Just before Jesus left this earth, he told his disciples to wait in Jerusalem and he would send the Spirit: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
Note Luke’s words in describing what happened on the Jewish feast of Pentecost shortly after Jesus’ resurrection. As you read this passage, remember that the word for spirit also means “wind” or “breath.”
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
(Acts 2:1-4 NRSV)
I love this imagery for the Spirit—a rushing, violent wind. But notice too the connection to the creation story in Genesis. There God breathed into and filled the man and woman, animating them and giving them life. Here God breathes upon Jesus’ followers and fills them and makes them new. This is the re-creation of humanity by the work of the Holy Spirit.
The Voices We Listen to, the Powers that Shape Us
Jack Levison, professor of Old Testament at Perkins School of Theology, described the biblical picture of the Holy Spirit in his book Fresh Air: “The spirit was a force to be reckoned with, an impulse to which mere humans capitulated, a source of daily breath and an uncontrollable outside power.”
The Spirit not only was a force to be reckoned with; to this day the Spirit continues to be that kind of force. I love this idea of the Spirit as a rushing mighty wind. The church I serve has been building its permanent sanctuary. One day while the building was under construction, I was standing in the midst of the sanctuary. The contractors had left for the day. The windows were not yet in and tarps hung across the openings. Suddenly a gale-force wind began to blow; some of the tarps came loose and were blowing and flapping in the wind making a tremendous amount of noise. I stood there, eyes closed, listening and praying that the Spirit would do in our sanctuary what the wind was doing that day: blowing with such force that worshipers would be moved, comforted, and filled with power.
I think many Christians live Spirit-deficient lives, a bit like someone who is sleep-deprived, nutrient-deprived, or oxygen-deprived. Many Christians haven’t been taught about the Spirit, nor encouraged to seek the Spirit’s work in their lives. As a result, our spiritual lives are a bit anemic as we try living the Christian life by our own power and wisdom.
What are the voices you listen to, and what are the powers that shape your life? You’ve no doubt seen images of people who have a devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other, with each seeking to influence them. Personally, whether it’s the devil or just my own shadow-self, I find there are voices in my own life that would lead me to give in to hate, indifference, desire, pride, infidelity, selfishness, or greed. But when we listen to the voice of the Spirit and open ourselves to the Spirit’s active work in our lives, we find that we are led to a very different place and to become very different people.
The Spirit convicts us and quickens our conscience when we’re doing wrong. The Spirit, through persistent nudges, urges us to act selflessly in our care for others. The Spirit makes us long to be more than we are at the present and to become more like the people God intended us to be. Paul describes the Spirit’s work and its impact on our lives as the “fruit of the Spirit” in Galatians 5:22-23: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” How different is this fruit than the fruit my own heart, and the culture around me, tends to produce in my life.