God has given us and then wonder when and how we can get another gift? Are we not just as blind as our friend?

The Good News is the spiritual life is a life that is not alone. We live in connection and community with others. We understand that interdependence is not an infringement on our independence. 

The Good News is the spiritual life is one that is in community so that we don't have to take on the individual burden of being perfect, we don't have to have it all or do it all. We live in community that embraces that some are gifted with wisdom and others are gifted with courage. 

The Good News is that the spiritual life is one that cultivates relationships so that we are all aware of how everyone is gifted so that we do not have to constantly seeking out how and when we are going to get the next gift.

This is why it is important to know what you gift is, but it not enough for just you to know what your gift is. It is not enough for you to know your gift but not the gift of others in our church community. If you are in search for the next spiritual gift, just look at the lives of the person next to you. God has placed gifts in those people. Build a relationship with those persons and you will have access to a broader Spirit.